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Black Feminists and the Transformation of American Public Life


Time: Nov. 27, 2017, 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Location: Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, 140 Newhouse 3

Part of the Syracuse Symposium

Part of the Syracuse Symposium series.

Johnnetta Betsch Cole
Paula J. Giddings
Beverly Guy-Sheftall

Join us for an evening of conversation with three renowned Black feminists: Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Paula J. Giddings, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall (PICTURED: Cole, Giddings, Sheftall). The acclaimed trio will draw from their collective expertise as scholars, educators, and leaders to discuss a variety of topics, including: collaborating as a transformative praxis; pursuing personal, institutional, and political change; and connecting contemporary struggles to combat injustice to a range of pivotal black feminist “history lessons,” from the road to abolition and suffrage to current coalitions such as #SayHerName. A reception and book sale will follow the keynote.

Download the event flier here.

Notes about the presenters:

Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Senior Consulting Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Principal Consultant at Cook Ross, President Emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College

Before assuming her current position, Betsch Cole served for eight years as the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) -- the only national museum in the United States dedicated to the collection, exhibition, conservation and study of the arts of Africa.  Dr. Cole was given the title of Director Emerita upon her retirement from the museum in March, 2017.  She attended Fisk University in the early entrance Basic College Program.  She went on to Oberlin College where she received her undergraduate degree.  Her Masters and Ph.D. in anthropology with a specialization in African Studies were received from Northwestern University. 

Dr. Cole has held teaching and administrative positions in anthropology, women’s studies and African American studies at Washington State University, UCLA, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Hunter College and Emory University.  She has written and edited numerous publications for scholarly and general audiences, including Conversations: Straight Talk With Americas Sister President; All American Women: Lines That Divides, Tides That Bind; With Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities; and with Rudolph P. Byrd and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, I Am Your Sister, Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde.

In 1987, when Cole was appointed to the presidency of Spelman College, she was the first African American woman to hold that position.  During her presidency, Spelman was named the top liberal arts college in the south.  In 2002, she was appointed to the presidency of Bennett College.  During that presidency, an Africana women’s studies program was launched.  Dr. Cole is the only individual to have served as the president of the only two historically Black colleges for women in the United States. 

Cole was the first African American to serve as the chair of the board of United Way of America.  She formerly served on the corporate boards of Home Depot, Merck and Nation’s Bank South, and was the first woman to serve on the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises.  She currently serves on the board of Martha’s Table, an organization in Washington, DC that provides support for children, families and communities.

From 2015 to 2016, Dr. Cole was the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors.  Cole currently co-chairs the American Alliance of Museum’s Working Group on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion.  She is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Cole has received numerous awards and is the recipient of 68 honorary degrees.  Throughout her career, she has addressed issues concerning Africa and the diaspora.  And in her published work, speeches, and community service, she speaks to issues of racial, gender and all other systems of inequality.  

Paula J. Giddings, E. A. Woodson 1922 Professor Emerita, Afro-American Studies, Smith College

Before attaining her current position at Smith, Giddings taught at Spelman College, where she was a United Negro Fund Distinguished Scholar; Douglass College/Rutgers University as the Laurie Chair in Women’s Studies; and Princeton and Duke Universities.

Giddings is the author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact on Black Women on Race and Sex in America; In Search of Sisterhood, Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement; Burning All Illusions, (editor) an anthology of articles on race published by the Nation magazine from 1867 to 2000; and Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching. When and Where I Enter (1984) was called “a landmark study destined to become a prime sourcebook” by Publisher’s Weekly; “the best interpretation of Black women and race and sex that we have” by the Women’s Review of Books; and “a jarringly fresh interpretation” by the New York Times Book Review. The book has been translated into Japanese and Dutch and is used widely in college courses throughout the country. The Washington Post called In Search of Sisterhood (1988) “a fitting sequel to [Ms. Giddings] acclaimed first book.” The Los Angeles Times noted that it “succeeds as a detailed study of an organization that has touched the lives of some of the most prominent Black women in America.” Ida, A Sword Among Lions (2008) received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Biography and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award among many other accolades.

Giddings is also a former book editor at Random House and Howard University Press; a magazine editor and journalist who has written on national and international issues for the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeune Afrique (Paris), The International Herald Tribute, and The Nation among other publications. From 1975 to 1977, she was the Paris Bureau Chief for Encore American & Worldwide News, where she covered international issues, many of them in Africa, and was a member of the press corps for President Jimmy Carter’s first trip abroad to Europe, India and the Middle East. During the period, Ms. Giddings interviewed such world leaders as Leopold Senghor (Senegal); Idi Amin (Uganda); Winnie Mandela, Helen Suzman, Robert Sobukwe (South Africa); and Forbes Burnham (Guyana) among others.

Giddings has been awarded fellowships by the Guggenheim Foundation; the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (unfulfilled). She has also been awarded Honorary Doctorates from Wesleyan University and Bennett College , and was named a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. Ms. Giddings is also the recipient of the Osceola Award for Excellence in the Arts from Delta Sigma Theta, Inc; the Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, and the Anna Julia Cooper Award from Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women published by Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2016, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She is a member of P.E.N., a writers’ group; The Century Association; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, and serves on the boards of the Nation Institute and the Authors’ Guild Foundation.

Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies and English and Founding Director, Women’s Research and Resource Center, Spelman College, Adjunct Professor at Emory University’s Institute for Women’s Studies 


Besides being one of the founding directors of the Women’s Research and Resource Center (1981) and Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies at Spelman College, Guy-Sheftall spent many years as a visiting professor at Emory University where she taught doctoral seminars in Women’s Studies. At age sixteen, she entered Spelman, where she majored in English and minored in secondary education. After graduating with honors, she attended Wellesley College for a fifth year of study in English. In 1968, she entered Atlanta University to pursue a master’s degree in English; her thesis was entitled, “Faulkner’s Treatment of Women in His Major Novels.” A year later, she began her first teaching job in English at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1971, she returned to Spelman and joined the English Department.

She has published a number of notable texts in African American and Women’s Studies, including the first anthology on Black women’s literature, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature (Doubleday, 1980), coedited with Roseann P. Bell and Bettye Parker Smith; her dissertation, Daughters of Sorrow: Attitudes Toward Black Women, 1880-1920 (Carlson, 1991); Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought (New Press, 1995); Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality (Indiana UP, 2001), an anthology co-edited with Rudolph Byrd; Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities (Random House, 2003), co-authored with Johnnetta Betsch Cole; I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, an anthology co-edited with Rudolph Byrd and Johnnetta Cole (Oxford UP, 2009); Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies (Feminist Press, 2010), an anthology co-edited with Stanlie James and Frances Smith Foster; and Who Should Be First: Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign (SUNY Press, 2010), an anthology co-edited with Johnnetta Cole. In 1983, she became founding co-editor of Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women which was devoted exclusively to the experiences of women of African descent. She is the past president of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and was recently elected to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences (2017).

Event partners:

  1. The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, with a generous gift from University Trustee Christine Larsen ('84)
  2. Council on Diversity and Inclusion


  1. African American Studies
  2. College of Arts & Sciences
  3. History
  4. Newhouse School of Public Communications
  5. Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion, and Resolution Services
  6. Office of Multicultural Affairs
  7. Political Science
  8. Public Administration and International Affairs
  9. School of Education
  10. Sociology
  11. Women's and Gender Studies

Vivian May, Carol Faulkner, Humanities Center, Maxwell