Lonnie Williams, a higher education alumnus of the College of Education and Health Professions, received the Silas Hunt Legacy Award this year. Photo by Russell Cothren
Williams Serves Students with Spirit Fostered by African American Pioneers
Lonnie Williams' dad wanted him to attend college in nearby Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia) so that he could attend school half a day and work at home the other half of the day.
Williams had another idea.
"I grew up working odd jobs," the associate vice chancellor for student affairs at Arkansas State University recently recalled. "I had enough of that. My goal was to go as far away as I could for college and still stay in Arkansas."
The native of Stephens, a community of fewer than 1,500 people less than 30 miles from the Louisiana border, went on to earn four degrees from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Last fall, his alma mater bestowed upon him the Silas Hunt Legacy Award for 2010, an honor he described as very humbling.
Pioneers in Education
The University of Arkansas recognizes African Americans for their significant contributions to the community, state and nation through the Silas Hunt Legacy Award created in 2005. This year's recipients – Williams, Johnetta Cross Brazzell, Ronnie Brewer and Gerald Jordan – were nominated by the public and selected by a volunteer selection committee of university alumni, friends, faculty, students and staff.
On Feb. 2, 1948, Silas Hunt became the first black student in modern times to attend a major Southern public university when he was admitted without litigation into the University of Arkansas School of Law. Hunt, who grew up in Texarkana, Ark., was a veteran of World War II and earned his undergraduate degree at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Hunt died of tuberculosis in the spring of 1949 before finishing his law degree.
Williams said Hunt and five other African Americans admitted to the UA School of Law between 1948 and 1951, commonly referred to as the "Six Pioneers," have been a source of inspiration for him.
"I have learned so much about the early pioneers of higher education through my experiences with Black Alumni Society reunions over the years," he said. "These are people I have come to hold in high esteem. Just to be in the company of people who have had an impact on our institutions of higher learning is a great honor."
Williams and the other three award recipients will be honored April 23 at a black-tie event in Little Rock. Each recipient was also honored separately this past year and spent time visiting with students and the community on the Fayetteville campus.
Before he took his position at Jonesboro in 2003, Williams served as the assistant vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Arkansas, beginning in 1991. His service to the university during those years included board of directors’ positions for the Arkansas Alumni Association and the Black Alumni Society. He served on the chancellor’s diversity task force, the multicultural center creation committee, the Silas Hunt Hall dedication committee and many other advising and governing bodies that sought to improve the college experience for minority students. In 2008, Williams received the Thomas E. “Pat” Patterson Education Award, presented by the Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus to an individual who fights for equality of educational opportunity for students and education of employees of color and those who are poor.
Williams earned a bachelor's degree in finance and banking from the Sam M. Walton College of Business in 1978. He started work on a Master of Business Administration before deciding to switch to higher education. He began working for the Division of Student Affairs in 1978 with assignments that included working in management of the Arkansas Union and in the College of Engineering's office of minority affairs.
"My work experience led me to the higher education program," Williams said.
While working at the university, he earned a Master of Education in 1984, an Educational Specialist degree in 1991 and a Doctor of Education in 2001. He is a father of a blended family of seven and grandfather of 12.
At Arkansas State University, Williams is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Student Affairs.
"Six departments report directly to me out of 14 in student affairs," he explained. "My main focus is working in conjunction with the assistant vice chancellor to keep as much as we can off the vice chancellor's desk, making for a smooth day-to-day operation."
Teaching, Research, Service
Williams teaches a graduate course each fall as an adjunct member of the psychology and counseling faculty, and he is also conducting research with Charles Robinson, vice provost for diversity at the University of Arkansas, and with Fred Bonner, a fellow UA higher education alumnus who teaches at Texas A&M University.
"Dr. Robinson and I are collaborating on a book that we hope to publish later this year or early next year about the African American experience on the university's campus," Williams said. "Fred Bonner, Angela Monts and I are working on an article, which we hope will later turn into a book project."
Bonner's research focuses on academically gifted African American male college students and on the millennial generation and how generational theory addresses cultural differences.
Williams was appointed to the Arkansas Baptist College Board of Trustees in 2005 and was elected chairman of the board last year. The private, historically black liberal arts college in Little Rock was founded in 1884 but had recently experienced challenges, he said.
"In an effort to streamline the board and take the college in a different direction, the board was restructured and the number of members cut from about 25 to 11," he said. "Three members were required to have experience in higher education. We set as our goal to usher in a new era."
The board hired Fitz Hill, another higher education alumnus from Fayetteville, as president of the college in 2006.
Focus on Education
Williams said that, as dedicated as he is both to his alma mater and to the institution he now serves, his primary focus is on equal access for education.
"I'm dedicated to making sure everyone has an opportunity to get an education," he said. "I try to emphasize the importance of getting an education and to be sure that we are addressing the trials and tribulations that students, particularly minority students, may go through. That's one reason I like what I do. It means a lot when somebody comes back to you at some point in their life and tells you what you said or did for them made a difference in them getting through. I want students to know they have someone in their corner and that we want to provide the resources to make their dream into a reality."