Friday, January 31, 2020

Dean Cynthia Spence visits SIUE

Cynthia Spence at SIUE. photo by Howard Ash
Early in her career, people saw something special in Cynthia Neal Spence and appointed her dean at Spelman College. It didn't matter that she was a junior professor at the time. She was appointed because folks had visions about what she was and was becoming.

Dean Spence returned the favor many times over. She has spent her nearly forty-year career convincing institutions to see something special in undergraduates, graduate students, and junior professors, and university officials. She is well-respected at Spelman, but her national reputation is linked to what she has done as the director of the UNCF-Mellon Fellowship program, which provides support and guidance to students who work to diversify the academy by becoming college and university professors.

(While she's technically no longer a dean, many of us refer to her as "Dean Spence," as an indication of her extensive efforts).

Photo by H. Ash

Beyond UNCF-Mellon however, Dean Spence has taken the lead on a variety of other important projects since the 1990s. Assistant provost, Jessica Harris invited Spence to our campus to share ideas about how to support and strengthen diversity efforts at the university. Spence met with a number of different constituencies -- faculty, staff, administrators, and students. She gave suggestions on best practices, and offered ides based on her expertise and expansive experiences.

Early on in one presentation, Spence pointed out the various statements about diversity and inclusion that we have on her website. She then prompted us to raise questions about how well we as a university reach our stated goals. The exercise of having us consider the distance between our statements, actions, and outcomes was really powerful.

Later in the day, Spence met with a group of black women SIUE students. At various points, she began talking to the sisters about how she saw something special in them. She urged them to see it too. You know, Dean Spence being Dean Spence.

UNCF/Mellon Program celebrates 30 years

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