Changing Clemson: Abel Bartley gives a blueprint for an inclusive campus experience
By Julia Turner, Class of 2014
Office of Media Relations
In honor of Black History month, Inside Clemson is featuring Clemson faculty and staff who are promoting and expanding racial diversity.
One such supporter is Dr. Abel A. Bartley. Director of the Pan-African Studies program, Bartley is a staunch advocate to the cultural exchange.
“The world has changed; we are now all neighbors. The global market has made us a global society. We have to understand the world is getting grayer, so our cultures are mixing,” said Bartley. “The students in the Pan-African studies program are learning that if they can engage with all people, they can be a lot more successful in life. Understanding all parts of the world, knowing different cultures, religions, backgrounds, and not just the statistics, gives students an advantage in the working world.”
Bartley’s recent implementation of the program provides Clemson students insight on “issues and problems facing South Carolinians.” It aims to document the culture and history of African-American churches, businesses and schools in and beyond the state. “We want to become a clearinghouse of information for those interested in learning more about the black experience in the South,” he said. His goal is to eventually not just have an established and thriving program, but to lead the ACC in this field.
Until then, there is still progress to be made. Bartley believes it’s because of the numbers. Clemson has a little more than six percent African-American students and slightly more than three percent African-American faculty. But Bartley has a blueprint that he believes, if implemented, can completely transform relations, bringing Clemson up to an A.
Clemson has already made forward strides to understand issues, improve relations and create a more inclusive environment. The university has created this new Pan-African Studies program, and he is working to hire a more diverse faculty and staff. Bartley says, “This is a humungous leap; we are going to be hiring faculty who will be here to teach only this, and students will be engaged in a completely new way.”
Bartley’s blueprint advice includes the expansion of the Pan African Studies program. He contends the investment in such a program demonstrates to African-American students the university’s interest in their history and in their futures. Such a program highlights the heritage and culture of African-American students, and underscores the importance of diversity to the academic environment. Bartley points out that “we have no problem finding kids who can shoot a basketball or run fast or throw a football, but we have a lot of trouble finding kids who can do math or science. It’s those students who matter as well, and showing them that we care will open the flood gates.”
Bartley supports African-American student recruitment as a crucial step in broadening the campus cultural experience.
“The more money you have, the more access to education you have; the less you have, the less opportunity you get. We don’t just need to solely focus on the superstars, we need to be looking for talented African-American students in all areas and show them that there is no limit to their possibilities. There is no dream out of reach for African-American students today. That, to me, is amazing. If you want to find a cure for cancer, you can do it. If you want to cure paralysis, you can do it. There is no limit to what you can do with this generation,” said Bartley.
Finally, Bartley believes that the university should invest in a cultural center. “We really need to give African-American students a place to tell their story. We need something that African-American students can point to and say this is mine; something that they can show others, and say, “See, Clemson has this up here; a place for us to come, a place for us to be somebody here at Clemson.” In this way, said Bartley, we can show potential and current students and faculty that we see all of the important ways in which both African-Americans and others influenced Clemson. If you offer people a piece of the pie, they generally stay for dinner.
Bartley knows the importance of education, and says that every student should be welcomed and proud to receive one at Clemson. We are certainly heading in the direction of progress, but there is always room for even more improvement. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” With Abel Bartley on the job, Clemson will sooner, rather than later, be leading the pack to enhancing the black experience on campus.
Abel Bartley received his Ph.D. in African American and Urban History from Florida State University. He is currently a professor of African American and Urban History with research interests in black politics, education, sports, community development and economics. In his free time, Bartley enjoys reading, sports, spending time with his family and doing community outreach with his church.
Bartley’s book, Keeping the Faith, tells the story of how African-Americans in Jacksonville, Fla. successfully fought against Jim Crow laws using political and economic pressure.