For Eric Benjamin, C’76, P’08, and longtime director of multicultural affairs, ensuring that multicultural students at Sewanee have a good experience has been a career. If you look at his body of work, it is easy to see he has been a success. With few exceptions, for several years retention for multicultural students has been as high or higher than for the general population.
While the many students who look to “Mr. B” for counsel and advice might think there is more to the story, Benjamin attributes much of that success to the successful cultural programming he has helped arrange over the years. “When I was a student here, Sewanee had a really great jazz scene, and I have tried to sustain that through the program,” he says.
Benjamin and his wife, Michelle, P’08, were thinking along those lines when they considered their giving to the Stronger Truer Sewanee campaign, and for their campaign gift they made a very generous commitment that funded two new initiatives on campus: the Jazz Ensemble and Sewanee Praise, a gospel choir. Both organizations have grown in quality and visibility over the last few years, thanks to great leadership by Prakash Wright, teaching associate director of music, and Barbara Banks, director for campus life in the Dean of Students office.
“We were able to help support those two programs in tangible ways,” says Benjamin. “Prakash was able to buy some instruments for the Jazz Ensemble for students who might not own their own instrument, and we were also able to purchase new robes for Sewanee Praise. Those are both great organizations under the direction of great people, and they still need support from others.”
The Benjamins didn’t stop with culture, however. Their campaign gift also supported the pre-health program, helping create the Sewanee Multicultural PreHealth Society, an important part of a revitalized pre-health program. “We listen to the students. They are interested in preparing for careers in the medical professions, so we wanted to help.
The gift also supported the expansion of the VISTA corps, operating mainly in Grundy County under the direction of Professor Jim Peterman, Nicky Hamilton, C’98, and Robin Hille Michaels. “That work is really important for Sewanee,” says Benjamin.
“Students get a great education here. They learn to write well, think critically, and develop skills. We are happy to be part of that.”