At University of Lynchburg, Marc Propst ’19 has learned how to build a diverse and inclusive community. Now he is taking that skill to other campuses through the Virginia Association of Residence Halls.
VAARH helps Virginia colleges and universities improve and sustain their residence life organizations and provide leadership development for students. Propst was recently elected as an ex-officio board member and the diversity and inclusion coordinator of VAARH. In this role, he will push forward diversity and inclusion initiatives to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone on VAARH campuses.
“We live in a diverse world. Everyone comes from a different dynamic that can put them at certain advantages or disadvantages,” Propst said. “I believe that everyone deserves to have a fair opportunity to compete in this world.”
The VAARH board of directors met in February to discuss the organization’s core values and mission. The board members wanted to continue focusing on diversity and inclusion, but they were discussing whether these topics should be considered under the umbrella of community. “I insisted that this was a separate issue,” said Propst.
His insistence resulted in the board unanimously electing Propst to coordinate diversity and inclusion programs. “I’m going try to bring the mission of diversity and inclusion to be in the forefront of the organizations on campus,” he said.
Propst’s time at Lynchburg has coincided with an expansion of the College’s efforts to foster an environment where all community members feel welcome, included, and appreciated for their diverse characteristics. That’s one of the key points of Vision 2020, Lynchburg’s strategic plan. In the past two years, Lynchburg has created an Office of Equity and Inclusion and offered more opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to learn about diversity.
Propst’s involvement in organizations on campus such as the Residential Student Organization, Man2Man (a mentoring group for men of color), and the Student Diversity Council has helped him develop leadership skills for his new role. “These organizations have given me the opportunities and the experience I need,” said Propst. “I learned to look at the institution as a whole, as a larger picture, to allow me to help more people.”
Meanwhile, his experience as a resident assistant has given him hands-on experience with helping students. “As a RA you are helping students in a diverse environment,” Propst said.“You have to make them feel welcome and be a resource for them to help them succeed in their college careers.”
Propst has found several mentors on University of Lynchburg’s campus that have taught him about the importance of an inclusive community. For example, he mentioned Aaron Smith ‘05, ‘07 MEd, the diversity and inclusion officer and advisor of Man2Man. “He is my own personal mentor and he’s helped me grow to be the person I am today,” Propst said.
Propst said inclusion is important for institutional sustainability, and he is writing his senior thesis on this topic. “In order to be a well-rounded person, you have to understand that the world is a diverse place,” he said. “Everyone deserves a fair shot to be successful in life.”