BY MORGAN KING – CENTO WRITER
After beginning his work as a busboy in seventh grade to moving on to spend over 40 years in dedicated service in education, as a teacher, principal, and role model, Assistant Vice President and Associate Professor of Education James “J.H” Atkins recently announced his retirement as Assistant Vice Principal and Associate Professor of Education Fri., Feb. 20.
Since coming to Centre in 2001, Atkins’ involvement on campus spanned from teaching Education courses to being a crucial aid to the increased diversity in student life. During his time at Centre Atkins worked as an avid proponent of Centre’s Posse program, the Diversity Student Union, and the Diversity and Community Committee. According to Atkins, the biggest success he had at Centre is the increased presence of students of color on campus.
“It has gone from less than five percent when I first arrived to now over 20 percent. We have gotten the student body to look like more and more of what the real world will look like,” Atkins said.
Atkins’ commitment to diversity on campus began when he first arrived, and only grew more successful from there.
“When I first got here, students of color would come up to me and say, why are they all asking me ’What sport do I play?’ Now, no one hears that anymore. You are not going to come to Centre and not have students of color in your classes, and in every major,” Atkins said.
Atkins humbly insists that the increase of diversity is from the whole approach of the Centre campus community, “I just hope I have had little pieces of influence; I can’t take credit for any of this by myself,” Atkins said.
The presence and impact that Atkins fostered on campus led to a close relationship among his students and fellow faculty. In a public statement, President John Roush remarked that, “J.H. was an important addition to the Centre team and we are a better place because he was a part of our community. We will miss [his wife] Artie and J.H., but he departs from Centre having had a profound impact for good on the lives of so many young men and women.”
Atkins impacted the community of Danville as well. He is currently serving his third term on Danville’s City Commission and helped assist the Citizens Concerned for Human Relations in the direction of its annual Heritage Festival for the past 15 years.
Another endeavor that Atkins is proud to see on campus is the increase of diversity convocation programming, not only within the Diversity Office, but also across departments.
“I’m very proud of the convocation programming and the diversity of the convocations that are offered. It is not only the diversity office that is spearheading that programming either, different departments are bringing in diversity,” Atkins said.
After spending nearly 14 years as a member of the Centre College staff, Atkins feels the biggest changes the College implemented are not only in student population, and because of that, students of color, but also in the diversity of the programs offered.
“The academic expectations have not been lowered since I have been here, but the programs have changed. Programs like African American Studies, Gender Studies, and Asian Studies have all become a part of our offerings. If we are really going to be liberal arts, then that means we allow students to hear, speak, and discuss all kinds of things, and this is such a great step. Centre students will continue to be the best and brightest in the state of Kentucky and so if that is the case, then the best and brightest need to continue to challenge this place to get the best inclusionary education. That’s from the people on campus, students and adults, to the curriculum as well,” Atkins said.
As Atkins spends his last semester at Centre, he fondly looks back on some of the greatest memories he holds from here. One includes spending a weekend with the actor famed for voicing Darth Vader in the Star Wars films, James Earl Jones. Jones came to speak at the College back in 2002 and Atkins thinks of him as “a real gentleman.” Another one of Atkins favorite memories was going to Boston to recruit the first class of Centre Posse members. That trip, and the ten trips made afterward, remain “very big” to Atkins.
And as a final note, Atkins has some advice for the students at Centre:
“The more you read, the more you study, the more you know for yourself, and the better world class citizen you are going to become. If you can’t read it, you can’t study, it won’t become a part of you. Once it becomes a part of you, it is yours. I might help you get it, but I cannot take it away. And so in the classrooms of Centre College, and in your dorms, and Cowan, and everywhere on this campus, there is always an opportunity to learn something new and different. You learn just as much outside the classroom as you learn within it.”
Atkins is set to retire on June 30. From here he plans to spend time with his family and continue his travels to visit all 50 states, especially the New England area and Montana.