Every January at the Division of Student Affairs’ On Common Grounds: Dialogues on Diversity and Social Justice event, we are reminded of the power of intergenerational mentoring. Dating back to the first Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner, with Danny Glover and Felix Justice, Illinois State University has provided an outlet for Redbirds of all ages to talk about their worldviews. Camille ’78 and ’85 and Arthur (Art) Taylor are tenured attendees, having participated in every single dinner since the inaugural event in 2009. They have enjoyed the deep conversations spurred by the On Common Grounds facilitators and look forward to returning year after year to share their Illinois State stories with students, inspiring them to persist to graduation and remain involved in their community.
Camille has mentored individuals professionally and civically in the Bloomington-Normal area for years. The way she extends her mentoring at the On Common Grounds event is what makes her an exemplary Student Affairs alumni. Her connection to Illinois State has continued since her time in undergrad, as she also received her master’s in counseling and certification for English-language learning, and taught two classes, Intro to Special Education and Intro to Multicultural Education. A retired counselor from Normal Community High School, she volunteers her time as a co-chair for the Bloomington-Normal chapter of Not In Our Town initiative.
Conversations at the On Common Grounds event always strike a chord with Camille. She has enjoyed getting to meet past presidents of NAACP, Black Student Union, and other student organizations here at Illinois State. She makes a point to exchange contact information with the students after the event and remains willing to serve as a job reference for them in the future. It is the educator in her that enjoys telling the story of her humble beginnings at Illinois State, to illustrate how education is the great equalizer. She is conscious at the event to applaud the students for their dreams and motivation to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, etc.
Camille pointed out the many benefits of alumni participating in events such as this, where they have the opportunity to inspire students. “I get excited listening to the students’ stories and aspirations. I see young Camille in the students and it takes me back to my own experiences from the seventies at Whitten Hall and the Bone Student Center.” Camille has vivid memories of working at The Cage in the Bone Student Center, watching Doug Collins play basketball, and seeing Elton John perform at Horton Field House. Reflecting on her history at Illinois State, in relation to the lived experiences of the present students’, leaves her with much hope.
Art echoed a similar message about helping students, especially minority students and students from urban communities, feel a part of campus and navigate the complex issues that are unique to people of color. “Even for a short period of time, if you get a mentorship opportunity with students, you have to take advantage. I see my role at this event as one of listening. People want to be heard.”
Coming from the corporate world and being a diversity director at State Farm, Art finds merit in attending the On Common Grounds event to inspire students to have an activist mentality. “I want to help them learn how events such as these can help them gain exposure to people and conversations they would not have the opportunity to participate in outside the college campus.”
Eager to impart lessons to college students and help improve their odds of success in life, Art and Camille Taylor’s desire to give back is powerful. Attending this event means sharing the importance of engaging in arts to acquire the kind of social capital and guidance that has helped them thrive in their adult life.
Michael Eric Dyson, this year’s speaker, discussed breaking down barriers of intersecting identities. In a day and age where we are often separated by age, programs such as this break that barrier and offer the opportunity for mutually beneficial learning for folks of all generations. Having dialogue after the speaking engagement provides students a time to meet staff, alumni, and friends of Illinois State who can offer academic guidance and social support.
Art and Camille’s interactions with students, and the contact our thousands of Student Affairs alumni have with current students is necessary to deliver meaningful collegiate experiences. If you are interested in becoming a mentor and contributing in the discussion at next year’s On Common Grounds event, please contact Amanda Highland, assistant director, annual giving and alumni engagement.