Harold Hillman, April 23, 2021

Muhlenberg College: Trexler Library Oral History Repository
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00:00:00 - Interview Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Samantha Brenner: Amazing. So my name is Samantha Brenner, and I am here with Harold Hillman to talk about his experiences at Muhlenberg College. Our goal is to collect oral histories of people's unique experiences during their years as students to preserve the information for future generations to access. The oral history's are an integral part of our course, The History of Diversity and Inclusion at Muhlenberg College. We are meeting on Zoom on April Twenty-Third, 2021.

00:01:41 - Early Life Influences and Path Toward Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: SB: Should we start with a question? Yeah. Okay. So to start with the questions, I'd like to turn to your early life and ask how you became interested and sought out the college experience. Who were your major influences and how did you know you wanted to attend Muhlenberg College?

HH: Well, Samantha, my early influences. I knew that I was going to attend college when I was five. My father was born in 1900 in Georgia, in the state of Georgia, and so he never went to school. It was illegal then in the South to educate little Black kids.

00:11:37 - Transition to Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: I grew up in D.C. D.C. was and still is predominantly a predominantly Black city. My neighborhood was completely Black. All of my schools, my elementary school, my junior high school, my high school had, I think, two white students. But that was my environment. As a matter of fact, I had never prior to stepping foot on Muhlenberg's campus, I had never had a conversation with another white kid.

00:18:20 - Invitation to Rush Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity

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Partial Transcript: I never knew what a fraternity was and I never knew what rush was, you know, in that sense of “being rushed.” But there was a lot of the freshmen on the floor who were being rushed in that second semester by fraternities, all the freshmen on the floor, except for the three Black freshmen.

00:21:29 - College Life after joining ZBT

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Partial Transcript: My grades shot up significantly. So going from three C's and two D's to that second semester where I began to thrive. And really I didn't know much about Dr. Maslow and his hierarchy of needs then, but that need to belong was very real for me. And it's associated with thriving. And I literally began to thrive in that second semester. I earned three B's and two A's.

00:23:41 - Academic Life at Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: I majored in psychology. And I-- I actually went down that path towards pre-med. But I didn't like the-- I didn't like organic chemistry, I didn't like physics, I didn't like-- I just didn't like them. I just didn't. I was more-- at that point in time. Now, in terms of how some people are wired, you know, we're wired in different ways. And I was wired as a real social, gregarious kid. And I just had a real intense curiosity for human behavior. And so I majored in psychology and then went down that path and was really excited about it.

00:25:28 - Bringing a unique perspective to Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: But I was pretty quiet. It was in my sophomore year when I took a sociology course.
Dr. Baldridge was the professor's name and it was Sociology 101 or something like that. We were talking about civil rights. The topic in the course turned to civil rights.
And Dr. Baldridge beckoned me to his office in my first semester of my sophomore year, and he said to me, “Harold, You're very quiet in class. And we are now on a topic on civil rights, and you need to bring your voice to the table and you need to share some perspective on what it's like to be Black in America.”

00:27:48 - College life, continued

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Partial Transcript: I had largely positive experiences at Muhlenberg. I began to do really well academically at that point. I knew that I wanted to be a psychologist and-- and so I just immersed myself fully in those courses. And what else, I worked in the admissions office. I was in a work study-- Muhlenberg extended a full scholarship to me because my parents couldn't afford university. And that was something that I was really grateful for.

00:30:44 - Black Students Association (BSA)

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Partial Transcript: ut one thing I'll just interject just slightly here is that in that piece you referenced--the Association of Black Collegians was the BSA of its day. And in that piece, you had mentioned that when you arrived, there were about 20 Black students. And by that point, when you were, I think, a junior, possibly a senior, at that point, there were only 10. Can you-- can you speak a little bit about what you remember of that organization and efforts to infuse it with energy or you know, events that they had and anything about it?

HH: Yeah, we had a-- in Martin Luther dorm, in the basement. We had a room that was the BSA, Black Students Association, and we would meet up once a week-- the Black students. And it was really us just basically sharing stories and experiences and a strong affiliation, all the Black students knew each other pretty well.

00:33:57 - Dr. Tom Maiser's Influence & Graduate School

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Partial Transcript: HP: So thinking about your time at Muhlenberg, if you could start over, is there anything that you would do different? And in what ways did your experiences at Muhlenberg impact the trajectory of your life, as well as what would you like to see for future students of color at Muhlenberg College?

HH: Muhlenberg was a positive experience for me. I'm really grateful to Muhlenberg. It gave me a springboard into the rest of my life, which I really am grateful for. Muhlenberg was a largely positive experience for me. It did change the trajectory of my life big time.

00:38:31 - Finding Comfort in Standing Out

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Partial Transcript: So the experience at Muhlenberg, I just had largely positive experiences. Like I said, I've never had what I would call a horrific negative experience in terms of encounters. And I got used to standing out, that whole notion of fitting in and standing out. Prior to Muhlenber, my big emphasis was on fitting in as an introverted junior high school and high school student-- I wanted to fit in. And part of it was-- a part of that was me not yet coming to terms with the fact that I was gay. And I was still trying to “get my Black on” in a white college setting. So being gay took the sort of a secondary seat.

