By E. Paulette Isaac-Savage and Sha-Lai Williams
The University of Missouri–St. Louis Black Faculty and Staff Association, established in 1983, recently named its Public Lecture Series after Jerome E. Morris, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Urban Education.
“Dr. Morris has been instrumental in getting BFSA re-established on campus, and we think this is a great way to honor his work and dedication,” BFSA President Harry Harris said in bestowing the honor on Morris.
Having served in various leadership roles across his esteemed academic career, including president of the Black Faculty and Staff Organization at the University of Georgia, Morris brought a wealth of experience and new ideas to UMSL’s BFSA.
Standing on the shoulders of former BFSA presidents, Morris revitalized the organization and led it for three years beginning in 2018. Additionally, under his leadership, BFSA initiated the State of Black UMSL, an event which brings to light issues of Black faculty, staff and students at the university.
While the organization has hosted numerous events in its 39-year history, including guest speakers, it was Morris who suggested holding a “Public Lecture Series.”
“The lecture series allows BFSA to continue to lead in addressing timely issues related to equity, whether policy-related or scholarly,” Morris said. “It represents one way that BFSA demonstrates its values and commitment to equity throughout the university and beyond.”
During his tenure as president, the Public Lecture Series presented scholars and speakers who enlightened the community, reinforced the power of scholarly and public discourse, and provided frameworks for equity.
Past lecturers included Brandon Ofem, associate professor in the College of Business Administration; Matthew Taylor, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Sharon Johnson, dean of the School of Social Work; and Christine Holt, chancellor at the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana. This past fall, the first Jerome E. Morris Public Lecture Series lecturer was Anam Nyembez, senior lecturer at the School of Public Health at the University of Western Cape in Capetown, South Africa. His topic was “Unmet Mental Health Priorities among Vulnerable Groups.”
The next Jerome E. Morris Public Lecture Series is scheduled for this spring and will feature Natissia Small, vice provost for access, academic support and workforce development at UMSL.
At its August meeting, the BFSA executive committee unanimously voted to name the Public Lecture Series after Morris and officially bestowed the honor on him at its virtual meeting in September.
Morris was unaware of the organization’s plans and, based on his facial expression, surprised by the announcement. In fact, the day of the announcement, Morris was vacillating between meetings, BFSA and another commitment with a professional organization where he serves as a national officer. When he joined the BFSA’s meeting, he noticed that Harris was presenting and then saw his photo on a flyer on his screen.
“I first looked at the photo and thought nothing about it until I began reading the description and it appeared to be a lecture series named after me,” Morris said. “I asked whether it was what I thought it was. Harry said, ‘Yes and congratulations.’”
Asked how he felt having the Public Lecture Series named after him, Morris said: “I generally associated such recognition with someone who has retired. The fact that my colleagues—consisting of staff and faculty – named the lecture series after me is truly one of the highlights of my academic and professional career. I will cherish this much more than so many other awards because my community recognized me for my efforts. It also further encourages me to continue on my path to seek ways to ensure authentic, equitable opportunities for all.”
Morris joined the faculty in the College of Education at UMSL in fall of 2015. He has been at the forefront of highlighting the centrality of the U.S. South in African-Americans’ experiences, examining achievement-gap issues, researching school desegregation, and rebuilding viable urban communities and schools. He also directs the Race, Class, Place, and Outcomes Interdisciplinary Research Group at UMSL and is the principal investigator on a number of federal grants. He was awarded the Lyle M. Spencer Research Award from the Spencer Foundation and has served as a University of Missouri System Presidential Engagement Fellow. He is co-founder of Education for Liberation Network, “a national coalition of teachers, community activists, researchers, youth, and parents.”
In addition to hosting events, the BFSA has been proactive in supporting staff and faculty amid COVID. Moreover, the organization provides scholarships to students while fostering and affirming a sense of community for Black people at UMSL and in the St. Louis region.
BFSA meets at noon on the third Thursday of each month. It will host its Black History Month panel discussion on at noon on Feb. 24. This year’s theme is “Know the Past, Understand the Present, Shape the Future.” Learn more about the organization and its upcoming events at https://www.umsl.edu/bfsa/index.html.
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