Dr. Stephanie (Toombs ’90) Hamm is the great-granddaughter of an enslaved person, the granddaughter of an activist and the daughter of an activist – “all people who love Jesus,” she said.
Growing up, she heard stories of the efforts to integrate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“My grandfather was one of the initial parents who insisted on desegregation of Little Rock schools. He worked with others to start a lawsuit,” she said. “My father and his siblings were among the names on the original plaintiff list for the Cooper v. Aaron Supreme Court decision of 1958.”
Hamm’s father worked in social action in the U.S. Air Force and spoke out on injustice whenever possible, particularly in the military.
“My father was an overt advocate for justice, but my mother really taught me to be kind, patient and loving. She was the one who reminded me of my faith in my whatever I do,” Hamm said. “That combination is what helps me do what I do today.”
Hamm herself confronted issues of social justice working as a licensed social worker before joining the ACU faculty as an associate professor in the School of Social Work.
So when she took on the role of ACU’s first chief diversity officer in Fall 2019, she had a wealth of life experience upon which to draw – and role models who had taught her equity is important and change is possible.
The newly created position stemmed from a Diversity Task Force recommendation to ACU’s Senior Leadership Team that an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion be created. Leadership agreed, and Hamm, who led the task force for three years, was the logical choice to head it, said president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91).
As chief diversity officer, Hamm is tasked with making sure an increasingly diverse student body is able to find support and acceptance from the university’s faculty and leadership.
“We need to be able to examine our culture here, our environment, our traditions, to make sure they are inclusive of everyone,” Hamm said. “We want to make sure our students graduate from ACU with a complete and fulfilling college experience, having felt like they belong here, that this is their place, that they are supposed to be here, and that every individual is needed here.”
Hamm’s initial goals are to have conversations on campus, speak to groups, listen to groups and engage resources of helpful information, she said. “We hope to bring an engaging speaker to campus,” she said. “As we listen and learn, we will have better ideas of what should take priority.”
In coming years, “we want to focus on hiring diverse faculty, readying our campus for a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation, and implementing more inclusive pedagogy,” she said.
HSIs are defined as colleges, universities or systems/districts where total Hispanic enrollment constitutes a minimum of 25 percent of the total enrollment.
Hamm graduated from ACU in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree. She went on to earn her master’s in social work at West Virginia University and a Ph.D. at The University of Texas at Arlington. She served in social work for a number of years before returning to ACU to teach in 2008.
Hamm likens a Christian campus that embraces diversity to “a spiritual act of submission and worship, where we do not just accept and tolerate difference, but welcome, praise and celebrate it.
“A refrain at the 2019 Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Diversity Conference was that ‘This is not a good idea, it’s a God idea!’ And I agree completely,” she said. “A Christ-centered university must be involved in racial healing and reconciliation, and must be an inclusive place for all members of the campus community.”