Founders Day speaker discusses segregated south, diversity today

robinson-1Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson is not sure if his visit to Marietta College on Thursday (Feb. 21) was his first to the city or not.

What he remembers as a child was that his family always stopped at the first exit in Ohio on their travels from South Carolina to Michigan. After stopping in Charleston, W.Va., for the night his family would continue traveling north.

“It was no fun to have me in a little car for that many hours, so I remember we would cross the Ohio River and stop as soon as we got into Ohio and we would stop at a playground,” he said. “It must have been somewhere around here. I don’t know if it was in Marietta, but it couldn’t have been far.”

He remembers the slides and swings were larger than any he had seen.

“It was the only time I got to play on equipment that big and they had a huge jungle gym,” he said. “Of course there was a playground in Orangeburg, S.C., where I grew up that had all of that equipment, but I wasn’t able to use it. It was whites only. So what I remember of this part of Ohio from my childhood is that playground.”

Robinson’s personal story was the perfect set up for the rest of his convocation address at Marietta College’s 178th Founders Day in the Alma McDonough Auditorium.

The author of “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America,” focused on diversity in the nation and what it was like to go from the segregate south to being on live TV when Barack Obama became the first African-American president.

He told the audience that approximately 15 minutes before MSNBC, where he was doing live election night coverage, would officially announce Obama as the 44th President that he wanted to call his elderly parents and deliver the good news.

“So I took out my cell phone and I was able to call my mom and dad. My father was 92, and actually in the last months of his life, and my mom was 87 — she’s still going strong — and I was able to tell them they had lived to see the election of the first African-American president of the United States. That’s a moment that I will never forget.”

Robinson won the Pulitzer for his coverage and columns of the Obama campaign and eventual presidency. Robinson said race has and will likely always be an issue with the Obama presidency, but he did note the stark difference between the first inauguration and the one that just took place in January.

“Jump ahead to inauguration 2013 and everybody’s talking about, ‘Is Obama a good president? Is Obama a bad president? Is he too much of an introvert? Is he fighting hard enough? Is he willing to compromise? Has he accomplished anything?’ ” Robinson said. “We’re talking about all of these things and we’re not talking about race. You could argue that we’re always talking about race because we have a lot of unfinished business. But think about it, we were inaugurating a black president for the second time and we weren’t talking about race. That’s extraordinary.”

Robinson also took questions from the audience for about 15 minutes and then went up the McDonough Gallery to speak with audience members and autograph his book.

The evening was also a time for Marietta’s faculty to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the community. It was also President Joseph Bruno’s first Founders Day.

In total, 13 employees were recognized with named professorships to excellence in their profession and other awards.

The highest honor of the evening—the John G. and Jeanne McCoy Teaching Excellence Professorship—was presented to Dr. Cathy Mowrer. Mowrer becomes the 29th faculty member to earn the honor since its inception in 1994.

President Bruno announced the following appointments:

Dr. David Torbett, Associate Professor of Religion, as the Molly C. Putnam Professor in Religion.

Chaya Chandrasekhar, Associate Professor of Art, as the Israel Ward Andrews Professor in Religion.

Dr. Tim Catalano, Associate Professor of English, as the Hillyer Professor in English Literature, Rhetoric and Oratory.

Dr. David Brown, Associate Professor of Biology, as the William Van Law Plankey Professor.

Interim Provost Dr. Gama Perruci handed out the following awards:

Edward G. Harness Outstanding Educator Award to Dr. Joe Sullivan, Associate Professor of English.

Douglas Putnam Service Award to Dr. Ann Bragg, Assistant Professor of Physics and Director of the Planetarium.

Douglas Putnam Collaborative Staff Service Award to Gary Bosworth, PC Technician.

Marietta Community Leadership Award to Dr. Eric Fitch, Associate Professor of Environmental Science.

Dr. Suzanne Walker, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, handed out the following awards:

Innovative Teaching Award to Dr. Carolyn Hares-Stryker, McCoy Professor of English.

Marietta College Advising Awards to Marshall Kimball, Associate Professor of Music (First-Year Advising), and Dr. Janet Bland, McCoy Associate Professor of English (Advising in a Major).

Dr. Robert Pastoor, Vice President for Student Life, presented the Marietta College Staff Awards for Mentoring to women’s basketball coach Stacia Shrider and Linda See, Assistant to the Vice President of Student Life.

Community member Janice Fenton received the Outstanding Education Volunteer Award, the final one of the evening, from Barbara A. Perry Fitzgerald ’73, Chair of the Board of Trustees.