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Friday, March 29, 2019

Berea, Kentucky – A Step Back in Time (Part 2/3)

Part 2 - Berea College

By Laura A. Hobson

This is the second part in a three-part series about Berea, Kentucky.  This section centers on Berea College, a small liberal arts school with 1,643 students, founded in 1855. 

Berea College is the only one of America’s top colleges that makes a no-tuition promise to every enrolled student.  Tuition is worth about $157,000 over four years. In September 2018 Wall St. Journal named Berea College as the best value institution in the US. In addition, it is the first interracial and coed college in the south.  

While students don’t pay tuition, they do work 10 to 15 hours per week in addition to a full class load.  Seventy percent of the students come from the Appalachia region and Kentucky.  One out of three students is of color.

Fairchild Hall - oldest building on campus (from Berea College archives)

Full-time faculty number 136.  The ratio of faculty to students is 10:1, a strong rate enabling close academic relationships and enhanced learning.  The appeal of a small liberal arts college still exists for students who want a strong background academically as well as preparing them for jobs.

According to Timothy W. Jordan, Berea College media relations manager, the Berea College curriculum consists of liberal arts with B.A. and B.S. degrees offered in 32 majors.  Students also can develop independent majors.  There are 15 teacher education programs, a service learning program as well as a study abroad component.  

The History
In 1859, after drafting articles of incorporation, Berea’s founder, Reverend John G. Fee and Berea teachers were driven from Madison County, Kentucky by Southern pro-slavery sympathizers, according to Jordan. 

“Fee spent the Civil War years raising funds for the school.  In 1865, he and his followers returned.  A year later, the articles of incorporation for Berea were recorded at the county seat.  Enrollment that year totaled 187: 96 black students and 91 white students.  For several decades following the Civil War, Berea’s student body continued to be divided equally between white and black students.” 

Former President William G. Frost made a trip through Eastern Kentucky and came back enamored with homespun crafts, such as linens.  The Weaving Department offered the first official craft at Berea.

Berea College in sunset
The Campus
I took a tour of Berea College with Adrian Love, a sophomore from New Orleans.  When her godmother suggested she look at Berea as a possible college choice, she visited the campus and was sold.  A sociology major, Love serves as a tour guide and sales representative at Berea College Visitors Center and Shoppe.

Love showed me around the campus, located at 101 Chestnut Street.  It dates to the mid-19th century.  With 140 acres in the heart of Berea, the campus has a traditional Ivy League look with brick buildings and common areas of grass and trees.

In addition, there are 1,200 acres of farmland which students manage through the Labor Program.  They grow crops and livestock for use in the College’s Dining Services, Boone Tavern Hotel and Restaurant and for sale in the Berea College Farm Store.

The college also owns nearly 9,000 acres of managed forest land.  The forest serves as a watershed for the college and community.  It has several miles worth of hiking trails, primarily at the Pinnacles, as well as the Forestry Education Outreach Center, open to the public.  Since it rained during most of my visit, I wasn’t able to hike the trails.

The buildings on Berea campus have interesting histories.  

The oldest building is Fairchild Hall (1872), named after Julie Maria Fairchild, daughter of Berea’s first president, Edward Henry Fairchild, who served from 1869 to 1889.  It is modeled after Second Ladies Hall at Oberlin College, where President Fairchild’s brother James was professor, lecturer and later president.

Architects for Fairchild Hall were Edwin Anderson and Samuel Hannaford of Cincinnati.  Berea College students provided some of the labor with the stone foundation quarried locally and bricks made in the college’s brickyard.  Mortar for the bricks was fired in the college kiln.  Fairchild now houses a women’s residence hall as well as some student life offices and counseling services.  

Miss Olivia Phelps Stokes of New York had been a donor to the college.  After a wooden chapel burned down, she underwrote the cost of the Phelps Stokes Chapel.  Students quarried limestone, brought it to campus, made 750,000 bricks and milled 33,000 feet of lumber from the college’s forest.  The  Woodworking Department produced all the dressed interior oak woodwork.  

This chapel serves as the college’s main assembly hall where the baccalaureate ceremony convenes each year.   Danforth also serves as a chapel.  There are three full-time staff chaplains who preside over ecumenical services.  

Draper Hall (1937) was designed after Independence Hall, Philadelphia. The Draper building was constructed with funds given by Helen Draper Ayer and her nephew Wickliffe Draper.  Mrs. Ayer wanted the building to be a memorial to her mother, Jessie Preston Draper.  It is a major academic building.  

Designed by Charles Frederick Cellarius of Cincinnati, the building underwent an $11 million renovation in 2001–02 that, according to the American Institute of Architects, incorporated “technology and green building concepts carefully and successfully, allowing the extended life of an architectural treasure.”

Student Sara Gallimore making a basket
Deep Green Residence Hall is the highest rated LEED residence hall in the world, according to Jordan.  This $13 million dollar residence hall was completed in 2013.  Using state-of-the-art sustainable processes and technologies, Deep Green earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum level and won several awards.  Students who live in this hall can expect to experience its signature Spotlight Speaker series, which brings a variety of speakers and activities to the hall each semester.  

The Students
Affordability and access are underpinnings of the Berea experience.  The college’s mission is to serve students who fall into the bottom economic quartile and who graduate at a 70% rate.  Nationally, only about 12% of students from this economic strata would be expected to graduate from college, as compared to 90% of students from the top economic quartile.  Ninety-eight percent of students are eligible for Pell grants, which provide financial aid. There are many labor programs Berea students can take.  

Junior Gerald Thomas talked about his experience at Berea College. He is working on a BS in technology and applied science.  He received Cincinnati’s Legacy Award to prospective students, Berea College Legacy Award and The Gilman Scholarship.  The latter provided Thomas with the opportunity to visit Ghana for one month in the summer of 2018.  A graduate of North College Hill High School in Cincinnati, Thomas is a first-generation student to attend college.  He also serves as a college ambassador.

“At first, I didn’t want to come here,” said Thomas.  But, he learned about the many programs available at Berea.  He had hands-on experience with GE risk management in the design sector.  Thomas is considering looking into the design field and pursuing architecture in graduate school.    Thomas is connected to the African-American support system at Berea.  He says there is a brotherhood and sisterhood among the community of color.  He is also a member of the Black Male Leadership Initiative.

“If it weren’t for Berea, I wouldn’t have the experiences I did,” Thomas said.  He was encouraged to write and even has published a book entitled “What They Don’t Teach Us:  Shedding Light on the Unspoken Struggles of Black America.”  The Labor Program helps him build a resume.  “School work is hard,” Thomas said.  “It has the same rigor as Stanford and Harvard.”

Notable Berea alumni include Dr. John B. Fenn, (1937) a 2002 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry; Juanita Kreps, (1942), former United States Secretary of Commerce (1977 – 1979); Carter G. Woodson, father of black history, (1903); and  G. Samuel Hurst (1947), inventor of touch screen technology.

The college has an inclusive Christian character expressed in its motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth,” Acts 17:26. 

Yet, the Berea experience welcomes its arms to people of all religions. 

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