In honor of Black History Month and in remembrance of how far our nation and university have come concerning the issues of race and equality, we interviewed four African-American students and asked them to share about their education experience at Bob Jones University. The four students come from a variety of backgrounds, but through different circumstances God led them all to choose Bob Jones University as their place of higher education.
Ray Holden, a junior Bible major, was planning to attend another college but didn’t have peace about attending school there. “God was moving me toward Bob Jones [University],” Holden said. When he visited the campus to visit friends attending BJU, he was impressed that students were hearing biblical truths taught in non-Bible classes and that professors used Scripture throughout their lectures. He was still nervous about the rules and standards that BJU upholds, and knew that attending BJU would be a challenge, but he saw that many of the rules were in place to create a professional atmosphere and that they would help him to change for the better.
Faith Henry, a senior biblical counseling major, who was familiar with BJU through its homeschooling curriculum, was also planning to attend another college. But after visiting that college and disliking it, she visited BJU, where she had positive interactions with both students and faculty. “The Lord made it clear, this is where I needed to be,” Henry said. She also loved the clean and beautiful campus, deciding that BJU put an “emphasis on doing what they do well,” Henry said.
Evie Bernard, a senior biology major, whose father serves on Bob Jones University’s board of trustees, was unsure that BJU was the right college for her. Then she came to College Up Close during her senior year of high school, and she encountered kind and genuine people and a spiritual atmosphere that was lacking in the public high school she attended. “All of the stereotypes I heard about [BJU] weren’t being met,” she said. Bernard, who was already interested in going into the medical field, was also impressed with how the science classes were connected to Scripture and how all of the classes opened up with prayer.
Deijha Swanson, a junior English major, said that God used relationships to bring her to BJU. Swanson credits Dr. Bruce Cox, head of the department of instrumental studies at BJU, for helping her to think of the plans God had for her instead of what she wanted for herself. Swanson said her admission counselor was always there for her and answered all of her questions. “God showed me that [BJU] was where I was supposed to be,” Swanson said.
All four students said the application process was smooth and easy. Holden said when he arrived on campus, the Welcome Center was eager to help him, and Henry said that coming to BJU wasn’t a difficult transition.
Although BJU has seen an increase in African-American students, Bernard, Henry, Holden and Swanson have a few suggestions on how BJU can continue to better appeal to students of all races and cultures.
Bernard believes that BJU should continue to urge students to share their college experience, and that these conversations will encourage potential students to attend BJU. “We get asked questions,” Bernard said. She said that she’s had many opportunities to share about her experience at BJU, and believes that, just as the Gospel is shared through personal experience, the Lord can use word-of-mouth to bring students to BJU.
Holden said getting rid of the negative stereotypes that people associate with BJU will encourage students to form their own opinion of BJU. Because there are people who “want to destroy what God’s doing” at BJU, Holden believes that continuing to build a better image of BJU will draw students in. Holden encourages students and faculty to “make new traditions and build a new culture and community” at BJU. He also said that when potential students see that BJU is apologizing for past issues and not ignoring them, students are more compelled to consider BJU for their place for higher education.
Henry said that as BJU is being open and acknowledging past issues, it gives her the opportunity to share about the different atmosphere on campus. “We can honestly say that it’s changing,” Henry said. And when those people want proof, she can tell them how BJU is changing for the better. Henry believes that the changes and shifting focuses, including the emphasized focus on discipleship, will encourage people to check out BJU for themselves.
Swanson recognizes that BJU has “made great leaps and bounds” in its history in many ways. Because people tend to hear only about the negative things concerning BJU, when the University is transparent about the past, that kind of honesty “speaks way more” than the voices of negativity, Swanson said. “We live in an age where people appreciate honesty,” Swanson said.
Bernard, Henry, Holden and Swanson say they are thankful for the opportunities they’ve been given at BJU to grow educationally and spiritually. Just as the history of our nation has changed to give people of all races the opportunity to use their talents and gifts, so has BJU developed and changed over time.
The four identified personal heroes who have inspired them to succeed. Henry admires Vivien Thomas, the first African-American without a doctorate to perform open-heart surgery on a white patient in the United States.
Similarly, Bernard admires Dr. Ben Carson, the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head.
Holden respects the character of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.
Swanson appreciates the writing of Alice Walker, an author and activist who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her 1982 novel, The Color Purple. Swanson said that Walker’s writing “shows the contrast of where [African-Americans] were and where they are now.” Walker’s writing also encourages people to hold on to their heritage, never forget the people who have gone before them, and remember those whom God gave courage to fight the obstacles that the world brought them.
Attending Bob Jones University has challenged Bernard, Henry, Holden and Swanson to reach their highest potential, and they have experienced the power of God helping them achieve their goals.
“There are friends who are seeing that I’m attending school here, and they see that’s it’s doable,” Holden said. “And it’s changing me for the better.”