PULLMAN — Johnnetta Cole, an educator and humanitarian, will receive an honorary doctoral degree in humanities and deliver an address during Washington State University’s 2007 Fall Commencement.  A former WSU faculty member and administrator, Cole is president emerita of Spelman College in Atlanta and Bennett College in North Carolina.
The event — the seventh fall commencement ceremony in the university’s history — will begin 10 a.m. Dec. 8 in WSU’s Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum. Presiding at his first commencement since becoming WSU’s 10th president in May of this year is Elson S. Floyd.
Cole will be the first person to receive an honorary WSU doctoral degree since 2005. The first such degree was given in 1929.
“Having begun her academic career at Washington State University, she became an inspiring leader whose commitment to advancing social justice is extraordinary,” said Floyd. “Furthermore, Dr. Cole’s advocacy of civil and human rights and against discrimination of all kinds is second to none.”
Cole was a member of the WSU anthropology faculty from 1964 to 1970, as she began a career in anthropological research on cross-cultural issues of race, class, and gender. In 1970, she was named WSU’s outstanding faculty member. She was the first director of the university’s Black Studies Program which was later consolidated with other programs into what is now the WSU Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies.
She led Bennett from 2002-June 2007 and Spelman from 1987-1997. They are the only two U.S. colleges dedicated to the education of African American women.
She was the first African-American woman to serve as Spelman’s president since the college’s founding in 1881. During her tenure there, she dedicated herself to making the college a center for scholarship about African-American women and was a strong advocate of its liberal arts curriculum. Under her leadership, Bennett became financially healthy, enjoyed enrollment growth and started new programs. Both colleges received national media attention for their quality during her presidential tenures.
A sociology graduate of Oberlin College, Cole earned her master’s and doctoral degrees, both in anthropology, from Northwestern University.
Almost 800 students – about 750 undergraduate students and 50 graduate students – are expected to participate in the WSU ceremony in Pullman, said Teri Rales, WSU commencement coordinator.
In the most recent year for which official figures are available (from fall
semester 06 to summer semester 07), WSU produced 5,886 degrees statewide. This includes 4,813 undergraduate degrees and 1,073 graduate and professional degrees, according to WSU Institutional Research.
Shuttle bus service from the parking lot of Lewis Alumni Centre to the
coliseum parking lot will be available for those attending the commencement ceremony.