Did we get your attention? Why celebrate the closure of our dear old alma mater in 1969?
Today, we celebrate the anniversary of a moment when Belmont Abbey College could have shut down. Or, at least, some administrators think of this historic moment. Many alumni and students see it differently.
Seven African-American students snuck into the Science Building on April 29, 1969, chained its doors, and brought the campus to a standstill for a single day. While students lingered outside, the Gaston County community was shocked and angered by the bold move.
Their 1969 demands have become accepted norms in our 2022 lives. Recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King’s work by recognizing the national holiday - Check. Books by African-American authors in the library - Check. Other demands like African-American professors teaching classes need work, of course. However, the school has caught up with other colleges and universities over the years.
But the fight isn’t over. The college’s statement addressing George Floyd’s death in 2020 and Belmont Abbey College’s desire to stay active in that fight needs definition. At least to many of the alumni.
For example, the college “indefinitely suspended” those seven students quietly over the summer of 1969. Alumni want reconciliation between the college and the living students, but these pleas are unanswered. As a result, many alums don’t understand this decision and choose to withhold their college contributions. Some will only donate to a history scholarship that supports a diverse student body. It sounds like another shutdown moment is coming, right?
Let’s get back to the college shutting down. Belmont Abbey College likes to embrace its successful history. There’s been 146 years of student learning and countless success stories. The Benedictine monks came to Belmont and fought adversity for years.
Some of these adverse moments are well-documented.
There are times when Belmont Abbey College could and should have shut down. A 1900 fire destroyed what became Stowe Hall. Pictures of the fire’s destruction make anyone wonder why these monks would work to rebuild.
In the late 1990s, a national rumor began that the college was shutting down amid financial difficulties. The president at the time, Joseph Brosnan, worked to dispel the story and soon left. The college, however, worked through some issues and is still going strong.
In the 2000s, Belmont Abbey College eliminated its philosophy major. Many alums wondered if the school was facing financial issues then. How could a liberal arts school do such a thing? Fortunately, the school brought the degree back, but questions have lingered over the years over the decision.
In 2012, the college president spoke to national media in its religious freedom fight. In a conservative newspaper article, the school said it would shut down if forced to pay for its employees’ abortions. That threat was a cause for an alarm that later, Abbot Placid Solari softened the school’s stance in a Gaston Gazette article.
In many ways, these suspended Belmont Abbey students moved on with their lives. They sought diplomas elsewhere, found successful careers, and started families. They took a risk that historic morning that ended their Belmont Abbey College careers. It’s time to recognize that brave, selfless act for what it was.