Talking about race

Editor’s note: This article first appeared May 11 in

By Donal O’Shea

Dr. Donal O'Shea
Dr. Donal O’Shea

We will celebrate graduation next week at New College of Florida when more than 200 students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. It is always a joyous occasion for our graduates and their families. This year, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College, will deliver the Commencement speech and receive the honorary degree Doctor of Science.

Dr. Tatum is a psychologist, educator and scholar who has focused on racial identity development in teenagers. Her best-selling book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race,” first published in 1997 and helped us understand the development of racial identity. It opened our eyes to the complexities of identity more generally, and plumbed the faces of otherness: race or ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and physical or mental ability, and the oppression and privilege associated with each.

Because so many of the issues that she raised in the original edition still resonate today, she released an updated version in 2017 that included 100 pages of new content.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum

I had the privilege of working with Dr. Tatum at my previous institution, Mount Holyoke College, where she served as professor, vice president of student affairs and acting president before accepting the presidency at Spelman. She also maintained a clinical practice and raised two small children with her husband, Travis. She has an extraordinary gift for drawing from her personal experience to speak to and about extraordinarily complex and emotionally charged issues in memorable and accessible ways.

Dr. Tatum was born in Tallahassee in the same year as Brown v. Board of Education. Rather than allow an African-American to enter Florida State University, the state of Florida paid travel expenses for her father, then an art teacher at Florida A&M University, to receive his doctorate in art education at Penn State. The family did not come back.

It is a pleasure to welcome Dr. Tatum back to her native state.

Graduation starts at 7 p.m., on Friday, May 17, on the Bayfront at New College. All are welcome.

— Dr. Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.


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