In 1981, Dr. Alice Hines was hired as an English professor at Hendrix College. In 1981, the majority of black staff on campus were found in kitchens, maintenance, or on the grounds. While Hines has revolutionized the English department, she has also worked to change race relations and diversity on campus.
“A part of my being here, I was trying to figure out what my role was,” Hines said. “I knew that this was also, or I was also, a part of perhaps a fairly experimental phase of Hendrix College. Once I had those students talking to me, I understood very clearly they were listening to everything I said, and making judgements whether or not I was qualified.”
Hines received her Bachelor of Arts at Spelman College, Master of Arts at University of Arkansas and Doctorate at Texas Woman’s University. She has taught English on campus since 1981, and will be retiring after completing the 2017 fall semester.
While in a conference with a student during her first year teaching, Hines was confronted with a situation she had never considered before.
“I think I hadn’t thought about it,” Hines said. “I remember several students said to me, ‘you’re the first black teacher I ever had.’ I don’t think I ever thought about it. If you look at most black figures in literature in that period, what are they? We don’t speak in complete sentences. So, I understood in part the subtext of what that student was saying to me.”
Throughout her first years at Hendrix, she felt as if her job affected more than just the students she was teaching. Being a black professor, Hines believed she was going to be the standard in that other black applicants would be compared to.
“In a sense, I felt that I had to admit it to myself, at Hendrix they were taking a chance,” Hines said. “What if I couldn’t speak [English] or write it? What a terrible thing that would be to any other black applicant. That was a part of my awareness of it. I am aware when we begin a semester, a student could go through four years here and never have a black professor.”
As her retirement is approaching, Hines has started to reflect on her time at Hendrix and the impact she has made. She has noticed the changes the campus has made over the years to become a more racially conscious institution.
“When black faculty come up for tenure and promotion, how do you look at our contribution? I don’t know how Hendrix has looked at my contribution here,” Hines said. “As a black faculty member, we bring more than the degree. We bring what is unique about us as a race. We bring a dimension that other faculty members do not have, and that is by virtue of our racial and cultural experiences. I have served on all of the diversity committees, and we have made a concerted effort to bring awareness. That’s how SFBC [Students For Black Culture] got started.”
In the ‘80s, racial progress on campus was met with opposition. The only students who were pushing for advancement were those in the SFBC, and even then, it was hard for anything to get done.
“I remember it was like we turned the world around when the students asked if we could have a black focused meal,” Hines said. “I can not remember the amount of red tape the students had to go through to have a meal with foods that are traditionally associated with black people. Every different initiative the students wanted to bring forth was met with an opposition. The said aspect of that is that if there were to be any black programming, then SFBC had to do it. If we were going to have any series of black activities in February, SFBC had to do it.”
Since then, Hines has noticed significant racial progress on campus.
“I have to say that I do not believe that it is a struggle now,” Hines said. “The campus has moved more to holistic programming.”
Hines has noticed the change in racial dynamic within the faculty as well.
“If you go back to 1981 and ask yourself, I’ve taken one of the catalogs and I’ve looked, how many black staff did we have?” Hines said. “Now if you look around there is black staff in student services, admission, the library, there has been a place for black staff.”
Since the beginning of her time on campus, Hines has recognized the change in diversity on campus. But for awhile, she felt as if she was the only one truly noticing the race disparity within the faculty and staff.
“I remember I was standing in Reves giving a talk, and I made this statement,” Hines said. “I said, ‘Has it ever occurred to you, look around, we have people fulfilling secretarial services on this campus, and black people can answer the telephone? But if you look around this campus you wouldn’t think so, because we don’t have any other black people doing that.’”
Back in 1981, Hendrix faculty and staff had black staff, but they couldn’t be found in many non-domestic positions.
“If you go back to 1981, the largest assemblage of black people on campus was in the cafeteria,” Hines said. “If you go back to 1981, black people everywhere, maintenance, cafeteria, grounds. Look at Hendrix now. How has the aspect of evolution taken place? It hasn’t gotten past me. I have marked it, and I’ve thought about it.”
Now, the college has a campus Diversity Officer and multicultural events across campus. Hines recognizes that the college is focusing in on making the school a more diverse place.
“I do think we are seeing the dawning of the new year with a diversity officer and programming,” Hines said. “I think that Hendrix is willing to put a body in there and some money by living up to its mission statement. I honestly believe that the administration, board, faculty and students would like to see it.”
Although the college has been pushing for these changes, Hines wishes to see a Hendrix have a stronger presence within the community.
“Go out in front of this building, and turn right, you are stepping into the black community,” Hines said. “I have often said to people, ‘Do students know where this school is really located?’ Given Hendrix’s location, wouldn’t you think there would be more of exchange and interchange between us and the population next to us?”
Even though many campus events are open to the public, it’s been a challenge to get the local community to interact with the campus programming.
“There have been many efforts made by Hendrix to be more of a presence in that community,” Hines said. “Our programs, ever since we have been here, have been free and open to the public. Yet, it’s like pulling teeth to get the public who can walk over here to go to our programs. This has been a topic, and Hendrix has been trying to address it. How do we help the community that we are a part of, feel that they are a part of it too?”
Although Hines has enjoyed her time on campus, she leaves a challenge to the student body and administration.
“I am certainly not casting the blame on Hendrix,” Hines said. “I feel it remains an extremely perplexing topic. If you look who graduated in the 1980s or 1990s, how many black alumni do you see just dropping in? Other students do. I think those are the kind of problems Hendrix needs to address. They should also enhance the black student experience while they are here. It is a very perplexing problem. It is one that this college is going to have to address. There will be, I will not doubt, some very difficult moments in getting that done.”
Hines has appreciated the students she has interacted with over the 30 years she has been here, and believes that they are more than capable to enact this change.
“We graduate students who are different,” Hines said. “I think they are caring and informed, and their zeal for fairness doesn’t leave when they walk across the stage and get their diploma. I don’t think they just stop because they are a citizen of a larger world, I think you see them blooming into concerned humans, male and female. When I see them years after being away. They still carry their values. I think Hendrix allows you to grow into the person you want to be, and I think that’s important. I think that can work for all students, I don’t think that’s a racial thing.”
Photo credit: Konrad Witkowski