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For immediate release — Aug. 25, 2015
Note: DCCCD celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015; it was founded in 1965, and El Centro College opened in 1966.
(DALLAS) — When Kathryn Yates and Jim Stover started teaching at El Centro College, Neil Armstrong had not yet walked on the moon, and President Lyndon Johnson had more than two years left in his presidency. It was 1966, and Yates and Stover were about to embark on half-century-long teaching careers with the brand new Dallas County Junior College District, which changed its name a few years later to the current Dallas County Community College District.
Yates had grown up in Wichita Falls, Texas, and had just finished her master’s degree when she received a job offer in the summer of 1966 to teach government at the organization’s first college in downtown Dallas. Her teaching career started in the fall of that same year. “We were the new kid on the block. We were one of the first big cities in Texas, and probably across the country, that had just created a community college system. A lot of that was happening in the 60s all over the country,” she said.
El Centro did not look like it does now, Yates said. The first two floors weren’t even finished or usable that first semester, so all of the classrooms were on the third floor and above. The building did not even have a cafeteria or office space for the administration, she added. Yates said people were going up and down the stairs and elevators all of the time, so she got to know faculty and administrators just by interacting with them on a daily basis. Since El Centro was the only DCCCD building at the time, Yates saw founding Chancellor Dr. Bill J. Priest, board of trustees members and lots of visitors from around the country constantly coming and going. Yates taught at El Centro until she transferred to Richland College in 1972.
Stover also moved from El Centro to Richland in 1972. In 1965 he was teaching art at Temple Junior College (later called Temple College) in Temple, Texas, when he attended a convention for educators in Dallas. That’s where he learned a local community college was looking for faculty. “At that time in my life, I had never heard of a community college. I later discovered that city leaders were trying to figure that out, too,” he said.
Stover, who at the time was 22 years old with a wife, two kids and a baby on the way, said he thought moving to Dallas for this new opportunity “seemed like it held more promise for a young artist than Temple did, so we packed our bags and drove north.”
That first year, Stover said, “The leaders and the Dallas community weren’t in total agreement about what the city needed. It seemed like El Centro was throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick — college courses, continuing education, job training, etc.”
Like Yates, Stover also met many other professors and administrators at El Centro. “I remember some of my future best friends worked in other disciplines, such as chemistry and the culinary arts. It was a wonderful blended culture, with everyone exposed to different ideas and areas of expertise,” he said. “It seemed like all the instructors were young and enthusiastic about this new venture.”
“El Centro was also a de facto meeting place for the community where people would come to discuss important issues such as religion, politics or art. There was the sense that the community college should serve and address the needs of the community, and it wasn’t unusual for an art show to spring up on the sidewalk out front. We were making it up as we went along,” Stover added.
DCCCD was born out of a need for an affordable and accessible post-secondary institution in Dallas, which at the time had a very limited number of universities, according to Yates. “El Centro was very integrated racially and ethnically. It was the only college until Mountain View and Eastfield opened in 1970, so we got everybody. If you wanted to go to college and never had the chance, or thought there was a chance, you came to El Centro,” Yates said.
The mid-60s were turbulent times in America: The U.S. was involved in a war in a far-away country, the civil rights movement was in full swing, and a president had been assassinated just blocks away from El Centro a few years before. Dallas was no exception to the changes taking place across the country, according to Yates.
Yates said the Vietnam War played a significant role in her students’ lives because, at that time, young men could be drafted and sent to fight in Southeast Asia. However, full-time students could get a deferment. “More so than at any other time in my career, as long as there was that student deferment, my students — males and females — were very aware of the Vietnam War. They were very aware of the civil rights movement. They were the most politically aware students I’ve ever had,” she said. “Everything was a part of their lives. They knew that if they didn’t make it through the semester and succeed, the young men ran the risk of going to Vietnam.”
The newly created college attracted all sorts of students, added Yates, which created some interesting situations. “There was a federal prison down in Seagoville, which at the time was minimum security, so I would have several prisoners from Seagoville in class,” she said, adding, “The Dallas Police had just begun requiring that their policemen go to college and get 45 hours. So, in one class I would have a federal prisoner and a policeman. It was very diverse in that sense.”
Stover said he had a figure-drawing class with nude models at El Centro, and he would staple some of the students’ drawings on the walls in the hallways. He said Chancellor Priest was a very practical man and didn’t seem to appreciate why the arts were important. But Stover said he had heard one of the other trustees, Margaret McDermott, told Priest that if the arts were not included, she would not be on the board.
“At one point, Bill [Priest] came to me to ask why it was important to have an unclothed model for the students to draw. ‘Can you give me one good reason why we must have a woman in the raw in a class you teach?’ I told him that anyone who would ask that question could not live long enough for me to explain it. He said that Margaret would love that answer,” Stover said.
Stover said he was amazed at how “approachable and authentic” Priest was. “He always genuinely seemed to want to know what you thought, and there weren’t any repercussions for speaking your mind,” added Stover.
Both Yates and Stover agree that DCCCD has experienced deep changes since its launch.
For Yates, the rapidly changing demographics in the Dallas area — Hispanics will be the majority within a decade, she added — points to the need to have faculty trained and ready to deal with people of different cultures. “We have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure the people who work here are very aware of the diversity and are comfortable with it,” she said.
Stover said modern communications have changed the way he interacts with people, and that has been one of the biggest changes since he started. “I never could have imagined that I would teach online courses to students from all over the United States and the world, such as Great Britain and Pakistan, and that I’d have students in active war zones, including civilians and soldiers in Iraq during the Iraq War, contractors in Afghanistan and more,” he said.
Yates said it has been a privilege and an honor to have taught at the colleges of DCCCD all these years. She participated in a Fulbright summer program in 1974 and 1975 in Egypt. “Since then, I’ve traveled probably to about 25 countries around the world. It opened my eyes to the rest of the world. It changed everything I think about who I am, where I am, how I fit with the rest of the world. I doubt I would have gone to Egypt if I had taught in a smaller system or had never been a teacher,” she added. “It’s been a great experience, and I wouldn’t trade it!”
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