She quietly lived her last several years in Indianapolis maintaining a very private life near her family. But her voice was anything but quiet in the prime of her career. Her mark on the University of St Thomas (UST) between 1996-2004 and in the lives of alumni is legendary. Her voice and impact were triumphant in many ways, particularly in what mattered most – relationships.
Alice came at a precarious time in UST history. While many would say that St. Thomas probably worked harder on diversity than most other institutions, the climate was not always welcoming for students. When Alice arrived on campus, it was just four years prior when a cross burning occurred in the front yard of an African American student. This occurred only 24 years after the Fair Housing Act, a U.S. Housing Law that followed up the 1964 Civil Right Act.
In the 1990’s, it was typical for students of color to face racism in most universities. Amazingly, there are students who overcome significant pressure and work hard to support change in the university while getting their degrees – and this was evident at UST. Some of the best leaders I ever saw and worked with were doing just that. And many of them were involved in the interviews when Alice became the new director of Multicultural Student Services in 1996. The two primary goals for many universities is attracting the best (and diverse) students and retaining those students. Alice came at the right time and had a significant influence on student of color retention.
In 1996 (at the same time Alice was being hired at UST), I was elected president of HANA, a support organization for students of color. HANA stands for Hispanic/Latino, African American, Native American/American Indian, and Asian American / Pacific Islander. Yes, I am white. I was informed, at the time by civil rights activists in Minnesota, that I was the first white president of a prominent university multicultural organization. I followed the footsteps of great leaders before me – Dr. Lorena Munoz (now a prominent professor), Stacey Danner, famously renown for his commitment to diversity in residence life, and Lamar Hudson, a Detroit native, well known for his leadership of student leaders at St. Thomas in the 1990s and was interviewed live by reporters on TV News at the time of the cross burning. And, after me came Semhar Araia, who, like Alice and I, received a medal of courage and had a tree planted in her name on the university campus for her commitment & dedicated service to students of color.
I share this background because at the time of my election, I received a death threat packaged in racist language. As I tell the story now, it is hard to believe. But, at the time, I was scared to death. Yet, it is nothing compared to the racism experienced by people of color. Alice was there for me unconditionally because she saw something in me that stood for the same things she stood for. With Alice’s help, and many amazing student leaders, we brought more unity to the campus. Alice reached out to every student group and the unique needs of Asian Americans/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino Americans, African Americans, & Native Americans in addition to mixed race students and all other interested students. Alice also made a difference on engaging, empowering, and educating faculty and staff.
Alice’s most significant impact came in her personal relationships with students. From 1998 until 2002, Alice and I had dinner together every month. Of course, Alice maintained ongoing relationships with 100’s of alumni from the University of St. Thomas, even as she worked hard to make a difference for current students of color at UST. Throughout Alice’s time at UST from 1996-’04, Alice had a way of making everybody laugh. She had the uncanny ability to laugh at the ridiculous realities of life. Alice mastered the art of balance: from being a change agent to being a personal friend. She could rally student leaders while making sure students studied for their tests. Despite being a director of Multicultural Student Services, a prominent organization on campus, Alice never lost site of the value of the personal relationship with each student and remembered everyone’s name and a personal detail about them. The following are comments written by St. Thomas Alumni as they reflected on the impact Alice made on their lives:
- Alice was a great leader. One that taught me lessons I use regularly in my career in higher education. She definitely was quite the advocate, leader, teacher, and friend that inspired me to do more and be more. Alice did so much for me as a student of color in an institution that didn’t understand the needs we had. Her advocacy was done with such poise and silent passion in what seemed to be “contra la corriente” (against the grain, up hill battle, against the current (literal translation)). She gave me (and others) a voice when we felt silenced, taught me to value what all others bring to the table and she taught me to advocate for myself. By Kristine Ramos-Walker
- Alice Grider taught me so much about leadership and becoming a great leader. Alice was the one that helped me come out of my shell and be president of the African American Association of H.A.N.A.. Alice was a true pioneer for minority students and changed my life. Many lessons valued and learned with the upmost respect and understanding. By Edward Michaels
- Alice was a humble, yet powerful force that taught me so much about empowerment. I feel so blessed that she became the director at MSS during my freshman year at UST. She was an incredible advocate for students of color on the UST campus, from coordinating the annual retreat at the Gainney center, to revamping and rebranding The REAL project, to getting four full-time positions approved to serve the students coming to MSS through a national search and opening up interviews of candidates to us students, to increasing our student group funding under H.A.N.A. from a few thousand annually to $25-30K by my senior year, she was an exemplary model on how to make things happen. She is greatly missed, and the UST community lost a wonderful woman when she resigned. Brock and I named our daughter Hana, in part, after meeting through the H.A.N.A. Retreat and our exceptionally positive experience on the UST campus because of the group thanks to guidance through the MSS office and Alice's leadership. By Nicole Kim.
- Alice has guided me through the years at St. Thomas. She has helped so many students. By Joseph Jackson
- RIP Alice Grider. You were a phenomenal woman and a true inspiration. By Janice Graham-Neal