Photo by of Elisabeth Weems

Interim director, Donna M. Whyte, Ph.D., stands near her office in the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center.


September 21, 2016

New interim director named for Black Studies program

Donna M. Whyte, Ph.D., who has served Cleveland State University for 30 years, recently accepted the position of interim director of the Black Studies Program.

Gregory Sadlek, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, asked Whyte to fill the position for the school year following the unexpected death last month of the former director, Michael Williams, Ph.D.

Whyte began at Cleveland State in 1985 as a co-op coordinator for Career Services, the same year that Williams started his career. During a time in which universities focused on increasing diversity, Whyte was instrumental in creating the LINK Program. It was initially established to recruit minority students to Cleveland State to participate in co-op programs.

In 1989, Whyte began working with the Office of Minority Affairs and Human Relations. It was newly established as a result of pressure from black faculty, staff and concerns from the black community.
Whyte explained that the university has changed in many ways over the years.

“We can look at Cleveland State, the physical [plant] as one conversation, but then there are changes that have happened that really have to do with the culture of the university, [which] has changed dramatically,” Whyte said.

After she retired from her position as director of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs in 2013 and had pursued a part-time teaching role at CSU, Whyte said that it was difficult for her to decide whether to accept the full-time position. However, the ultimate factor that led to her acceptance was the desire to honor the memory of Williams.

Whyte said that during the time of grieving immediately after Williams passed, students and members of the community gathered to pay their respects to Williams, a well-known community leader.

Whyte’s current tasks are numerous, partly because of Williams’s vast reach, which exceeded the primary responsibilities of a director. Her main role is to observe and reflect upon her position and, along with others, create a job description for the future director, which the university will recruit for the following school year.

The Black Studies Program includes the Black Studies major, the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center, where the program is housed, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra, Black Aspirations and community relations.

“There are so many elements under the Black Studies Program, and so people who are aware of Black Studies are probably only aware of an aspect of it,” Whyte said. “There is a total program here and so my goal is to keep the engine rolling and respect what it is that Dr. Williams has established, which is vast.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from The Ohio State University, Whyte went on to earn her master’s degree in Adult Education from OSU and her doctoral degree from Case Western Reserve University in Social Policy History.

While in graduate school, she worked as a graduate assistant for both the Minority Affairs and Admissions offices at OSU and recruited African American students from predominantly black high schools in Ohio.

Whyte is also teaching an Urban Studies course, “Cleveland Past, Present and Future: The African American Experience.”

One of her goals this year is to increase the number of students majoring in Black Studies.


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