University of Mary Washington renames campus center to honor pioneering dean | Local News
A 1981 University of Mary Washington graduate who never ventured far from his alma mater was honored Sunday morning in a ceremony in which the school’s bustling University Center was renamed in his honor .
“Who would expect a building to be named after him?” asked Cedric Rucker, the university’s associate vice president for student affairs and dean of student life.
“Especially someone who sees themselves doing the kind of things one should be doing – working with young individuals in a developmental way,” he said.
Among those gathered at 11 a.m. to honor Rucker at the four-story student activity center was Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw.
Greenlaw, who called Rucker a “true servant leader”, said it’s hard to think of him without a smile, as he usually meets people with arms wide open “ready for a big hug or a pat of encouragement in the back”.
“But the positive energy that is Cedric Rucker extends beyond these walls and beyond this campus,” Greenlaw said. “He is always present in the city of Fredericksburg, supporting charities, giving generously of his time to boards, committees and organizations.”
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University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino said Rucker represents “a big part of who we are all inspired to be,” enhancing the university community in an “immeasurable and eternal way.”
“Cedric has embodied the values of the Mary Washington community for more than four decades,” Paino said. “It is now difficult to imagine this community without him. It represents a large part of what we all aspire to.
Sabrina Johnson, the university’s vice president for equity and access and emeritus director of diversity, said she’s known Rucker for the 24 years she was at the university. During those years, Johnson worked with Rucker to advance social justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity for students, faculty, and staff at Mary Washington.
“But no matter how great the challenge at any given time or how heartbreaking the emotional toll, Dean Rucker was unwavering on two counts,” Johnson said. “His commitment to the rights of all students, and I mean all with capital ALL, and his laser-like focus on our mission as an institute of higher learning to grow and develop our students.”
Rucker, 62, found out the center had been renamed in his honor during a meeting on campus about four months ago when president Heather Crislip announced the university’s plans.
“I started hearing my name,” Rucker said. “It’s like, ‘What’s going on here?’ I was stunned.
Rucker, the first black student to live in campus dorms when he arrived at the school as a freshman in 1977, said he remained the only black student residing on campus for the next two years.
“It’s something that surprised me to say the least,” Rucker said. “I knew I was coming to what was a historically white, historically female institution, but I expected to see other people of color.”
Rucker, who grew up in Richmond, said after moving into Room 102 at Madison Hall, he looked out the Ball Circle window and watched other students move in. He quickly realized what his world would look like for the next four years.
“I watched the rest of the students enter the building and the other residence halls, and I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. Nobody,” Rucker said. “It was powerful. It was real.
Rucker said he spoke to his mother about his new surroundings and she asked him to reflect on his many high school accomplishments and what made him successful or gave him a sense of belonging or service to his friends and to his community.
“That’s what I did, I ran for office,” Rucker said. “I ran for the position of class council publicity chairman. And I lost.”
Despite the loss, Rucker found that the campaign benefited his life on campus.
Prior to this election, Rucker visited every freshman on campus, introduced himself, and explained his platform. He also joined the Anthropology Club and worked at the campus library and radio station. He said interacting with other students has earned him invitations to every student event held on campus.
“I became part of the community and the community became part of me,” Rucker said. “I felt that this sense of belonging that at first I thought I was missing was not a reality.”
Rucker said when he arrived at Mary Washington he dreamed of becoming a lawyer because he believed the career and lifestyle would be as adventurous and exciting as depicted on the television show “Perry Mason,” but a few internships in law made him change his mind.
Rucker spoke to a college mentor looking for advice and direction, and was hooked up to a college program in sociology, a discipline Rucker said “helped explain the world to him.”
“I’m a kid from downtown Richmond,” Rucker said. “I needed answers about why certain disparities existed, the challenges that existed between communities and the discipline to help me understand this.”
He said the mentor also helped him get into a program that allowed him to attend graduate school at the University of Virginia during the summer between his junior and senior years.
After graduating with a degree in sociology in 1981, Rucker returned to Charlottesville as a student and befriended English faculty member William Elwood, associate dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences. of the University. Elwood went on to write, direct and produce a 1990 56-minute documentary titled “The Road to Brown”, which tells the story of the Supreme Court’s decision Brown v. Board of Education which started the civil rights movement and also honors Charles Hamilton Houston, an African-American lawyer who was instrumental in dismantling Jim Crow laws.
“Bill used to take me with him to recruit grad students when he hosted grad student fairs,” Rucker said. “We were spending time in his car having long conversations.”
Just before receiving his graduate degree in 1984, Elwood told Rucker, “He said Cedric, you’re like ‘MUVa.’ You represent this organization so well, you should stay here.
A few days later, Rucker accepted a position at the university as assistant dean for undergraduate admissions. He held this position for six years, including a leave of absence while enrolled in the university’s doctorate. program, before taking a position at the then Mary Washington College in 1989.
“That’s how I ended up staying in higher education, because of the connections, because of the mentorships,” Rucker said. “These people opened the doors.”
As an adjunct faculty member for 33 years, Rucker taught sociology to thousands of undergraduate students at UMW and collaborated with colleagues to create courses like ethnic studies, designed to bring inclusion in the classroom.
Rucker said his journey at UMW was filled with “phenomenal experiences” where he saw education transform ordinary lives like his into incredible success stories.
“It’s so engaging, it’s energizing, and that’s why I stayed in higher education for so long,” Rucker said. “There’s nothing quite like that ‘eureka’ moment – those moments when students come together, they discover their talents and abilities, and you watch them develop those skills.”
Rucker, who officially retires at the end of this month but has already joined the Peace Corps, said that in 100 years, when Mary Washington students see his name on the old college center and wonder who Cedric Rucker was , he hopes they will. some research and find inspiration in her story that helps them succeed.
“We can do things that we can’t even imagine today, but because of the opportunities that education, experiences, mentors and institutions give us that can have a very positive impact on individuals, these doors will always remain open,” Rucker said. “Essentially, we can start anywhere, but end up in places we can’t imagine at the start of our journeys.”
James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438