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Meet Kameelah Martin, The First Black Woman Academic Dean At College of Charleston

Meet Kameelah Martin, The First Black Woman Academic Dean At College of Charleston

Kameelah Martin is making history as the first Black woman academic dean at the College of Charleston (CofC), The College Today reports.

Martin was a first-generation college student, earning her bachelor’s in English from Georgia Southern, her master’s in Afro-American studies from the University of California, and a Ph.D. in African American literature and folklore from Florida State. Her goal was to always carve a lane for herself that helped illuminate the importance of African American studies and culture. 

After earning her doctorate, she went on to teach at a number of universities including Georgia State, the University of Houston and Savannah State University. In 2017, she joined the College of Charleston faculty as director of the African American Studies program. Now, she has made history, being promoted in June 2021 to dean of the Graduate School, University of Charleston, South Carolina, the first Black woman dean of the Graduate School and the first to ever hold an academic dean title in the school’s 250+ year history. 

“It’s humbling and a bit surreal to be referred to that way. I also feel a great deal of responsibility…I have lived a post-segregation existence; the explicit barriers to education and career advancement previous generations faced were largely removed - so, on one hand, I’ve always expected my ambition to bear fruit. On the other hand, I know that systemic oppression operates in plain sight. My story is replete with such experiences, to be sure. The percentage of Black women who hold the rank of full professor is abysmal, which doesn’t bode well for the sistas in academic leadership. I am among the few and - though I earned the position - it does come with privilege,” said Martin. 

As dean, Martin is focused on creating academic distinction in the department as well as recruiting and retaining a more diverse pool of graduate students. While she believes the College has amazing faculty members, their research evident in archives like the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and Addlestone Library’s Special Collections, Martin thinks the College can do more to establish itself as a premiere research destination for scholars looking to do specific work. 

“Charleston is a sought-after location for research on a plethora of topics: environmental science, early American history, the Civil War, Gullah Geechee culture, marine biology - you name it. If scholars are coming to Charleston to do pre- and postdoctoral research, the College of Charleston should be at the heart of it,” Martin explained. 

Already, Martin has received a ton of support from school staff, faculty, students, alumni and community members. During CofC’s recent Fall Alumni Weekend, Martin said she was overwhelmed with the encouragement and congratulations she received. A testament that representation matters, and people are paying attention. 

“Black alumni readily embraced me [a literal embrace] with excitement. Some knew of my appointment through the press release, while others did not. I introduced myself to one visiting alumna and she was overcome with emotion. I was invited into pictures with spouses and babies because she ‘had never met a Black woman dean!’ Even out in the community, elderly church ladies and sorority members insist on ‘giving [me] a hug’ and proclaiming how proud they are of my accomplishments. Most of them are complete strangers, but I understand the power of those moments,” said Martin. 

Currently, she’s working on building several pipelines to recruit a diverse student population, including a diversity initiative fund and a long-term endeavor that involves partnering with historically Black colleges and universities to attract their students into the graduate program. Martin said she feels it’s her duty to make sure that while she’s the first, she’s not the only and to ensure that Black women are recognized for their contributions. 

“Being the first Black woman appointed as the dean of a school at the College should be celebrated, unequivocally. It is evidence that, for our institution, there is a break in the clouds…As the first, I feel a responsibility to ensure that I am not ‘the only.’ I feel a responsibility to empower other Black women who aspire toward higher education leadership. Leadership is a thankless task. And Black women have a laundry list of thankless tasks they have and are still performing in our society. To that end, I feel a responsibility to ensure Black women are recognized and valued for that work,” Martin said. 

Congratulations Dean Martin! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of The College Today