As a high school basketball player in Hartford, Conn., Troy Cicero (’84) was introduced to Loras College through his uncle, a Chicago, Ill., businessman with ties to Loras alumni, including Tom Curoe (’55), brother of Sr. Bernadine Curoe (’69).
“They arranged for me to visit campus from my hometown of Hartford, and I played in competitive games to showcase my talent for Coach Bob Mullen, at which time he offered me a full basketball scholarship,” Cicero explained. “We were NAIA independent at that time and played DI, DII and DIII schools, so the opportunity was very attractive to me and my parents.”
Arriving on campus, Cicero faced significant culture shock after growing up in the predominantly black inner city of Hartford.
It was very lonely at times for me at Loras and required immense sacrifice of my cultural norms of things I really liked, such as soul food, soul music on the radio, black barber shops, black girls to date, friends who understood me, etc. I made some good friends at the start of
my freshman year at Loras in 1980. I was raised Catholic in a home where my father and mother had friends of all races and religions. I was raised on the values of faith, family, hard work, education, manners, respect, love and the golden rule.
Beyond the cultural shift to Dubuque, Iowa, Cicero was directly confronted with racism on campus, which put his brief time at Loras in jeopardy.
“The second month of school, I was called the ‘N’ word and pushed by a guy from Chicago who thought he could bring his racist views, beliefs, attitude and aggression to Iowa and Loras College. We fought on the second floor of Keane Hall, as I was defending myself, and it was a really bad situation. I wanted to leave Loras, but my father told me that I had to stay and figure it out, ‘grow up’ through the experience and learn valuable life lessons, because as he stated, ‘It will all pay off in the long run.’ I am actually thankful to God for the love and support of my mother and father, or I would not have made it at Loras.”
Following his father’s advice, Cicero took that incident and used it as a stepping stone to making a more positive experience for racial relations. With the encouragement of faculty and staff members – including Sr. Curoe; Dr. Tom Auge, his academic advisor; Dr. Steve Miliser; Karla (Glab) Braig (’78); and College President Dr. Pasquale DiPasquale, Jr. – he founded the Loras Interracial Club.
“They emboldened me to be a college leader and change agent. Our purpose was to foster greater understanding and better relations among the various racial and ethnic groups on campus. We made the case that Loras, with its high academic reputation, needed to become more conducive to minorities (i.e., people of color). I believed at that time that students needed more of an education ‘outside of the classroom’ to be more prepared for the ‘real world’ and the global society/economy that we were becoming more a part of.
We were fortunate to accomplish many of our goals from 1980–84 and change views, challenge the status quo, create a more welcoming environment and respect for differences and give students more experiences outside of their limited norms.”
Since his graduation, Cicero has remained connected to his alma mater. He has served on the National Alumni Board and is currently on the Board of Regents and chair of the Regents Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
“My father and mother were proud that I was inducted into the Loras Hall of Fame for basketball in 2009. I love Loras and have made lifelong friends. I’d say I’m pretty connected to Loras.”
That connection resulted in Cicero returning to campus in October 2018 to talk about not only his experiences as a student but also the unconscious biases that we all have. He met with the members of the Black Student Union early in its reformation. His advice to them, as to any other Duhawks now or in the future, is to stay true to themselves.
“All students of color are welcome on the Loras College campus and bring much-needed diversity, rich culture, broad perspective and life experience. Know your true essence and value, and the need for your history, your story and your contributions to creating a truly inclusive culture on campus. Join in with the Center for Inclusion & Advocacy, utilize campus resources, ‘build bridges’ and relationships with fellow students of color and white students, as well as faculty, staff and administration, to leave Loras better off than when you found it and appreciate the privilege of attending such a prestigious institution of higher education.”
“If you do sports, do them strong, and showcase your talent. Study hard and maintain good grades, and learn what you need to do to make certain sacrifices and maintain discipline, to ensure your bright future. Learn what it means to be a Duhawk, and add that to your repertoire. Have fun and enjoy your journey at Loras! God bless!”