Meet the figures who are leading Black representation at Kent State

Overview of Kent State University.

Fifteen years ago, she came to the university as an assistant professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies. Six years later, she was named chair of the department.

Presently, Amoaba Gooden has been selected to become the vice president for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The selection of Gooden follows an increased promotion of Black administration into executive positions. Earlier this year, the university made strides in selecting the first Black woman to serve as the dean of students.

Representation, in terms of Black students, faculty and staff, remained stagnant in the university.

Nonetheless, the Black community within the university remains engaged and active to spawn more representation on-campus and in its policies.  

The Changemakers

Before being honored as the first Black vice president for Student Affairs, Lamar Hylton served as the assistant vice provost for Student Life at the University of Minnesota. 

In 2017, Hylton transitioned to Kent State where he was hired as dean of students. 

Soon after, he was selected to be interim vice president for the division. Seven months later, he was officially appointed.

“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I am so happy about the way we think about diversifying leadership opportunities, particularly for Black people,” Hylton said.

Before stepping down as the dean of students, Hylton had the responsibility of selecting the next candidate for the position. 

His selection of Talea Drummer-Ferrell was historic as she became the first Black woman to hold the position.

“This is what I wanted to do since I was a graduate student,” Drummer-Ferell said. “I almost gave up on that pathway.”

In 2009, Drummer-Ferrell attended Kent State to complete her doctorate in higher education administration.

“That was not the plan for me to be a full-time student, but it was during the recession. Budgets were tight, so I ended up taking odd end jobs,” Drummer-Ferrell said.  

The following year, she applied for a position as an athletic academic counselor. The position then led her to be promoted as assistant athletic director.

After receiving her doctorate and taking time away from the university, Drummer-Ferrell would be selected to become the director of the Student Multicultural Center. 

After three years leading the SMC, Drummer-Ferrell accepted Hylton’s recommendation to become the interim dean of students.

“For me, this is the dream job,” Drummer-Ferrell said. 

Eboni Pringle is also an alumnus at Kent State graduating with her master’s in Higher Education and Student Personnel. 

Shortly after graduating, however, Pringle would leave Kent State to work at Hiram College.

“I was actually recruited to come back to Kent,” Pringle said. “I worked as an academic advisor for a couple of years in University College.”

Following this, Pringle spent her time working in different departments at the university. 

In 2002, Pringle worked at the Student Financial Aid office, guiding students in understanding their FAFSA.

“I was then hired under Admissions to be its multicultural recruiter,” she said. “Eventually, I became the assistant director for the office where  I pushed to bring more students in who came from diverse backgrounds.”

Pringle became the associate director for the Student Success Programs in 2008. Shortly after, she became the executive director for the department. 

In 2012, Pringle experienced a full circle moment after accepting the role as assistant dean for University College.

After completing her doctorate, she officially became the dean for University College.

Life in a PWI

Over 10 years starting in 2010, data collected from the university’s Diversity Dashboards found five percent of employment were Black. This is compared with the seven percent that represent the student population, meaning that Kent State would be considered a predominantly white institution.

For marginalized identities, engaging in a PWI presents various forms of challenges. 

Some may unexpectedly carry the privilege of comfortability due to their position and the people they interact with.  

“I’m very intentional about the spaces I am in, but also the spaces in which I go into,” Gooden said. “As a faculty at the Department of PAS, my race was certainly affirmed.”

Some take on the pressure and assume a double-edged role when supporting their community.

“You have a sense of responsibility to bring the voices and experiences of marginalized students into the rooms that you’re in,” said N.J. Akbar, the associate vice president of DEI. “But, you’re going to have an additional tax on you to support students and provide outlets for them.  

Others become aware of the lack of outlets for expression.

“I’ve visited other colleges that don’t have a multicultural center, or a LGBTQ+ Center or a Women’s Center,” said Chazzlyn Jackson. “They don’t have a space to just exist.”

Last month, Jackson was named student body president for Undergraduate Student Government.

“It can get really lonely, and it can get hard,” she said. “Educating or increasing awareness about your experience, while still experiencing it can get tiring.” 

Additionally, marginalized identities can feel excluded from the general community thus creating an absence of belonging.

“Even with the growth that we have seen as a university, I don’t know that we’ve fully gotten to the place where we are truly, as diverse as we would like to be,” Hylton said. “There are still times where I look around, and I’m the only person that looks like me in the room.”

The prevalent feelings of loneliness and isolation can create an overwhelming experience that can affect confidence in one’s ability.

Imposter syndrome occurs when one begins to show doubt if they are qualified in their position. 

According to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, an estimated 70 percent of people experience this syndrome at one point in their lives.

“I experienced it quite a bit in my first few months in this position,” Drummer-Ferrell said.

During a presentation hosted by the Division of Student Affairs, Drummer-Ferrell shared her experience when handling the syndrome. The presentation aimed to build conversations of representation and inclusion. 

