Archive for Thursday, May 5, 2011

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little speaks to students about her experiences growing up under segregation

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was at Lawrence High School Thursday, May 5, 2011, talking to students participating in the "Can We Talk?" program.

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was at Lawrence High School Thursday, May 5, 2011, talking to students participating in the "Can We Talk?" program.

May 5, 2011


Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little points to a student for a question while talking with students participating in the group-mentoring initiative "Can We Talk?" Thursday, May 5, 2011, at Lawrence High School.

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little points to a student for a question while talking with students participating in the group-mentoring initiative "Can We Talk?" Thursday, May 5, 2011, at Lawrence High School.

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little talked Thursday about her experiences growing up under segregation, and becoming the first female and first black faculty member in her department at a university that she was ineligible to attend as a student coming out of high school.

“Unless you have direct experience with it, it would be hard to appreciate the way things were,” she said of growing up in the South in the 1950s.

She shared her story with Lawrence high school and junior high students who are in the Can We Talk? program, which was originally designed for young black men and focuses on building relationships and helping students achieve their full potential. It has since expanded to include black women and students from other races.

Gray-Little’s family was not well off financially, she said. Her mother and father both worked. They never went hungry, but she remembered her family having to think about how they would find their next meal.

She was one of eight children in her family in the small, segregated town of Washington, N.C. Her mother also raised two other children: one cousin and one grandchild.

Gray-Little attended segregated schools. She remembers buildings where blacks had to enter by walking up the fire escape instead of going through the front door.

“It was understood that the way to leave that setting was through education,” she said, adding that her mother frequently aided and encouraged her to do well.

So she — and many of her siblings — went on to obtain advanced degrees. Gray-Little settled on a doctorate in psychology. She went from a bachelor’s degree to her Ph.D. in just four years and became an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North-Carolina at Chapel Hill at the age of 25.

There, she became department chair, a dean, then provost before being recruited to become the chancellor at KU.

Willie Amison, a former KU football player and a former LHS assistant principal, is the executive director of the Can We Talk? program. He said that Gray-Little served as an excellent role model for students.

“Everybody has a different path in getting there,” Amison said. “It’s ‘go after it’ and ‘go get it.’”

Students said the chancellor’s story resonated with them.

“It was interesting,” said Henry Fritzel, a Free State High School student. “It definitely motivated me to do more, to try to accomplish everything.”

Chancellor's answers

When Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little visited Lawrence High School on Thursday, students and teachers asked her a variety of questions touching on everything from athletics and free food to how she paid for her own education.

Facing discrimination

When she became one of the first black professors at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill — and the first in the psychology department — Gray-Little was treated well by faculty and staff. If anything, they asked her to do too much, in the interest of creating a more diverse environment.

She recalled a couple of instances when she found racial slurs written on her chalkboard, and heard them occasionally.

“It certainly wasn’t the students in my class,” she said. “To my face, anyway.”

Advice for students

The chancellor offered tidbits of advice for the young students to get ahead in life.

Be ready, be prepared, she told them, for when the opportunity presents itself.

“You need to be sure of what you’re doing and not let other people put that down,” she said.

If you need money for school, she said, complete the federal form that qualifies you for federal aid. And look outside the institution for scholarships.

“Be on it. Be active,” she said. “Look for resources that you can use.”

Free food

Does the chancellor have to pay for her own food on campus? Yes, she said, when she walks down to the cafeteria at Wescoe Hall, she has to pay for her soup and sandwich like everyone else.

But, she pointed out, she does occasionally get to enjoy free food at receptions where everyone gets to partake in a free meal.

“I go to enough dinners and other things like that,” she said.

And she does, as another student asked, get free basketball and football tickets.

“I’m working, right?” she said, with a wry smile, after giving a fist pump when the audience reacted to that bit of information. “When I go to the game, I’m working.”

Other jobs she’s had

Gray-Little recalled that her very first job was in the first grade, when she was in charge of making sure a classmate — who had a penchant for wandering off — made it home.

In college, she worked as a telephone operator in the summers, before that she had been a live-in maid and did work in her university’s psychology department, she said.

Her parents weren’t able to contribute to her college education, so she had to pay for it with loans, scholarships and by working, she said.


oneeye_wilbur 2 years, 11 months ago

I hope folks who read the article understand that the Chancellor didn't have Pell Grants, didn't have the luxury of credit cards to pay tuition. This woman worked! Her husband worked. The chancellor is not protected from the "level of maifesance and bad the KU campus". If anyone believes that, then they do not know her. She knows what is going on and will plug along to correct things just as she plugged along as a young woman growing up.

No one is apparently paying any attention to the number of grants forthcoming to kU in the past several months. Maybe Mr. Simons in a Saturday column will pay heed to that information and talk about the grants.

Lawrence is far from being in the deep South of the 50s. In fact, many of the employees in public jobs came from the deep south to Lawrence and have made homes here.

The Chancellor has a spouse who shares much information with her. Do NOT forget that Chancellor Gray hired Jim Moeser to head up North Carolina from where she came.

Jim Moeser was at KU and he gave her a good background of Lawrence and what to expect. This job at KU is a piece of cake in some ways for Chancellor Gray. You see, she doesnt need the job but has the energy to move forward. She has her staff to keep her informed and she can ferret out those who don't have a clue,really fast.

For ;her to speak and vist with Lawrence Junior High and High school students is going be the beginning of other public appearances and being involved in the community. Her husband already is! Thank you , Chancellor Gray for giving a new generation a real picture of the past.


equalaccessprivacy 2 years, 11 months ago

To me, Lawrence resembles living in the deep South in the 50's. Have never had to deal with such challenged, incompetent, and unconsciously prejudiced people. I know spiritual. aware people when I see them, and this just ain't it, here. This is hardly a cerebral, brainy town like Berkeley, CA.The Chancellor teaches on a campus where the conflict-of-interest school police do not keep legally required statistics on biased policing or follow any legally mandated complaint procedure. If you accuse someone on campus of a crime those in power have reasons to want to hide they will simply deep-six your police report. Likely, Chancellor Gray-Little is protected from knowing the real truth about the level of malfeasance and bad faith misconduct that goes on right under her nose in the KU campus. This school is hardly a hospitable atmosphere for diversity. It's a blame-the-victim as thuggishly as possible type of place.


Flap Doodle 2 years, 11 months ago

"Oye Como Va" Carlos Santana (yes, I know he didn't write it, but otherwise the parallel falls apart)


rockchalk1977 2 years, 11 months ago

"We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future." George Bernard Shaw.


wmathews 2 years, 11 months ago

Hi kansasplains1, Thanks for the feedback. This story is currently scheduled to lead on the home page at 2 p.m. We usually change leads every 3-4 hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Whitney Mathews Assistant Community Editor for Online


Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 11 months ago

One more thing- it is interesting that it is way down on the list of articles on the web site. This should be the lead article-she has got a lot to say, and she is an important figure for many, many people! Lawrence


Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 11 months ago

Why isn't there a video tape of this talk so that it could be seen anywhere in the world? I, for example, would like to hear the whole speech but I am limited to the reporter's version. I think this is a major failing on the part of the Journal-World, and it has happened many times in the past, as well. These will also be important events in the future, as we look back to what took place today. Lawrence


JackRipper 2 years, 11 months ago

This chancellor is really a breath of fresh air at KU, it is just unfortunate that she didn't get to take the helm until the university walk down so many bad paths before her. Just like Obama she was handed a total mess and expected to work miracles.


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