By Meg Anderson
In 1965, Greenville native Joseph Vaughn enrolled at Furman and became the first African American student to attend the university, paving the way for thousands of other students to attend an institution that had previously excluded them.
Now, half a century later, Vaughn has passed, but Furman is making plans to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the university’s integration and reflect on Vaughn’s historic impact on the life of the university.
As President Kohrt put it in a mass email earlier this year, Furman hopes to “not merely celebrate the occasion of integration, but also to examine where Furman has gone in the intervening half century, and what might lie ahead.”
To achieve this goal, the university has formed a committee of students, faculty, and staff charged with the task of making preparations for next year. Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Idella Glenn and History Professor Dr. Steve O’Neill are co-chairing the committee.
O’Neill said the committee’s immediate goal is to “look at what transpired at Furman in the two years leading up to Joe Vaughn’s admission.” Glenn added that she thought it would be a good opportunity “to take stock on what we’ve done” and also “to highlight what we might need to do.”
Clemson and the University of South Carolina are also commemorating the anniversaries of their respective integrations this year, and Furman’s committee is using those universities as references for potential events. O’Neill noted, however, that unlike Clemson, which desegregated following a legal case, Furman desegregated by choice.
Furman’s student body is currently composed of 15 percent multicultural students, and the university includes seven student organizations focused on diversity in its brochure.
But many still see room for the university to improve when it comes to diversity. On College Prowler, a website where students can review their universities in various categories, Furman has a C in the category of diversity. Reviewers write that students are generally “very accepting of others” but that they are still “disappointed by the lack of racial diversity on campus.”
Glenn said that she does not believe the anniversary celebrations will have a drastic effect on Furman’s diversity, but she does hope that Furman will continue to work to ensure that “students get a great education experience that prepares them for a world that is very diverse.”
While still unclear about specific events, O’Neill said the committee plans to incorporate an academic component and to host alumni who were part of Furman’s integration.