“I always find those conversations a great part of my experience at Kent,” Hylton said. “Having a supportive network that engages in open discussions can really be helpful. It can provide advice, a space to vent and it creates opportunities to celebrate and encourage one another.”

Assistant Vice President of Equity, Identity and Success Yvonna Washington-Greer consistently pushed for visibility within her departments.

During her tenure as the Director of Student Success Programs, Washington-Greer spearheaded several campaigns in the department’s recruitment to gain representation.  

“When you see people of color in positions of power, it helps you realize that there’s somebody who looks like me and might think like me,” she said. “It also ensures you that someone’s looking out for me.” 

One campaign was writing personal postcards to students in their First-Year Experience Course. The postcards encouraged students to apply for positions offered by SSP to become tour guides or resident assistants. 

“You have to path the pool. Go where the students are. Tap some shoulders,” Washington-Greer said. “Give them the nudge and say, ‘I think you will be good at this, you should try this.’”  

Recovering From Damages

Kent State is no stranger to students demanding change on-campus. This was evident when students advocated for the recognition of Black people. Or when anti-war protests took an unfortunate turn

This year, the Kent State community exemplified this trait 

Resting on Hilltop Drive sits the Kent State rock. For years, the rock represented an open canvas for the community to artistically express themselves.

Last fall, students painted the rock to emulate the Black Lives Matter movement, and to commemorate victims of police brutality.

Four days later, the words “White Lives Matter” covered the rock, defacing the original artwork.

“When I saw the rock, it really jarred me personally,” Gooden said. “I have two children living in Kent. I’ve worked here for 15 years. And you’re saying that I don’t belong here. That my children don’t belong here.”

“I was pissed,” she said.

The incident left the Kent State community in shock with many expressing frustration and outrage. However, for some, it wasn’t surprising.

“Kent State is a microcosm of our world. We’re not separated from what’s happening around us,” Pringle said. ”Although we like to believe that we’re in this bubble, we’re really not.” 

Some may have been more vulnerable when processing their feelings, especially if they don’t have access to vent their frustrations.

“I think we have to be intentional,” Gooden said. “We have to activate our leadership and activism skills to push back and push for change.”

Following the aftermath, Black United Students, one of the most prominent student groups focused on advocacy, helped organize several student-led protests to combat racism on campus. The protests received overwhelming support from students, staff and faculty. 

“Since its creation, we’ve been making changes on Kent campus,” said the President of BUS, Tayjua Hines, “either by being apart in the development of the Department of Pan-African Studies and the Student Multicultural Center or when we released our demands after the protests.” 

Less than 10 days later, the rock was defaced again. 

“Hate has no home here” was replaced with “Blacks have no home here.”

“I think sometimes our community gets very tired of words with no actions,” Hylton said. “We’re trying to be better about not only rearticulating our values as an institution, but examining all of the tools that we can utilize.”

To combat racism existing in different areas in the university, President Todd Diacon introduced the Anti-Racism Task Force. The task force, which had been in development since last summer, is overseen by Gooden, Hylton and Provost Melody Tankersley.

ARTF is divided into 13 subcommittees. Each subcommittee tackles and examines different areas to address racism. Some of the areas include academic curriculum, community engagement and safety and security.

“After the members identified the affected areas, we have them share specific recommendations and ideas to implement change,” Gooden said.

However, the displayed efforts did not prevent future vandalism. 

On March 31, more racist language was found on campus. This time, the N-word was marked on property near the University Library.

The university used its newly formed list of Actions Steps to combat the racist attack. These steps were developed using the demands BUS presented during the beginning of the rock incident.

Immediately following this, Diacon, Hylton and Gooden provided a joint statement to address the incident. In the statement, it was announced that a virtual town hall would take place later in the week.

“Even though it hadn’t made its way to social media, or there wasn’t a large public outcry, we brought it to the public’s attention,” Hylton said. “That’s another action behind what we say we value: letting our public know what is taking place in their community.”

On April 8, the town hall, hosted by ARTF, took place. The goal of the meeting was to reaffirm its commitment to anti-racism.

After members of the subcommittees presented their recommendations, Diacon announced plans for the university to dedicate $1 million in support of ARTF.

Portions of this budget will go towards diversifying the university’s faculty and staff, a move that Hylton said will focus on strategies to enhance diversity in the classroom.

Although the ARTF has made sufficient strides since the rock incident, many still question its authenticity. 

“I think sometimes the campus does everything they can to fight racism. But other times, I think that they are very performative,” said Desia Hamm, a junior who currently serves as a resident assistant.

Hamm felt that she wasn’t informed on how ARTF would combat racism on campus.

“I’m sure someone has seen it do some good,” she said. “But for me, I’ve seen nothing so far.”

