A Blanket of Love: The JFP Interview With Tougaloo President Beverly Hogan | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Blanket of Love: The JFP Interview With Tougaloo President Beverly Hogan

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Tougaloo College's name is a Choctaw word that means where two streams cross, Dr. Beverly Hogan, 53, told me as we sat in her office, talking about her alma mater, which she now leads as its first female president.

In the case of Tougaloo, she explained, it's the Pearl River and the Mississippi. So, it's a natural fit for the college's third scholarship fundraiser to be called the Two Rivers Gala, just like it's a natural that the Jackson Medical Mall will be transformed for an evening of entertainment and food on April 2.

You've been president of Tougaloo College for almost three years now. Compare and contrast your first and third years.

It doesn't matter how well you know an institution; in the beginning you spend time assessing, deciding where to go, what to do ... to set our priorities for the next five to 10 years. What would it take to get there? We put our organizational infrastructure in place, realizing that enrollment is central to development. Stability means growth. … We also enhanced our alumni engagement focus and made some physical enhancements to the campus, like paving our streets and some of the parking lots. That's meant a great deal to the campus environment. We also completed the restoration of W. Chapel—it reopened in January 2003.

Into the third year, we've set in place strategic initiatives to build enrollment, to further improve our campus environment. The Comprehensive Capitol Campaign to raise $25 million for capital improvements is in place. It's important to enhance student campus life. We want engaged learners where every space is a learning space … We're even putting benches and tables around on campus, as funds permit, creating intimate conversation spaces. We've launched our Center for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility that carries on Tougaloo's historical involvement, a partnership, with the community.

Also at Tougaloo, seniors are involved with the Leadership Institute where they are required to complete 60 hours of community service before they graduated. It helps them understand the knowledge they've gained in the classroom. The goal is for them to see the way to betterment, not only of themselves, but of society, to see their impact in a larger context.

Where are you from originally?

I'm a native of Mississippi. I grew up in a little community between Crystal Springs and Terry, Mt. Wade Community. Both sides of my family are there. Everyone—church, family, friends, school—encouraged in me the desire to succeed, to accomplish more. I was wrapped up in a blanket of love. … It was expected that we would do well, do something. You knew this from your parents, your relatives, your Sunday School teachers. Everyone encouraged you, telling you you're bright. It becomes habit forming and the desire is born in you to do more, to gain knowledge, to see what you can accomplish. Children of the '60s were concerned, socially responsible. We could see the changes that needed to be made and many got involved, finding out the part they could play, especially in social justice issues. We're responsible every day to use our education to make a difference in society.

Tougaloo's reputation as the Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi was earned at a dear price for many students and professors. What do you see as the college's civil rights role today?

The legacy of Tougaloo can be discussed in terms of opportunity, of hope and promise for each successive generation. Unlike the great pyramids of Egypt, the monuments of the spirit will not stand unattended. Each generation is called upon to effect change and order in their own time. There are issues still relevant today that each generation of new leaders must be prepared to address. Our educational institutions are laboratories for democracy. Students go out into a world where democracy is being advanced around the globe. … Tyranny flourishes where ignorance thrives.

I cannot stress too much the importance of education to young people of academic prowess and promise. If we don't pay attention to both, what would the world look like 50 years from now? Investments we make today are in relationship to the dividends of tomorrow. That means we should be responsible, moral, socially conscious leaders. Those are the people we want to see running our schools and our country.

How do you relate your experiences as a Tougaloo student in the 1960s to today's students, especially the females?

Students are people who learn from precepts and from example. In the dorms I hold roundtable discussions, especially with the women. We talk about their education, survival skills in the 21st century, who they are, how to decide and set their standards and goals, even they way they dress. Because Tougaloo is relatively small, I can engage in any number of 15-minute conversations with students. They walk with me, talk with me, about something they've got on their minds. Each day I'm reminded we need to model behavior that we want to see in them. … In such a learning environment, the mind is always sharp. I'm futuristic and see students 20 years hence. One told me recently while on a choir weekend tour, 'You want us to be just like you.' 'No,' I told her, 'you're going to be better than I am, so much better. You're starting at a different point."

During your career you've traveled widely. Explain the insights you gained as you have experienced other countries and cultures.

One thing I've learned is that travel is a great part of education. You learn from even the different landscapes as well as the cultures. It's striking, even with language barriers, that there's a connection between the human spirit. We have much in common beyond words—the universal language of the smile. … People around the world have more in common that they have different. We need to focus on the common ties that bind us and promote human understanding and world peach. The genesis of peace is human understanding.

I was surprised to see the commitment to citizenship evident in other countries. … Especially in South Africa, to see their tenacity and resilience, their hoping and looking toward opportunities rather than to oppression as they moved out of apartheid and gained control of the country. They learned to celebrate their small successes.

What could you tell people about your goals for Tougaloo that are just beginning to percolate or others that are about to come to fruition?

Of course our primary aim is to move Tougaloo College to the forefront of higher education with its academic programs, to serve the community and to provide research opportunities for students and faculty.

I had one of those "aha" moments in which I saw Tougaloo College in 10 to 15 years. It's a thriving community, a mix that makes this part of Jackson a hub for the area and Madison and Hinds counties. (T)here will be engaged learners flowing out into the community to impact the people here. The campus art center and the wellness center, are open to the public, but there will also be the Mississippi civil rights museum, a performing arts center where people can enjoy all ranges of performance, from students and faculty to those we bring in. There will be a mix of retail shops, a hotel, a conference center that will flow into our hotel and hospitality management courses as a living lab—students can learn in real situations. There will be an apartment complex for seniors, assisted living that is safe. These seniors will provide their expertise and share their knowledge in lectures for students. Tougaloo College will no longer be an obscure college separate from the community.

Why would you invite high school students to earn their degrees at Tougaloo? What are you doing to especially recruit males to the college?

Across America there are more women in college than men—3 to 1. We at Tougaloo are making a concerted effort to speak to males. We have a male recruiter and the male alumni help us. Over the next couple of years we want to do a dorm geared to males. As far as the world we live in, males look at things differently. We've added sports—baseball, tennis, soccer, bowling, cross country track—as extra-curricular activities for the male.

Tougaloo College has always been an inclusive community. We're working to attract students—we have a student from Japan now—regardless of their race, creed or national origin. People don't feel odd on our campus because we have a diverse community. In fact, one of the first degrees earned at the college was by a white student. We have a student exchange program with Brown University in the Northeast. We want the students to have an opportunity to mix into what the real world is like, to form friendships that last beyond college.

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