In mid-August, during the whirlwind of greeting new students and parents to campus and the start of classes, I was (miraculously) able to gather nine women deans of Howard University together, in one room, for a photo shoot. (We caught up with Dean Andrea Hayes Dixon later in October, after she was named dean of the medical school).
Each chose clothing that reflected their personalities and professionalism. Portraiture photographer and Howard alumna Rhonisha Franklin (BBA ’04, MBA ’10) played tunes, chatted, and portrayed them as they saw themselves: as leaders, proud women, educators, nurturers. By the time the group shot occurred in the afternoon, they were comfortable around the camera, with Dean Phylicia Rashad leading them in a dance number from “Dreamgirls.”
While each dean sat in the makeup chair, I asked them: How was gender presented to you as a child? When did you first realize it would be a factor in your career? Who are your role models?
They shared their stories. All of them said gender expectations weren’t set in their childhoods. None of them thought they’d become a university dean. All of them recognized the importance of their positions, both as a Black leader and as a Black woman. This was important, they acknowledged, to have students – male and female – see this as something very normal and achievable.
It’s important for more than just Howard to see it – the world has to see it, too. Because it’s completely mind-boggling that, even today, in the year 2022, we’re still experiencing such “firsts” when it comes to women, especially minority women. Imagine how much further along we’d be as a society if all women were in leadership decades (centuries!) ago. However, as these deans can attest, they’re very busy catching the world up to what should be and more – and passing that down to generations to follow, to become the norm.
I hope you enjoy what these women – and all the others featured in this issue – have to share with their fellow Bison and beyond. As always, my phone, email, and door are always open, so please reach out with those exciting Bison stories.