Why Bennett College, an HBCU for Women, is All In on Quality Teaching

ACUE Certified Faculty at Bennett College, an HBCU for women, Are Empowering the Next Generation of Women Leaders 

At Bennett College, a historically black liberal arts college (HBCU) for women, recognizing the crucial role of faculty in student success is a critical component of the institution’s new strategic direction. As the college’s leaders developed a blueprint for radical transformation over the past 18 months, they have increasingly focused on equipping faculty with evidence-based teaching practices shown to improve student engagement, close equity gaps, and increase persistence. 

A Micro College Mindset: ‘Our Smallness is Our Strength’ 

One of only two HBCUs for women in the nation, Bennett’s mission is to prepare women of color through a transformative liberal arts education. The college’s unique characteristics and small size—it serves just over 300 students—were defining factors in the institution’s search for a new accreditor, which culminated last year

Part of the process included hiring a new president to help guide the development of Bennett’s new strategic direction. That person was Suzanne Walsh, who joined the college in 2019 and immediately saw it as a fertile ground for innovation. 

In the immediate term, Bennett is embracing a ‘micro college’ model for students. From students’ first days on campus, when President Walsh meets with and greets each new student, to curriculum and extracurriculars, the school prides itself on designing and delivering highly-personalized, curated experiences to meet individual student needs. 

“Our smallness is our strength,” President Walsh likes to say, a mantra that the college has rallied around. 

At the core of Bennett College’s strategic priorities is the role of faculty in preparing the next generation of women leaders. Since Bennett launched a partnership with ACUE in 2020, three out of four full-time faculty have earned full Certificates in Effective College Instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education. The partnership has “brought excitement back to the classroom,” said Santiba Campbell, an associate professor of psychology and Faculty Senate President. 

ACUE is proud to work with dozens of HBCUs around the country. Last year, ACUE and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), with support from Bank of America, the Education Finance Institute, and the ECMC Foundation, announced a new national initiative that launched in the 2021-22 academic year. The “Excellence in Online Instruction” initiative will equip more than 660 faculty with evidence-based online teaching practices, ultimately reaching tens of thousands of students.

‘Empowered as a Black Woman to Speak for Myself.’

Current students and alumnae say that faculty have served as mentors and motivators. 

One student said that Dr. Campbell relentlessly pushed her and her peers to believe in themselves. 

“In her class, I felt empowered as a Black woman to speak for myself,” Breonna Martin, a student of Dr. Campbell, said in a video interview last year. “She would literally say to us, ‘Y’all got this.’ Even if you don’t think you do, she would say, ‘I think you do.’”

For Walsh, who joined the inaugural pinning ceremony for ACUE certified faculty last year, hearing directly from students is an important validation. 

“There is no better way to explain the value of the role of faculty in the lives of students than to hear it from a student,” she commented on LinkedIn last year. “[I’m] so incredibly thankful to our faculty who take students on these journeys with full support and encouragement.”

‘Describe What a Scientist Looks Like.’

Dr. Campbell’s disciplinary expertise is featured in ACUE’s effective online teaching practices courses and inclusive teaching for equitable learning microcredential. As a featured expert, Dr. Campbell addresses topics such as implicit bias, microaggressions and stereotype threat. In one video, she describes a discussion prompt in which students have to describe a scientist. Initially, she says, student responses tend to depict an old white man who vaguely resembles Albert Einstein. 

“The scientist image was always male, and they always gave me this crazy old guy description,” Campbell recalled. “So one of the things I decided to start doing in my class was to bring in female scientists from a range of disciplines and backgrounds. I wanted them to understand that research was conducted by a lot of different types of scientists. What better way to do that than bring in women who look like them to understand the process?”

‘Learning for the Future’

With Women’s History Month underway, Campbell said that Bennett College’s future plans are rooted in its legacy, which dates back to since 1926, of educating women of color. Campbell said that will continue to be a guiding force. 

But the ACUE partnership, Campbell said, is a nod to the fact that teaching methodologies have advanced in significant ways in recent decades. It is incumbent on Bennett College students and faculty to keep pace. 

“We all have to keep learning for the future,” Campbell said. “What ACUE did for us is reinvigorate an excitement for learning about teaching, while enhancing our pedagogy.” 

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