BY KENDRA TURNER We are all unique, fabulously complicated beings. But isn’t it amazing how one moment, one possibility, one accomplishment of someone we may never meet can connect and empower us and others?
On April 4th, North Carolina Central University will inaugurate its first woman chancellor. The selection of Debra Saunders-White as the 11th chancellor of NCCU affects me on many levels:
- As a minority, a woman of Latino descent;
- As a product of a Catholic Social Services adoption program;
- As a child of parents with deep commitments to education and parity;
- As a lifelong advocate of disenfranchised communities.
As one of North Carolina’s 11 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), this first for North Carolina Central University holds significance for North Carolina women, women of color, and for the African-American community. HBCUs are a source of pride. They offer quality, affordability, and a dynamic education with diverse academic and extracurricular programs that are competitive—if not superior to—offerings of more “traditional” campuses. HBCUs enroll only about 3% of all students pursuing higher education and yet are responsible for over 20% of all Bachelor’s degrees earned by Blacks. HBCU graduates make up 40% of all African-American congressmen, 12.5% of CEOs, 40% of engineers, 50% of professors, 50% of lawyers, and 80% of judges. Now, a fabulous woman will lead one of our HBCUs.
Turquoise Parker, NCCU class of ’10, looks forward to seeing the impact of the unique experiences Saunders-White will bring to the table: “Her installation will empower all women, but African American women in particular, to assume those kinds of roles in other HBCUs and beyond. We get to see someone who looks like us, as African Americans and as women, lead a historic institution. I’m very proud.”
Parker went on to say, “HBCUs have graduated the likes of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other modern leaders. If we have nothing else to be proud of, we have our institutions of higher learning. They are alive and well, and what they contribute to our local and greater communities can only be provided by HBCUs.”I agree with Parker. I can’t wait to see how Saunders-White nurtures and pushes her faculty and students to be more and do more.
The installation of Saunders-White comes on the heels of a similar first at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Carol Folt became UNC’s first woman chancellor in July 2013 as one of five in the UNC system. In July 2014, Appalachian State University will continue the trend, welcoming their first woman chancellor, Sheri Noren Everts.
At a time when women are outnumbering men on campus, I applaud the trend of appointing women into leadership roles at colleges and universities. Students need to see these women’s portraits hung on walls, dispersing the sea of men. Let’s tip our hats to Saunders-White, Folt, and Everts and other women leaders who are blazing a trail at their universities—and let’s look forward to the day when we have no more firsts for women!