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Alumni | Arts and Sciences | Community | Lion VoicesOctober 27, 2023

Staff Voices: Lynette Thrower

Written By: Ian Silvester

Despite living near the edge of the Ben Geren Golf Course, Lynette Thrower is not a golfer. However, she was a hole-in-one hire for the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, serving as Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. She has held the position since 2021, two years after graduating from AV with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Rhetoric and Writing.

Since then, Thrower has become one of the most recognizable faces of AV, not only for her sense of style and beaming smile but for the work she has involved herself in to ensure every student finds success. Yet, there was a time when Thrower wasn’t so sure she would be like the students she often inspires.

“I was working at Northside High School, and I became comfortable there,” she admitted. Her tune changed after a year as a paraprofessional. Thrower felt confident that she could earn her degree, but shortly after applying, she began to question her decision, saying, “I was in my 40s, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to compete; I can’t compete.’”

An early morning phone call from a former admissions officer, Jordan Hale, made the difference. Thrower explained that the call and simple message saying the university would like to see her complete her application had far more significant implications. She said it showed how AV cared about her, and because they cared enough about her, “then I needed to care enough.”

Thrower’s journey to AV and completing her education as a non-traditional student is common for many past, present, and future AV students. It is, however, how and why she was a non-traditional student that makes her story worth sharing.

Thrower was born and raised in Chicago; her mother was a nurse who immigrated from Belize, and her father owned a restaurant. The two never married but worked together to provide for and raise a daughter to see and understand the world for what it was and remains to be.

“My dad would talk to me like I was an adult,” Thrower said as she recalled the countless times he would ask if she understood after they had listened to an afternoon radio show on Chicago politics. “He would tell me things, and I slowly began to understand them. …I was hungry to know more.”

After high school, armed with a desire to learn more about the world, Thrower followed in her uncle’s footsteps, enrolling at the University of Iowa with aspirations to become an attorney. However, during this time, some of the things her father so desperately tried to teach her about the world began to reach a boiling point.

It was 1992, and the beating of Rodney King gripped the nation. In Iowa, the Ku Klux Klan was heavily active. As a student, Thrower recalled seeing this hotbed unfold and was met with an urge to be part of the change on the frontlines and not from a court of law.

“I thought, ‘I want to be out there, I don’t want to be in here discussing theory,’” she remembered.

So, that’s precisely what Thrower did. She not only joined ARM, Anti Racist Mobilization, but became her chapter president. The mission of ARM was to speak out against the Klan and explain why they “are an intrusion to our country.”

“Honestly, at the time, I felt that that’s where I was needed,” Thrower proudly recalled, but with an understanding of the risks she endured in the name of change and equality.

The different regalia, hate speech, and even small children dressed in Klan outfits are still engrained in Thrower’s memory, but seeing a cross burning in person stands out the most.

“We all just stopped, just mesmerized watching it,” she said. “I remember the ride home; everybody was quiet. We had seen this very real representation, the symbolism of hatred.”

After other similar rallies in Iowa and Illinois, Thrower led ARM to her last rally in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Upon arriving, the group was told the rally’s location had changed, only to find it was a setup that could have ended negatively. But the unexpected and much-welcomed arrival of then-TV talk show host Geraldo Rivera and his crew allowed Thrower and ARM to turn around before things escalated.

Not long after, Thrower moved to Fayetteville looking for a fresh start after a fire capped off all the things she witnessed in a short amount of time. Up the hill, she began working at the University of Arkansas in the law school. It was also where she would meet Frederick, who would become her husband.

The pair had a natural connection to education – Lynette realized every job at this point in her life had been at a university or within a public school system, and Frederick aspired to become a math teacher. The Throwers envisioned themselves staying in Fayetteville, but life sometimes works in mysterious ways. She jokes that even to this day, 20 years later, Frederick isn’t sure how Fort Smith Public Schools acquired his resume.

After moving to Fort Smith and settling into their home along the Ben Geren golf course, Thrower also worked for the district until that fateful call from Hill put AV in her path.

Since then, AV has provided Thrower with an education and career, but that wasn’t all the university had to offer. She noted always having a way with words, and it was at AV where this skill flourished.

Through her coursework, Thrower had to take a creative writing class but wasn’t keen on the poetry section. Tasked with writing from a drone’s perspective about an impactful life situation, she described the story shared in this profile.

Her professor at the time, Rodney Wilhite, was so impressed with her work that Thrower couldn’t believe it when he used the words “publishable.”

“By the time I finished that course with him, he was strongly encouraging me to pursue creative writing,” she said with a chuckle, still in disbelief of what came next.

Other professors got a hold of her work. One professor, Dr. Cammie Sublette, had heard of the project grant and wanted Thrower to be one of the ones to apply.

“I didn’t think this stuff was worthy of any sort of attention,” Thrower admitted. “I waited until the day the thing was due. … Then I heard, maybe about a month or so later, that I had been accepted.”

Since becoming a member of the of the Artists 360 project, Thrower has worked with other area artists, taught as a guest instructor on magic realism at the Write Now writers’ workshop at Crystal Bridges, read her work to audiences at The Momentary and Levitt Amp Fort Smith Music Series, and has even begun working on publishing a manuscript of her poetry.

Reflecting on her history, Thrower understands the challenges of earning a degree and the rewards it can bear. As a student and employee, she has benefited from how AV cares about students and continues to see it on display.

“I get a chance to brag about our students,” she beamed. “We’ve got this amazing campus that supports learning. People are impressed with AV because our students are doing great things. … This place is extraordinary.”

  • Tags:
  • Student Affairs
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Staff Voices
  • Enrollment Management

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