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First Impressions
by -- October 14th, 2013


(Executive Director of the Duke Environmental Leadership Program, Deb Gallagher and I, along with 3 graduate students, headed to Dallas over the weekend to launch a new partnership with Paul Quinn College, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) on the forefront of environmental justice and urban sustainability issues.)

I was not expecting to be greeted by rows of sculpted crepe myrtles and oaks. Paul Quinn College, located in south Dallas, Texas, had been described to me as an “urban campus” so the wide-open green fields and rose hedges took me by surprise.

But the most surprising campus feature of all: the quiet. As Deb Gallagher and I were given a campus tour by Victoria Wilson, special assistant to PQC President Michael Sorrell, we saw very few students. The campus felt deserted.

There are 240 enrolled students at Paul Quinn College and last year’s graduating class was 16. The science building stands empty, awaiting a hoped-for influx of students interested in the STEM disciplines. The soaring brick chapel has been temporarily abandoned, the roof having caved in during a recent storm.

But, even in the quiet, the Paul Quinn spirit was palpable.

We toured the famous farm, once a football field, and now providing food to the campus, community, local restaurants, and farmers markets. We paused at the campus bell, which once rang in the slaves on a local plantation and now marks the matriculation and graduation of Paul Quinn students. We met an enthusiastic student, Destiny, who will join our Duke/Paul Quinn team over the next year but who had to run off to Miss PQC practice.

There are moments when your privilege is made visible, when you realize that you clearly have advantages that you take for granted. Amidst the quiet of our first tour of PQC, I realized that this emerging collaboration between my R1 university and this small but mighty HBCU has so much to teach me.

And while Duke University has the advantage in resources, PQC provides an incredible motivation in its 4 L’s: Leave places better than you found them; Lead from wherever you are; Live a life that matters; and Love something greater than yourself.

I look forward to practicing these L’s myself as our collaboration develops.

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