Imagine that you’re Bernard Franklin ‘74.
You grew up in New Jersey during the civil rights strife of the 1960s. You were the first person from your family to graduate from high school. You were among 10 to 12 African-American students recruited from the East Coast to attend a small college in Iowa that was trying to increase its diversity.
Would you be nervous? Intimidated? Wondering how you might fit in?
Or would you seize the opportunity, become a campus leader and encourage that college to embrace change?
Franklin chose the second option – and, as the poet Robert Frost once wrote, that has made all the difference.
“My experiences at Simpson were extremely important in terms of developing my leadership skills, and those skills have been my bedrock in terms of my own professional development,” he says.
Franklin currently serves as chief inclusion officer and executive vice president for membership and student athlete affairs for the NCAA. It’s the latest chapter in a career that has been devoted to improving diversity, equality and inclusion.
“You can have diversity within an organization and not have it be an inclusive culture,” he explains. “How do you create this whole notion of diversity in terms of representation? How do you build on that representation to create a more inclusive culture? It’s going beyond the numbers.
“Diversity is what you see, and we remain committed to that. Inclusion is what you feel once you are part of that organization. We have to do a better job on both counts.”
At Simpson, Franklin served as vice president and president of the student body and president of Pi Kappa Delta. He served on the student senate, was elected a student trustee and was appointed to the mayor’s Human Rights Commission.
“The one thing I can say about my Simpson Experience – and it was a rich and empowering experience – is that I know it provided me many types of leadership opportunities as an undergraduate,” he says.
Franklin also served as co-founder of the Iowa-Intercollegiate Black Alliance and chairman of the Organization for Black Unity, a campus group that encouraged the college to recruit and hire black faculty and administrators.
“Having grown up in the ‘60s, I had a very acute sense of issues related to civil rights,” he says. “I was involved in those kinds of activities in high school. It was almost a natural kind of transition for me once I arrived at Simpson to also still be engaged in those kinds of issues.
“Simpson was very fertile ground at that time as an institution that was transitioning through some difficult experiences. But I think the institution was able to blossom and grow because of those situations.”
Before joining the NCAA in 2003, Franklin served as president of Virginia Union University and chief executive officer at Saint Augustine’s College and Livingstone College and Hood Theological Seminary, both in North Carolina.
He also became a member of Simpson’s board of trustees, which provided first-hand insight into how far the college had advanced.
“To come back and see how far the institution had progressed, not only in the diversity of sheer numbers but also its attempt to address some of the more important elements related to culture and culture change, I had a keep appreciation for the change,” he said.
Franklin describes his work these days as “extremely challenging but also very fulfilling. It’s one of those positions where you know you’re making a difference.”
And Simpson, he says, played a big role in that work.
“I was the first in my family to graduate from high school,” Franklin says. “It was almost a predetermined destiny that I was going to have very limited kinds of opportunities, both educationally and career-wise.
“So when I look back on my life and see what I’ve been able to accomplish and the kinds of experiences that I’ve had, I’m extremely proud of that and what I’ve been able to do, based on my own family history. I attribute a lot of that to my experiences at Simpson.”