WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — It was only 50 years ago that two students, Beth Norbey Hopkins and Deborah Graves McFarlane, became the first African-American women to live on the campus of Wake Forest University.
They integrated the women’s residence halls.
They were soon joined on campus by additional African-American female students like Linda Holiday and Camille Russell Love.
“We got a lot of strange questions. I had one student say to me, ‘You’re not like the black people I know.’ And I said, ‘I’m like all the black people I know. How many do you know?'”
These women remember those tough times and relied on each other to get through them.
“We moved forward and made the best of it. We formed friendships and got a great education,” Holiday said.
“The university admitted us but they had no support system for us so we had to rely upon our own devices and on each other,” Love said.
Since 1969, WFU has made improvements.
African-American students now make up about 7 percent of all undergraduate students.
Much more work needs to be done.
In 2019, Wake Forest announced the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community.
Jose Villalba is WFU vice president for diversity and inclusion.
“For us there’s been a listening and letting students find their voices and letting us know what’s working and more importantly what the challenges are,” Villalba said.
The commission is tasked with analyzing the campus community’s past and making changes to ensure a better future for underrepresented students.
“Folks don’t want to look to the past. They only want to look at the present but the past is more important. It’s how we ended up getting here,” Villalba said.
That’s why WFU honored these women and provided time for students and faculty to hear about their experiences.
“How grateful we are for students who blazed those trails and making the surrounding community know what you did,” Villalba said
WFU administrators call them trailblazers but these women didn’t see themselves that way.
“I wanted to enjoy my time at the dorm and enjoy my time with friends,” Holiday said.
“We knew we were black students and there to get an education,” Love said.
They earned that education and brought lessons to others too.