As the recipient of the 2011 President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award, Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander said she could think of no better honor to represent not just her time at the University of Georgia but, more profoundly, to speak for her life’s work as an advocate for justice and tolerance.
A legal studies professor who joined the faculty in 1988, Bennett–Alexander was the first female African–American faculty member hired at the Terry College of Business. At the time she was hired, no African Americans were on the faculty.
“I hadn’t planned on moving when the university’s administration asked me to come. I had tenure where I was and had just built a house,” Bennett–Alexander said. “What came to me—and it was the determining factor—was what Dr. King said. ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ I couldn’t not go.
“So, to realize the role that I ended up playing at the university, which was one of advocacy on lots of different levels—whether it’s serving on committees, or writing letters to the editor, or talking to students who later ended up starting programs that would help minorities come here—it made me live what Dr. King said. Getting an award that recognizes that this is what I do with my everyday life is incredible.”
As part of UGA’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation, the Terry College organized a panel of students and alumni discussing their experiences in the business school. Bennett–Alexander participated in the forum, as did Terry’s first African–American graduates—Tyrone Barnett and Harold Black, both of whom graduated with bachelor’s degrees in 1966.
“As a college, we’ve never done anything like that before, and it made those graduates feel so appreciated and valued to bring them back and have them share their experiences,” she said. “It really has a way of changing their perception of the time when they were here and what it was like. It gives them so much more of an appreciation for their degree, to feel like we really do connect with what it took for them to do what they did. I just felt absolutely thrilled to be (on the panel) with them.”
Her own “firsts” at UGA are many, but she declined to choose favorites among her accolades. Rather, she said, she’s most proud of having been true to herself and allowing people to learn from those differences. It’s not been an easy thing to do in the arena of business, where conformity is normally the currency for getting along and getting ahead.
“If you are trying to conform to what somebody else wants you to be—what they’re used to—you never make headway for them accepting people who are different than themselves,” Bennett–Alexander said. “I never wore my hair straight, I haven’t worn western clothes for probably 12 years, I still read a poem at the beginning of every class. All of that in a college of business … whoa!”
Now approaching 30 years into her academic career, she’s remained productive in her field of employment law and diversity issues. Her most popular text, Employment Law for Business, is in its sixth edition. And she’s just received the first copy from McGraw–Hill of her newest textbook, The Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Environment of Business in a Diverse Society.
Bennett–Alexander waited not a minute to pull the new text from her shelf, but she doesn't turn to the table of contents or the “About the Author” section. Instead, she draws attention to the art on the cover.
“It was wonderful that my daughter, Anne, did the book cover,” she said, with a strong sentiment that the fondest dream of a proud parent had just been fulfilled. “That was really, really special.”