Category Archives: Staff

EPIC Spotlight: Barbara Lofton

As a young girl and teenager, Barbara Lofton stood up to racism in her home state of Mississippi.

She participated in public protests, helped minorities register to vote, picketed businesses that discriminated and got others to change its hiring practices to include minorities.

“If there was a march, I was in it,” says Lofton, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi’s capital, Lofton got her clothing at a white-operated store – after regular business hours and by entering through the back entrance, where the trash was picked up, so as not to be seen. Railroad tracks divided the city with whites on one side and blacks on the other. When a white man called Lofton a racially offensive name, she swiftly stomped his foot and demanded that he never call her that again. Lofton’s mother used to tell her, “You’re black, baby. This is how they treat us. Be proud of who you are.”

In 1963, the year before President Johnson signed the historic act outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religious, sex and national origin, civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated outside of his Jackson residence, not far from Lofton’s family home. In 1970, two men were shot to death after police opened fire on a crowd of students at Jackson State University, the result of years of racial tension between white motorists who traveled through the campus. Lofton’s brother, though not shot, sustained an injury from the incident. She carries these memories to work each day.

Lofton was born the same year as the famous Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas case changed history. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. Mississippi, however, was slow to adhere to the law. As a result, Lofton attended an all-black school and, for a while, a Catholic school. Education was important to her family. She came from a long line of educators, including her father, who was a principal, and her mother, a teacher. Lofton recalls that black teachers would occasionally visit their students’ homes and push them to be the best they could be. It’s a standard that Lofton brings to the Walton College, like surprising students by visiting their dorm rooms or favorite hangouts just to let them know she cares about them and is there to help.

Lofton and her siblings grew up in a home with a huge yard, which was the gathering place for the neighborhood kids. They played baseball and football in a field next door, and Lofton enjoyed the comradery and competition. Her love for sports led to the discovery of therapeutic recreation as a career. She earned a bachelor of science in education degree in health, physical education and recreation at Jackson State University followed by a master’s in recreation education at the University of Iowa. This led to a move to Chicago, where she worked at a hospital, teaching those with physical and intellectual disabilities to learn basic life skills, often to upbeat music. “We did activities and made them smile,” Lofton says.

Chicago is also where she met John Lofton, whom she married.

In the early 1980s, she worked at Grambling State University in Louisiana to help create a graduate sports management program and secured federal grants for its expansion. She also helped the university become the first in the country to have an accredited recreation program and developed programs for non-teaching majors and senior citizens – all while earning a doctorate in education degree as she and her husband raised their children.

After a decade at Grambling, Lofton went to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to help develop its recreation program and work with the university’s continuing education program, which included teaching health education to inmates at the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Varner and Tucker units.

Her husband, however, was working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, but there were no opportunities there in the recreation education at that time. Barbara Taylor, then associate vice chancellor for human resources at the University of Arkansas, contacted Lofton about an opening at Walton’s newly created Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Lofton wasn’t sure, at first, if she was a good fit. The Walton College, however, recognized that she was, and she got the job.

Walton’s diversity office, which opened in 1994, has the mission to support, advocate and assist the college in developing plans for diversity throughout the college. During the school year, the office helps students in a multitude of ways, including finding them scholarships and study-abroad opportunities, aid in career placement and more. Lofton also teaches both undergraduate and doctoral students, including the class, The African American Experience in Business.

Except for the COVID-19 interrupted summer of 2020, the diversity office sponsors programs for junior high, high school and incoming freshmen students, such as the Business Leadership Academy, Fleischer Scholars Program, the Accounting Career Awareness Program and Technology Awareness Program.

Through her office and its programs, she hopes that her students – present, past and those who have yet to enroll – will gain a lasting impression and that she has built a strong foundation of what’s to come, she says.

Lofton especially rallies behind underrepresented students.

“She was creating programs that were designed for kids like me,” says Synetra Hughes, a first-generation college graduate who worked with Lofton when Hughes was program director for the university’s Center for Retailing Excellence. Hughes now serves as associate director of Walton’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and sees the impact Lofton has on students daily.

“She inspires me, and her enthusiasm fuels my passion for giving back to underrepresented students from places like my hometown of West Memphis,” Hughes says.

Erica Holliday, lecturer with Walton’s Department of Information Systems, was a graduate assistant when she began working with Lofton back when Walton’s diversity and inclusion office consisted of only Lofton and an administrative assistant. Holliday, who spends summers assisting the diversity office’s summer programs, immediately recognized that Lofton wanted and demanded excellence in her mission to make Walton inclusive. That hasn’t changed.

“She wanted students who never thought they could come to the University of Arkansas,” Holliday says. “She wanted them to realize their dream.”

Lofton’s passion wasn’t reserved for just undergraduates, either.

Ken Ford, a finance assistant professor at Wake Forest University at Winston-Salem, North Carolina, turned to Lofton for support while earning his Ph.D. at Walton. He says Lofton’s daughter babysat for Ford and his wife so that the couple could have a “date night.”

“It was clear that she cared – that she was going to be on your side – and that was very comforting to me,” Ford says.

