Donovan will remember feeling initially apprehensive at moving to a small southern city, but then quickly right at home as a part of the campus community. Her memories also will include listening to Voorhees professors who shared with students their experiences traveling to Ghana and seeing firsthand the vestiges of the transatlantic slave trade.
BY DAVID PAULSEN
EPISCOPAL NEWS SERVICE
Christina Donovan considers herself a nontraditional undergraduate student. At age 27, she is older than many of her classmates at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina. Yet she exemplifies, with her personal background and academic interests, the type of student whom administrators say they strive to serve at Voorhees, a historically black college whose ties to The Episcopal Church date to 1924.
With about 500 students, the college’s faculty can devote greater attention to nurturing students academically than what pupils could expect at a large university, Donovan told Episcopal News Service. And as a young black woman from Brooklyn, New York, she appreciates being joined by other African American students as they spend these years focused on their education.
On campus, “everybody knows everybody,” she said, like a family. “I love it. … The fact that I was able to be around people that looked like me was a little easier because you’re not competing or not dealing with a lot of the issues.”
Those issues often center around race and racial tensions, which sometimes become distractions in multiracial learning environments, Donovan said. Instead, her Brooklynite Thrives At Voorhees College HBCU’s Affiliation with Episcopal Church Provides Church and School academic career has flourished since she left New York in 2017 for Voorhees, including a stint last year as the college’s Student Government Association president and a fellowship this year with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Behind the success of students like Donovan is a range of assistance – financial, administrative, spiritual – provided to the college by The Episcopal Church, Voorhees President W. Franklin Evans said in an interview with ENS. The church’s last two triennial budgets included more than $1.6 million for Voorhees and Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, another historically black school with Episcopal roots.
The Episcopal Church’s recent work with historically black colleges and universities coincides with a greater emphasis on racial reconciliation under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who was elected in 2015 as the first African-American bishop to head the church. Evans said Voorhees is looking forward to welcoming Curry to speak on campus this April 7 as part of the college’s 123rd Founder’s Day celebration.
When Donovan graduates this spring with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, she’d like to find an opportunity to continue working in Washington but doesn’t yet have firm plans. She will leave Voorhees with memories for a lifetime, like the time she served as the thurifer on Absalom Jones’ feast day in the campus’s St. Philip’s Chapel and “smoked it out” with an intense level of incense.
The college’s affiliation with The Episcopal Church was one reason she was drawn to Voorhees. “I’m able to still have my church life and be at school,” she said, also recalling childhood Sundays when she would serve as an acolyte at Christ Church in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood, near her home in Sheepshead Bay. Donovan will remember feeling initially apprehensive at moving to a small southern city, but then quickly right at home as a part of the campus community. Her memories also will include listening to Voorhees professors who shared with students their experiences traveling to Ghana and seeing firsthand the vestiges of the transatlantic slave trade.
She’ll also remember her first visit to campus when she learned about Voorhees’ founding in 1897 by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, whose mission was to improve black lives through education. And the college continues to “keep her spirit alive” for new generations of students like herself, Donovan said.
“It’s a place for you to find who you are and what you can do for the world or in your community.”