Office of Alumni Engagement

Maghan Keita '72

Professional Background

Maghan Keita '72

  • 34 years at Villanova University as faculty and administrator
  • 50 years with the College Board, including Chair of its Board of Trustees
  • 50 plus year in curriculum design, development, and implementation, nationally and Internationally




What elements of your personal professional life would be helpful to you in your service as a trustee?
Possibly, my most valuable contribution to the Board is my desire to find insight in competing views through analysis and critical and creative thinking.

What do you spend your time working on and thinking about?
My work and the greater part of my waking moments focus on the issues of education and the power of knowledge. My commitment is to the access of the highest quality of education for every student centered on the processes of critical and creative thinking.

What else do you want your fellow alumni to know about you?
I’d like alumni to know that I am ‘process oriented’. In that, I mean that I regard life and all we do in it as a journey rather than a destination. For me, this means long-term commitment to finding solutions to our most pressing issues. It also implies that more people should be involved in the ‘journey’, and that their voices must be heard and honored.

What attracted you to Oberlin?
The year was 1968. Not many of the young Black people in my set researched higher education; we were simply intent on getting into college somewhere—anywhere. I was guided  to Oberlin by people who wanted me to succeed. I was guided to Oberlin by people who believed in and understood the promise and the power of education.

What about Oberlin resonates with you today?
There are two things about Oberlin that I always attempt to teach and to pass on: the possibilities to be, and the refinement of conscious and deliberate critical thinking skills. In 1968, it would have been difficult to imagine that a young Black boy from Cleveland might graduate from Oberlin cum laude with a degree in Chinese Language and East Asian Studies. It may have been equally difficult to fathom what might be done with such a skill set. Oberlin helped reveal numerous possibilities, and I suspect that there are more to come.

Share one specific instance in which you wished to understand someone with different values from yours. What happened?
I am a creature of context here. Again, 1968. To be Black at Oberlin in 1968 was to be very much “othered”. However, in the act of finding and claiming ourselves, many Black students were strengthened by our inquiries into cultures different from our own, and our alliances with peoples quite different from ourselves. My entire Oberlin experience was built around these two synergistic forces: gaining an understanding of who I was and am as a Black man, and discovering my place and my responsibilities in the world. Helping to craft an African American Studies Program and to construct a tangible space for students, faculty, and staff to gather and to live, was one part of this. The other element was to major in Chinese Language and East Asian Studies and live for two years in Asia House. The two experiences richly informed each other and transformed me.

Service on the Oberlin Board of Trustees represents a significant commitment of time and effort. What draws you to this service?
The short answer here is I am obligated. I owe Oberlin. Not in some romanticized or  paternalistic sense, but in the sense of experiences gained and opportunities realized; in the sense of  long lasting and enduring friendships. In the sense that the best of Oberlin and its possibilities are to be maintained, nurtured, and refined for the many generations we hope to come after us.

Share an Oberlin experience that shaped who you are today.
The Oberlin experiences that shaped me are almost too numerous to choose from, however, there is one that stands above all others it seems. It involves being told what I could not do. It is also the experience that seems to resonate most with audiences at home and abroad.

Sophomore year, my advisor informed me that I needed to fulfill my World Language requirement—something I was quite eager to do. I informed him I would take Chinese. After some nerdy and somewhat frustrating—for him—back and forth, his explicit—though not necessarily ill-intentioned—response was: “Black boys don’t do Chinese.”

This was one of those moments of possibility at Oberlin. This Black boy did do Chinese and majored in it. Many years later, I chaired a faculty which included Chinese Language and Cultural Studies. Today, I speak with audiences in the United States and abroad about the need to prepare culturally competent students no matter where they might be found.

The possibilities of doing the unexpected is an Oberlin experience that serves me in every task I undertake.

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