Diversity: Stacey Milner is a mother to all students
Diversity: Stacey Milner is a mother to all students
This is part of an on-going series
S tacey Milner has been through many changes in recent years. At Georgia College, she worked as a secretary in the Registrar’s Office, recruiter in Admissions, co-director of Fraternity and Sorority Life and director of the Cultural Center. Now, she’s back as sole director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
With the recent death of her husband, and her son attending college in South Carolina, the past year has not been easy. Yet—with an energetic 10-year-old at home and a demanding job—Milner stills finds time, and a doling of motherly wisdom, for every student she meets.
“I think about the conversations I’d want somebody else to have with my kid, if I wasn’t there. I want to not only be a good example for my kids but for other people’s too. At the end of the day, I want students to know I taught them what it means to value someone else.”
Born and raised in Milledgeville, Milner’s always had “very deep ties” to Georgia College. Her mother works in dining services and her aunt did as well. Her husband’s mother was a faculty member in the School of Nursing for 30 years. Milner got her undergraduate degree in politics and her master’s in instructional technology at Georgia College.
As if she’s not busy enough, Milner’s also finishing her Ed.D. in student affairs leadership at the University of Georgia.
Growing up, she had a diverse circle of friends. Looking at the world, she was not happy with the “status quo.” She didn’t like being stereotyped. Nor did she like the way people fixated on racial identities. She knew she had to do better as a mom and teach her kids differently. Giving them the best meant showing them value in everyone, regardless of what they look like.
“It really is not about the color of their skin,” she said. “It’s about the content of their character. All that matters is what values a person has. I could care less what your exterior looks like. I care about your interior.”
And Milner means it. She doesn’t leave anybody out. While supporting underrepresented students with one arm, she’s got the other arm wrapped around the shoulders of white students. In order for things to progress and get better, she said, “everybody has to be at the table.”
Whether at the Cultural Center or Fraternity and Sorority Life, Milner’s student staff members are a diverse “rainbow coalition” of underrepresented and majority students. Her mission is to provide “a sense of belonging” for everyone.
The Cultural Center got so popular under Milner’s reign, the little office at Blackbridge Hall became cramped. Students would drag chairs to the open door and sit in the hall to participate.
“It’s very wonderful, because that means I did what I set out to do,” Milner said, “which was to provide an environment where they feel comfortable, they feel supported, they feel empowered and they always want to be here.”
“When you have students staring at the walls, trying to figure a way to create more space,” she said, “then I’ve done my job.”
In Fall 2014, Milner became co-director of Fraternity and Sorority Life with Tiffany Bayne. It was a perfect fit for Milner, who’s an enthusiastic member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She was hired to support African-American students in Greek Life and help revitalize Divine 9 organizations on campus.
After a year, Milner was nominated by Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity as their pick for national advisor of the year. She was flown to Roanoke, Virginia, for the fraternity’s 150th celebration, where they gave Milner “red carpet” treatment.
“I revel in a challenge. I do,” she said. “There’s something about challenging yourself, and I feel Georgia College has prepared me for whatever trajectory I find myself in. Whatever avenue opens up—I feel like I can walk through that door.”
“Sometimes it’s nice to bash the stereotype of being a woman of color,” Milner said. “I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there and say, ‘I’m willing.’”
Under Milner’s tutelage, the fraternity restructured its recruitment practices by adding a service project. Members took recruits to a horse farm to clear trails and wipe down stalls. It showed them which recruits were willing to work hard, while reinforcing the value of community service. Those projects were a “game changer” for the fraternity, she said, and allowed members to get to know new recruits better.
While co-director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Milner also started Tunnel of Oppression at Georgia College. Students chose themes of marginalization and oppression and acted out scenes for audiences. It was held on the third floor of Atkinson Hall. Dark lights, black drops and video made it feel like people were moving through a tunnel, participating in the action.
One year, performances were about police brutality with a bar altercation and gunshots. Others were about racism, LGBTQ+ harassment, bipolar disorders and date abuse. Students wrote their own scripts and designed stages. There were four actors, four scenes and three nights. Actors performed 64 times, and the results were often emotional. Rawness of scenes required counseling services be available afterwards.
“I’ve heard students gasp,” Milner said. “It’s transformational. It’s such a small space. It’s so intimate, you have no choice but to be affected by it, as if you’re living it.”
What makes Milner successful and popular is her willingness to step back and let students decide for themselves. Programs at the Cultural Center, therefore, were designed by students. They wanted real-world discussions about sex, gender and politics. One discussion group talked about being LGBTQ+ in a black community. Milner gave students the tools to facilitate discussions, keep them moving and communicate without “heat, animosity and tension.”
A new mentor/mentee program, called LIFE, started recently at the Cultural Center. Faculty, staff and upperclassmen befriend new students. Student workers came up with the acronym LIFE (Leaders Igniting the Fundamentals of Excellence). They also decided on four cornerstones for the program: student involvement, selfcare, time management and campus resources.
“The program is to help students navigate Georgia College,” Milner said. “Studies show if a student is engaged, involved and connected to the institution, they’ll feel they belong here.”
“And if they have that sense of belonging,” she said. “you will see them thrive.”
Helping students to thrive is what Milner’s all about. College is the first time young adults figure things out on their own. And that can be scary. Like a good mother, she wants to help them along.
But she also gives them room to spread their wings.
“We talk a lot in my office about you can’t have success without failure. Students today are afraid to fail. That’s our fault as parents. We’ve always been there to catch them. And, because we’ve always been there, they’ve never fallen and had to get back up on their own,” Milner said.
“I believe in the mission of this institution,” she added. “Georgia College is a place where everyone can learn to get back up on their own. It allows us the chance to explore.”