00:40:20 - "Limited Support for Minorities at Muhlenberg"

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Partial Transcript: but if there was one thing while you were here that you could have maybe changed or made better; if they gave you, I don't know, one wish, one-- Was there anything that you'd think would be like, OK, that's the thing I like, I want to change, I want to make better. Something you want Muhlenberg to work on.

HH: Yeah, it would probably fall in that category of inclusion, and that is maybe making a concerted effort for students who do stand out for whatever reason on any demographic factor, don't have to navigate that path alone in sort of a hit and miss strategy. There was no strategy in terms of helping students who were different than the majority to actually find their way in. So we were sort of on our own. We had Janice Williams over in the admissions office and she was really cool.

00:44:40 - Botany Professor's Role

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Partial Transcript: SB: And you also talked a little bit about your relationship with Dr. Maiser and Dr. Baldridge.

HH: Yes.

SB: And just thinking about your relationship with them, was there any-- were there any other professors that you’ve taken their class or that you have the same relationship with or really mentored you? And were there any classes that stood out to you that you really enjoyed other than the one class you mentioned?

00:47:52 - Contact with Mentor, Janice Williams

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Partial Transcript: SFM: Well, I think it's interesting, so you've mentioned Janice Williams.

HH: Yes.

SFM: We actually the other day-- we spoke to Daniel Bosket, who was class of seventy-five, and he's still in Allentown and he's been very involved. She-- she ended up very involved with the school board district. He is able to put us in touch with her. So she is actually somebody that we would like to speak to this summer.

00:48:45 - Words of Wisdom to Students Today

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Partial Transcript: s there anything that you would say to Muhlenberg students today, particularly students of color? Recommendations, words of wisdom?

HH: Yeah. I would say to back yourself. I would-- I would give them a little bit of more insight around the inherent tension associated with fitting in and standing out. But the stronger gravitational pull towards fitting in where all of a sudden you start to step away from your authentic self and begin to, if anything, mimic or replicate the behaviors of the majority in the interest of fitting in, being deemed acceptable, enhancing your chances of being accepted. Sometimes you really do step away from your authentic self. I didn't know much at that time. I didn't really know much about the tension between those two extremes fitting in and standing out.

00:53:04 - Black Student Population & Emerging Leaders

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Partial Transcript: SFM: Thank you so much. Does anybody else have any questions that you'd like to ask Harold now? And do you have any questions for us?

HH: How many Black students, Hailey, are at Muhlenberg? I've-- I'm dying to know.

HP: Honestly, I don't know.

HH: Is it more than two hands?

HP: Yes, more than two hands! There's quite a few in each class. So the Association is pretty large right now. So, yeah, there's-- there's a lot more, but I don't have an exact number.

HH: But that's good to hear. Like in the 20s, 30s?

HP: I think probably like the 30s or 40s.

00:55:17 - Significance of 1984

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Partial Transcript: By the way, are there any sororities now at Muhlenberg college? There were no sororities.

HP: Yes.

HH: There are sororities, excellent!

SFM: Nineteen-- 1984 was a big year. That's when sororities came in. So there were-- there were three initially. But that also was the year at which they finally did hire the first Black faculty member, was in 1984.

00:56:26 - "I is for Inclusion"

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Partial Transcript: It is the-- if I-- if I could do it all over again, if I had a magic wand and, and go back to the sixties and early seventies in what was called affirmative action, the “D”, the diversity, “D” and “I.” The “I” didn't exist as you all may know, that wasn't even the word that we used. I didn’t even know-- inclusion only popped up certainly in my realm here in New Zealand over the last two decades.
So I would probably put “I” before “D” -- inclusion and diversity and some matter of fact, I would make it a point to put the “I” before the “D”.

00:58:48 - The Foundation of Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: HH: Well. Yeah. Yeah, look, my experience with Muhlenberg was a pretty positive experience, all told. And in retrospect, I know of Black students and minority students who have had far less positive experiences. And, you know, those who went to school right around the same time that I did and even afterwards there. So I owe Muhlenberg a lot in terms of providing that opportunity for me. A full scholarship, which, you know, just really grateful for the springboard into the rest of my life, which was a really-- has just been a really enriching and invigorating trajectory for me. And the foundation is Muhlenberg.

01:00:18 - Closing Remarks

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Partial Transcript: SFM: Thank you so much for this. Thank you for meeting with us so early and, and for sharing your memories and your stories. And we just are, we are so grateful for-- for your time and thank you.

HH: Thank you

SFM: We will prepare this and transcribe it and send you copies so you'll have the opportunity to review and redact if you choose. But we hope that, we hope that we share it in its entirety. So over the-- over the course of it, we'll get that to you probably-- well we have to get through this to the finals and everything-- but, you know, over the course of the next month or so, we'll get that typed up and shared. And then we will,
well, I'm going to share your article with you right away, of course. And as soon as I get contact information for Janice.