Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole to Deliver Second Annual Malcolm Lester Phi Beta Kappa Lectures on ‘Race and Racism in American Public Life’

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole

MACON – The Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Zeta Chapter of Georgia at Mercer University will host the second annual Malcolm Lester Phi Beta Kappa Lectures on Liberal Arts and Public Life this spring.

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, former president of Spelman College and Bennett College, will present three lectures on the theme of “Race and Racism in American Public Life” April 4-5 in the Presidents Dining Room inside the University Center on the Macon campus.

“Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole is one of the most powerful and important figures in American higher education. Over the course of her career, she has consistently argued for the importance of liberal arts to social progress,” said Dr. David A. Davis, president of Mercer’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and editor of the Lester Lecture Series. “The Lester Lectures committee is proud to bring her to Mercer.”

The lecture series, which is free and open to the public, will take place during the University’s annual Breakthroughs in Engagement, Arts and Research (BEAR) Day, an annual celebration of undergraduate and graduate student research and special projects.

Dr. Cole’s opening lecture is titled “What Anthropology Can Teach Us About Race and Racism in American Public Life” and will take place April 4 at 11 a.m. It will be followed by “The Need for Courageous Conversations About Race and Racism in America” April 4 at 5:30 p.m. and “Imagine Our Nation Without Racism: A Call for Action” April 5 at 11 a.m.

Dr. Cole earned her undergraduate degree from Oberlin College, followed by her M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology with a specialization in African studies, both from Northwestern University.

After holding teaching and administrative positions at several colleges and universities, she served as terms as president of both historically black colleges for women located in the United States – Spelman and Bennett – a distinction she alone holds. She has authored or edited several books and numerous articles for scholarly and general audiences.

She was for eight years director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and was given the title of director emerita following her retirement from the museum on March 31, 2017.

Dr. Cole currently serves as a principal consultant with Cook Ross Inc., a consulting firm located in Silver Spring, Maryland, that provides solutions to organizations around the world in the areas of diversity, inclusion, cultural competency, leadership development and organizational change management.

Dr. Cole was the first African-American to serve as chair of the board of United Way of America. She formerly served on several corporate boards and currently serves on the board of Martha’s Table in Washington, D.C.

She served as president of the Association of Art Museum Directors from 2015-2016 and recently co-chaired the American Alliance of Museum’s Working Group on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion. She is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a senior consulting fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Dr. Cole has received numerous awards and is the recipient of 68 honorary degrees. She received honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in 1996.

Mercer’s Malcolm Lester Phi Beta Kappa Lectures are supported by a bequest from the late Dr. Malcolm Lester, a 1945 graduate of the University and former dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

In 2007, Dr. Lester made a gift for a lecture series on the liberal arts at Mercer once the University sheltered a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society, which it did in 2016. Additionally, the lectures will be published by the University of Virginia Press, as requested by Dr. Lester, who earned his Ph.D. from U.Va.