Six phenomenal female university presidents gathered yesterday for what would be an evening of immense laughter and tremendous insight at “Extraordinary Reach,” an event designed to inspire and empower women of all ages through open dialogue. The leaders’ hearts and passion were on full display as they shared their greatest disappointments and greatest triumphs at the Women’s History Month event, which was a part of the University’s second annual #TellItOnTuesday Series honoring and strengthening women from all walks of life.
The sensational group represented six historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) known for their impact on the community. One of the goals of the event was to unpack the processes that led the leading ladies to their respective successes in addition to offering a candid look at women in leadership.
FAMU President Elmira Mangum, Ph.D., served as moderator while Cheryl Dozier, DSW, represented Savannah State University; Debra Saunders-White, Ed.D., represented North Carolina Central University (NCCU); Rosyln Artis, Ed.D., represented Florida Memorial University; Algeania Freeman, Ph.D., represented Wilberforce University; and Gwendolyn Boyd, Ph.D., represented Alabama State University (ASU).
Though they each have unique paths, the university leaders had one obvious thing in common: exemplary educational leadership as demonstrated in the success of the institutions they manage.
All of the esteemed guests offered nuggets of advice about what it means to lead as a female in a male-dominated arena — something that Mangum knows all about.
Mangum said her love and compassion for students keeps her going.
“Everything that we do is because we understand the value of historically Black colleges and universities,” Mangum said. “There is a needed and continued relevance in our society to move our students, as well as our society, forward.”
Artis, like Mangum, is her university’s first permanent female president. She echoed Mangum’s sentiment adding, “For me, the students are air. The greatest gift is to see them succeed.”
The candid, vulnerable discourse had the “sister presidents,” as they affectionately called each other, examining the different ways in which women lead as opposed to men.
Dozier spoke of the nurturing quality of female leaders and quoted Coretta Scott King saying, “women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.’”
The audience, which was comprised of current students, emerging professionals, and women from the community, were not only able to learn about the victories but also the challenges. Alabama State University President Boyd credited God with getting her through difficult times. She recalled a time when, in 2015, a Ku Klux Klan affiliated group left a 50 ft. Confederate Flag on her campus lawn. She explained how prayer helped her navigate through such a challenging time.
“I can’t allow anyone to disturb my happiness,” Boyd said. “You have to walk through valleys of people who don’t understand and walk in that authority and power.”
Saunders-White, chancellor of NCCU, shared how her going through chemotherapy did not stop her from exceeding expectations. She said that she feels you must be ready when any opportunity arises no matter what you are facing.
“We have to come more than just prepared,” Saunders-White said. “We can’t meet the needs of our society without being the best in the room.”
Another topic of discussion was the relevancy of HBCU’s. Four of the six women received at least one degree from an HBCU. Wilberforce President Freeman said she was hired to save Wilberforce, the nation’s first private HBCU, from losing accreditation. A woman of great faith, she quoted Psalms 23 and said that no matter how dark things get, you can accomplish anything.
“Not one HBCU should be lost!” Freeman said. “We have to educate the next generation of leaders.”
Dozier added, “I am because we are. You can make it anywhere from here (an HBCU).”
The final Women’s History Month event, “Heroines’ Tea” will be held on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at noon in the Grand Ballroom. To purchase a ticket, visit www.famu.edu/womenshistorymonth.