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Jacqueline Curtis

The civil rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s brought calls for more inclusive college campuses.

Saint Rose didn’t just talk about it. The College wrote a grant to the state education department to establish a Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and provided financial resources.
“Saint Rose has a history of women leaders who cared about the community, and it just grew from there,” said Jacqueline Curtis, who helped lead the effort. “It was wonderful being part of that metamorphosis.”

Curtis was among just a few African American administrators at Saint Rose when she arrived as a HEOP counselor in 1981. Black and Hispanic students who lived just blocks away, like those across the state, were largely unaware college was even an option. Curtis fanned out to classrooms, churches, and social organizations to encourage young people to consider Saint Rose. Her office brought hundreds of high school students to campus to discuss life at college and beyond.

Curtis, who became head of HEOP and then assistant to the president for community outreach, told prospective students that financial aid made private college possible.

It did not take long for the largely white, female, and Catholic community to grow significantly more diverse, both racially and geographically. By 1991, Spectrum, the student group Curtis and others formed with the motto, “There is more than one color in the spectrum,” was thriving. In 1998, the organization was named the most active student group on campus.

Today, students of color represent 40% of the undergraduate population at Saint Rose.

All three of Curtis’s children went on to graduate from the College. One of them, Olaiya Curtis-Morris, now brings her own elementary students to campus.

“And some of her students have also become Rosebuds,” said Curtis. “It brings me great joy.”

– By Jane Gottlieb

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