They might not have realized it at the time, but many former Appalachian State University faculty, staff and students spearheaded the university’s diversity efforts beginning in the 1960s.
Four of those individuals were honored with a Faces of Courage Award presented Oct. 2, 2015, during a Commemoration of Integration held on campus. They were:
“During the Civil Rights movement more than five decades ago, America’s youth forced our nation to face ugly truths and to begin the process of reconciling them. When Appalachian State Teachers College first became integrated more than 50 years ago, our community joined this national movement in our own way, with a dedication to eradicating egregious inequalities, with a hope of making our society more inclusive, and with a desire to make the world a better place for all of us,” said Chancellor Sheri N. Everts.
“It is fitting that college campuses, including Appalachian, continue to be a significant and important part of holding our nation accountable for institutionalized racism and acts of violence and injustice,” she said. “As our nation’s demographics change, our university population must reflect these changes. With the benefit of more diversity of thought, belief and community, we will better equip our students to live with knowledge, compassion, dedication, humility and dignity.”
Everts spoke of the university’s continuing work to support campus diversity. The Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity has been tasked with increasing the diversity of student, faculty and staff populations, and specific recruitment and retention strategies are underway to meet this goal.
In addition, 15 percent of the 2015 first-year class is comprised of students from traditionally underrepresented groups – an increase of 3 percentage points in one year. “The class of 2019 is the most diverse of any first-year class in Appalachian’s history. While we have accomplished much in a single year, there is still much to be done,” Everts said.
“Our Appalachian community embraces inclusivity, but we are not without our challenges. Discussions about race and equality are not always easy ones for a community to have, but I am confident that this community truly wants to have these discussions in open and honest ways. This is hard work, and I know we as a community are willing to do it,” she said.
More than 50 years after enrolling in college, Lenoir resident Patricia Ferguson Beane now has a diploma. Beane received an honorary bachelor’s degree during Appalachian State University’s Celebration of Integration held Oct. 2, 2015 on campus.
The event recognized Appalachian alumni who were part of the university’s early diversity efforts. Beane also received Appalachian Alumni Association’s Black and Gold Medallion in recognition of her “historic contribution to the institution,” said Chancellor Sheri N. Everts in presenting the honor.
Beane enrolled at Appalachian in 1963. Her goal at the time was to teach music in the public schools. She was a member of the Marching Mountaineers – the only African-American member of the band at the time.
Musicians are a tight-knit group, and the Marching Mountaineers during the 1960s were no exception. During a road trip to an away football game, the band stopped for supper before returning to Boone, but Beane was denied service because of her color.
“The entire band stood up, placed their menus on their tables and walked out of the restaurant,” Everts said recounting the incident. “Pat said that this experience was life-changing for her. I daresay it was life-changing for all of the white students as well. For those who took the time to really get to know Pat and understand the challenges she faced as a trail-blazing African-American during this time in the history of our country and our university, I venture to say they learned much from her.”
Because Beane had to leave the university in 1966 and return home and help her parents care for her siblings, she never completed her degree. She retired as a customer service representative with the Broyhill Corp in 1987.
“Pat Ferguson Beane’s story reminds us that our history at Appalachian is one of inclusivity. I know many of us have felt this over the years; however, we understand that as we grow as an institution, we will continue to face challenges,” Everts said.
Beane said that if all African-Americans in the state had been treated as well as she was while attending Appalachian she believed there would have been fewer problems related to race relations.
“Appalachian, even while working through challenges related to increasing diversity, has a history of being a welcoming place,” Everts said. “This knowledge will bolster us as we continue the important work of increasing the diversity of our student, faculty and staff populations.”