As president of BUS, Hines said that she supports the efforts, however, she still carries mixed feelings.

“What they do, we’ve been doing for over 50 years now,” she said. “For me, it’s kind of like, in the sense of overstepping something that’s already been here.”

Hines notes how the ARTF should continue to be more conscious and represent the voices who have already identified recommendations to combat racism.

Jackson, who is a part of the academic curriculum subcommittee, also notes improvements the ARTF should make in the future.

“There have to be more bridges made between our already present departments, services committees,” Jackson said. “Kent has a lot of great resources to combat anti-racism on campus. We’re just separated a lot of the time.” 

Jackson also feels that more voices are needed in the task force to make these conversations more inclusive. 

“Once you loop those people in, you have more security and foundation to keep the momentum going, to actually get these things changed,” she said.

Overall, one defining method to combat racism present in the community is education. 

“If you can teach people how to understand culture and empathy, then you can open the door for interactions that may have never taken place before,” Pringle said. 

Providing Outlets

Members of the Kent State community are actively involved to build adequate spaces to support marginalized identities.

In 1972, the Department of PAS established the Pan-African Faculty and Staff Association.

One of the oldest employee resource groups in the university, PAFSA was designed to promote employment, participation and accomplishments of Black faculty and staff.

Renee Romine currently serves as president for PAFSA. She also works for the university’s Human Resources as the Executive Director for Training and Development.  

“A lot of what we do is based on what our members need from us,” Romine said. “If something doesn’t feel right to them, we want to support and represent them.”

PAFSA holds monthly events to build community with faculty and staff. Topics for the events can range from volunteer opportunities to discussions regarding equity and inclusion.

“We talk through things that are relevant to our community,” Romine said. “Since I’ve been president, we had a focus on health and wellness. We even invited a doctor to talk about vaccinations with our members.”

PAFSA also hosts an annual award ceremony to recognize the achievements of faculty and staff. However, potential plans for this year’s event were short lived due to the pandemic. 

In leading PAFSA, Romine extends herself as a resource and advocate. With her position, she is able to consult with peers in higher positions.

“It’s about being politically savvy,” Romine said. “When I meet with my VP, I sometimes put my PAFSA hat on to represent concerns.”

Currently, there are six other employee resource groups active in the university. Each group targets a specific demographic. The latest resource group to launch focuses on the Asian American Pacific Islander community.  

University students have an extensive history when building advocacy and support for their fellow peers. 

Over 50 years after it was founded, BUS has provided consistent support to Black students at Kent State. 

“We elevate students by supporting their various leadership positions,” Hines said. “We can promote, uplift or provide support for them.”

Along with BUS, there are other organizations providing support for marginalized students. Some prominent groups include Male Empowerment Network, Kent African Student Association and the Spanish and Latino Student Association.

Students have also found university resources beneficial. 

Presently, the university holds multiple positions for students to experience leadership opportunities on campus. 

All students matching outlined requirements are able to become a resident assistant, tour guide or orientation leader. 

“When you’re applying for these positions, race isn’t a contributing factor,” Hines said. “But there are also positions that are tailored to their identities.”

Kupita/Transiciones, overseen by the Student Multicultural Center, is an orientation program for incoming students of color. The program offers mentorship opportunities to students of color to build a better connection with their mentees.

During her time at Kent, Hamm held multiple leadership positions on campus. Along with serving as a resident assistant, she will also be one of the Flashguides for Destination Kent State over the summer. 

Hamm said that she didn’t find difficulty when applying for her current roles.

“I always felt supported in the places I worked in,” Hamm said. “I felt that they gave me an opportunity to express my identity.” 

Jackson also remained active in her community. Before becoming the president of USG, she had a multitude of experiences at Kent. She was the president in her Freshman Advisory Council and was also a trainer for PLTC.

However, Jackson praised the work done by the Department of PAS and the knowledge she was able to apply in her leadership. 

“I’m a Black leader in a PWI who’s getting a lot of their information from Pan-African Studies. That’s unique,” she said.

Moving Forward

Progress toward diversity and representation is slowly increasing across the university. 

Executive positions are gradually being filled by identities of color and there are more opportunities to share their experiences.

Over time, the university began to evolve in its response to racism. The development of ARTF provided opportunities for marginalized identities to express their experiences and concerns.

Compared with other PWIs across the nation, Kent State provides a multitude of to retain a community with shared identities. 

The SMC, the LGBTQ+ Center and the Women’s Center remain active in the university. While student advocacy groups including BUS, Spanish and Latino Student Association and Kent African Student Association pushes for progression on-campus.

However, there is still more that needs to be done to truly create a diverse community. 

“We still lack an opportunity to gain more representation from backgrounds including Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Indigenous communities,” Akbar said. “I think that’s one of our biggest opportunities.”

Cameron Alway covers diversity. Contact him at [email protected].