Dr. Helene D. Gayle’s Commitment to Change and Embracing Spelman Womanhood

2024 Founders Day Issue
11th President Helene D. Gayle.

Photo from The Chicago Community Trust
11th President Helene D. Gayle. Photo from The Chicago Community Trust

In July of 2022, Helene D. Gayle, Ph.D  assumed the role of the 11th President of Spelman College.  Gayle is committed to cultivating an environment where Black women can realize their full potential and be their own kind of  ‘Spelman Woman.’  She sat down with The Blueprint to further discuss her plans for the college.

In her inaugural address, Dr. Gayle articulates her vision for Spelman College. “I am here for the same reason this institution has always been here to ensure there is a special place – that there will always be a special place – where a young Black woman with a dream of making the world better will be nurtured and affirmed, educated wholly, and encouraged to be and become her best and authentic self,” she said.

Gayle practices her commitment daily and moves with purpose; some of her primary focuses include her efforts to uphold Spelman College’s legacy of preeminence among institutions intent on educating Black women, who will go on to change the world.  As she navigates the historic institution, her commitment to its core values of equity and community is evident.  Gayle ensures every student receives a first-rate education and experiences an inclusive and uplifting campus environment.  “The through line is equity and social justice,” she said. 

With an extensive background serving on numerous non-profit and public company boards, Gayle focuses on equal opportunity and access for those who have been marginalized. Gayle underscores the disparity faced by Black women, who often “don’t have access to education that can help them be the best versions of themselves. President Gayle believes every Black woman deserves to experience an educational environment that unlocks their purpose. 

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“It’s always been about how you match talent with opportunity, and Spelman is ground zero for that,” she said.  

In the spirit of matching ‘talent with opportunity,’ on Jan. 18, 2023, Spelman College received a $100 million donation, the largest gift ever given to a Historically Black College.  Gayle told The Spelman BluePrint that she “was in tears” during her visit with “CBS Mornings,” where she announced the $100 million donation.  The majority of the funds will be directed toward establishing endowed scholarships.  

“As the money continues to grow and generate interest and resources, I hope that 100 years from now, there are young women who will be able to go to Spelman because we invested those dollars well,” she said.

In addition to creating impact, she is also committed to building a lasting legacy.“My highest goal is making sure that generation after generation will be able to have a Spelman education because it’s transformative. I’ve seen it. It’s magic,” Gayle said.

In part of building a legacy, President Gayle urges Spelmanites to embody their true selves. “There is no one Spelman woman. You should be whoever you are authentically.” Gayle said.  “I think we have to keep making sure that this is a place where you can come and not feel like you have to live up to some particular image.” 

Candice Thornton, an alum and English professor of Spelman College, also encourages her students to embrace themselves authentically and resist the pressure to conform to the image of  ‘The Spelman Woman.’ “I can see in the classroom, the students who are fighting to show up as the Spelmanite that they were told who they needed to be to exist in this space,” Thornton said. 

“I see Spelmanites putting themselves in dangerous debt, not just to pay for school, but to pay to look like they belong there,” she said. 

As Professor Thornton continues her teaching at Spelman College, she promises to uplift her students and remind them that they are who create Spelman’s identity.  

Amel Mohdali, a first-year Pre-Med Biology Major at Spelman College, reflects on her initial impressions of ‘The Spelman Woman’. “When you see greatness surrounding you, you want to be a part of that greatness, and you want to exude that same confidence,” Mohdali said. 

After fully immersing herself in the Spelman Community, Mohdali embodies her representation of what it means to be a Spelman Woman. “I finally found who I was because I surrounded myself with a group of Spelmanites who have similar interests or goals,” she said. (All of this is anecdotal. The focus of the article should be Gayle, and these quotes take away from that. I’d shorten the amount of attention you give these two quotes) 

As President Gayle continues her leadership at Spelman College, she urges her students to be attentive.“Listen to what has always guided you, and don’t think that you need to do anything more than listen to who you are and lean into it,” Gayle said. 

Gayle’s promise of enduring a special place exists — and will always exist — for young Black women who dream of making a choice to change the world is not only a promise for today, it is a pledge that Spelman College’s legacy of educating, nurturing and commissioning cadres of Black women dreamers and doers globally will endure – forever.

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