(December 20, 1948 -)
Alumnus, Student advocate, community activist, and volunteer who helped to create the Black Cultural Center for Iowa State.
Vern Hawkins was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the third and last child of Jesse and Verba (nee Lyons) Hawkins. Vern Hawkins was an Assistant Director of Admissions at Iowa State University, retiring in 2014. He helped to create a black cultural center for the Iowa State University community. Hawkins married DeLores Williams on August 19, 1972. They have one son, Curtis.
Hawkins graduated from Des Moines Tech High School in the spring of 1967. After being offered admission to both Harvard and Iowa State University, Hawkins chose to begin his studies in math at Iowa State as a second-generation student. He also ran track for the university. Hawkins later changed his studies to English and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1972. In 1976, he earned his master’s degree in professional studies of higher education.
While a student at Iowa State, the population of minority students, faculty, and staff at Iowa State was miniscule. “With the exception of student athletes and a few non-athlete students, there was no permanent African American identification on the Iowa State campus,” said Hawkins. On April 5, 1968, Hawkins remembers demonstrating inside the Iowa State University Memorial Union after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Along with his future wife, DeLoras Williams (BS 1973, MS 1984), who he met on campus outside of Friley Hall in 1968, and a few other students, the idea for a black cultural center was formed. The center was to be a place for African American students to gather, meet, and study. The activities of the center in its early years reflected the social activism of the time. It provided minority students with a sense of comfort so when they arrived on campus there would be a place they could gather. It was a home away from home. Students could socialize and not be under a microscope. It was also a place for the community to learn about the many contributions of African Americans.
With the help of faculty member Neil Harl and a grassroots fundraising effort to purchase, furnish, and renovate a house at 517 Welch Avenue in the spring of 1969, the Black Cultural Center was dedicated on September 27, 1970. Today, still located at the original site, the center continues to serve as a meeting place, but also supports other facets of Iowa State University.
Hawkins’ activism continued after his mission to create the Black Cultural Center. Once he obtained his undergraduate degree from Iowa State in 1972 he was hired by the Office of Admissions as a recruiter (admissions counselor) to recruit minority students from Iowa, Chicago, and Kansas City. As his position evolved over the years, he eventually became an assistant director and the “keynote” speaker for almost every campus visit presentation. He effectively communicated, in a voice often compared to famous actor Morgan Freeman, with both students and their parents as though they were having a conversation around the coffee table. He played a significant part in helping Iowa State achieve record-breaking enrollment.
The Hawkins’ volunteer activities have spanned across the community and many civic organizations, including the Story County Community Foundation, NAACP, First Baptist Church of Ames, Ames Ecumenical Housing Board, Ames Human Relations Committee, Board of Deacons for the First Christian Church in Ames, Special Olympics of Iowa, and United Way of Story County. Verne Hawkins volunteerism has also been evident through his involvement at Iowa State University, including ISU Boxing Club Adviser, Ames/ISU YMCA Board of Directors, All-University Judiciary Co-chair, Committee on Services for Students with Disabilities, American Indian Symposium Committee, and the Affirmative Action Committee.
Fischer, Erica J. “Hawkins, Vern E.” The Iowa State University Biographical Dictionary. Iowa State University Press, 2014. Web. 01 January 2014
We are ISU online exhibition, ISU Library. https://exhibits.lib.iastate.edu/we-are-isu-snapshots-of-student-life/profile-1959-1988