Belle Wheelan Receives 2015 John Hope Franklin Award

March 17, 2015

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Bryant O. Best, a graduate research associate in ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy, on Belle Wheelan, who received this year’s John Hope Franklin Award at ACE’s Annual Meeting.

The 2015 John Hope Franklin Award was awarded to Dr. Belle Wheelan, a Black woman who spent over four decades of her life as a professor, higher education administrator and an educator in the American South.

The John Hope Franklin Award is an accolade awarded annually to a person or group of people that have significantly contributed to diversity in higher education over the course of his or her career.

Indeed, Wheelan’s career trajectory would not have taken the exponential arc it did had she avoided issues of race and gender.

Standing before a sea of black, brown, and white faces (one speaker estimated there were more than 300 attendees), Wheelan took the opportunity to share key lessons from her career. She made it clear that, try as a teacher might, students with severe personal issues would never be able to truly learn. Therefore her teaching philosophy, inspired by a mentor of hers, considered the emotional well being of students a priority.

Belle Wheelan
Left to right: Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges; Belle S. Wheelan, president at Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA); John Franklin, senior manager at the National Museum of African American History & Culture; ACE President Molly Corbett Broad.

Wheelan grew up during the era of both the American race and gender revolutions, and credits this as the reason why she believes all things are possible through hard work and faith. Nonetheless, the fact that she did not meet a Black woman with a doctoral degree until she was 30 years old motivated her to reach out to young people of color as frequently and freely as possible, so that she could show them that their own potential was limitless.

What does such an accomplished individual consider to be her most notable feat?

“[Raising] my son, Reggie” Dr. Wheelan said as tears welled in her eyes and a room packed with friends, family, and colleagues applauded her and her son, who was sitting in the front row.

It is without question that Dr. Wheelan’s legacy of scholarship, service and family values has permanently changed the landscape of higher education for the better.

Also see:

Belle Wheelan Recognized for Groundbreaking Career in Higher Ed
Diverse: Issues In Higher Education (March 16, 2015)

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