Skip To Content

Speeches and Writings

Equality: The Inaugural Address - Page 3

Delivered by Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.,
10th President of Spelman College
Saturday, April 9, 2016
| Download Speech (PDF)

MSC4Those early graduates set the standards high. They laid claim to the ideals of freedom, justice and equality. They embodied those ideals, lived by them, and made them their own in their life’s work. It’s not surprising that when the Civil Rights Movement surged throughout the south, pushing the entire country to move closer to realizing its values, and demanding open membership in the equality club, Spelman students were at the forefront. Students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in general were in the vanguard. Students from HBCU’s launched the lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s that grew to 70,000 students in cities all over the south. 

Students, women and men from Spelman, Morehouse, Clark and Atlanta Universities led the way to the desegregation of the city of Atlanta. A full-page ad, "An Appeal for Human Rights," endorsed by all the AUC student government presidents and written by Spelman student, Roslyn Pope, was published by courageous editors in three Atlanta newspapers on March 9, 1960.

Students, women and men from Spelman, Morehouse, Clark and Atlanta University, organized and staged a sit-in at the then, segregated Rich’s department store in downtown Atlanta. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined them. And when they all got arrested, even Dr. King was surprised by the audacity and steeliness of the Spelman women. From his jail cell, he penned a handwritten note to the Spelman women that read, in part: “It is inspiring enough to see the fellows willingly accepting jail instead of bail, but when young ladies are willing to accept this type of self suffering for the cause of freedom, it is both majestic and sublime.” (MLK archives).

Here we are in the 21st century, looking back over shoulders to see what Spelman College, over the past 135 years, has brought us. As we look backward, we can see the work of the nurses and teachers and missionaries. We can see, too, a world-renowned opera star, a Fortune 500 CEO, the editor of seven major newspapers, the mayor of an American city, a leading cancer researcher, a Pulitzer Prize-winning artist, a former surgeon general, an aviator, an award-winning Broadway producer, successful business women, lawyers, physicians, educators, community activists, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, daughters and spouses. During one of my one-on-one sessions with students, one of our Spelman women -- a senior -- told me recently that she plans to become the first woman president of Nigeria. I don’t doubt it for a minute. 

After 135 years, we glow with pride for Spelman College. And why shouldn’t we? At Spelman, the six-year graduation rate is 76%, that is over 35 percentage points higher than the national graduation rate for African Americans. At a time when we lament the scarcity of women and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Spelman produces more Black women who go on to complete Ph.D.’s is STEM fields than any other college or university in the country.

As technology companies lament the dearth of women and underrepresented minorities in their work force, Spelman was cited this year as one of the top 10 colleges that produces Black women who founded successful tech start-ups — we tied for 10th place with Stanford University. By any measure, our outcomes are spectacular. When you consider that the families of half of our student body are Pell-eligible --- that is they have incomes of $40k or less -- the success rates mark a new frontier in Spelman’s ongoing surge towards that place called full equality.

But there is a paradox. The paradox is that, as good as we have become, and as successful as our women may be, it is not enough. The paradox is that, despite the success of any number of individuals, that destination of equality is fading for many others. The paradox is that as successful as Spelman College may be, the problems that face this country now may be as daunting as the problems that faced the country when the first 11 women showed up as students in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church on April 11, 1881.

  • We know now that Flint Michigan is probably just the tip of the urban environmental iceberg
  • We know that urban education is failing our young people. Drop-out rates for Black males in some urban high schools is over 50 percent
  • We know young Black women are disproportionately targeted for harsh discipline in our public school systems
  • We know that a shocking percentage of our academically highest performing high school students, who are also low income, don’t even apply to a four-year college
  • We know that here in the West End of Atlanta, we still work to do
As good as Spelman has become, we have to do more, we have to be more.

  • We are rightly proud of our graduation rate, but we cannot rest until we have a school in which every woman who comes to Spelman leaves with a degree
  • We are rightly proud of being a leading liberal arts college that teaches our students to master critical thinking skills, tackle complexity and contradictions; and that instructs them to write and think and speak with clarity and with the courage of their convictions
  • But the 21st century demands more. The 21st century demands that our women speak the language of technology fluently and creatively
  • If we expect our women to confront the problems of environmental and criminal justice, rebuild our nation’s public schools, work at the frontiers of science, develop new sources of energy, and take on projects to empower women worldwide, then they will need tools of technology to amplify and expand their work
  • They will need to analyze big data, build networks that allow them to work globally, manage digital archives, invent apps, and incubate new ideas, new devices, and new businesses to make and market those new ideas. We will not rest until we know that every Spelman women who graduates, will leave as a master of technology
  • Spelman is a recognized STEM powerhouse. Our women study here on campus and abroad and in leading laboratories all over the world. We will continue to build on those strengths, but we will build on those strengths and build the arts with them at the core of the liberal arts
  • I have been on this campus for almost a year now, and I can see that the arts are the beating heart of Spelman College. I have watched the way the arts call us out of our silos, out of our comfort zone, and call us to collaborate across disciplines and class rank. I have watched how they invite us to take risks, make mistakes, fail, and create the unimaginable. They are conscience, memory -- the truths we need to tell. They are a source and shaper of our collective purpose and will. We will not rest until a new fine arts building honors the creative and essential role of the arts on a liberal arts campus.
  • We still have work to do on our own campus to keep all of our women safe and supported
  • We will not rest until Spelman College is a model of Title IX compliance
  • We will not rest until the entire AUC is a model of mutual respect and love among all of our students
  • We will not rest until we forge the necessary community partnerships to rebuild the West End into the neighborhood its residents deserve
Inauguration Recap