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Rucker still giving back to UMW

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Cedric Rucker believes being dean of student life at University of Mary Washington is a hands-on job. He routinely chats with students while walking from his office to the campus dining hall for lunch. / Photos by Peter Cihelka

Every day around lunchtime, Cedric Rucker treks across the University of Mary Washington’s campus from his office in Marye House to Seacobeck Hall.

He’s easy to spot. Most days, he wears a bow tie and a matching cardigan. Sometimes that’s paired with a matching hat.

On Halloween, he wears a full-body Winnie the Pooh costume. And on Devil v. Goat day, Rucker, an odd-year alumnus, sports a UMW Devil’s T-shirt.

Cedric Rucker talks with theater major Lyndsey Braxton. The dean of student life began wearing a Winnie the Pooh suit and handing out candy to students on Halloween nine years ago.

His daily jaunt across campus, though, takes considerably longer than the couple of minutes it would take most people on Campus Walk.

Rucker, 53 and the dean of student life, extends his trip by stopping and talking to the students seated on benches along the main campus thoroughfare.

And UMW has a lot of benches.

On a recent Monday, he asked students their opinions about a Washington Capitals game and an on-campus concert, and inquired about their classes.

For Rucker, who has worked at UMW since 1989, being a dean is a hands-on activity.

He said 80 percent of a student’s time is spent outside of the classroom.

“I’m responsible for that,” Rucker said.

His days aren’t spent entirely chatting with students, though. On the same Monday, Rucker worked on compliance reports, met with student groups and staff, reviewed incidents that occurred over the weekend, held a meeting with Counseling and Psychological Services, held a behavioral intervention, worked on setting up a campus concert and graded papers for the course he teaches: Sociology 341, American Sociology.

Rucker’s history with the school began before his first job there as associate dean of student activities.

He was an undergraduate between 1977 and 1981 at UMW—when Campus Walk was a dirt road, Trinkle Hall housed the library, there were fewer buildings and trees shrouded the campus from the city. When he began at UMW, the school song included only feminine pronouns.

He returned to the school after getting a master’s degree at the University of Virginia and working there in the admissions department.

One of the largest changes he has noticed on campus is the population growth.

“Most significant for me is the rich diversity,” he said. “Students at UMW come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, sexuality.”

Rucker, originally from Richmond, was the first African–American male to attend UMW, which he was not aware of until he began classes there. He would remain the only African–American male on campus for two years, until 1979.

“No one was ever mean or rude,” he said. “I just felt like an oddity.”

Rucker considered transferring to a different school after his first semester, but said staff members reached out to him and persuaded him to stay and get involved in campus culture, inspiring his own brand of hands-on advising with students.

By his senior year, Rucker had developed quite a résumé: He’d been a radio announcer for on-campus station WMWC and worked for the Underground, a restaurant and the school’s primary venue for musical acts.

He’d been president of the Afro–American Association, the Inter Club Association and his honor’s house while also serving on the Student Government Association’s executive cabinet and in the anthropology club.

In Madison Hall, he was a junior counselor, advising younger students. He started the annual Wo-Man contest, having guys dress up as gals for charity, and also founded Rucker’s Tuckers, a charity organization whose members dressed in pajamas and bunny slippers and read bedtime stories to fellow students in exchange for donations.

He won the Kiwanis award for his involvement on campus and academic achievements at graduation.

Still, Rucker prefers to tout the accomplishments of his UMW colleagues. Professors Allyson Poska, Jeffrey McClurken, Chris Kilmartin and Donald Rallis are innovators in their fields of history, psychology and geography, he said.

“I call these people my friends,” he said.

Rucker doesn’t plan on leaving UMW until it is time for him to retire, but when he does, he hopes to do something with the Peace Corps.

He has visited 89 countries, on every continent except Antarctica.

“I’m definitely interested in giving,” he said.

For Rucker, inspiration to give back is close to home.

Jean Donovan, a UMW alumna and missionary who was murdered while working in El Salvador; James Farmer, one of the Big Four civil rights leaders and a former UMW professor; and Shin Fujiyama, UMW alumnus and founder of Students Helping Honduras, are “guiding lights” for UMW and for himself, he said.

Rucker is a UMW alumnus and has worked at the school since 1989.

Fujiyama came to Rucker when he first thought of starting Students Helping Honduras to ask whether he thought it was possible.

“He is a person who, based on his experiences here, is changing the world,” Rucker said.

He enjoys his daily lunchtime chats with students, but his favorite day of the year is graduation day.

Along with “the smiles and tears, you see the growth and accomplishment” the students have experienced during their four years at the school, he said.

“I’m so uplifted on that day to witness graduation,” he said. “I have been blessed with the opportunity to support thousands of students and have been rewarded by friendships. I love that day.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976