In the midst of a rising tide of racial unrest across the country, and while Cleveland and Bradley County partisans debate the future of the downtown Confederate statue, Lee University has taken a step of its own to assure ethnic harmony and racial equality.
Dr. Paul Conn, longtime president of the four-year educational institute which sits across the street from the embattled monument, announced Thursday the establishment of an Office of Racial and Ethnic Relations.
The initiative is the newest addition to Lee University’s diverse administrative team — one that is focused not only on meeting the needs of its students, faculty and staff, but also in furthering its community partnerships with local government, civic and nonprofit organizations, and local businesses and industries.
Leading the way for Lee’s new office will be a familiar face to local residents and educators.
Gloria Scott-Richmond, a 30-year instructor with Cleveland City Schools, has been named the office’s first director.
The Lee Board of Directors affirmed Scott-Richmond’s appointment in a gathering earlier this week, according to Conn’s announcement.
“This is a step forward for us as we work toward becoming a campus which is known for our welcoming spirit to all students and staff of all backgrounds,” Conn said. “We are eager to make Lee University a place where students and staff of color can thrive, more now than ever. I am confident Gloria can make a major contribution in this new initiative.”
Scott-Richmond, who spent three decades with Cleveland City Schools, is a Lee alumnus. She graduated the former Lee College in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. She returned to the university to receive a Master of Music Education in 2007.
The longtime educator arrived at Lee originally from New York, where she studied performing arts at City University of New York.
Scott-Richmond, who begins her duties immediately, said she is humbled by the appointment, while also understanding the importance of the role that the new office will take on campus, as well as any interactions with the surrounding community which has housed the campus for more than a century.
“I’m excited,” she stressed. “I feel honored, and at the same time I feel the weight of the responsibility. What supersedes that weight is the peace in my soul of God telling me ‘Gloria, this is the path I have for you.’”
Scott-Richmond began her career with Cleveland City Schools soon after finishing an undergraduate degree at Lee in 1989, spending most of those years at Blythe-Bower Elementary School. She also served at Cleveland High School and E. L. Ross Elementary during her lengthy tenure with the city system.
“What can I say about it other than to say this is the hand of God?” she pointed out. “In this whirlwind process, God had the right people at the right places in the right offices for this appointment.”
For the past 10 years, Scott-Richmond has also worked with Lee students as director of the popular choir EVS, which continues the legacy of the Black Gospel genre “from spirituals to urban contemporary” styles.
“Gloria is equally a part of the Cleveland community and the Lee family,” Conn said. “She is so highly admired all across this town and campus. I am so grateful that she has decided to take the challenge of developing new programs and initiatives here at her alma mater.”
Conn sees her appointment as another bridge in the ever-growing partnership between Lee University, its existing campus family and alumni, and the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
She will join the Student Development administrative team, working with Dr. Mike Hayes, vice president for student development. According to Conn’s announcement, her full-time job will be to “help us listen, learn and make Lee a better place for people of color.”
Scott-Richmond credited her loved ones, and her respect for Lee University, for the appointment.
“My family has been so supportive as I’ve worked with Lee over the years,” she said. “This is a big appointment for them, too. They might be more joyful than I am.”
Scott-Richmond added, “My 91-year-old mom said, ‘Praise God,’ when I told her the news. Praise God that Lee gets it, that they are making this courageous step.”