“Sister President” Johnnetta B. Cole to Help Celebrate Oberlin’s 175th Anniversary
OBERLIN, OHIO — On the occasion of the 175th anniversary of Oberlin College and community, “Sister President” Johnnetta Betsch Cole ’57 will give a special convocation talk in Oberlin on Wednesday, September 3, at 8 p.m.
Known for her penetrating views on justice, diversity, and the health and safety of women, children, and underserved populations around the globe, the much in demand speaker will present the free, public address at First Church in Oberlin, located at the intersection of Main and Lorain streets, (Rts. 58 and 511). She also will address Oberlin High School students at a school assembly in the afternoon.
In both talks Cole will focus on the power of education in Oberlin’s past, present, and future. “Growing up in the Jim Crow south, there was evidence all around me for the need for social change,” she says. “I came from the segregated south–where religious diversity meant Methodist or Baptist, and where racial diversity meant black or white. My insistence that the world is made better by multiple views was solidified by my college experience.”
Cole began her college studies at Fisk University, completed her undergraduate degree at Oberlin, and earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in anthropology at Northwestern University. Her career as a college and university professor and administrator spans four decades. She was named “Sister President” by students at Spelman College, where she gained prominence for herself and Spelman in 1987 by becoming the first black female president in the school’s 107-year history. Cole also is president emerita of Bennett College for Women; having headed Spelman and Bennett makes her the only individual to have served as the president of the two historically black colleges for women in the United States.
In her published works, speeches, and community service, she consistently addresses issues of racial, gender, and all other forms of discrimination. Much of her work as an advocate of equality and social justice today is centered in her role as the board chair of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute, founded at Bennett.
From 2004 to 2006, Cole was the first person of color to serve as the chair of the board of United Way of America. She has received numerous awards and honorary degrees for her scholarship, community service, and leadership as it pertains to women, diversity, racial issues, and equity.
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