That Awkward Adjustment Period
Enforcement of Affirmative Action began only after President Johnson’s Executive Order in 1965 (Hasday, 111). It’s implementation, however, was accompanied by opposition from the beginning, not simply after the University of California v. Bakke case in 1978 (Schulman, 69-70). The first African-Americans working to integrate Madison College had to struggle with the typical freshman adjustment period; however, they had to do so as a minority in a hostile, southern environment. Daphyne Thomas talks about her own adjustment period as an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, and she describes how it was necessary for African-American students to form support groups in order to fully adjust. When she was hired into the Madison College Office of Admissions in 1976, one of her main duties was to recruit students whom she believed could handle the transition into a historically white college (Thomas, 2013).
The Black Student Alliance provided a support group for African-Americans on the Madison College campus. In 1975, African-Americans counted for 1.7% of the 6,800 students on campus, a very small minority. Still, the BSA worked to provide “more courses dealing with Blacks in the historical, sociological and political curriculums” (Breeze 52, no. 34). The alliance also instituted a Black Emphasis Week which celebrated African-American culture and instilled pride in the students. The students were also provided with prominent African-American speakers, whether politicians, artists, or peers, to whom they could look up to as role models. In addition, the alliance worked to publish a pamphlet that could be used by the Office of Admissions for the recruitment of African-American students (Breeze 52, no. 34).
Likewise, Carrier implemented a Transition Program on campus, which brought 35-40 students–those who had not quite met the college’s qualifications, white or black–to campus every summer. They would be enrolled in approximately nine credit hours, and they would use this opportunity in order to not only approve their academics, but also to acclimate to the college environment (Carrier, 2013).
In 1976, a Minority Affairs Coalition was held at Madison College, designed to allow students, rather than administrators, to voice their opinions on integration (Breeze 54, no. 8). It is telling that Madison College played host to an event that strived for the successful adjustment of African-American students. Madison, along with Dr. Carrier, was attempting to make the campus a welcoming place for these students; however, it was discovered at the coalition that “blacks must find some way to adapt,” and “only the black community can be responsible for educating blacks” (Breeze 54, no. 8). This emphasizes the need African-Americans have for these support groups on campus. At the same time, the idea is raised that black studies are predominantly taught by white men. It is necessary for African-Americans to both adapt to a white environment, but study their own culture as well. It is implied, however, that black studies should not be a solely African-American venture, just as the Black Student Alliance need not be made up of only African-American students. An effort needs to be made for all races to learn about each other.
Madison College, and eventually James Madison University, was thus consistent with its embracement of minority faculty and students. Dr. Carrier was hands-on in implementing integration and worked to facilitate the acceptance of these students and staff. While not everyone was ecstatic over integration, Madison was concerned with helping minorities adjust and feel at home on campus unlike several other universities in Virginia. Virginia Tech, for instance, was still playing Dixie on campus (Thomas, 2013).
Carrier, Ronald E. Class Speaker. Harrisonburg, VA. March 13, 2013
Burch, Barbara. “White School Environment Said Alien to Black Students.” Breeze 54, no. 8 (September 28, 1976): 1, 8.
Dulan, Tom. “Blacks Must Study Themselves.” Breeze 54, no. 8 (September 28, 1976): 1, 5.
Hasday, Judy L. The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2007.
Schulman, Bruce J. The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2002.
Thomas, Daphyne. Class Speaker. Harrisonburg, VA. February 11, 2013.
Tompkins, Deborah & Elmore Lockley. “Black Student Alliance Attempts to Create Pride, Independence.” Breeze 52, no. 34 (February 18, 1975): 1, 3.