Kinloch Stresses the Importance of Community During Inaugural Lyceum Engagement Series Presentation

President Valerie Kinloch '96 addressing the church during her Lyceum event

Charlotte, N.C./Aug. 25, 2023 – The pews were packed in the Jane M. Smith Memorial Church Thursday as Johnson C. Smith University kicked off its inaugural Lyceum Engagement Series with a public address from Dr. Valerie Kinloch '96, the 15th president of JCSU.

Kinloch shared her strategic vision for the University with the crowd, which was comprised of faculty, staff, alumni, community members and student groups, including the entire IIOS Marching Band and Golden Bulls Football team.

“When I came to Johnson C. Smith University, I came here knowing I could be whatever I wanted to be,” she said. “To see you all here as I return to my undergraduate alma mater, I’m so excited to be your 15th president.”

Kinloch reflected on the ways in which she worked toward positive transformation as an educator, dean and researcher in her previous roles and how she hopes to remap those achievements to benefit JCSU and the Charlotte community.

She touched on a discussion she had with a student named Philip during her time as an English professor at Columbia University in New York City. Philip was struggling through an issue that has become all too common in communities of color in America – gentrification.

Gentrification is a process during which urban areas are changed by wealthier people moving in, which can result in the displacement of the area’s current residents. Overall, the process of gentrification typically results in the removal of the character and culture of a neighborhood.

Photo of President Kinloch and Malcom Graham
Several community members came to the event, including Malcolm Graham, City Councilman for Charlotte's District 2. (Photo by Joshua Nypaver)

Philip told Kinloch that he felt surrounded. That’s when Kinloch realized how important it was for institutions of higher learning like Johnson C. Smith University to engage in the work of preserving the culture of regions like Charlotte’s Historic West End.

“As an institution, we have to get ahead of problems like gentrification by connecting with our communities and learning how we can best listen to the voices of young people and the voices of the people in the communities around us,” she said. “We have to get together to think and listen to engage in action and advocacy.”  

Next, she reflected on a program she created at the University of Pittsburgh called Genius, Joy and Love. The program required Kinloch and other members of the School of Education to visit local high school classrooms and encourage minority students to attend a summer program where they learned the benefits of becoming an educator. 

The program helps students of color become interested in the profession of teaching, which Kinloch hopes will result in an uptick of teachers of color to help continue to diversify the field of education.

This is where Kinloch said she learned the value of investing in diversity and inclusion.

“I have talked with leaders from around the country who believe that, as an HBCU, we don’t have to do the work of diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said. “But HBCUs, perhaps more than any institution, should be engaging in this work.”

She discussed the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court over the summer to reverse its decision on Affirmative Action, effectively ending race-conscious admissions practices.

Kinloch, whose academic research heavily investigates the subjects of race, place, equity and literacy, said that DEI efforts start with critical listening skills and leaning into difficult conversations.

“We must sit in a space of listening,” she said. “We have to listen to learn what resources someone might need to live equitably. Resource needs will look differently for different people or groups.”

Group photo of students with President Valerie Kinloch '96
Kinloch poses with students during a reception following the Lyceum presentation. (Photo by Joshua Nypaver)

Kinloch explained much of her time at JCSU has been spent listening to the questions posed by faculty, staff, students and alumni and engaging in dialogue to discover the ways in which problems can be resolved through collaborative efforts.

She explained that a new era of excellence is possible with the intentional involvement of alumni, faculty, staff, students and community members.

“Our students are why we are here,” she said. “And we have to think how we can bring students here and keep them here. All hands must be on deck. It is not the responsibility of just one office on campus, but the responsibility of all of us, including our alumni across the world.”

Kinloch ended her presentation with a question-and-answer period where students, alumni and staff asked about everything from resources and services provided on campus to the desire for expanding global education and faculty personnel.

As with most signature JCSU events, the night ended with the singing of the JCSU Loyalty Song, performed by members of the choir, led by Dr. Shawn-Allyce White, associate professor of Music, University soloist and director of Choral Activities.

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