February 9, 2010
Wilhelmina Boyd came to Elon in 1987 as an assistant professor in the English Department. At that time, she was the only African-American professor at Elon. When she retired in 2005 after 18 years of service, she had taught at Elon longer than any other African-American professor. She was not the first African-American professor at Elon, but she has left an indelible mark on the school’s history.
Professor Boyd contributed extensively to raising the awareness of cultural diversity on campus. She introduced the African-American Read-In Chain, an international reading event highlighting Black History Month by “focusing on the contributions of African-American writers, poets, and novelists.” It was first held at Elon in February 1993 and had over 300 participants. Professor Boyd created the first African-American literature course during her second year at Elon. In 1994 she founded the African/African American Studies minor. She engaged with students outside the classroom while serving as an advisor to the Black Cultural Society and as a Hand-to-Hand Mentor.
In a 1996 interview, she was asked to reflect on her then nine years at Elon. Her response about being the only African American professor at Elon when she started in 1987: “This was not my first time teaching in a setting where I was the only ‘one.’ I’m not too uptight about it. I came to teach students who want to learn. If they’re concerned with my color, that’s their problem. I’m concerned with their learning and growth.”
When asked in 1997 about the importance of having diversity on a college campus, Boyd said, “The college experience is one which involves exposure to different people, cultures, ideas, and costumes. That’s a part of their (students) growth. It’s necessary for a college to reach a point where it’s representative of society. To be isolated or separated would not give you the kids of experiences you really need to have in order to grow.”
The Wilhelmina Boyd African/African American Studies Scholar Award was created in 2008 to honor Professor Boyd’s eighteen years of service to Elon. The award is presented to a student who shares Boyd’s value of community involvement and service, scholarship, and global and multicultural awareness.
The Elon community was deeply saddened by Professor Body’s death in 2009. Many of her colleagues and former students paid tribute to her life and legacy, some of which can be read in the Fall 2009 issue of The Black Oaks Newsletter, a publication of the African/African American Studies program.