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Bennett College Honors Former President


Dr. Cole stands behind a sign at the Bennett residence hall named in her honor. Dr. Cole stands behind a sign at the Bennett residence hall named in her honor.

Bennett College celebrated its Founders’ Day on November 5 with the renaming of a campus dorm and reception.

The college renamed its largest and newest campus residence hall after former college president, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, who also served as the Founders’ Day keynote speaker.

Cole, is the former director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. She also served as the college’s 14th president from 2002-2007. Cole holds the distinction of having served as president of the only two all-women’s historically Black colleges in the country, Bennett and Spelman College (Atlanta, Ga.). While at Spelman, Cole built the institution’s endowment through a $113 million capital campaign, significantly increased enrollment and raised the institution’s overall ranking.

“She’s our lieutenant in this fight,” said State Sen. Gladys Robinson of Cole. Robinson is a Bennett alumna and president of the college’s Board of Trustees She added, “She is our advocate and yet she’s our friend who made significant accomplishments at Bennett College during another critical time in our history.”

During Cole’s five years at Bennett, she oversaw a $50 million capital campaign, the creation of programs in African Women’s Studies and Global Studies.She also helped establish an art gallery and founded the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute.

Bennett alumna;  Dr. Johnnetta Cole and  Bennett Pres. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins. Bennett alumna; Dr. Johnnetta Cole and Bennett Pres. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins.
In her address, Cole reminded the audience of the college’s history of advocacy, and that Bennett continues to have a role to play in the fight against bigotry and hatred.

“Yes, we are living in a time of crisis. Doing nothing is simply not an option,” said Cole referencing the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. last August that left one counter protestor dead and many others injured.

“So brothers and sisters, I charge you as I charge myself to stand up and to speak out in the interest of what is right and just. Stand up and don’t give up the fight,” she added.

Bennett’s annual Founders’ Day ceremony honors the rich history of the college from its humble beginnings, as a coed institution when it was founded in the basement of St. Matthews United Methodist Church (formerly Warnersville Methodist Episcopal Church) in 1873, to its 144-year commitment to educating young women of color. It later became a women’s only college in 1926. The college was named after Lyman G. Bennett, a Troy, New York, businessman who gave $10,000 to Black parishioners of the Methodist Church of Greensboro. The congregation used the money to buy land and a building large enough to house classrooms and a dormitory.

Today, Bennett College has about 400 undergraduate students, and more than 7,000 alumnae. This year, alumnae have donated more than $1 million to the academic institution.

The Johnnetta Betsch Cole Honors Residence Hall, a 151-bed dorm was erected in 2010. It is the largest residence hall on campus. Last May, college officials announced a $1.5 million Johnnetta Betsch Cole Scholars Campaign, for which a Crowdfunding Campaign was officially launched on September 10. Money raised from the campaign will be used for scholarships for honors students who reside in the residence hall bearing Cole’s name.

The Founders’ Day ceremony ended with a ribbon-cutting and dedication of the building. Cole encouraged those in attendance to contribute to the college scholarship campaign.

“I ask all of you to give to this campaign, because it is a campaign for the future of all of us,” she said.

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