MLK Convocation 2022

Creating lasting change together

By Margie Gill, BU ’10

Dr. Margie Gill is an associate professor of psychology and Brenau’s interim executive director for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives. She graduated cum laude from Georgia Gwinnett College in 2008 with a B.S. in psychology and received her master’s degree in clinical psychology from Brenau, where she received the Ali McNichols Outstanding Graduate Student Award. She earned her Ph.D. in counseling and student personnel services and certification in diversity, equity and inclusion from the University of Georgia. This column includes excerpts from Gill’s speech delivered during Brenau’s Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation in February.

Margie Gill

This year marks 50 years since “The First Four” phenomenal women — Michelle Gray Haywood, Belinda Harrison Sims, Lois Green Harris and Natalie Roberts — enrolled at Brenau. As a Brenau alumna and a Black woman, I am grateful to these pioneers, trailblazers and modern-day influencers.

These women courageously fought racial segregation and I would not be standing here today if they didn’t set the foundation.

As I was growing up, segregation, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism and all the other “isms” were and are open, present and real. There was a critical shift for me in my high school years, when I was told I would make an exceptional secretary. I said, “Not me!” Why couldn’t I be an executive, entrepreneur, inventor or a doctor?

There is nothing wrong with secretarial work. I worked as a secretary for several years at a church and this further confirmed that my interest inventories did not align with the role of a secretary. 

The vision that others had for me to work as a secretary was a microaggression. It was an assault on my future. Their suggestions gave me impetus to pursue chemistry as a major in college. 

We all have issues. We all have stories. We all have experiences. It’s packaged differently. Audre Lorde so eloquently summed it up, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” 

Fast forward to spring 2020 when five brave students at Brenau University planned a peaceful rally that brought the community together to encourage unity. They led the efforts to spark change on campus and the spark they lit was only the beginning. 

Brenau University is taking the steps needed to increase diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging and representation. These students — Charlene Hendricks, Alexus Cooper, Marissa Brown, T’Yanah Crowley and Azayla Rodriguez — led the efforts to spark change and the spark they lit was only the beginning.

The results of this spring’s Campus Climate Survey will help Brenau identify the areas we need to improve and take the necessary actions to see a positive change. We will continue to address the recommendations by the Task Force that inform the university’s strategic plan. 

Our president, executive leadership, faculty, staff and students are leading by example by completing training opportunities and serving as DEI leaders on committees in their disciplines. We are building relationships in the community to foster DEI efforts on our campus, in the community and in our world. 

Brenau University is taking the steps needed to increase diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging and representation. These aspects are woven throughout Brenau’s strategic plan, but most prominently as the focus of Goal 3: “Foster a culture of inclusion and belonging throughout the university community.” 

In the past two years, we have endured both a social injustice crisis and a health crisis. How we, as a people, made adjustments during these crises was remarkable. Our flexibility in shifting without or with little notice shows we are capable of adapting to and embracing change. Change stretches us, and oftentimes we don’t like it. It’s in these times we have to dig deep and find another strength we have yet to acknowledge.

Are there challenges to overcome? Yes! But if we take a step back and examine other places, every city, town and campus has its challenges. It takes a collective effort for lasting change to occur.

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