The renowned educator and author Beverly Tatum — who has dedicated her career to helping students understand the ways in which racism operates in their lives, and what they can do about it — is being awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Ithaca College. Tatum will be presented with the honorary degree when she serves as the guest speaker at the college’s annual Engaging Communities luncheon, scheduled for September 14.
Tatum is a leading national advocate for the role of racial identity development in fostering achievement, mental health and inclusion. She is best known for her 1997 book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race,” which has been lauded for explaining why discussing race can be difficult, as well as for identifying how conversations about race can be made easier. A revised and expanded 20th anniversary edition is being released on Sept. 5.
In 2007, Tatum followed up her debut book with “Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation,” in which she examined the need for African-American students to see themselves reflected in curricula and institutions, how unexamined racial attitudes can negatively affect minority-student achievement and the possibilities — and complications — of intimate cross-racial friendships.
“We are honored to recognize Beverly Tatum for her contributions to our understanding of racial identities, to conversations about race and to higher education,” said Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado. “Drawing connections between students’ personal identity development and more general patterns of racial identity formation, she has provided us with tools for meaningful discussion across racial and ethnic lines. I look forward to hearing her campus presentation, and the stimulating dialogues it is sure to engender.”
Sponsored by the Office of Human Resources, the Engaging Communities luncheon was established in 2010 as a way to bring together students, faculty and staff to become part of a conversation about communities and culture on campus. Previous speakers at the event have included psychologist and educator Derald Wing Sue, journalist and political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry, and diversity and inclusion consultant Craig B. Clayton Sr.
A clinical psychologist by education and training, Tatum earned her B.A. from Wesleyan University, an M.A. from Hartford Seminary, and an M.A and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She has been a teacher and administrator at several institutions, with service as Dean of the College and Vice President for Student Affairs as well as Acting President at Mt. Holyoke College. From 2002 to 2015 she served as president of Spelman College, a leader in the education of women of African descent.
Among other tributes, Tatum has been honored with the Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology by the American Psychological Association for her “exceptional career as a scientist, author, administrator, thought leader and committed social justice advocate,” and the Academic Leadership Award by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Other recent honorary degree recipients from Ithaca College include playwright Tony Kushner, “ABC World News Tonight” anchor David Muir ’95, W.K. Kellogg Foundation president and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron, Many Voices founder Ann Thompson Cook, civil rights pioneer Dorothy Cotton, Fisher House Foundation chairman and CEO Kenneth Fisher and Young People’s Chorus of New York City founder and artistic director Francisco J. Núñez.