The celebration of Ursinus Black professors and staff

Shelsea Deravil (

Black History Month recognizes Black people who have made a lasting, influential impact in our society, and helps make room for the new trailblazers that come along the way. It is a time when black people can celebrate one another’s achievements or paths towards success. As we draw towards the end of Black History Month, the Grizzly is taking the time to honor some of the Black faculty and staff members at Ursinus whose work has contributed to enhancing students’ college experiences. 

We begin with our Vice President for College and Community Engagement Heather Lobban-Viravong, who joined the Ursinus community in the summer of 2018, and has been involved in many team projects where diversity and student success programs are her top priority. Lobban-Viravong is part of the Diversity Action Resource Team (DART), an ethnically diverse committee aiming to strengthen the inclusion of diversity on-campus. 

Other Black faculty and staff members on DART include: associate controller (in investments, grants, and contracts) Christopher Guy, Prof. M. Nzadi Keita of English, Prof. Edward Onaci of History, College Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Rev. Terri Ofori, Prof. Simara Price of Biology, telecommunication technology administrator James Tiggett, Associate Vice President for Advancement Ava Willis-Barksdale, and the Institute for Inclusion and Equity (IIE) leaders Ashley Henderson and Dean Terrence Howard. 

At the IIE–a center and space for social gatherings, media viewings, dialogue on injustices and intellectual matters, and student networking–Henderson serves as the director, Dean Williams as the former presidential advisor, and the newest addition to the team, Diana Deoki, serves as assistant director. The IIE is always involved in activities that help enhance the lives of students of color on campus, and feature various clubs by co-coordinating or co-hosting their events. 

Prof. Simara Price, Prof. Jennifer King, and Prof. Carlita Favero are the three Black women professors in the science department who continuously change students’ perspectives on what a science educator looks like. Prof. King finds her profession as a great opportunity to teach many students while applying her main principle of teaching. “One guiding principle of my teaching philosophy is to create an inclusive learning environment where all students can comfortably engage,” Prof. King said. “Being a Black woman highlights this inclusivity through black students’ ability to relate to my experience, or allowing all students to see me as a direct example of the growing diversity in science.”

In Prof. Price’s course, Biology and the African Diasporic Experience in America (BIO 151), students unravel harsh truths about black people’s pain and experience of being victims of brutal surgical and medical experiments since slavery. This course not only helps rectify false historical narratives seeded within medicine and science but also shows the need for diversity in STEM. 

“Teaching about the complicated relationship between biology and the Black community and, of course, mentoring and advocating for underrepresented students in STEM are two of the most important roles to me,” Prof. Price said. “One of the best things about joining the Biology department at Ursinus was that I was in the unique position of having two other Black women ushering me in and showing me the ropes. For many students, having me, Dr. Favero or Dr. King may be the first time they ever had a black science educator and disrupts norms in the field. Representation, alone, is so impactful in the persistence of students in the sciences.”

We also celebrate Black professors and staff members in other departments: Prof. Patricia Lott of English and African American and Africana (AAA) Studies, Prof. Jasmine Harris of Sociology, Prof. Kneia DaCosta of Psychology, Prof. Lynne Edwards of Media and Communications Studies, Prof. Alvin C. Grissom of Computer Science, operations and digitization technician Gwendolyn Marshall, Director of Student Activities Todd McKinney, Assistant Director of Residence Life Michael Thompkins, Director of Campus Safety Gabrielle Wright, Fitness Center Director (Coach) Mike Moronese, Coach Sergio Jackson, Associate Athletic Director Marqus Hunter, and Coach Stargell Williams. 

The Athletics Dept. has seen some growth with head/assistant coaches over the last few years with the addition of Coach Williams and Coach Jackson. “Representation matters, and anyone can look around campus and see that most of our higher-level leadership roles for staff/faculty are primarily filled by…white males…especially the growing strength and conditioning department,” said Coach Moronese in an email sent to The Grizzly, where he discussed the demographics and percentages of diverse head coaches in the different Division levels that has remained static since 2005. “It is important to recognize and celebrate our Ursinus staff/faculty members that are part of historically minoritized communities…because it highlights the disparity that exists, while also showing [what] can be done.”

Many of our Black professors have extended their area of study into independent research or published works. Some published work accessible for students to check out, via their bios on the Ursinus website, are Prof. Keita’s “Brief Evidence of Heaven: Poems From the Life of Anna Murray Douglass” (2014), Prof. Onaci’s “Free the Land: The Republic of New Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation-State” (2020), Prof. Grissom’s “Thinking About How NLP is Used to Serve Power: Current and Future” video talk (2019), Prof. Harris’ co-found business The Hues Company, and Prof. Edwards’ essays on cyberbullying analysis. 

We conclude our celebration with mentions of former Ursinus Black staff members, alumni, and professors: the late Dr. W. Robert Crigler ’56 (first Black Ursinus graduate) and Rev. Charles Rice, Director of Multicultural and Tutorial Services Paulette Patton, Campus Safety member Ernest Freeman, Prof. Anthony D.J. Branker of Music, Prof. Donald E. Camp of Art, Admissions staff member Janeen Flamer, and first black women Ursinus grads Deborah Bumbry ’73 and Carol Clark Lawrence ’73.