Coeducational since our founding in 1855, Berea College has been dedicated to gender equality for over 160 years. For Women’s History Month, I wanted to highlight a few of the many success stories from Berea women.
One of our most prestigious alumni, Juanita Kreps ’42, served as President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Commerce from 1977 to 1979 and was the first female director on the New York Stock Exchange. A true testament to Berea’s mission of serving bright, high-potential students of limited means from Appalachia, Kreps hailed from the coal mining town of Lynch, Kentucky, and grew up during the Great Depression. After earning her B.A. in economics at Berea, she went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Duke University, which tapped her for the James B. Duke professorship– the University’s most prestigious chair. During her career, Kreps encouraged women to seek advanced degrees, more meaningful careers, and to reject the then widely accepted idea that a successful marriage was a woman’s only goal.
Another Kentucky success story, Dr. Donna J. Dean ’69, grew up on a tobacco farm in neighboring Garrard County. Currently the executive consultant to the Association for Women in Science and career consultant for the American Chemical Society, Dr. Dean is the author of two recent books, Equitable Solutions for Retaining a Robust STEM Workforce and Getting the Most Out of Your Mentoring Relationships: A Handbook for Women in STEM. After earning her B.A. in chemistry from Berea and her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Duke, she spent 27 years as a federal executive at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. In 2007, Berea College presented Dr. Dean with the Distinguished Alumnus Award in recognition of her accomplishments and for her tireless advocacy for the inclusion of women and members of other underrepresented groups in the scientific workforce.
A more recent alumna, DeJuana Thompson ’05, is having an impact in the political arena. After graduating with a degree in communications, Thompson worked on the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Senator Cory Booker. The founder of Woke Vote, Thompson was instrumental in galvanizing millennials and the African American community, whose votes propelled Doug Jones to victory in the December 2017 special election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama. Currently, she serves as the national deputy director for community engagement and African American engagement director for the Democratic National Committee.
There are so many other female Berea graduates who could have been celebrated, so these three are really just emblems of how Berea women, going all the way back to our founding, have been serving as shining examples of what can be accomplished through education.
At Berea, we strive to live out these values through institutional policies and practices. The results, I think, speak for themselves. Our Administrative Committee, the senior management of the College, is 50 percent women. Women constitute 47 percent of our faculty, and serve in many important leadership roles. Our six-year graduation rate for women is over 72 percent, compared to a national average of just 55 percent.
In short, Berea women having been making history, and their experience makes the case, elegantly and beautifully, for our mission of providing educational opportunity to all, regardless of income, gender or other factors of identity. Together they are demonstrating the importance of leveling the playing field, so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.
In observance of Women’s History Month, the College reaffirms its commitment to an educational environment that supports degree-seeking women, and expresses its pride in the amazing accomplishment of Berea women.