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SEPTEMBER 27

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Helping Youth Overcome, Persevere, and Succeed

Darnell Epps

After initially graduating from LVC with a degree in music education and earning a master’s degree in music at Washington State University, Darnell Epps ’08 used his time as an LVC Valley Ambassador [admission tour guide] to launch a career as a college diversity officer and recruiter. Recently, he returned to secondary education to become director of fair play (diversity, equity, and inclusion) at the Hawken School in Lyndhurst, Ohio. 

Epps, originally from Maryland, was drawn to LVC by several factors.

“My high school band director knew of LVC and the strong reputation of the Music Department. After doing some research, I found it especially appealing that the department offered a conservatory-style music education in a liberal arts setting. I knew I wanted the freedom and flexibility to study other subjects I was interested in, such as sociology, religion, and film.”

Though still quite active in the music field as noted later, Epps’ Valley Ambassador work, coupled with his service as a Saturday visit coordinator, gave him a glimpse into higher education as a career choice.

“I LOVED showing prospective students and families around LVC’s campus, and helping influence their college decision,” said Epps. “I worked with students and families who were at such different places in their search and had the chance to provide information that helped guide their final decision.”

After earning his master’s at Washington State, Epps embarked on a career in higher education with stints as associate director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice (IDEAS) Center at Allegheny College, and senior assistant director of admissions and coordinator of multicultural recruitment, also at Allegheny.

Now with experience at the secondary and post-secondary levels, Epps has crucial advice to help colleges like LVC recruit and retain diverse students, and help them feel welcome and succeed.

“Colleges can work closely with high school counselors and college-bound organizations to consider enrolling underrepresented students in cohorts,” added Epps. “College administrators should offer on-campus and community programming and training on topics such as implicit bias, microaggressions, gender, consent, sexism, LGBTQ+ inclusion, race and racism, and ableism. Establish strong bias reporting protocols; listen and take meaningful action when issues arise. Having these topics and foundations interwoven throughout the life of the College will help diverse students feel better represented and supported.

“LVC alumni, specifically, can help create structures for formal and informal mentoring to occur. Help students connect with important alumni networks for internship and career opportunities, and establish scholarships to assist students with all financial costs associated with attending college.”

Epps works to enact change starting during childrens’ early years at the Hawken School. 

“I love educating students and helping them learn about commonalities and differences by broadening their perspectives,” noted Epps. “I especially enjoy reading stories to our preschool, pre-K, and kindergarten classes. This helps create inclusive spaces for students by promoting empathy and acceptance.”

Epps remains active in the arts outside work as director of music at Mt. Zion Congregational United Church of Christ near Cleveland. He previously taught private piano lessons in his home studio and performed in a band.

“Mt. Zion is a historic open and affirming African-American congregation with a rich music tradition,” said Epps. “I provide leadership for the team musically and administratively. I especially love working with talented musicians in various musical genres, ranging from traditional and contemporary, to hymns, anthems, spirituals, jazz, and gospel.”