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African-American associate professor inspires students

Ronald A. Johnson talks about why he chose to teach history as a career. He also talks about his experience as being one of the few black professors on campus.
Ronald A. Johnson talks about why he chose to teach history as a career. He also talks about his experience as being one of the few black professors on campus.

Photo by Elza Taurins | Staff Photographer

A history professor is using his past experiences to relate to and reassure his students that they do indeed belong in college.

As a Texas State alumnus, Ronald Angelo Johnson, history associate professor, became a young adult on this campus and now seeks to ensure a welcoming environment for all his students.

It was looking back at his hometown, a community racially divided by railroad tracks, that Johnson realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life learning about moments in history when people in the United States defied the norms.

“I will use this office to study where people of different backgrounds in this nation refuse to be coward of the prejudice of their time and cross over and build relationships with people who are unlike themselves,” Johnson said. “That is why I am a historian.”

Johnson is the youngest of nine children and grew up in a financially unstable household. Despite the rough patches, Johnson said he had great times with his siblings and other kids in town.

Johnson took honors courses as a senior in high school and said he was excited to go to college like the rest of his classmates. However, it had never occurred to him until then that having a father who was a truck driver and a stay-at-home mother meant that, in his family, he could not afford to to go college.

To help pay for school, Johnson decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He served four years and became the first member of his family to attend college when he enrolled in classes at Texas State.

Johnson said he was insecure in college because of his financial situation, the color of his skin and being a first-generation student. After questioning if he belonged in college, Johnson said it was his professors and other staff members who changed his mind through their support and encouragement.

Johnson said he is grateful for the way members of the Texas State community went out of their way to make him feel like this was exactly where he was meant to be. Now that he is a faculty member, Johnson said he tries to reflect the same sentiment to all of his students.

“It is incumbent upon me to be a listener and to have my office as a safe space for students of color who want someone to listen to them, to hear their frustrations, to be inspired, to be empowered to be all they can be at Texas State. That is incredibly important,” Johnson said.

With 52 percent of Texas State students in a racial minority, Johnson said he believes the university needs to expand how it embraces each culture intellectually and socially so people of color feel at home on campus.

JaVaun Butler, theater sophomore, said Johnson was his first role model at Texas State. With Johnson’s encouragement, Butler was able to come out of his shell and is now in the cast of two different productions on campus.

“To see an African-American man who is accomplished, (has) written a book, (is) very articulate and is extremely passionate completely blew my mind,” Butler said. “Being in his class was a door to all the opportunities I am taking advantage of now.”

Gwendolyn Cunningham, history sophomore, is currently taking one of Johnson’s classes and said that he even inspired her to change her major to history.

“(Johnson) is definitely one of my mentors; I see him quite a bit outside of class,” Cunningham said.

Johnson said though racial and cultural differences exist all over the world, they can be overcome if people are honest and willing to communicate. He tries to convey to his students the moment there is courage and humility, problem solving will occur, and problems need to be faced head on even if it is unpleasant.


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