Ebony Wyatt says that when she was on the job market as a Walton student, she sought Lofton for advice when she was confused why General Mills never followed up after she had a promising interview with the company. Lofton strongly urged her to call them. She did and learned that a representative had left her a message she never received. As a result, she was offered a job. “Had Dr. Lofton not told me to reach out, I probably would not be working here 17 years later,” says Wyatt, who is now sales director for General Mills.

During her first year at the Walton College, about 50 percent of the students she dealt with were losing their scholarships on a regular basis. By the end of her second year on the job, she closed that gap substantially.

This was also before smartphones and the widespread use of emails and text messages. Lofton makes it clear to her students that all conversations must take place in person.

That was never an issue for Ford.

“I would walk by her office every day to see if she was there just to say ‘hi,’” he says. “My day wasn’t complete – in fact, I couldn’t get my day started without that – because she meant so much.”

Lofton says that when the diversity and inclusion office began, the focus was on student recruitment and graduation. However, she wanted it to do more. She wanted to see her students get internships, go to graduate school and find jobs. She wanted to mentor them to be their best and prepare them for the future.

The office also serves as sponsors and, at times, its staff serve as historians. As a result, Lofton has a legacy of “strong, fierce students,” Holliday says.

Lofton says her job is far from complete. With the growing diverse population in Northwest Arkansas, she would like to create classes that will enable minorities from all backgrounds to make their mark in the business world.

But diversity goes beyond the color of one’s skin or ethnicity. Lofton tells people that everyone, should they live long enough, will become a member of an underrepresented demographic: senior citizens. “If you think you will never become part of a diverse population, you will,” Lofton says.

Lofton’s accolades are many and include receiving the Tony Walker Diversity Champion Award from the Gerald and Candace Alley Foundation, a Staff Gold Medal from the university’s Office of Nationally Competitive Awards and being named an honorary alumna by the university’s Black Alumni Society. The American Association of Blacks in Higher Education presented Lofton with the AABHE Exemplary Public Service Award for her work to improve the lives of African Americans, and the Northwest Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Council honored Lofton with a lifetime achievement award. She was awarded a scholarship to attend a leadership forum sponsored by the American Council on Education and the Management Development Institute at Harvard.

Her legacy continues on through her students. “They come back and pay it forward,” Hughes says.

Wyatt is one of them.

“For me, she was my first role model outside of my hometown, so I want to do the same things that Dr. Lofton does for students,” Wyatt says. “Now, I’m one of the people she calls when she needs something for a current student.”

Ford says Lofton is so much to so many.

“In some ways, she wears a motherly hat to us,” he says. “And, in some ways, she’s wearing a sister hat. And, in some ways, she’s wearing your best friend’s hat. And she had a way to switch and put on a new hat when they needed to be worn and, for me, and the people that I’ve observed who used her services, that was tremendous.”

When asked about goals for the diversity office, Lofton doesn’t miss a beat. She would like to see it become endowed, facilitate more scholarships – especially four-year scholarships – provide a visiting faculty position and build on research and teaching. She would also like to build connections with universities and high schools with a strong minority student population.

“These are dreams,” she says. “But dreams do come true.”

Lofton reflects on her favorite saying, which is from Dr. Freeman Hrabowski II, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watcher your character; it becomes your destiny.

Shepherd Selected as Walton College Employee of the Quarter

Ashlee Shepherd, administrative specialist III, Undergraduate Programs, has been named employee of the second quarter for 2019-2020 by the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Anyone in the college may nominate colleagues for the award, which is given to employees who show superior customer service that enhances the image of the college above and beyond the scope of that employee’s job description.

Along with Shepherd, Drew Stephens, digital design and development manager, External Relations; Teryl Hampton Jebaraj, assistant director of graduate student services, Graduate School of Business; and Debbie Ritter, employer relations assistant, Career Services, were also nominated for their contributions to Walton College.

The winner receives a certificate of appreciation and a cash prize. Winners are chosen by Walton College Dean Matt Waller, the associate deans, the assistant deans and the Walton College Staff Council.

University of Arkansas Represented at AACSB International Diversity and Inclusion Summit

Barbara Lofton, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, and Elecia Smith, executive director of the U of A’s IDEALS Institute, presented the workshop “In Too Deep: Managing Stress and Preventing Burnout” at the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International Diversity and Inclusion Summit on Nov. 13 in New Orleans.

The summit took place as part of the AACSB’s International Associate Deans Conference held Nov. 13-15. The AACSB is the international accrediting organization for collegiate business schools.

At a recent AACSB conference, Barbara Lofton (left) and Elecia Smith (right) presented a workshop on how to alleviate stress.
At a recent AACSB conference, Barbara Lofton (left) and Elecia Smith (right) presented a workshop on how to alleviate stress.

The presentation focused on the causes of stress for diversity professionals and resources and tactics available to lessen the stress.

“Stress and burnout are all too common for diversity professionals,” Lofton said. “I want to support other professionals by providing resources to them and advocating for them. I believe in paying it forward.”

Lofton also presented “To Have or Not to Have an Office of Diversity Within a College” to the Diversity and Inclusion Network Affinity Group meeting held at the conclusion of the summit. She discussed best practices, missions and strategies employed by collegiate diversity programs. Lofton served as the session moderator.

