Pictured: Dr. Gwendolyn Whitfield. Photo courtesy of twitter.com.
By Anna Mann
The Assistant Dean of Business Education, Dr. Gwendolyn Whitfield, passed away on April 8, much to the sadness of Sewanee’s campus. Though Whitfield began at the University only a little over a year ago, she was admired and loved by the Mountain’s faculty and students.
A graduate of Howard, Wayne State, and Western Michigan Universities, Whitfield joined the economics department in February 2018 after working for the University of North Carolina at Asheville for four years. Dr. Courtney Thompson, assistant professor of American studies and women’s and gender studies, remembered her “earliest and most endearing memory” of Whitfield as one that showed her “unmistakable” kindness.
She recalls that the two had hardly found a chance to connect one-on-one before attending a dinner for Perspective Sewanee last April. However, the evening meal lended them a much needed opportunity to catch up. Among other things, the two spoke about academia, in particular the challenges of junior faculty moving toward tenure. Thompson clearly remembers Whitfield’s words of encouragement about her upcoming tenure review in 2019.
“Without hesitation, she indicated that she would be willing to read my materials and provide feedback,” said Thompson. “I thought this was a generous offer and felt a sense of gratitude. I knew that I was fortunate that Dr. Whitfield was supportive as a senior scholar, and I felt heartened that the University had hired a tenured black woman professor who would not only be good model and mentor but a genuine ally… Although Dr. Whitfield was here at Sewanee for a short time, in the time that she had, she made a positive difference.”
Director of the Babson Center, David Shipps (C’88), also recalled his colleague’s passion for the university. Shipps and Whitfield were hired around the same time and shared an equal amount of excitement about contributing to their newfound Sewanee community. Shipps stated that Whitfield brought a unique outlook to her job as associate dean of business education after leading similar programs at other universities.
“She believed in the power of the liberal arts,” said Shipps. “I think she viewed the popularity of our business minor as an opportunity to introduce a series of new classes regarding topics such as strategy development, organizational management and marketing so valuable to students seeking business careers following college.”
Students agreed wholeheartedly with Shipps’ observation. Especially Arantxa Ruiz Blake (C’20), a student and friend of Whitfield’s, who recalled the woman’s vibrancy, strength, and ambition. The professor remains a role model for Ruiz Blake both in and outside the classroom.
“She was also passionate about diversity and the importance of bridging gaps,” said Ruiz Blake. “I came back to campus this semester really hoping to spend more time with this empowering woman but unfortunately that time was cut too short.”
Ruiz Blake seemed to share the sentiments of all those who knew Whitfield when she finished, “I miss her dearly.”