NCCU welcomes 11th and first permanent female chancellor
Grooving treble and bass from N.C. Central University’s Marching Sound Machine introduced the school’s 11th and first permanent female chancellor Monday morning.
Community leaders avoided the rain and gathered in the student union to welcome Debra Saunders-White, former deputy assistant secretary for higher education with the U.S. Department of Education, to her new role.
“I grew up in a house where we believed you can’t have flowers if you don’t have rain, so it is indeed a spectacular morning,” Saunders-White said.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell gave her a symbolic key to the Bull City after saying he hopes to continue the city-university partnership in areas including workforce development, safety and revitalization.
Other speakers included NCCU Board of Trustees member Paul Pope; NCCU Alumni Association vice president Calvin Kearney; and new student body president Stefan Weathers.
Frankie Perry, president of the NCCU Foundation, said she is proud to see a “sister rise to the top” as one of the few black female chancellors of historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina.
During her speech, Saunders-White said she wished to uphold the ideals of the university’s founder, pharmacist and religious educator James Shepard. She said NCCU was built on the principle of pulling people up instead of dragging them down, and she will work to ensure students’ dreams are fulfilled.
“I soar with them to ensure that they are the best advocates that this university has ever had,” she said, making reference to the school’s Eagle mascot.
Saunders-White also added that she hopes to create the next generation of NCCU “techno-scholars.” Saunders-White, who goes by the nickname “Technology Lady,” has worked as assistant provost for technology at Hampton University and served as vice chancellor for information technology systems at University of North Carolina Wilmington.
The crowd of nearly 150 people stood and applauded Saunders-White on her official first day. In the audience was Chelsea Grays, 20, who served as vice president of her NCCU sophomore class. Going into her junior year, Grays serves on Saunders-White’s transition team as a student ambassador.
Grays said she helps plan events to encourage student interaction with the new chancellor, and she hopes that Saunders-White will encourage more campus and community involvement among students.
“It is absolutely wonderful that she is making history,” Grays said about Saunders-White becoming the first permanent female chancellor. “…I’m glad to have her. I’m proud that she’s here.”
Barbara Harmon, a NCCU ’66 grad and Durham resident, said academic excellence and community partnerships should be top priorities for Saunders-White, whom she describes as a “lightning rod” for enthusiasm and leadership.
“The Bull City is on the rise, and we’re so happy to be a part of that,” she said.
Lou Suitt Barnes, a 90-year-old Durham resident who graduated from NCCU in 1944, attended the university while its founder, Shepard, was still alive. She worked in the student union office during her schooldays and got to know the founder’s wife, Annie Day. She said she was excited at the opportunity to welcome a female chancellor.
“I told her anything that you want me to do, just call on me,” Suitt Barnes said. “I am on your side. It’s an honor and a privilege.”