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Participating in a video panel are, from left, Siena Heights students Thomas Lindsey, Tichina Jones, Toni Brown, and Bobby Lindsey, and moderator Kevin Hofmann, right, Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

November 7, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – How do four Black students experience life in the United States and, specifically, in the predominantly white Siena Heights University? A host of experiences, perceptions, and hopes came from a panel discussion, “The World as We See It,” held October 19, 2023, on the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse campus next door to the university.

The event was part of a series of presentations offered by Kevin Hofmann, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion. The series brings speakers of backgrounds different from those of most of the Sisters and Associates – people of different races, ethnic groups, faith traditions, and experiences of gender – to shed light on a variety of perspectives.

Panelists were Bobby Lindsey, a sophomore from Belleville, Michigan, majoring in musical theater; Toni Brown, an exercise science major from Detroit and Livonia, Michigan; Tichina Jones, a former international student from Windsor, Ontario, in her final semester as a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling; and Thomas Lindsey, an art major from Detroit. 

While the students generally agreed that Siena Heights is a welcoming school, they entered into a heartfelt discussion about the challenges they face among peers who are predominantly white. Much of the discussion centered around concerns they regularly face, of which many of their peers were unaware. 

For example, Toni noted her struggle to find hair-care products made for her hair type. Tichina affirmed the struggle. “As a woman, you want to feel beautiful [and] build your self-esteem,” she said. Not having the right products to help Black women feel their best is a challenge that white people need to be “more mindful of,” she said. “It’s really important to us and how we interact in our community.”

Others spoke of the risks they felt in everyday activities. “Even to this day, any time I buy something, even if it’s just bubblegum, I’m always walking with the receipt” to avoid being accused of shoplifting,” Tichina said.

Thomas spoke of learning from his father about protecting himself as a Black man. “If I ever get pulled over [by the police] I always have two hands on the wheel” to avoid a situation in which he can be shot. “It’s pretty tough to be an African-American because you always have to be aware of your surroundings.”

Bobby noted the same experience of always needing to be alert, especially when entering a store or a predominantly white area. “I don’t want to look like I’m doing something wrong or be accused that I’m doing something wrong,” he said. “I’m always aware of that stereotype … so I always keep it in the back of my mind.”

The students also spoke of the burden they carry as representatives of their race – and their struggles to make sure that they are perceived in a positive way. Bobby said that when he attends certain events, “there are certain things that I can’t wear to them or wouldn’t wear to them because I don’t want to be perceived as less professional or less intelligent than my peers. Sometimes, you have to double-check or triple-check what you wear on campus.” 

Tichina said living like this is exhausting. “You have to really think two or three times about how people perceive you on campus, especially if they don’t know you – whatever stereotypes or assumptions they have about Black people. Do I want to confirm these thoughts?” 

However, other students spoke of the positive aspects of being a representative and a role model. “I want to make a difference,” Thomas said. “I want to be the first [in my family] to go to college. I want to show not just my younger family but others – my friends and other groups of people – just keep going, keep looking forward, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it, you won’t do it, or you’ll never do it.”

Toni said she loves representing her people and her family in particular. “I’m representing my family by making them proud that I can make it through four years of college,” she said. “I love making my people proud, and I love watching my peers proud of themselves – and it makes me happy seeing Black people happy.” 

The students also discussed their perception of race relations in the United States today and whether the situation has improved since their parents’ and grandparents’ time. “I do think the country has changed, but not to the point where race is just obsolete,” Bobby said. “I like to think in this country nowadays that anyone can do anything that they put their mind to, no matter the color that they are … But those systematically built [obstacles] are still there.”
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Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are, from left, Douglas Small ’82, Outstanding Alumni Award; Sister Beth Butler, OP, Honorary Alumni Award; and Tammy R. McCrory ’12, Recent Graduate Award. Not pictured is Jeremy J. Romer ’08, recipient of the Sister Ann Joachim Award.

October 20, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Beth Butler, OP, was named an Honorary Alum of Siena Heights University in recognition of her positive influence on criminal justice students 40 years ago. She received the award during the October 13, 2023, Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony at Rueckert Auditorium. The awards program was part of Siena Heights University’s Homecoming weekend, October 13-15, 2023.

Alumni, students and staff of Siena Heights University, and friends and family of the honorees were welcomed by Andy Switzer ’13, President of the Alumni Board, and by Douglas Palmer, PhD, President of Siena Heights University. 

