UNC Asheville to name the Mullen & James Humanities Hall in honor of pioneering faculty emeriti

Press release from UNC Asheville:

UNC Asheville will recognize the significant contributions of four recently retired faculty members – Dolly Jenkins-Mullen, Dwight Mullen, Charles James and Deborah (Dee) Grier-James – by naming the Humanities Lecture Hall as the Mullen & James Humanities Hall in their honor.

A campus ceremony will be held during the university’s fifth annual African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia Conference on Oct. 19 in the Mullen & James Humanities Hall.

Political scientists Dolly Jenkins-Mullen and Dwight Mullen, Chemistry Professor Charles James and English Professor Deborah (Dee) Grier-James all retired in May of this year, having served as UNC Asheville faculty since 1984. They were among the university’s first African-American faculty members, recruited as part of an effort to diversify the faculty.

The two faculty couples braved community hostility and racist comments in their early years. Dwight Mullen received death threats for his political commentaries and the Jameses, after they graduated UNC Asheville in the 1970s, a decade before they joined the faculty, could not find housing near campus because of their race. Each of them went on to make tremendous contributions on and off campus, and to earn the gratitude of countless students as teachers and mentors.

“We are immensely grateful for the leadership of Dee James, Charles James, Dolly Jenkins-Mullen and Dwight Mullen, their many contributions to our campus, and their commitment to the Asheville community. It is with our deepest respect and gratitude that we recognize their courageous service and lasting legacy by naming the Humanities Lecture Hall in their honor,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy J. Cable.

In their first decade on the faculty, the Mullens and Jameses worked together to create the African-American Colloquium, a program designed to create community and support for first-year African American students on campus. The colloquium included classes, tutoring, mentoring, and advising, along with special annual trips to places around the country. Their work to develop and staff the colloquium was emblematic of the role they would play over three decades as educators and advocates.

Professor Dwight Mullen is known for his long-running State of Black Asheville project, in which he mentored students in researching racial disparities in Asheville housing, income, employment, health and longevity, education, arrest and incarceration rates and many other factors. The State of Black Asheville research was presented to the meeting of the Buncombe County Commissioners in 2017 in which the commissioners voted unanimously to create the Isaac Coleman Economic Community Investment Fund. In 2014, Mullen received the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. He also has served as a Fulbright senior scholar in Malawi.

Dolly Jenkins-Mullen, who was an adjunct instructor at the time she was hired along with her husband Dwight to join UNC Asheville’s Political Science Department, became a tenured associate professor and chair of the department, known for her mentorship and help to students outside of the classroom. She led the political science internship program and was given the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award in 2009. She also has served as vice chair of the Asheville City School Board.

Dee James and Charles James are both alumni of UNC Asheville and were married the day after they graduated in 1973. After graduate school at Clemson University and earning doctoral degrees at the University of South Carolina, they returned to their alma mater together to join the faculty.

Dee James is best known for her role in nurturing the writing skills of UNC Asheville students. She was director of the First-Year Writing Program and had an important role in creating and leading UNC Asheville’s Writing Center. In 2016, she was given the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award.

Charles James was instrumental in developing the university’s popular study-abroad program in Ghana, and he and Dee, along with other faculty members, led student trips to that nation. The program has received the Best Practices in International Education Award for Study Abroad Programming from NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. James also endeared himself to hundreds of very young children by playing Santa Claus at the holiday party held at the university for many years for youngsters in area Head Start programs.

“Honoring our elders is a recognition of their immense contributions to the intellectual vibrancy of our university. They changed the course of this university’s history in profound ways, and laid a strong foundation for future generations to come. This edifice will always be a reminder of UNC Asheville’s aspirations and commitment to building an inclusive and resilient community that recognizes and celebrates our collective human values.  They have illuminated our paths with dedication, strength and community, and they have now bequeathed us with the responsibility to keep the lights burning,” said Agya Boakye-Boaten, associate professor of Africana studies and director of Interdisciplinary, International, & Africana Studies Programs at UNC Asheville.

The Mullen & James Humanities Hall will be offline during renovations to the adjacent Carmichael Hall and will open in 2020 to host the university’s acclaimed Humanities Program as well as films and talks by distinguished visiting scholars.

For more information about the campus ceremony, contact UNC Asheville Events & Conferences Office at 828-251-6853 or events@unca.edu.

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