Presbyterian College broke ground on a renovation project that will transform its former infirmary into the headquarters for its Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion division.
Last used as a residence hall, Reynolds Hall will soon house the entire division, including offices, and program space for counseling services, the Jacobs Scholars Program for students impacted by foster care, and the Presby First+ program for first-generation students.
College president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg said the mission to create a first-class JEDI division proves PC’s place in higher education as America’s Innovative Service College.
“As Presbyterians, we believe in the inherent dignity and self-worth of all people,” he said. “We strive to lead with our Christian sense of humility to be a welcoming, nurturing, and empowering place for everybody.”
President vandenBerg said PC is building a culture of continuous improvement where every student can succeed and belong. With more first-generation students and students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education, he added that it makes sense to welcome them.
“Ultimately, we have an obligation and an opportunity to help them thrive, to help them find their sense of belonging, and to help them graduate,” vandenBerg said.
He said that providing the physical space for the JEDI team to innovate and work together and with students is essential. Reclaiming Reynolds as a place of healing and comfort is equally so, he added.
Dr. Selina Blair, the Rogers-Ingram Vice President for JEDI, characterized the future home for the division as a refuge for marginalized and minoritized students.
“When they come in here, they will be able to get the validation, the encouragement, and the love and hope and understanding that they need in order to thrive here at PC,” Blair said.
Space for mental health services, first-generation programming, testing, meetings, and gatherings are just some of the needs the renovations will address, Blair said. The underlying focus is on creating a sense of community where students of every background and identity can thrive – where the building is no longer just a building, she said.
“Go ahead and take a look around today,” Blair said. “But when you come back, I want you to come back to a center that is changing lives, a center that is changing outcomes, and a center that is changing PC.”
PC trustee Louise Slater, whose generous philanthropic gift endowed the vice president for the JEDI position, addressed the importance of establishing PC as a college where diversity and inclusion are embraced and celebrated.
Slater recalled meeting the daughter of the late Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, best known for his work as an anti-apartheid and civil rights activist. Slater said the Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, also an Anglican priest, spoke at her church about diversity, comparing it to a garden where each flower is unique.
Slater said she hopes Reynolds Hall and PC will also become that garden.
“To me, this building is where people get to feel special,” she said. “Where they get to find their tribe and where they feel included.”
Slater said, as an education consultant, the research is clear that people who come from disadvantaged groups and are included are far more successful than those who are not.
“That’s what I think this center is going to achieve,” she said. “I think we’re not going to just promote diversity but love diversity and care about diversity and help people feel like they’re part of a team.”