50 Years of Inclusion

From left, Eric Malewski, Terri Arnold, Teresa Joyce, Nancy King, Jorge Perez and Carol Pope

Panel reveals the stories behind Kennesaw State’s evolution as an inclusive campus

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 24, 2031) -- A five-member panel representing 178 years of experience at Kennesaw State University shared personal experiences reflecting the University’s evolution toward embracing inclusion and diversity as core values throughout its first 50 years. The panel discussion was a culminating event of a weeklong celebration of the University’s 50thanniversary.

Represented among the panelists were a number of key diversity and inclusion trailblazers:  the first African-American staff member; the first female vice president; one of the first openly gay Latino faculty; one of the first openly lesbian senior administrators; and one of the first staff advocates for persons with disabilities. 

“We have seen quite a few major changes as it relates to diversity and inclusion over the past 50 years of existence, as has our county, state and the country,” said Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp. “We’ve seen incredible progress in outlooks, attitudes and movement in the right direction. Are we where we’re supposed to be? ‘No.’ Are we continuing to move in the right direction? That’s a resounding ‘yes’.”

In introducing the panel, Erik Malewski, Kennesaw State’s chief diversity officer, said telling stories helps the University remake and rethink what it means to be a community.  “It helps us remember and draws us into relationship with each other.”

The panel included:

  • Terri Arnold, retired and working part time in the Office of External Affairs as manager of planning and strategic initiatives;
  • Teresa Joyce, senior vice provost;
  • Nancy King, retired vice president of Student Success and Enrollment Services and working part time as executive assistant for strategic initiatives;
  • Jorge Pérez, professor of Information Systems and former faculty executive assistant to the president;
  • Carol Pope, retired assistant director of disabled Student Support Services and director of Student Development.

Panel members lauded co-workers for providing support and guidance when “things were not always easy” and the administration for having the vision to expand the University’s umbrella and providing a climate where people can succeed without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Terri Arnold, the first African-American secretary, joined Kennesaw State in June 1971 in the dean of students’ office. She recalled growing up in Marietta during the era of segregation.

“It was a time of separate water fountains, laws that required you to sit at the back of the bus and not being able to go out to the local restaurants for a meal.”

In that environment, many of her new co-workers had not worked alongside African-Americans in a professional or administrative capacity. 

“I came to [Kennesaw Junior College] for employment, not to break the color barriers,” Arnold said, describing her preparation at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College and explaining the difficult commute she had to a job in downtown Atlanta.  “My arrival here was more of a learning experience for my co-workers. … One of them actually wanted to rub my skin to see if it felt the same. It was an opportunity to teach as well as learn.” 

Nancy King, who became Kennesaw State’s first female vice president, joined the University as an English professor in 1972.  She said she quickly learned that her male colleagues were earning more than she. 

“When I was interviewed [by former president Horace W. Sturgis], the issue of salary never came up,” King said, noting that it was the norm for women, especially if they were not the primary bread winner, to earn less.

But things were changing quickly in the nation and at Kennesaw Junior College, which was advancing toward becoming a four-year college. 

“My whole life changed after Betty Siegel became president [in 1981] and asked me to join the administration as head of counseling, advisement and placement services,” said King, who initially refused the offer. She served as CAPS director and advanced to associate dean of Student Affairs before being named a vice president.

After spending 25 years developing programs to help students with disabilities succeed in college, Carol Pope said Kennesaw State has become a standard among the state’s universities — “probably second only to UGA” — for how to do it. 

disAbled Student Support Services, a unit of Student Development, which Pope directed until her retirement in 2013, provides a wide range of accommodations for access and adaptability, test-taking and academic performance. 

“We have been able to help students with all kinds of disabilities and become a leader, especially among metro-area institutions,” Pope said, noting among others, a student who suffered brain injuries in a car accident and whom Georgia Tech could not accommodate. “He did very well here. I hope we can continue to help these students succeed.”     

Teresa Joyce, who began her Kennesaw State career as an assistant professor of management in 1987, said that as a Northerner, a Catholic and a member of the business school faculty — “a world of men” — she was dealing with a lot of diversity issues.  But it was after coming out as a gay woman that she became a “reluctant advocate” for creating a safe place for Kennesaw State’s LGBTIQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/intersex/questioning) community.

“I was having difficulty in my department with a colleague, who threatened to out me,” Joyce said.  “When faced with that, I had to make some larger decisions.”

Rather than live under the threat, Joyce said she decided to confide in her former boss, Tim Mescon, former dean of the Coles College of Business.

“I never felt anything less than 100 percent supported and that made all the difference in the world,” said Joyce, who led the effort to implement Kennesaw State’s Safe Space Initiative and endow the Safe Space Scholarship.

Jorge Pérez, who as faculty executive assistant to the president in 2010-2013 became the first Latino on the Cabinet, also says he has dealt with dual issues of inclusion and diversity as one the first gay Latino members of the faculty.  To better blend in, he says he shortened his full name — Jorge Antonio Julian de Jesús Pérez y García — to simply Jorge and pronounced it “George,” and did not share his sexual orientation.

Born in Cuba, Pérez joined the faculty in 1998 as an assistant professor in information systems.  Despite a 10-year struggle to become full professor and racist comments left on his door, his career at Kennesaw State took off when he learned to “focus the issues outward.”  Since then, he has served as the CETL faculty Fellow for Online Learning, associate director of the Center for Hispanic Studies and was recently selected as an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow.  He said his experiences, especially his work in the president’s office, have led him to become “very fluent in the issues of diversity.”

“President Papp gets diversity,” said Pérez.  “[Dr. Papp] has commissioned the most comprehensive climate assessment of diversity ever [and taken other measures] leading to the creation of a chief diversity officer for the University.”

As a result, Pérez said, conversations like the one in which this panel was engaged can occur in the open.  “I would never have envisioned myself having this conversation in front of a large group of people,” said Pérez, who was advised by colleagues against coming out as a gay man before he gained tenure. These conversations matter a lot.”

The audience filling Prillaman Hall auditorium responded enthusiastically to the panelists’ candor and sincerity.

"As a newcomer to Kennesaw State, I found the panel on The Evolution of Inclusion eye-opening, moving, and inspiring,” said Robbie Lieberman, who joined Kennesaw State this fall as chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies after serving 22 years as professor and chair of history at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  “There is something very special about a campus that can be so open about its own history and so forward-looking about diversity issues.”

Gabriel Pino, a student in the Master of Science in International Policy Management program who is of Venezuelan and Peruvian heritage, said: “It was interesting to learn about how far the school has come over 50 years through the perspective of five different people who each have had unique experiences. … I could even say the same for how much it has grown in the last three since I arrived at the University.  [This] is a school that prides itself on its diversity and collection of different perspectives and I love that. I think it is what makes KSU so special.” 

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-- Sabbaye McGriff