- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CRETE, Neb. (AP) - The first black graduate of Doane College in Crete has established a new lecture series on race and social justice.

Bob Polk was back on campus Monday to accept the college’s highest alumni award and to kick off the new lecture series, the Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/1OzkGIC ) reports. The topic of his speech was on “why race still matters.”

Polk said he planned to talk about what students, colleges and others can do, and that he would strike a “deliberate tone.”

“I want to say that the more things change, the more things remain the same,” he said.

Polk, who grew up in Chicago, applied to Doane College in 1949. Administrators said they couldn’t find anyone who wanted to be his roommate and turned him down. He appealed to Congregational Church leaders, and he was on his way to the college shortly after that.

Despite the initial rejection, Polk said he felt accepted once on campus. Still, it felt different. He and his friend Georgetta Cooper, who followed him from Chicago, were the only black students on campus.

“Trying to meld and be a part of campus without shedding our roots or giving up our identities was interesting,” he said.

After graduation, Polk went on to work at Dillard University, a historically black liberal arts college in New Orleans, and as a youth minister in New York. He also established an AIDS program under the Council of Churches in New York City.

Polk met with current students and faculty during a Monday lunch, and students talked about experiences and frustrations at the college. Students of color make up 10 to 14 percent of enrollment that’s around 1,000 students.

Students said minority students tend not to stick around Doane College.

“They’re not feeling comfortable here; they don’t feel like they have a voice here at Doane,” sophomore Jordan Zonner said.

Zonner and another student have started a group seeking to help all students feel welcome. The club was approved by administrators two weeks ago.

Asked for advice about the club, Polk said they should be vigilant and find more students to join the group. Things will change if they don’t give up, he said.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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