Clarksville, TN – Like many of us, Austin Peay State University (APSU) Interim President Dannelle Whiteside probably started off 2020 reflecting over the previous year, planning vacations, and setting goals for the New Year.
In the months to come, the world would shut down, the University would transition to remote work and shift students to online course delivery.
I’m sure she would never have imagined that she would be asked to lead the university as the interim president, in the midst of budget cuts, social unrest, and the COVID-19 Coronavirus world pandemic.
When determining the list of individuals who would lead the “Leading through Black Excellence” Black History project, it was a unanimous decision. Five short months ago, APSU Interim President Whiteside eagerly hit the ground running.
She successfully helped secure nearly $5.5 million in donations, (within the first 60 days of appointment), including a $3 million gift from the Clarksville-Montgomery County Community Health Foundation to fund the proposed Health Professions Building; drafted, negotiated, and signed the Multipurpose Event Center lease to house APSU men’s and women’s basketball programs; launched the “What if?” Capital Campaign, which has raised $58 million; and helped increase retention rates by nearly 5%.
She also increased the institution’s social media presence and developed the “Pop-ins with the Prez,” launched “A Place at Our Table,” a University-wide diversity initiative to encourage healing conversations around issues of race and social justice, all while effectively increasing communication about COVID-19 Coronavirus guidelines, balancing mom and wife duties and performing in the University’s holiday celebration.
The University has consistently benefited from her drive, determination, and community engagement efforts far prior to her role as interim president. As vice president for Legal Affairs, general counsel, and secretary to the Board of Trustees, she collaborated with the psychology faculty and the Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center to highlight Black women’s involvement in the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
She was instrumental in developing the framework for the APSU and Montgomery County Juvenile Court Mentor Program, and she developed the governance structure and framework for the newly established APSU Board of Trustees. In her spare time, she launched the first legal clinic for APSU students to receive free legal advice from attorneys in the community. Interim President Whiteside believes in the power of higher education as evidenced by her involvement in the University and the community. She was eager to step up to the plate when some may have shied away from the task; especially with the lingering effects of COVID-19 Coronavirus, declining enrollment, and budget shortfalls.
In the past six months alone, she has proven herself to be a servant leader. She served as a facilitator for the Virtual Town Hall Meeting on Racial and Social Injustice, where over 500 faculty, staff, students, and community members participated. She shared her truth and family background through the inaugural “If Austin Peay Could Talk” series and was recently named a Top 40 under 40 by the Nashville Business Journal. Interim President Whiteside represents the next generation of leaders and change that is coming in higher education. As we reflect over her legacy, the words of Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” come to mind:
“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
We salute you Interim President Whiteside, and we thank you, Sean and Donovan, for your commitment, dedication, and service to the institution and community.
– APSU African American Employee Council
Leading Through Black Excellence is a new Black History Month series, presented by the Austin Peay State University African American Employee Council. Throughout February, we will highlight examples of “Leading Through Black Excellence,” both on and off our campus. Individuals and organizations were nominated, and we are pleased to share their incredible stories through this new venture. For more information, please visit our website. www.apsu.edu/aaec.