Officials at West Texas A&M University paid a fine tribute to several of its trailblazers earlier this week during the dedication and celebration of the Nathaniel and Helen Neal Multicultural Suite.
The suite, located inside the Jack B. Kelley Student Center, honors the Neals, whose family holds a significant place in university history. Helen Neal was the first African American graduate from the school in 1962, and Nathaniel Neal was the first African American professor there in 1971.
“My parents didn’t start out trying to be the first of anything,” Delores Thompson, the oldest daughter of Nathaniel and Helen Neal, said. “They were just living their life and as a result, here they are. I was surprised to see all the people here. My father and mother touched a lot of lives, as teachers, as educators. A lot of people knew them.”
The turnout was another powerful testimony for the role educators play in the lives of young people, teaching, molding and shaping subsequent generations. According to WTAMU officials, the suite will serve house the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of Experiential Learned and Campus Community, First Year Experience and the International Student Office.
The multicultural suite will provide students with resources to help them be successful on campus and beyond, retaining bright minds and helping position them for graduation. Today’s college students need as many resources as possible to help them navigate challenges and adjustments that can come with campus life.
“They have to feel comfortable. They have to feel welcome,” Angela Allen, WTAMU’s chief officer for diversity and inclusion, said. “They need a place where they can be grounded, where they can just meet other people with like minds, doing those kinds of things. That’s what this space will do.”
College life is about much more than classroom learning. It is also the first opportunity for many to be away from home. This can mean new routines, new people and new ways of doing things. It often requires time to adjust, seek out support mechanisms, make new friends and move toward a redefined sense of comfort.
“For so long, we haven’t had a space to feel welcome or come talk to different people of different cultures,” Nathan Stotts, a junior marketing major at WTAMU from Amarillo, said. “This means a lot to me.”
Likewise, it will mean a lot to others. As West Texas A&M continues to evolve and grow, it will have to seek ways to maintain an environment of connectedness for students, faculty and staff. We salute university officials for being proactive in establishing a resource devoted to unity, inclusion and success.
In short, it honors the remarkable legacy and influence of the Neal family, a “home base,” as WTAMU President Walter Wendler put it, benefiting every student it touches.
“It shows that WT is willing and now, taking that next step to the next level, incorporating everyone,” said Charles Cox, a junior criminal justice major from Lubbock.
Inclusion should be more than just a catchy buzzword, especially on college campuses, which should champion the attribute in not only words, but also in deeds.
To its credit, West Texas A&M has done exactly that with a decision that will have influence for generations to come.