First Generation Graduate Hired as Diversity Coordinator

By Bailey Basham

When Brodrick Thomas was younger, it was his dream to play football at Auburn. For Thomas, however, getting through school wasn’t easy.

“My mom dropped out of junior high school, so she didn’t have any education and didn’t really understand it very much. My dad died when I was in fifth grade, and she had to take on multiple jobs to keep us fed and under shelter. She didn’t have the knowledge to help me, but she was always a strong advocate of education,” said Thomas. “When I first went to college, my mom had no idea of how to help me in any way.”

 

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Thomas got into Auburn and made it onto the team, and though he was able to graduate, he was removed from the team because of academic performance.

Thomas knows there are students—some just like him and others struggling under the  weight of financial issues, legal status or racial biases—that need the same kind of help he needed when he was in college.

As Trevecca’s first coordinator of student engagement and diversity, it is Thomas’s goal to make sure those students get the help they need.

Thomas has three goals for this year in his position: to build a community at Trevecca that represents each population of students; to prepare students for the opportunities that may come to them and to extend the kind of community he hopes to build Trevecca into the greater Nashville community.

“I missed a heck of a chance to play football for Auburn—I still think about it every day when I listen to the fight song in the mornings while I work out, just to remind myself. When I listen to that every morning, it reminds me of the opportunity I missed because I wasn’t in a situation to be able to focus because of where I and my mom were. My goal is to make sure students don’t miss their opportunities,” said Thomas.

Thomas hopes to implement changes at Trevecca that involve helping minority students who feel like their voices are overshadowed be heard.

“We’re going to restructure our community to make sure we build bridges to each culture. We get to educate all these bright young people with the goal of sending them back to wherever they’ve come from and having those students heal the places they’re from with the ideas that are taught here,” said Thomas. “If we can extend our community of not letting our differences come between us, that’s going to grow and spread like wildfire. We can do something powerful that way if we don’t just stay on our hill.”

For schools affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, there has been a growing interest in matters of diversity and inclusion.

“The church is a multiethnic, multicultural, multinational body, and as such, our campuses need to be places where students, faculty and administrators alike can interact in meaningful ways with the entire diverse body of the church. This often means navigating sensitive and sometimes painful differences in a manner that reflects the love of Christ—which is where [coordinators of diversity] come in,” said said Morgan Feddes, communications specialist for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. “By working alongside other administrators, they can help a campus come together to be an inclusive, welcoming place to all students, no matter their racial, ethnic, socioeconomic or national backgrounds.”

Having someone in the role of coordinator of diversity at Trevecca is critically important, said Dan Boone, university president.

“The simple reality that when you bring in international students who have a tremendous cultural transition to make—undocumented students who are coming into a very odd setting for them, hispanic students and African American students—it’s critically important to have someone that’s watching these groups of students and how they mesh into the life of the campus,” said Boone. “You’re looking across America right now, watching on college campuses significant unrest from minority groups that feel like no one is paying attention to them. I really want our minority students to feel like they belong here, and that they belong deeply.”

Thomas’s roles at Trevecca have been diverse. In April of 2012, he began working in plant operations before he served as an advisor for students in the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies.

“[And now], somehow Trevecca found me worthy to step into this role,” said Thomas. “I am tremendously excited about this position. I’ve got to help someone. I’m in the position to, and I tell myself every day that I’m living the dream because there’s no way I should be in Nashville right now hanging out with cool students. I should be in a wood cabinet [shop] in Clay County, Alabama, whittling my days away, fixing cabinets with my uncles, my cousins and my best friends that are there now. I try to make the most of every opportunity that God has given me, and this is the position where I can help other people so they don’t miss their opportunities. That’s my main focus in this job.”

Tom Middendorf, associate vice president of academic services, said that it is his hope for Thomas’s position to provide more holistic educational opportunities at Trevecca.

“We can easily fool ourselves into believing that a good education comes from reading textbooks and simply accomplishing classroom assignments, but I believe a good education is also what happens outside of the classroom. Students learn from an amazing faculty here at Trevecca, but they also have the opportunity to learn from one another. How do we live in community when we have differences? How do we deal with conflict? How do we reconcile with one another? Students are part of the educational process for one another. We educate each other in a deeper way when we have a more diverse perspective.”

Thomas will also work with admissions in the recruitment process to more diversity in the student body. He is also working to build a diversity council made of African American, Latino, undocumented, white and international students.

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“I don’t subscribe to the idea that people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. People need help, and I think that’s why God has poured into us and pulled us through certain things—so we can reach back and grab other people to try to help them out of their situations,” said Thomas. “When Tom Middendorf came to me and said he thought I would be perfect for this role, knowing my background and my past, I just felt I had to. This is one of the things, when I look over my past and what I’ve been through, I think this is the perfect position for me.”

 

This story originally appeared in the Trevechoes.

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