One student told nearly 50 people attending an Alumni-Student Dialogue session Thursday he thinks Lincoln University's next president should be "very welcoming," involved with students and regularly on campus.
Albert Harris, a 1969 LU graduate and current interim president of Lincoln's national alumni association, repeated for the forum what he told last month's meeting of the Presidential Search Committee: "I think we should be looking for someone who can appreciate and embrace diversity without strangling the legacy."
Their comments came as Lincoln is beginning its search for a new president to succeed Kevin Rome, who left Jefferson City in June for a job as president of Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee.
Sherman Bonds, a 1980 LU graduate, said it's important Lincoln's next president be "a protector" who can "restore and stabilize our legacy."
He reminded students the 1854 Dred Scott case — decided by the Missouri and U.S. Supreme Courts — ruled African-Americans weren't even meant to be citizens under the federal Constitution.
However, 12 years later, Missouri soldiers of the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantries worked to found what now is LU so black people could be educated and be part of national society.
"We exist for a purpose," Bonds said, "and that purpose is to educate the African-American children — and all others are included."
A student told the forum Thursday "it's very important to have faculty and staff who understand the culture of an HBCU" — historically black college or university, like Lincoln — "(and) that we train faculty and staff to work with HBCU students."
Bonds agreed many professors "have limited ability to have a relationship with students," and alumni are seeking to change some of LU's culture, because "everybody should be included."
He also reminded students their academic performance is a key to creating change in their own lives and others'.
Harris said, "Not only is change difficult and scary, but diversity is difficult and scary.
"But once you know that — and do what you have to do and get involved in it — it doesn't seem so bad."
Bonds noted alumni are scheduled to meet this afternoon with Interim President Mike Middleton.
"We're meeting on Friday to talk about how we serve to protect this institution — and we know that it's under assault," he said.
"We know those things that we value, and that (some) have been neglected."
Harris added, "We know that you don't want to feel minimized and disrespected by any one at any time."
He said students must not "relegate your responsibility to convey your legacy to somebody else. You have to tell your own story — no matter who you are."
Alumni Affairs Director Sylvia Wilson, a 1983 Lincoln graduate, reminded students, once "you cross the stage (at graduation), you belong to me" — and part of her role as a liaison between LU administrators and the school's alumni is making sure "your voices are actively engaged in the alumni association."
"If we don't protect our school on the hill, we won't have a school on the hill," she said.