Dr. Julianne Malveaux
The distinguished Bennett College President on Martin Luther King, Barack Obama and the importance of women’s education
“I love history, and now I am living with history,” says Julianne Malveaux, the fifteenth president of Bennett College for Women. “All I have to do is look out my window every morning and I see the chapel where Dr. Martin Luther King spoke in 1957. No one else in Greensboro offered him a place to speak. But the college did.”
Julianne took over the presidency of this well-respected North Carolina school for African-American women in June 2007. She is also an economist, author and commentator, and has been described by Dr. Cornel West as “the most iconoclastic public intellectual in the country.” For years, her newspaper column appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, and other papers throughout the country. She started her career as college editor for Essence, and it seems fitting that she is once again advising and inspiring college-age women.
“It is great to see how young women are evolving today,” she says. “With the election of President Obama, African-American women do feel that anything is possible. And I see so many women with so much promise and ambition.” Yet she stills thinks there are many challenges that women must overcome.
“Women have made great strides, but they are still not valued the way they should be. They are too often still seen in our culture as objects. Yes, we saw a woman run for president. And there are many powerful women today. But too often women are reduced to their body parts.”
“That’s why colleges just for women remain so important,” she believes. “A women’s college can be an oasis where a young woman can strive to do anything–be the president of the student government, be the newspaper editor. Really make an impact. At a women’s college, a young woman can build the skills and the self-confidence she will need when she goes out into the world.”
Not surprisingly, the students at Bennett were very involved in the recent election. “Ninety four percent of our students voted,” she notes. “Yes, they voted for Obama, but we had some Republican women as well. In fact, three or four came to my office and asked if we could invite Sarah Palin to speak. I said, ‘Absolutely invite her if she can come.’ “
Julianne thinks Michelle Obama will be an important First Lady with a unique policy agenda. “I think she will bring up the very important issue of the balance between work and family for women. For a while that issue was talked about a lot, and then it was ignored. But it hasn’t been ignored by women who have to cope with this every day. I think Michelle will make it center stage again, and it should be.”
As college president, Julianne says her job is all-inclusive–and that means everything from being chief development officer to expanding the curriculum to raising funds. “Our endowment is down 25 percent. Every college is suffering during this economic downturn,” she says. “Most of our students receive financial aid. If we don’t raise funds, we will not be able to accept the students we want and have the class we should have next year.”
“Yes, my days are very busy and challenging. Sometimes I miss being in Washington and my policy and media work,” Julianne acknowledges. “But I have always loved learning. Being in a learning environment keeps you learning. And the students are so bright and so hungry. Yes,” she says, “it is a very cool job.”
Julianne has initiated a special fund-raising effort for Bennett College during February, Black History Month. To find out more about how to contribute online, check out www.bennett.edu.