Eric Fontaine, c. 1974 (1952-Present)

Eric Fontaine, a 1974 Concordia graduateEric Fontaine attended Concordia College during a period of dramatic racial change in higher education, matriculating in 1970 and graduating in 1974. Stepping from the nation’s capital, Fontaine asserted himself on campus through multiple extra-curricular involvements and leadership positions. He served as a guest editorialist for the student paper and as copy editor of the yearbook. In 1973, Fontaine became the first African American student in the college’s history to be elected Student Association president. Following graduation, Fontaine went on to pursue a wide-ranging career as a human resources professional, providing diversity expertise through consulting, coaching, teaching, and training in industry, government, and higher education.

Eric Fontaine grew up in Washington D.C. While attending Joel Elias Spingarn High School in a city rocked by civil discontent and racial upheaval occasioned by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, he learned of Concordia College during a recruiting visit of admissions director James Hausmann. Fontaine eventually selected Concordia in part because he wished to participate in an educational environment where learning for its own sake was valued. A record of achievement confirmed his decision. Looking back Fontaine regarded his time at Concordia as among “the best years in my life.” [1]   

An able student, Fontaine took a double major in English Literature and Political Science, graduating in 1974. He also left an indelible mark beyond the classroom in a context of increasing black student enrollment as expressions of Black Power and the Black Student Movement reached zenith countrywide. Fontaine embraced the opportunities the moment afforded. As a first-year student Fontaine developed his love of writing, devising a column, “The Other Side,” for the student paper, the Concordian. His columns gave distinct voice to the perspectives of minority students on a largely white campus. Fontaine later became a regular editorial writer for the paper. He also worked for the Cobber yearbook, first as a contributor, later as copy editor. Having tasted leadership, Fontaine ran for Student Association president in 1973. Eager to bring fresh and under-represented voices to student government, Fontaine ran alongside Glenda Rudel. Their election marked two firsts in student government leadership at the college—he as an African American; she as a female. [2]

Fontaine had a front seat for several important innovations at the college shaped by the era’s black campus politics, both as witness and as participant. With other black students he lobbied the administration for greater resources to support the growing number of minority students. Together they formed a student union, Harambee Weuse (“let’s pull together” in Swahili), to express their political and cultural solidarity. In 1971 the administration created the Office of Intercultural Affairs, appointing as its first director, chemistry professor, Dr. Richard Green c. 1961, who also happened to be the college’s first black graduate. Then in 1972 the college provided a dedicated campus house students of color could call their own. Harambee gave minority students a unified voice before the administration as they sought to enact reforms, to broaden cultural programming, and to make their presence felt. [3]

Channeling this insurgent mood, the Office of Intercultural Affairs created a pamphlet in 1972 to recruit students of color under the provocative theme, What Time Is It? Assisting in conception and creation of the campaign, Fontaine astutely had the message and accompanying images transferred to the 1972 Cobber yearbook to become part of the permanent student record. As student body president and regular contributor for the Concordian, Fontaine helped to manage a fraught situation during fall 1973 caused by an anonymous letter to the student paper making racist charges; skirmishes marring intramural football contests between black and white teams; and not least, anonymous telephone threats leveled against black students and the Intercultural Affairs house. Asserting that the college must accept responsibility to rid the campus of racism, Fontaine beseeched fellow students, “If you are not part of the solution, then by default you are part of the problem.” [4]

By his own reckoning, enlisting then Atlanta mayor, Andrew Young, as commencement speaker in 1974 may have been Fontaine’s proudest achievement. Operating behind the scenes without consulting president Joseph Knutson, Fontaine successfully retained the civil rights figure to speak and managed also to get after-the-fact approval from Knutson. Young did not disappoint. Above all the students did not suffer boredom at graduation due to Young’s moving speech. Knutson remarked afterwards, “this is the best damn thing Fontaine has done since he has been here!” Fontaine’s years at the college helped to bring the experiences and struggles faced by people of color into sharper relief on a campus overwhelmingly white and largely ignorant of issues facing minority communities. [5] 

Two years after graduation, Fontaine studied law at the University of Virginia, earning a juris doctor degree in 1979. Building upon this legal training, Fontaine sustained a long career as a Human Resources professional specializing in diversity administration and policy in multiple settings in both the public and private sectors. Fontaine’s résumé includes stints with industry titans like IBM and major philanthropies such as the American Red Cross. Fontaine tracked EEO compliance and oversight for several federal agencies. He served for eleven years as a commissioner for the Arlington County Equal Employment Advisory Commission. In the new millennium he established Fontaine & Associates, an executive consulting firm offering human capital solutions while tailoring employee compensation and benefits packages for clients. Fontaine became an adjunct professor in the Metropolitan School of Professional Studies at the Catholic University of America in 2007, teaching a variety of courses on cultural diversity, conflict resolution, employment law, business ethics, and human resources management, topics he also taught at several other universities around the District of Columbia. [6]

Authors: Dr. Richard M. Chapman, Tyler Kemen, and Benjamin Paul



[1] Fontaine entered Concordia as Eric Fontaine Carter, but inspired by discoveries about his family history, later changed his name to Eric Douglas Fontaine. Telephone interview with Natalie Siede, 11 July 2017, audio file and transcript, Concordia College Archives (CCA); Chapman conversation with Fontaine, 12 August 2017, in Moorhead, MN; and Chapman email correspondence with Fontaine, 13 and 15 July 2019.  

[2] Michelle Simon, “Personalities on Campus,” Concordian, 21 September 1973; Eric F. Carter, “The Other Side” column, 13 November 1970, Concordian; “Parting Shots” editorial, Concordian, 7 December 1973; “Fontaine, Rudel elected; pledge to keep students informed,” Concordian, 16 March 1973; 1971 Cobber Yearbook, 102-103; 1972 Cobber Yearbook, 246-247; 1973 Cobber Yearbook, 240; Fontaine interview.

[3] See “Harambee Weuse,” Student Affairs, Office of Intercultural Affairs, Subject Files, B10/F4 (Record Group 17.2.3), CCA; Fontaine interview.

[4] What Time Is It? Recruitment Brochure, Student Affairs, Office of Intercultural Affairs, Subject Files, B10/F5, CCA; Fontaine interview; 1972 Cobber Yearbook, edition entitled “Time is now . . .”, 64-66 with inset; “Meetings, Speeches Punctuate Concordia Racial Incidents, Fargo Forum, 27 October 1973; Ronald Mitchell and Barbara Eiden, “Racial Tensions Swell, Calming Steps Taken,” Concordian, 26 October 1973.

[5] Fontaine interview.

[6] Linkedin,; Catholic University of America faculty pages,