For our Founder’s Day during our 150th anniversary it was a coup to have as the guest speaker, Dr. Ruth Simmons. Dr. Simmons, a 1967 graduate of Dillard, earned a Ph.D. from Harvard and began a career where she achieved a number of historic firsts. She was president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the US, and the went on to become the first Black president of Brown University, an Ivy League institution. She tried to retire, but was drawn to serve Prairie View A&M University, a public, research HBCU. I bet she is the only person who has ever been president of an Ivy, an HBCU, and a women’s college- three very distinct institutions with unique missions.
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Dr. Simmons was in the news recently due to the Harvard affirmative action case. Several news outlets credited her testimony for their win of the case. Her personal story created a narrative about the value of the program.
For Founder’s Day, Dr. Simmons offered lots of gems. I didn’t know that she was the daughter of a Baptist preacher. I didn’t know that at Dillard she boycotted, of all things, chapel! Her point was that mandatory chapel was unfair to students from different faith perspectives. But she saw Dillard as the place that allowed her to “be stupid, to do stupid things, to find my voice.”
This Dillard experience allowed her an opportunity to defend her ideas which she saw as critical in helping her handle Harvard. Her advice to the students was to not allow anyone to steal your passion from you, speak the truth, seek the truth.
And so since 2019 is the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” I can only say what Senor Love Daddy would…
“And that’s the truth, Ruth!”