Briana Simmons, The Black Bear – Malikah Marrus left New Jersey for Fisk University to pursue her undergraduate degree in history.
Marrus was heavily involved during her undergraduate years. She was in the honors program, served as an orientation leader, and was a member of the state club. She said one of her greatest experiences was becoming a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Following her undergraduate education, she attended the University of Houston to obtain a master’s degree in social work.
Marrus said she was drawn to Missouri State University by its public affairs mission. In Jan. of 2011, she began her work as a professor in the social work department, but she said the transition hasn’t been easy for her and other African-American professors.
“It’s hard for some to stay in this area because the greater community is not as diverse. Over the years, we’ve heard that the student number has increased in diversity, although I don’t know that I necessarily see it. I think we can find ways to improve our diversity racially, socio-economically and in religion.”
Marrus detailed several ways the university can reflect its mission to diversify the population.
“We need to make a push more into certain areas of the state. We need some pipeline programs that start with people at an early age. Partner with schools in Kansas City and St. Louis, look at ways we can encourage students, and working with alum to have them bring their children back, setting up scholarships that target diverse populations, improving the climate for students while they’re here, increasing the diversity of faculty, staff and administration, so students see someone who looks like them; which is also important.
In addition to teaching classes, Marrus is the adviser to U.N.I.T.E., an organization aimed at increasing the retention rates of African-American students at Missouri State.
“My door is always open. If you see us walking, stop us and say ‘hi’ because we all have this open door policy,” Marrus said.
Dominiece Hoelyfield graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale with a degree in radio and TV, and minor in journalism.
She had a grassroots radio station called “The Wake Up Call” where she’d bring community members on air to talk about events and other happenings going on in the community.
Hoelyfield received her master’s degree in student affairs from Illinois State University. Little did she know, this would prepare her for her position at Missouri State.
For two years, she worked as a career resource specialist. Last semester, she began her role as the first LGBT Student Services Coordinator for the LGBT Resource Center in University Hall.
“It’s kind of like serendipity. It was never part of the plan. Life just happened,” Hoelyfield said.
Hoelyfield said she believes she’s here to represent for the queer people of color.
“We’ve got a lot of things going on in this community, both on the racial side and with sexual orientation and gender identity. If we don’t stand up and say anything, or vote, or go here and rub elbows, or go out here and do anything, nothing is going to change,” Hoelyfield said.
“It’s nice to say we want to bring diversity to campus, but it’s not about bringing them here. It’s about keeping them here and continuously bringing others here,” Hoelyfield said.
She said she’d like the recruiting efforts to go outside of Missouri’s boundaries, to places as far as Chicago.
“I strongly believe they’re not just going to let this go by the wayside. They are putting things into place, but it takes time and it takes patience” Hoelyfield said.
Marilyn Benford came to Springfield from St. Louis in hopes of bettering her life for her and her daughter.
After losing her mother and first child at a young age, she was devastated and began to question her faith. In turn, she acted out.
“The only way I was going to make it was to leave,” Benford said.
Springfield happened to be one of the best and worst things to happened to her.
In 2003, she arrived in Springfield and says she sought out all of help possible to get back on her feet. At this time, she says she was first introduced to discrimination and racial profiling in Springfield.
After several years of odd jobs, she landed a permanent position with Missouri State.
Benford knows her ways around campus. She’s worked with the catering, housekeeping, grounds, and custodial staffs. Her position has offered a different perspective of the diversity of the campus staff and student population.
“The diversity they have here is controlled. They do what the people over them allow them to do,” Benford said.
Benford says the experiences she’s had as a staff member and student at Missouri State have not deterred her from being a motherly figure away from home for many students on campus.
“I just want them to know that’s it’s an adult here and my name is Marilyn. I don’t have much, but if somebody needs something or needs a mother figure or a motherly voice to speak for you, yo mama ain’t hear to speak for you. As long as you doing the right thing, I’ll be that voice for you,” Benford said.
“I want them to know I’m the older student around here. You can look up to me. I’m not going to lead you wrong. Everybody needs somebody sometimes. You just have to step out like I did,” Benford said.
Dr. Sabrina Brinson is a native of Tampa, FL.
She’s combined her interests and passion to pursue many areas of scholarship. She received an associate of arts in general studies degree. Then, she pursued her B.A. in psychology at the University of South Florida, while receiving a second B.A. in English literature.
With a master’s degree in special education (with an emphasis in behavior disorders), and a Ph.D. in curriculum leadership (with an emphasis is early childhood education and reading), Brinson has expertise in the misdiagnosis of students in special education, particularly in African American males.
“I committed myself to being a multi-disciplinary scholar,” Brinson said.
Before coming to Missouri State University in 2008, Brinson taught at the University of Memphis.
“What attracted me to Missouri State was actually the public affairs mission, because when they talk about ethical leadership, cultural competence and community engagement, those are three pillars I personify all the time in my professional life. That was selling point,” Brinson said.
Brinson teaches classes such as child and family development and principals of human development. She also designed the required diversity course for students in the College of Education.
She said attending a PWI helped her gain a wealth of experiences.
“Although it was predominantly white, it was far more evolved than a lot of our major institution, in that there really was a place for everyone there. Of course, there were issues. One thing I see as a difference is that people kind of actually addressed the issues. We didn’t take the colorblind approach, that we don’t see issues or that there aren’t any,” Brinson said.
But, teaching at a PWI has introduced new challenges.
“It is bittersweet. Overall, it’s been satisfying because there have been opportunities for me to take the initiative to make a difference. I would say the bittersweet part is, as a said, when I came here, the public affairs mission is touted … but the reality is that it’s not personified and it is not put into practice overall at the university. I think that is a huge issue and I think it does everyone here a disservice,” Brinson said.