Dr. Joy Williamson-Lott’s journey through her career has been shaped by the mentorship and advocacy of others. Something she pays special attention to and gives back to others coming behind her.
She was a junior before deciding her majors of psychology and speech communications. Later, through her participation in the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP), she was paired with historian of American Education, and her soon-to-be mentor James D. Anderson. “When I was an undergraduate, I went to the University of Illinois for undergrad and for grad, and I didn’t have a major for two years. I was totally happy that way.” Said Williamson-Lott. The SROP at the University of Illinois was meant to encourage students of color to go to graduate school. Through connections she made in the SROP she advanced in her education. “I stayed there, and I got my master’s and PhD in History of Education, even though neither one of those was an undergraduate major.”
Williamson-Lott has spent a career making connections and building a network of folks around her that she counts as part of her community. “I have colleagues and friends from graduate school. I’m networked into a community with these people who I went to graduate school with, and now we’re out in all these different spaces and we can help each other in very different ways,” says Williamson-Lott. She continues, “It’s this [network of] mentorship, and advocacy, and allies where your impact can be magnified.”
Williamson-Lott believes deeply that graduate education leads to a greater public good. “I deeply believe in graduate education for the public good and the possibilities for it, and how it advances society through inquiry. The inquiry itself is a hallmark of a democratic society,” says Williamson-Lott. As dean of the UW Graduate School, she works to enact lasting change and pushing graduate education forward. One way she does this is through the Office of Graduate Student Equity & Excellence (GSEE). “GSEE provides invaluable direct to student programming, and also focuses on improving departmental climate and equity for our students in their academic homes.”
As Dr. Williamson-Lott looks at the impact of the UW Graduate School on institutional change, like Rev. Dr. King Jr., she recognizes that institutional change is nuanced and must be planned with intention. “We are looking at our policies and practices and the downstream effects, to make sure that we are not in the way of advancing equity, or that we don’t have unintended consequences with some of the policies that we already have.” She continues, “When I think about the nature of institutional change, a lot of it is not sexy, but it is still necessary. It’s in our policies and practices. And mobilizing through activities like demonstrations has a place, but so does organizing. I think people want to just mobilize and then they expect change to happen. That’s not how it happens.”
This year for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we recognize and celebrate the leadership and mentorship of individuals like Dr. Joy Williamson-Lott as we remember the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her journey serves as a reminder of the power of mentorship and advocacy in shaping the lives and careers of others, and the importance of supporting and guiding the next generation of leaders.
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