A Long-Standing Tradition of Diversity and Inclusion

Image: Black Lives Matter installation Hiram Campus

From its founding in 1850, Hiram College has accepted both women and people of color. All students, regardless of race or gender, were permitted to attend classes together— something that was unusual during the mid-1800s. That level of inclusion at Hiram continues today as our campus community is committed to fostering and promoting increased knowledge of cultural and ethnic diversity and its significance as an educational value. Our students regularly come together to promote mutual understanding and respect of global citizenship on the part of students from all backgrounds through a variety of inclusion focused student organizations.

The College was created by a local church, the Disciples of Christ, to be a nonsectarian and coeducational institution, and throughout its existence, Hiram has sustained the egalitarian tradition of educating men and women from diverse backgrounds. To this day, students come from more than thirty-five states, including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and many countries around the world. The College is also intentional in broadcasting student voices of revolution, justice, and peace, cultivating leaders of innovation and compassion, while offering a distinctive learning environment focused on close student-faculty interactions, international study opportunities, and experiential learning. There are over 30 clubs and organizations on campus, many of which are focused on the passions that students embrace, such as Feminism in Action, the Black Student Union, Intercultural Forum, Presence and Respect for Youth Sexual Minorities (PRYSM), and Student Senate.

In 1851, Almeda Booth was hired as a teacher at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where she spent over 15 years as an instructor of English, classical literature, and mathematics. Notably, she crossed paths with James A. Garfield and both bonded over their love of learning. Garfield later wrote in an 1854 diary entry, “I can truly say that I have never met any person, save my own mother, who has been of so much advantage to me in thinking, reasoning, and living, as Almeda A. Booth. I have looked up to her as a near and dear elder sister.” In 1978, the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame was established by the Women’s Division of the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services to honor women of Ohio who have contributed to the state’s growth and progress, as well as the improvement of the status of women. Booth was nominated for such an honor, as she was known for her distinguished scholarship and mentorship to generations of students from the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute.

Gladys “Babe” Seymour graduated from Hiram in 1922 and was considered one of the best musicians at Hiram. During her senior year, Seymour wrote the lyrics and music for the song, “O Sons and Daughters” which enraptured Hiram’s students, faculty, and alumni. During the 75th anniversary of the founding of Hiram, the song officially became the Hiram College Alma Mater.

Ryo Ishikawa ’51 came to Hiram upon the recommendation of Ichiyu Irobe, who knew of another graduate of the College from Japan. Upon entering the College, he roomed with a student from Tokyo and knew very little English. He was part of the Pre-Law club and Theta Phi Kappa. After accelerating his studies by transferring 60 credits of work completed at the University of Keio in Japan, Ishikawa graduated from Hiram and attended Harvard Law School. Later, he became the president of Teisan Auto Company, Ltd. in Tokyo, Japan. And in 1975, he received the Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award from Hiram.

During the fall of 1922, Hiram’s African Fest featured exhibits and cultural events that exposed students to Africa and various customs of the country. Molefti Kete Asante, department chair of African American studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, brought his argument for Afrocentricity and asked people to re-examine their restricting world views. Throughout the week, students explored various topics presented from an African perspective, in addition to experiencing art, dance, plays, and poetry.

Students gathered monthly to discuss race and build connections and community through the Coming Together Project. The program at Hiram, coordinated by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, was inspired in part by President Bill Clinton’s campaign to build racial bridges. In 1922, 11 percent of Hiram’s student population was African American, which was an increase of six percent from statistics the previous years. At the time, Hiram and more than 50 other colleges and universities were sponsoring discussions about race relations as part of a nationwide effort by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

In November 2003, as part of Global Awareness Week, Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas K. Mahatma Gandhi, and co-founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at Christian Brothers University, spoke at the College. His discussion was centered on the idea of varying kinds of passive and physical violence with the belief that nonviolence is focused on the problem, not a specific person.

Other notable speakers that have visited the College over the years include poet laureate, Nikki Giovanni; co-founder of the Black Panthers, Bobby Seale; author, Gwendolyn Brooks; activist and educator, Jane Elliott; civil rights attorney, Morris Dees; the Fifth Little Girl of the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, Sarah Collins Rudolph; and more recently noted social psychologist and alumnus, Claude Steele ’67.

The residential experience represents an important component of a Hiram student’s overall academic and social success. Accordingly, students expect an inclusive living environment that acknowledges, appreciates, and encourages respect and belonging. In 2015, the College adopted an all-inclusive housing policy that provides binary and non-binary students an opportunity to live in a room with any other student, without gender restrictions. Students who choose to participate in all-inclusive housing do so as part of the traditional housing sign-up process, held each spring semester.

When President Joe Biden signed into bill a law establishing Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday, Hiram College followed suit. To honor and celebrate the importance of Juneteenth, the College now gives all employees the day off as a paid holiday.

During a spring study tour of the Deep South, students came face to face with our nation’s legacy of racial inequity, and they learned about those who fought—and continue to fight—for their civil rights. The group studied Lyndon B. Johnson, with an emphasis on Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement that came to the fore during Johnson’s presidency, as they spent the week traveling through Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. Each day of the trip was filled with visits to museums and historic sites, as well as meetings with leaders in the struggle for social justice.

The establishment of the new Black Lives Matter art installation, located on the east wall of Colton-Turner Hall exemplifies the College’s rich legacy of inclusion and innovation that has been practiced since its founding. A key message of the artwork is to convey a spirit of belonging, safety, equity, social justice, and community engagement about race and other diversity issues more broadly throughout the campus.

The art installation came to fruition as a collaborative effort by the 2020-21 Student Senate Executive Board and Black Student Union club officers supported by other students, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Trustees. The art was designed by Columbus-based muralist Lisa McLymont, and illustrated by Cleveland-based artist and activist Abdul Rashid.