The inspiration for the Women Achievers of the Bluegrass is Dr. Judy Jackson, Diversity and Inclusion Office at MIT. Dr. Jackson began her illustrious career as a first generation college graduate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Completing her Master’s from Bucknell University and her Doctorate from Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Dr. Jackson has served in a variety of high-level positions. Dr. Jackson’s enthusiasm and unwavering support for the mission of Women Achievers of the Bluegrass have made her the organization’s luminous North Star and guiding light.
I am the sixth of seven daughters born to North Carolina sharecroppers. My father was totally illiterate, unable even to write his own name. My mother had completed 8th grade when her mother took her out of school to be the family seamstress. She was one of 15 siblings on her parents’ farm. The time in which I grew up was one of intense racial segregation. However, a constantly repeated reminder from my mother was that the way to escape the poverty and social oppression that we knew was to “Get your education! Get your education! No one can take that away from you!” My father died when I was 16 and never got to see his daughters go to college—which all seven of us did!
Each of my sisters went to Historically Black Colleges or Universities, and I was the only one to attend a predominantly historically White institution. In those racially charged times, I along with the 200 other Blacks integrating the 6,000-student Greensboro campus of the University of North Carolina were made to know that we were not welcome. In my second year, the French professor of a course I took was the first White person to acknowledge to me that I was extremely smart. He would write a comment on each of my homework and test papers: “Qu’est-ce-que vous êtes intélligente!” or “Quelle est vôtre majeur?” or “Qu’est-ce-que vous allez faire?” and “Avez-vous pensé au graduate school?” He remained my mentor well into his eighties and always spoke to me only in French, with occasional words in German, in deference to the years that I lived there.
Upon return to the US I taught a couple of years at Susquehanna University. Then I started my administrative career at Bucknell University, where I completed an MA in French-African Literature, Geography and Foreign Policy. I then moved to Ithaca, NY, and served for a few years as Assistant Dean in the College of Engineering at Cornell University, followed by several years at MIT as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, an ombudsman for the President, and finally as Special Advisor to the Provost on Faculty Diversity.
While at MIT, I got my son and daughter off to college and then completed a Doctor of Education degree at Harvard University during the next few years. After another two years in the Boston area as Chief of Staff and Clerk of the Corporation at Babson College, I spent a bit of time at NYU as Associate VP for Student Affairs, and then some years as Dean of the College at Vassar College before I was recruited to the University of Kentucky as the first Vice President for Institutional Diversity. These positions and personal travel gave me the opportunity to visit a total of 23 different countries. At the University of Kentucky I had the privilege of teaching very smart and caring students like Chrissy Herren. I salute her and her mother for the work that they so lovingly are doing to give back and advance the success of other young women. THAT is what will keep our country great. God bless your every effort!
With great respect,
Dr. Judy “JJ” Jackson