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Bridging the gap on campus

Professor Parsons has a hand in HCC's diversity effort

Professor Parsons has a hand in HCC's diversity effort

November 28, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Shelves packed with books, stacks of papers and other odd and interesting pieces consume nearly every inch of Michael Parsons' office on the campus of Hagerstown Community College.

The space is a cross between a library and a museum of history. Pictures of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. hang on the wall. A tiny, brown wooden Korean Buddha peeks through a pile on his desk while a Chinese Buddha sits atop a nearby file cabinet.

"I got this Buddha from a young woman who is the technical services librarian here, She's Chinese," said Parsons, in his uniquely raspy voice, as he prepared for a class lecture.

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Parsons, who commutes 11 miles to campus from his home in Halfway, visited his grandson's school in Smithsburg before arriving on campus for a 9:30 a.m. interview. The interview was followed by his 11 a.m sociology class.

Before noon, Parsons, 63, had attended three engagements - and his day was just getting started.

"I'm on campus until 8 p.m. a lot of days. It's a typical schedule for me," he said.

And as he closed the door to his office, the veteran educator paused to point out the significance of a popular photograph of a cleaning woman taken by photojournalist Gordon Parks that is posted outside his office door.

Underneath the print, Parsons attached one of his favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

Parsons, just a few years from retirement, said he has fulfilled most of the dreams that can be traced to his early childhood influences in Muskegon, Mich. Following in the path of his stepmother, a social worker, he became a sociologist. He earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich.

In his 32 years at HCC, Parsons has spearheaded or been involved in a long list of educational initiatives promoting distance learning, curriculum development, Maryland inmate education and diversity awareness.

While his accomplishments are many, he said he's most proud to serve as a member of HCC's newly formed Multicultural Committee. In its second year, the committee planned HCC's first Martin Luther King Jr. holiday campus celebration in 2003 and will take on future projects aimed at creating a more diverse campus community.

Carole Richardson, HCC's director of instruction, said Parsons has tremendous energy and grabs every opportunity to teach and share his knowledge with others.

"He's always sharing information on politics, workshops and conferences," Richardson said, noting that he does so in the span of a few minutes.

And while Parsons jokes about his office - " it's an unorganized mess," he said - it provides a glimpse into the ideas and philosophies of a man who describes himself as a "symbolic interactionist" with strong ties to ethnic diversity.

In layman's terms, Parsons said he strives to help people understand the value of understanding and genuinely respecting one another's differences.

Parsons is enrolled in a post-doctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York, where he's studying East Asian and Indian family cultures. He also recently attended Villanova University's Catholic social teaching conference exploring the social and historical impact of racism.

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