Barry McNamara  |  Published April 14, 2022

The Champion Miller Center

New name for essential campus space inspired by 19th-century Monmouth man; dedication ceremony to be held April 29.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Monmouth students flank Regina Johnson, helping her hold the new sign that wil... SIGN OF THE TIMES: Monmouth students flank Regina Johnson, helping her hold the new sign that will be installed April 29 for the Champion Miller Center for Student Equity, Inclusion & Community. The "rebranding" is a more accurate description for what was formerly known as the Center for Intercultural Life. Pictured from left are Jonathon Diaz, Nyasaina Kwamboka, Johnson, Michael Wallace and Zuki Tun.MONMOUTH, Ill.Regina Johnson ’01 recalls having an epiphany while gazing last summer out her Monmouth College office window. While reflecting on her undergraduate experience at Monmouth, she had a vision of what could be done for the campus community moving forward.

“I was thinking back to my days as a student and my time living in the Hubbard House,” which stood on what is now a vacant lot just east of Johnson’s building in the 700 block of East Broadway. “I was remembering the organic sense of community that we built in that space. As one of the theme houses that were on campus at that time, it was an inclusive space where people of color could feel safe and comfortable. Additionally, the Hubbard House became an environment where our non-POC peers, who began to stand up for things that they normally wouldn’t have stood up for, would also gather.”

Then Johnson’s vision for a space that would “best serve our students” came into even sharper focus.

“Suddenly, it hit me – ‘What if we use Champion Miller’s name?’” she said. “I was a history major, and I’m an avid reader, and as I continue to read about Champion Miller, I had this vision in my head of who I saw him being.”

As a student, Johnson had researched the life of Miller, a man born into slavery who bought his freedom and moved to Monmouth five years before the Civil War. That research has already inspired the recent creation of the Champion Miller 1860 Fund, which supports the College’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

“I felt he should be honored and recognized for those things. What he did for himself and for his family – that’s the kind of person you’d want to have in your life and call a friend.” Regina Johnson

“There couldn’t have been a more community-based person than him – a man who lived more than half of his life as a slave, then came to Monmouth, learned to read and write, and helped create a church for his community to worship (the First African Church of Monmouth),” said Johnson. “That spoke volumes to me. That says something about who you are. I thought, ‘God, how could you be that person when everything was stacked against you?’ And I felt he should be honored and recognized for those things. What he did for himself and for his family – that’s the kind of person you’d want to have in your life and call a friend.”

Inspiration had hit, and Johnson’s wheels were turning quickly. But her next step was to bounce some of her ideas off one of the College’s co-deans of student life, Michelle Merritt ’89.

“I brought it to Michelle and told her, ‘I’ve got something for you,’” said Johnson, who at the time held the title of director of multicultural student services. “She looked at it, then she looked up at me and said, ‘Oh my goodness. I have goosebumps.’ She bought in. It took us six drafts before we finally got to where we said, ‘This is it. This is what we want it to look like.’”

A formal dedication on April 29 

“It” is a newly named College space, the Champion Miller Center for Student Equity, Inclusion & Community, which will be formally dedicated at 4 p.m. April 29. Along with changing the name from the Center for Intercultural Life, Johnson has also gained a new title; she’s now the director of student equity, inclusion and community, a more fitting description of the role she continues to fulfill at her alma mater.

“This all came out of questions I’m constantly asking myself,” said Johnson. “’How do we do things differently? How do we best serve our students?’ It came from what I was hearing from students in my one-on-one discussions with them.”

What she was hearing was that under-represented students can be frustrated by their peers who identify like them, as well as those who don’t. And majority students can be frustrated as they attempt to understand their under-represented peers’ struggles.

“This all came out of questions I’m constantly asking myself. ’How do we do things differently? How do we best serve our students?’ It came from what I was hearing from students in my one-on-one discussions with them.” Regina Johnson 

“Well-meaning people – allies – need a space for discussion,” said Johnson. “So many on campus want to do better, and we want the Champion Miller Center to be the place where we can have those kinds of discussions. Everything we’re doing is trying to change the landscape.”

Johnson said she wants the Champion Miller Center to be known as a place for peer-to-peer mentoring, as a campus resource for the entire college community, and as “a space where historically marginalized students can hold each other accountable.”

“After the last two years, students are yearning to build community,” she said. “I want the center to be a space where identities can flourish due to an inclusive, supportive environment.”

Those changes are already occurring ahead of the April 29 dedication.

“This academic year we have talked a great deal about how we can’t make changes to everyone else unless we make changes to ourselves,” said Johnson. “The students have started to have some of those hard talks on their own. I’m incredibly proud of them.”

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