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Michelle Proctor

While student teaching third- through sixth-grade French in a poor, rural Louisiana town in the early 1990s, Michelle Proctor received a sobering phone call from her school principal. He had heard that Proctor had been walking regularly to the “brown side” of town to help an African-American family navigate health insurance paperwork.

“The principal warned me that due to the presence of the Ku Klux Klan, I might find a burning cross placed in my yard,” recalled Proctor, a College of Lake County education instructor and chair of the education department. “I and the family I was helping were worried about my safety. So I stopped walking to their house and, instead, helped them over the telephone. Just hearing of the KKK’s activism made me realize the ugliness of racism and how deeply it ran in the community.”

Undaunted, Proctor decided to help bridge the racial divide by organizing children’s activities that included an integrated youth soccer league and a drama club. “The kids had a common purpose and a reason not to hate each other,” she said. “In my three years in that town, I fell in love with teaching. I decided that if I’m dedicated to social change, there was no better place to do it than teaching.”

Proctor’s experience also made her realize how “sheltered and privileged” her life was, growing up in a rural and majority white, Christian community in Florida.

After high school, Proctor ventured beyond her comfort zone, attending American University in Washington D.C., where she earned a B.A. in international relations and religion, with a minor in Jewish studies. A Christian, Proctor said she made friends with Jewish students by volunteering to help the campus’ Hillel club. “I was very blessed to attend a good university with multiple races and ethnicities,” she said. “That helped me see myself as connected to a global world. Education is not just learning a skill to get job. It’s becoming a more well-rounded person.”

Proctor later earned a master’s in elementary education from George Washington University. After teaching middle-school drama, social studies and language arts in California, she taught elementary school reading in Ohio. She earned a Ph.D. from Ohio State University before joining CLC in 2005. Today, as she teaches tomorrow’s teachers, Proctor often covers diversity and gender studies topics in her classes, bringing up her own experiences.

She is excited to serve on CLC’s African-American Outreach Committee. “College has given me opportunities that I would not have otherwise had, and I want to help African-American students expand their opportunities by attending CLC,” she said.