By Reza C. Clifton
(This article appeared in The Providence American Newspaper)
PROVIDENCE, RI—The appointment of Rhode Island College’s first Black dean was not done to placate anyone. On a snowy day, very much like the day in which she first arrived in RI, Dr. Carol Bennett-Speight, new dean of the School of Social Work explains it to me.
Dr. Bennett-Speight’s interest in community and social welfare started early and intimately. Her father was one of 12 siblings from the south who, like the others, never had a chance to go to school. Because of those policies that enforced limitations on where Blacks could live, work, or learn, he had to work immediately, becoming a welder.
Though not necessarily book-smart, Bennett-Speight says that her father was very intelligent, and seeing the restrictions that were placed upon him, his siblings, and other Blacks, she vowed to fight injustice and make use of every opportunity offered her.
Her attention to justice and equal rights extended to the Civil Rights Movement spreading through the country in the 60’s and 70’s. As vice president of her high school student body, Bennett-Speight joined the school’s president and treasurer in participating in Civil Rights demonstrations.
One campaign on which these students worked was for a name-change to their school, advocating that it be renamed the Angela Davis High School after Black activist and philosopher. “There was a group of us…We never changed the name of the school, but it was fun being an activist at the time,” she concedes, and influential.
With her interests in justice and the community in place, Bennett-Speight set out for Pennsylvania State University. During this point in time, she explains, this period in the 70’s, President Lyndon Johnson was promoting the direction of federal money to community organizations; “money going into inner-city organizations to make change on a grassroots level,” she details. Bennett-Speight concurred that she too had in interest in sharing resources with the community.
After graduating, “funds were no longer provided,” she remembers, and “society, [and] government became more conservative.” At this time, Bennett-Speight became employed at Children’s Aid Society in Pennsylvania, completing certification and becoming a social worker. Her career and training in Social Work blossomed from there.
Children’s Aid sent Bennett-Speight to Graduate School at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where she received a Masters degree in Social Work. Later, from the Pennsylvania Society of Clinical Social Workers, she received a Three-Year Post Masters Certification in Advance Clinical Practice, and in 1996 she completed her Doctorate in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania.
Bennett-Speight’s experience in the field of social work is as diverse as her academic experience is full. Early, at Children’s Aid, she worked with children and youth in need. She has also worked on child and family advocacy programs, while also starting a private practice that looked at women’s issues and family issues, plus substance and sexual abuse. She has served as a psychiatric social worker, psychotherapist, and senior social worker.
She shifted direction around the mid-80’s working on employee assistance programs, first regionally in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, then centrally at the University of Pennsylvania, providing training and service. And it was while working at UPENN, that Bennett-Speight began her doctoral degree.
There, she specialized in research on employed African-Americans providing consistent care to elderly family members. She also taught at UPENN, which she loved and continued doing at Cabrini College.
Having loved being on a university campus, and attending a leadership institute for future leaders including deans, Bennett-Speight explains that when a friend told her about the opening for Dean of Social Work at RIC, she was ready, she applied, and she succeeded. She expresses to me feeling that everything in her career led up to this appointment.
“I have worked the full spectrum, from child welfare to community organization, elderly care…I have been in the field of social work for 30 years, and I knew back in high school.”
For her, this was next: “I love the idea of looking at curriculum, and looking largely at a program. RIC’s program has been around for more than 20 years and the staff here is just so dedicated and genuine.”
Four weeks here, and still not entirely unpacked, Bennett-Speight has begun working, meeting faculty and staff, and beginning to learn about Providence. She hopes to reach out to alumni, community, and students, and welcomes anyone to reach out and call.
To reach Dr. Carol Bennett-Speight, contact her assistant at 456-8864.
By Reza C. Clifton
(This article appeared in the Providence American Newspaper)
PROVIDENCE, RI-Masks, paintings, sculptures, and photographs—these are just some of the mediums currently on display in the first and second floor gallery of the University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence Campus.
Running since January 12th, the exhibit featured in the gallery is entitled Carnivale. It is a mixed media display exploring traditional festivals of said name and others who similarly fuse Afro-Caribbean-Indigenous-Christian-European cultures.
At the January 28 reception, gallery curator/operator and artist-in-residence Steven Pennell explained that these celebrations were occurring in Portugal, Italy, and Germany as well. As a pre-Lenten celebration, “it was a chance to let your hair down” [before embarking on a period of strict personal discipline] he explained.
The reception proved to be my first time at the exhibit, and I was thoroughly impressed by it. The pieces were diverse, sometimes with vibrant color, sensuality, darkness, heaviness, and/or frivolity.
Pieces I enjoyed included those from individuals representing New Orleans, Argentina, Haiti, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands, and names like Munir D. Mohammed, Tamara Diaz, and Sidney Tillet.
The night of the 28th also featured energetic Afro-Latino-Caribbean percussion, singing and dancing—provided by Lydia Perez, Gloria Lopez, Robertico Arias and more—and priceless homemade traditional Caribbean cuisine by URI’s own Marie Cuyo.
To be sure that my opinion of the exhibit wasn’t completely peppered by the music and food that the reception had to offer, I have since returned to stroll down the gallery for another peek.
It was just as impressive to me a second time, but it was the reaction of friends seeing it a first time that proved it. Their eyes leapt with awe, their mouths kept dropping the word “wow”, and whoever led the pack persistently introduced pieces to friends a bit behind in tow.
The exhibit runs through February 25th; therefore, if you have at least 10-15 minutes, Steven Pennel and the URI Feinstein Providence Campus Student Government Board have something you might want to see.
The Providence Campus gallery is located at 80 Washington St. and is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is closed Sunday and holidays.
For more information about the exhibit, visit www.uri.edu/news/releases/?id=2931.
For more information on Afro-Latino-Caribbean classes, cultural events, and music being offered email email@example.com , go to www.prfdance.org/yoruba2.htm and/or go www.alebreke.com.