The Women of Spelman

By Haynes, Karima A. | Ebony, March 1993 | Go to article overview

The Women of Spelman


Haynes, Karima A., Ebony


Prestigious Atlanta institution is called the South 8 No. 1 liberal arts college

FROM its humble beginnings in the damp basement of Atlantas Friendship Baptist Church, where former slave women thirstily drank from the cup of knowledge, through crippling Southern segregation to the challenges of today s ever-changing world, Spelman College has been at the forefront in molding the minds of Black women.

With a rich history and a bright future, the college is celebrating its recent designation as the No. 1 regional liberal arts college in the South, making it the first historically Black institution ever to snare a first-place ranking in a national survey of U.S. colleges.

Part of Spelmans phenomenal success story is the impact of Sister President Johnnetta B. Cole as the first Black woman to lead the institution in its

112year history. Since her inauguration in 1988, Cole has served on numerous national boards and was zealously courted by the Clinton administration for a cabinet position as secretary of education. She decided to remain at Spelman, saying, "I already have the single-best job in America."

Since its rounding in 1881, Spelman College has been a crucible where young Black women are shaped through intellectual challenge, spiritual enlightenment and cultural enrichment. The college counts Childrens Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, opera diva Mattiwilda Dobbs, psychiatrist June Dobbs Butts, Air Force Brig. Gen. Marcolite J. Harris, corporate executive Elynor A. Williams, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and acclaimed actress Esther Rolle among the sisters who have been tried in its fire.

For generation after generation, Spelman has been a beacon of higher education and leadership preparation for gifted, talented and committed AfricanAmerican women. It is a school where scholarship, spirituality and service to others outweigh personal self-interests. All of these firings add up to what President Cole calls the Spelman Experience.

"I think the Spelman Experience is ultimately allowing or encouraging an African-American woman to fall in love with what she can become," President Cole says. "Behind that, however, is the realization that there is a world still unprepared to acknowledge these womens full personhood as African-Americans and as women. Yet, here, these young women really are affirmed as full human beings."

From the time a young woman enters the freshman class, she learns that she is part of a very special sisterhood. There is a ritual that takes place during freshman week when students understand for the first time an age-old Spelman maxim: Ones own rise does not have to come at the expense of another's fall.

The class is gathered for an address by Sister President Cole, as she is affectionately called by students, alumnae and friends alike. She explains to them that many college presidents, at such an assembly, would instruct their students to look to the right and look to the left before proclaiming that only one in three students would march across the stage at commencement.

But President Cole's instructions are quite different. "My sisters," she says. "Unless all three of you march across that stage, the Spelman sisterhood has

Founded originally to train teachers, missionaries and homemakers, the college today awards undergraduate degrees in biochemistry, physics, computer science and engineering-- through a cooperative program with Georgia Tech in addition to traditional liberal arts disciplines. Spelrnan students also enjoy the benefit of cross registration with the five other schools in the Atlanta University Center, the largest consortium of historically Black institutions in the world.

What happens during the four years that transforms a fumbling freshman into a sophisticated senior? Simply put, Spelman allows the natural to occur. Young women are free to discover themselves, to gain self-confidence and to set goals in an environment that is devoid of racism and sexism. …

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