Bridging the cultural gap through ‘Brotherhood’
“We, the Black Students of Upper Iowa College in order to help create a better understanding between, students, faculty, and administration, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin, and in order to coordinate higher cultural and social life for Black students with that of the remainder of the college community, and to enhance understanding and communication, do hereby promulgate this constitution.”
With those words etched in its constitutional preamble in March 1969, The Brotherhood became a student organization on Upper Iowa University’s Fayette Campus. Founded by Charles Duke Huffman, Mezell Williams, Norris Dobbins and Chester Cavil, The Brotherhood’s first president was Rick Webber. Dr. Joseph Powers sponsored the group.*
The Brotherhood’s original purpose statement was to make better relations between black and white students. According to later statements, the membership also intended to participate in worthy undertakings for the improvement of all ethnic and minority groups on campus and in the community, enhance Black Awareness and unity, and encourage young men and women in the development of individual projects in establishing themselves in the world.
Donna Hartman ’75, a former Brotherhood secretary, noted that one important mission of the organization was to provide support, comfort and a sense of family to students living a long distance from home. She noted that The Brotherhood helped students better navigate their lives while in an environment that wasn’t always nurturing. Students on Fayette Campus could get support if needed, for such reasons as academic issues or emergency funds to visit home.
“I chose to become a member of The Brotherhood because being involved with it gave me a sense of belonging and support in an environment that was so different from the one in which I grew up,” Hartman, a Chicago native, said. “When there were emergency situations, The Brotherhood would always come together to develop a solution and offer its assistance in the best possible way.”
Upon the invitation of former high school classmates who were attending UIU, Celestine Clark ’76 was another Chicago native who didn’t know what to expect when she first visited the small Fayette Campus in 1971. The Brotherhood sponsored social activities throughout her weekend visit and she credits the organization for playing a major role in her decision to enroll at the university.
“During that fun visit I learned more information about Upper Iowa and its academic programs,” Clark said. “I met friendly administrators, staff members and students. It was a welcoming experience and it so impressed me that I wanted to be a part of the college and The Brotherhood.”
The Brotherhood membership peaked at approximately 60 students during the four years (1972-76) Clark attended UIU. She explained The Brotherhood often hosted discussions with faculty and students to bridge the cultural gap. A series of diversity sessions were held with dormitory staff and female residents to discuss stereotypes, ask frank questions, and learn about histories, beliefs, and culture, in the interest of focusing on similarities instead of differences.
“The Brotherhood also served as ambassadors to other Iowa colleges and universities with similar organizations. We supported each other’s sports activities and intramurals, and hosted social gatherings and other special activities,” added Clark.
The Brotherhood and other UIU students gathered for many of the organization’s informal social activities at the Black Cultural House, which officially opened on Mother’s Day 1970.
“There were birthdays, marriages and births celebrated in the ‘Black House,’” Hartman said. “Anyone could visit the house and the atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion helped to form friendships across ethnic and cultural boundaries.”
The most popular events sponsored by The Brotherhood included Black Night, Black Exposition Weekend, and Brotherhood Cultural Week. Various activities included the Black Talent Revue, a Gospel Night, convocation guest speakers, art shows, a soul food dinner, dances, invitational basketball tournaments, and a performance of the Tony Award-winning play “A Raisin in the Sun.”
In 1977, The Brotherhood informed university officials of alleged racial discrimination in relation to academics, student affairs and housing, discipline, faculty/student relations, and extracurricular activities.
“I would like to say that there were no issues at UIU, but it was the late ’60s and early ’70s and some people weren’t as welcoming as others,” Hartman said. “Many professors and students had limited interactions with people of another race. Some of their actions and reactions were based on stereotypes as well as longtime biases passed on through generations.”
“Many issues were micro-aggressions, such as students being asked insensitive or rude questions by peers, faculty and staff,” Hartman said. “Other issues were more aggressive, such as a professor saying she didn’t care about any of the black students on campus or parents pulling their child from a dorm because they didn’t want their son or daughter rooming with a black student.”
“It was a learning experience for everyone on campus,” Clark said. “It was a time for individual growth and acceptance of others. We discovered that while others may look different and faced different experiences in life, we could still coexist and want to share similar outcomes. The Brotherhood contributed greatly to bringing these diverse cultures together and Upper Iowa supported and encouraged the entire community to participate.”
Hartman said her overall college experience was very positive. She praised the efforts of UIU professors who provided her a great amount of support and an excellent education. Hartman said that Fayette residents and business owners were friendly and she enjoyed student teaching at Fayette Elementary.
Hartman noted that she met friends from all walks of life, different ethnicities, religions and socio-economic groups during her time as a UIU student. She visited a farm for the first time “and realized just how quiet the world could be.” She hosted a Saudi Arabian student for Thanksgiving and a New Jersey student for Christmas at her Chicago home.
“My experience at UIU taught me that, for the most part, people are the same,” Hartman said. “When you get to really personally know an individual, you come to realize that we all want the same things in life. My four years in Fayette gave me the ability to see the world from many points of view. I felt like I belonged there and I wouldn’t trade my four years at UIU for anything.”
“Through honesty, communication and relationships, there was a meeting of the minds,” Clark said. “Through athletics, recreational activities, and living together, great relationships were formed. Sharing those time and experiences together made us Peacocks for life!”
*The officers for the first full school year (1969-70) of The Brotherhood were President Dennis Prince, Vice President James Martin, Secretary Laurel Newton, Treasurer Artie Borders, Social Life Representative Steve Boyer and Faculty Sponsor Dr. Joseph Powers. Due to a lack of incoming student membership, the Brotherhood discontinued after the 1987-88 school year. The last documented officers were President Greg Thurman, Vice President Ron Giles, Secretary Selina Stokes, Treasurer Cynthia Williamson and Faculty Sponsor Doug McReynolds.
The Brotherhood created the UIU Student Emergency Fund in 2016. Information about the endowment can be viewed inside the Annual Donor Report, which is inserted in the 2017 winter edition of The Bridge. Additional information about The Brotherhood is available in the University Archives, located at Henderson-Wilder library. A video featuring Clark and fellow Brotherhood members Ezekiel (Zeke) Morris and Arthur Blakely is also available for viewing here.
As a former alumni (Katy Ware) of Upper Iowa University, I also was a member of the Brotherhood from 1970-1973. This was a wonderful article to read about the Brotherhood and to see old friends again (Celestine Clark and Zeke Morris).