“Today, we’re here about honoring those who have come before – welcoming our wonderful alumni who have represented Siena Heights University and are doing so well,” Dr. Palmer said. “We are thankful to have people like you who continue to demonstrate the values of a Siena Heights education. What you offer to the world is invaluable.” 

In introducing Sister Beth, Sister Sharon Weber, OP, PhD, noted that Sister Beth was chosen as an Honorary Alum because she is “an inspirational model who made a difference for Siena Heights by demonstrating exceptional commitment to it and support for the mission and the spirit of the university.” 

Sister Beth began her years of study at Siena Heights but graduated from Barry University and earned a master’s degree in criminal justice at Michigan State University. In her master’s work, she traveled to Europe to compare the criminal justice systems in the United States with those in other countries.

Sister Sharon said Sister Beth was “instrumental in the formative years of the Criminal Justice programs at both Siena Heights and Barry universities,” both sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. She was a criminal justice professor at Siena Heights in the 1980s, serving as a mentor to her students.  

Through the years, Sister Beth also ministered in the criminal justice system, teaching prison inmates in Michigan and California and serving as a probation officer, chaplain of the Miami Police Department, and supervisor for public safety and security at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California.

Sister Beth Butler, OP, displays the Honorary Alumni Award with Douglas Palmer, PhD, President of Siena Heights University.
Photo by Laura Harvey, courtesy of Siena Heights University

But Sister Beth was especially honored for her influence on her criminal justice students, who nominated her for the award. “As they looked back 40 years, they remembered that her honest questions about how they were doing in and out of the classroom played an integral part in their growth,” Sister Sharon said. “She always showed up for them and still does, offering friendship and support in many circumstances.” At the same time, Sister Beth had high expectations, requiring “hard work and perseverance on their part.”

Sister Sharon noted the continuing effect of Sister Beth’s influence over the years as her students carried forward the same qualities of care and dedication in their own work – “work that has influenced the criminal justice system where they have served at all levels…. Her influence has been widespread.”

Upon accepting the award, Sister Beth said it was an honor.

“What you have done is outstanding,” Sister Beth told her students. “You have not only worked in every field in the criminal justice system … you have been in all institutions: federal, state, county. You have become managers, directors, supervisors, chiefs. 

“Your success is because you have been standing on the shoulders of many professors, Dominican Sisters, family, and friends who have influenced you in the past,” Sister Beth said. “I’m very proud of your accomplishments, and our alumni family shares this pride with me.”

The Honorary Alumni Award recognizes non-graduates of Siena Heights who “demonstrate exceptional commitment to and support for the mission and spirit of the University.” They are also “inspirational role models who have made a significant difference for Siena Heights by sharing themselves through generous and sustained gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure.”

Also recognized during the Distinguished Alumni Awards were:

  • Douglas “Doug” Small ’82, received the Outstanding Alumni Award for his work as President and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, which attracts tourism and conventions to the city. He worked with others to create a hospitality and tourism academy to assist disadvantaged high school students. The Outstanding Alumni Award is presented to those “whose outstanding professional achievements and/or volunteer contributions promote Siena positively to the community” and who demonstrate strong leadership.
  • Tammy R. McCrorry ’12, recipient of the Recent Graduate Award, is a public health project leader who opened the McCrory Center to support families and children with psychological conditions. The Recent Graduate Award recognizes alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years whose “professional achievement, community involvement, and/or civic commitment demonstrate dedication to Christian values and the spirit of Siena Heights University.”
  • Jeremy J. Romer ’08, recipient of the Sister Ann Joachim Award, was noted for successfully taking on complex cases and tasks for the Dearborn, Michigan, Law Department. He serves several roles for the City of Dearborn, handling the challenges with “skill, diplomacy, and dignity, resulting in positive outcomes.” Named in memory of faculty member Sister Ann Joachim, OP, the award recognizes “significant contributions to the University or the community through activities that demonstrate strong leadership … and the capacity to confront issues head-on while maintaining the image and spirit of the University.”

Feature image caption: Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are, from left, Douglas Small ’82, Outstanding Alumni Award; Sister Beth Butler, OP, Honorary Alumni Award; and Tammy R. McCrory ’12, Recent Graduate Award. Not pictured is Jeremy J. Romer ’08, recipient of the Sister Ann Joachim Award.
Photo by Laura Harvey, courtesy of Siena Heights University



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