Alfred University can rightfully boast of its strong tradition and background in support of diversity and equality. Many people are familiar with Alfred's distinctive early role in co-education and equal treatment of women. Not only were women allowed to attend the school but they were encouraged to speak publicly and studied side by side with their male counterparts. Alfred's women were the first in the country to give public orations at commencement ceremonies.
Not as many, however, are aware of the University's early acceptance of varied religious beliefs, ethnic minorities, gay and lesbians, and international students. The founders of the University were strong, radical, and not afraid to speak out for what they saw as right: that all people should be equal.
Early leaders like William Kenyon and Jonathan and Abigail Allen are credited with molding students into leaders and independent thinkers, all the while working to ensure that anyone and everyone was welcome to attend. An egalitarian spirit and sense of liberalism have been part of AU's heritage since the Seventh Day Baptist settlers decided to open a school to educate their children.
The Seventh Day Baptists value education and had an early vocal role in speaking out against inequalities. A prime illustrative example is a resolution adopted by delegates to the 1836 Seventh Day Baptist Conference held in Alfred:
“Resolved, that we consider the practice of holding human beings as mere goods and chattels, entirely subject to the will of their master ... is a practice forbidden by the law of God…which not human legislation can render morally right… which ought to be immediately abandoned.” They also resolved that “the condition of more than two millions of native Americans, unrighteously held in such bondage, demands the sympathies and prayers of citizens…” These resolutions were passed at a time when expressing anti-slavery sentiments was a dangerous activity and mob violence was still frequently the response to such views. Even on college and university campuses, places we today think of as more liberal and open to discourse on all sides of an issue, administrators expelled students and dismissed faculty who expressed their abolitionist beliefs. Not so at Alfred.
Alfred's faculty and students vocally supported the reformation and elimination of slavery. In 1841, Jonathan Allen wrote a play that correctly predicted the Civil War and the demise of slavery 20 years later.
In 1846, Abigail Allen founded Alfred's first women's literary society (one of the earliest in the country) and strongly advocated for women's equal education at a time when that was controversial. Considered a radical by many, Abigail spent her entire life campaigning for the rights of women, blacks, and the uneducated.
Not only were students of various backgrounds and ethnicities part of the University's daily fabric, prominent national speakers were also invited to campus -- reformers who spoke out loudly on issues of equality-- Julia Ward Howe (1871), Sojourner Truth (1871), Frederick Douglass (1852, 1857, 1861, 1871), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1870), and Susan B. Anthony (1870). Gerrit Smith, a reformer and philanthropist who provided financial backing for his friend the militant abolitionist John Brown and the anti-slavery fight, became a trustee of the University.
Their thoughts were also reflected and reiterated by faculty at the school. Students at early Alfred received the message from all angles.
In 1991, the University formed the Blue Ribbon Committee on Issues of Diversity as a way to examine the campus culture as it pertained to blacks, gay & lesbians, women, and Jewish and international students. The final report of the that committee concluded by saying: “Listening to those who presented, hearing their needs and concerns, there seemed little question that, in today's emerging society, the institution must assume a greater leadership role in preparing its students and staff to become responsive to, and part of, a larger and more inclusive world community. In the final analysis, perhaps one of the greatest responsibilities facing higher education today is the need to impart to each individual who becomes a part of the academic community a sense of the integral part s/he must play in building an enhanced respect and regard for human dignity and the universality of human rights. Only by learning and teaching acceptance of, and appreciation for, society's ever increasing diversity can the University population become part of the global solution so necessary for a just and lasting social order.”
· The first international student arrived on campus in 1846: Joseph Fulton from Havana, Cuba. The following decade students enrolled from France, the West Indies, Spain, and Canada. By the end of the 19th century, students had also come from England, Brazil, Peru, China, Bolivia, Sweden, Austria, Holland, Palestine, and Japan.
· The first black student to enroll was Eliza Durant from Haiti in 1850.
· A course entitled “The Legal Rights of Women” was taught as early as 1854.
· The first Native American students were two women, Jennie Jimmeson & Emma Johns, who enrolled in 1861.
· The first female editor of the Fiat Lux newspaper, a prestigious position, was Julia Wahl in 1917.
· The 1930s saw the beginning of student organizations centered on the study of foreign languages and cultures.
· In 1968, Alex Haley, author of the classic biography on Malcolm X and Roots, spoke on campus as part of the University's first “Black Awareness Weekend.”
· In 1972, 25% of AU's students were Jewish, compared to the national average of 8%.
· The Village of Alfred was one of the first in the country to pass a sexual orientation equal rights amendment in 1974. The Alfred Gay Liberation student group organized the same year
· AU has offered one of the country's only classes in gay and lesbian history and became the first university in the nation to bar academic credit for the Army's ROTC program as a statement on the military's policy of discriminating against gays and lesbians.