Dr. Linda Strong-Leek was appointed vice president for diversity and inclusion at Berea College July 1, 2015. Lyle Roelofs, Berea College president, said, “Linda brings impressive skills of leadership, scholarship and advocacy to a role that is new for the College.” Roelofs stated that the creation of this new position and its inclusion as part of the Administrative Committee was approved by the Board of Trustees following the recommendation of a committee which had been reviewing one of the College’s Great Commitments, which asserts “the kinship of all people” and acknowledges the need for “interracial education with a particular emphasis on understanding and equality among blacks and whites.”
“The history of Berea College as the first interracial, coeducational college in the South speaks to the radically inclusive vision of our founder, Reverend John G. Fee,” Dr. Strong-Leek said. “To affirm and continue this work, as the first vice president for diversity and inclusion, I call upon our beloved Berea community to recommit to Fee’s radical notion of inclusivity and meaningful diversity.”
Moreover, she stated that “It is important to understand that Berea College is not alone as it faces the challenging work of diversity and inclusion in these difficult and sometimes polarizing times. While Reverend Fee and his contemporaries faced angry racist mobs intent on closing down the College, today, we face the remnants of deeply entrenched racial, gender and class structures in their many forms. Headlines testify: the young white man who killed nine African-Americans as they prayed in their church in Charleston; acts of violence against LGBTQ individuals such as Lorena Escalera; the many young African-American men who have been killed by policemen and “neighborhood watchmen”; African-American women such as Rekia Boyd, who was killed in Chicago by an off-duty policemen; young African-American men who kill each other; the everyday insults aimed at Appalachian youth who feel stigmatized for speaking their dialect; undocumented individuals who live in fear of deportation and separation from family; and the many issues that those differently abled individuals face in our community.
The issues we face today are complex, and there are simply no easy answers. Today, as in Fee’s day, we have much work to do. While I know that Fee’s utopian vision has not been achieved, even at Berea College, I do believe that his work and vision call us, as Bereans, to do more to make our community diverse and inclusive.”
The responsibilities of this new position within the college administration include: oversight of the Title VII/IX office and coordinator; collaborating in hiring processes to achieve greater diversity within the workforce; and other initiatives to support diversity, inclusivity and the full realization of the interracial and coeducational aspects of the Great Commitments. Dr. Strong-Leek will also continue her responsibilities as associate vice president for academic affairs, which she assumed in 2012.
Dr. Strong-Leek originally came to Berea College in 2002 to take an appointment in women’s and gender studies and general studies. “Her work in those areas and in African and African-American Studies, in particular, provide a strong foundation for the position of vice president for diversity and inclusion,” President Roelofs continued. Before being appointed associate vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Strong-Leek was the first chair of Division VI, the academic division which includes programs in African and African-American studies, Appalachian studies, education studies, peace and social justice studies, and women’s and gender studies. She also served as the Program Chair for African and African-American studies. Prior to joining the faculty at Berea College, Dr. Strong-Leek taught at Florida International University in Miami. She has published articles on African writers, including Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. She is the author of Excising the Spirit: A Literary Analysis of Female Circumcision (2009). Her current research project, which is being considered for publication by the University of Mississippi Press, explores the Mami Wata figure in the novels of contemporary Caribbean women writers. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Zimbabwe, and participated in an NEH seminar at the University of South Carolina focused on African-American history. She attended the HERS Bryn Mawr Seminar in 2012, and has participated in other leadership development experiences.