By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – Artair Rogers’ lanky frame might suggest he’s been stretched on some medieval torture device, but it’s a more metaphorical kind of stretching that defines him.
Some would say it was stretch for a black student from Guntown, whose initial instinct was to attend college in St. Louis or Atlanta, to find himself in love with the University of Mississippi.
“When I came to visit, I realized how Ole Miss has an opportunity to shape an individual,” he said. “You hear about the Ole Miss family. I’m glad I get to work with the Ole Miss family and help make sure that everyone gets to feel a part of that family.”
It might also have been a stretch for someone with a small-town background complete with its active Christianity to work for Washington, D.C.-based Campus Progress, which champions causes as diverse as awareness of the dangers of student debt, ending the Iraq War and promotion of gay rights.
“Everyone in my area sort of believed the same thing, and when I went to Campus Progress, I learned to look at the individual person,” Rogers said. “That was the first time I’d worked with people who had different belief systems – maybe things that contradicted my faith. That really challenged me to look at individuals as individuals.”
And it was assuredly a stretch for a black man to campaign for – and win – the presidency of the Associated Student Body at a university that was still segregated when its current chancellor was a student there.
Rogers’ junior year, however, coincided with the presidential debate that featured the man who would become the first black United States president, and Rogers’ work with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation showed him how to build his own cross-cultural bridges.
“The most important lesson I’ve received from the Institute is the value of camaraderie,” he said. “I know camaraderie leads to the best workplace, which fosters so much creativity, and what this university needs to keep us on the national stage is creativity.”
Rogers’ agenda for his year as ASB president is undeniably a stretch as well.
“We are working on three major things right now – that’s making sure Ole Miss stays on the national stage; academic reputation and student experience; and preparing us for the future,” he said.
Some plans deal with easing the small hassles of college life – posting of bus schedules at stops, debit-card machines at the football stadium and a rental program for textbooks and computers, for example.
Other goals are more far-reaching, such as an enhanced Green Initiative with bike sharing and special carpool parking, a campuswide academic mentoring program and a “passport” system similar to that used to award tickets to the Presidential Debate that would reward students for participating in a broad spectrum of campus activities.
“Ole Miss has so many hidden treasures, and we want to bring those to light not only to make sure those who attend the school right now receive a phenomenal educational experience, but to reach those (high school) students who … feel that they have to leave the state to get a quality education,” Rogers said.
“I like to think of my 10-year-old sister in Guntown, who’s always saying she wants to be an Ole Miss Rebel. I think about the things we can do now that will make her Ole Miss experience better than mine.”
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.