“Diversity helps teams think differently and create smarter products and programs,” Lofton said. “It is the right thing to do, but it is also a smart and profitable thing to implement in business or academia, whether referring to diverse hires, diverse thought, or products and programs that speak to diverse audiences. It all matters.”

Walton College boasts the oldest diversity and inclusion office at any Southeastern Conference business school. It celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019. Lofton has served as its director for 24 years.

Lofton Receives Diversity Champion Award

Barbara Lofton, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, received the Tony Walker Diversity Champion Award from the Gerald and Candace Alley Foundation Nov. 20, 2019, to acknowledge her work to support and promote diversity and inclusion in Northwest Arkansas, the U of A and Walton College.

Lofton was recognized at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville during the 40th anniversary tour of Con-Real, a real estate, construction and development company in Arlington, Texas, which is touring the regions in which it serves.

Gerald Alley (left), Tony Walker and Troy Alley (right) present Barbara Lofton with the Tony Walker Diversity Champion Award on Nov. 20, 2019, in Bentonville, Ark., during the 40th anniversary celebration for Con-Real construction and real estate company.
Gerald Alley (left), Tony Walker and Troy Alley (right) present Barbara Lofton with the Tony Walker Diversity Champion Award on Nov. 20, 2019, in Bentonville, Ark., during the 40th anniversary celebration for Con-Real construction and real estate company.

Gerald Alley, president and chief executive officer of Con-Real, presented Lofton with the award.

“I was so surprised and humbled by this recognition. I do things because it’s the right thing to do,” Lofton said. “If I want to leave the world better than I found it, I have to do my part.”

Lofton and her team provide support services for undergraduate and graduate students at the Walton College. In addition, the office hosts summer camps for high school students to attract minorities and women to business programs. Her team also serves as advisers to several registered student organizations that promote diversity in business.

Alley is a member of the Walton College Dean’s Executive Advisory Board. His brother Troy Alley Jr., executive vice president and real estate leader at Con-Real, serves on the University of Arkansas College of Engineering Advisory Council. Both are graduates of the U of A. The Alleys support several outreach programs at Walton College through the Gerald and Candace Alley Foundation and Alley Scholars, a nonprofit organization founded by Troy and his wife Unnice, which promotes and supports education through scholarships, networking events and business competitions.

Lofton has served as the director of diversity and inclusion at Walton College for 24 years. She also teaches diversity classes at Walton College. Previously, Lofton worked as an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Grambling State University. She received an Ed.D. in higher education from Grambling State University, M.A. from the University of Iowa and a B.S.E.D. from Jackson State University. She is a member of the American Association for Blacks in Higher Education.

Eiler Selected as Walton College Employee of the Quarter

Carolyn Eiler, director of special events and projects, Office of External Relations, has been named employee of the first quarter of 2019 by the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Anyone in the college may nominate colleagues for the award, which is given to employees who show superior customer service that enhances the image of the college above and beyond the scope of that employee’s job description.

Carolyn Eiler was selected as the employee of the first quarter for 2019.
Carolyn Eiler was selected as the employee of the first quarter for 2019.

Along with Eiler, Meredith Adkins, director, Corporate Relations and Outreach; Amanda Jacobson, academic counselor, Undergraduate Programs; Alisha Waddell, fiscal support analyst, Accounting Center; and Wren Wallace, assistant director of development, Office of External Relations, were also nominated for their contributions to Walton College.

The winner receives a certificate of appreciation and a cash prize. Winners are chosen by Walton College Dean Matt Waller, the associate deans, the assistant deans and the Walton College Staff Council.

Parker Selected as Walton College Employee of the Year

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Autumn Parker, director for Undergraduate Recruitment and Enrollment Management, has been named the 2018-2019 Employee of the Year for the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Anyone in the college may nominate colleagues for the award, which is given to employees who show superior customer service that enhances the image of the college above and beyond the scope of that employee’s job description.

Along with Parker, nominees were Amy Moore, administrative specialist III for Outreach, Shannon Bullock, conference coordinator for the Conference Hub, and Alice Frizzell, assistant director for the Department of Information Systems Graduate Programs.

The winner of the award receives a certificate of appreciation and a cash prize. Winners are chosen by Walton College Dean Matt Waller, the associate deans, assistant deans and the Walton College Staff Council.

Frizzell Selected as Walton College Employee of the Quarter

Alice Frizzell, assistant director of the Department of Information Systems Graduate Programs, has been named employee of the fourth quarter by the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Anyone in the college may nominate colleagues for the award, which is given to employees who show superior customer service that enhances the image of the college above and beyond the scope of that employee’s job description.

Along with Frizzell, Karen McDowell, administrative support supervisor for the Department of Finance, and Sandra Cox Birchfield, administrative specialist for the Department of Marketing, were also nominated for their contributions to Walton College.

The winner receives a certificate of appreciation and a cash prize. Winners are chosen by Walton College Dean Matt Waller, the associate deans, the assistant deans and the Walton College Staff Council.