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Courageous Conversations: Black in the C-Suite with Ruth Simmons

Monday, Oct. 16, 2023 | 3 p.m. - 4 p.m.

  • Spelman College, Sisters Chapel and Online via Zoom

Spelman President Helene Gayle in Courageous Conversation With Ruth Simmons

Join President Helene Gayle and Dr. Ruth Simmons, professor, author and former university president, for the first “Courageous Conversations: Black in the C-Suite” of the academic year, on Monday, October 16, at 3 p.m. in Sisters Chapel. 

Dr. Simmons, who previously served as Spelman’s provost, will discuss her memoir, “Up Home: One Girl’s Journey.”  The book recounts her remarkable life from growing up in a deeply segregated part of Texas to becoming one of the country’s most distinguished educators. Dr. Simmons served as president of three colleges and was the first African American woman to lead an Ivy League university.  


Ruth Simmons Speaks at SpelmanRuth J. Simmons, Ph.D., serves as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at Rice University and as adviser to the president of Harvard on its HBCU Initiative. She is a former president of Prairie View A&M University and served as president of Brown University from 2001-2012.

A French professor before entering university administration, Simmons held an appointment as a professor of Africana Studies at Brown. After completing her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and literatures at Harvard, she served in various faculty and administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College before becoming president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. At Smith, she launched a number of important academic initiatives, including an engineering program, the first at an American women’s college.

Simmons is the recipient of many honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship to France, the 2001 President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2004 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Foreign Policy Association Medal, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Centennial Medal from Harvard University. Simmons is a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves on a number of non-profit boards. Awarded numerous honorary degrees, she received the Brown faculty’s highest honor: the Susan Colver Rosenberger Medal in 2011 and in 2012, she was named a ‘chevalier’ of the French Legion of Honor.


Spelman President Helene Gayle Speaks With Ruth Simmons About New Book"I was born at a crossroads: a crossroads in history, a crossroads in culture, and a geographical crossroad in North Houston County in East Texas.”

Born in 1945, Ruth J. Simmons grew up the twelfth child of sharecroppers. Her first home had no running water, no electricity, no books to read. Yet despite this — or, in her words, because of it — Simmons would become the first Black president of an Ivy League university. The former president of Smith College, Brown University, and Prairie View A&M, Texas’s oldest HBCU, Simmons has inspired generations of students as she herself made history.

In “Up Home,” Simmons takes us back to Grapeland to show how the people who love us when we are young shape who we become. We meet her caring, tireless mother who managed to feed her large family with an often empty pantry; her father, who refused to let racial and economic injustice crush his youngest daughter’s dreams; the doting brothers and sisters; and the attentive teachers who welcomed Ruth into the classroom, guiding her to a future she could hardly imagine as a child.

From the farmland of East Texas to Houston’s Fifth Ward to New Orleans at the dawn of the civil rights movement, Simmons depicts an era long gone but whose legacies of inequality we still live with today. Written in clear and timeless prose, Up Home is both an origin story set in the segregated South and the uplifting chronicle of a girl whose intellect, grace, and curiosity guide her as she creates a place for herself in the world.

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