Purdue Today presenting profiles on Title IX service awardees

June 20, 2013  

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, Purdue has recognized 40 individuals with the Title IX Distinguished Service Award for their significant contributions to the advancement of gender equity in education. Profiles on the recipients will be presented in Purdue Today each month. This month features Carolyn E. Johnson, Beverly Davenport Sypher, Sarah J. "Sally" Watlington, Helen Bass Williams and Clara Bell Sessions.


Carolyn E. Johnson

Carolyn E. Johnson has tirelessly worked locally and across the world to empower women through collaboration and education.

Johnson is director of Purdue's Diversity Resource Office, which is a part of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion. Her global work has benefited women of all ages, from girls in Africa to women leaders in the entrepreneurial fields to pre-tenure women on Purdue's campus.

For example, Johnson served as an educational specialist in efforts to evaluate rural education opportunities for women and girls in Tanzania and Kenya. She also served as chair for a United Methodist Office of the United Nations (UMOUN) women's educational exchange team, which held seminars about women's education in Haiti, Jamaica, Curacao, Dominican Republic and Aruba.

Johnson was a community representative and advisor to the first annual Meeting of Women Leaders in Finance and Business, which was sponsored by Women's World Banking and held in Italy.

In an indication of her worldwide influence, every four years the Carolyn E. Johnson International Symposium on Globalization discusses a topic that involves women's issues. Invitees are women in the professorate, women involved in grassroots activism and women in theological education. It typically takes place outside the U.S.

Johnson has served all levels of United Methodist Women and is a national past president. At the time of her presidency, United Methodist Women was the largest denominational faith organization for women. During her presidency, she implemented a major project goal of "Higher Education for Women in Africa" and convened seven regional working conference throughout the globe on women and education.

She also is past president of the former North Indiana Conference, and she is past national president of the Women's Division, where she participated in a project examining women's role in the colleges and universities the division has founded.  She is a former trustee of Bennett College, a college for women in Greensboro, N.C.

On campus, Johnson has created a number of symposia, courses and annual lectures focusing on the role of women -- especially women of color -- and served on the advisory committee for Purdue's first Conference for Pre-tenure Women, held in 2010. Sponsored by the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence and the Office of the Provost, the annual conference offers advice for managing academic careers, recommendations for establishing plans to reach tenure and discussions about the challenges women face in fields related to science, technology engineering and math, among other things.

Johnson earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary education from Indiana University in 1968 and 1970, respectively. She received her doctorate in educational administration from Purdue in 1985.


Beverly Davenport Sypher

Beverly Davenport Sypher's work in leading the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence has created new professional development opportunities for the advancement of women faculty and staff at Purdue.

As the Susan Bulkeley Butler Chair for Leadership Excellence and inaugural director of the center, Davenport Sypher continuously strives to further the center's goals of supporting research and education about women and their roles in work and leadership, and building alliances across campus that help women succeed.

Through the center and a partnership with the American Association of Colleges and Universities, Davenport Sypher created Purdue Women Lead, which provides women faculty and staff leaders with educational and  leadership development opportunities that help them build alliances and collaborative relationships with other women in leadership positions.  Purdue Women Lead offers programming throughout the year, including lectures, workshops and webinars, and showcases faculty work  on topics such as work-life balance, gender and careers, inter-generational relationships and workplace civility.

In 2010, Davenport Sypher launched a national Conference for Pre-Tenure Women, which helps women identify strategies and goals toward tenure and realize their potential in careers in higher education. It also provides opportunities for women faculty to develop strong leadership skills. The conference is held annually at Purdue and has attracted almost 400 women from more than 40 institutions.

Davenport Sypher helped found the Distinguished Woman Scholars program, which honors women who received their doctorate at Purdue and have made significant contributions and distinguished themselves in their academic field. Eight women have been honored with the award since its inception in 2011. 

Davenport Sypher serves Purdue as the vice provost for faculty affairs, director of the Butler Center and a professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication.


Sarah J. "Sally" Watlington

Retired Capt. Sarah J. "Sally" Watlington's decorated naval career was inspired by one of Purdue's early female leaders.

Watlington met Dean Helen B. Schleman during her undergraduate career at Purdue. Schleman had served in the Coast Guard during World War II as deputy to Dorothy C. Stratton, Purdue's first full-time dean of women. Inspired by Schleman's work, Watlington joined the Navy after graduation.

Pursuing a 23-year career in the Navy, Watlington carried out a nontraditional career path for women at the time and opened doors and opportunities for women interested in joining the military. From 1976 to 1979, Watlington returned to Purdue to serve as the executive officer of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, and she was the first woman in the nation to serve in that role.

Additionally, Watlington spent her service time in San Diego, Naples, Italy and Washington, D.C. Her final position was as deputy director of Total Force Planning, Training and Education in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. She retired from service in 1984.

Upon retirement, Watlington returned to Lafayette, where she has been heavily involved in numerous volunteer endeavors, including the YWCA of Greater Lafayette and the Riggs Community Health Center. Watlington currently serves as treasurer of the YWCA Foundation and secretary-treasurer of the Mortar Board National Foundation. She is also active with the Community Foundation of Greater Lafayette and the Lafayette Parks Foundation.

Watlington graduated from Purdue in 1960 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was recognized in 1990 as a distinguished alumna of Purdue's College of Liberal Arts and has been awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash on two occasions for her volunteer efforts. 


Helen Bass Williams

Helen Bass Williams dedicated her life to enhancing the possibilities of all.

Williams was a significant figure in the civil rights movement before coming to Purdue in 1968 as an instructor in French and a counselor in the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education (HSSE).

Williams earned two master's degrees, one in public health from North Central College in Durham, North Carolina, and the other in French and education from Southern Illinois University. Williams worked throughout the South during the Martin Luther King Jr. era as a public health worker, educator, and civil rights leader. She was beaten, gassed, and jailed in Mississippi as she fought for freedom and civil rights.

When Williams was hired as Purdue's first black faculty member in 1968, she brought to Purdue a living story of the Deep South during the civil rights era and the crisis facing America at the time. She served on committees that helped establish programs that reflected the University's commitment to change, including attempts to attract more minority students and faculty, develop more diverse course content, and create the Black Studies program.

Her home near campus quickly became a welcoming place for many black students, whether for rented rooms, friendly meals, or conversation regarding concerns about the campus social climate and academic challenges. This informal nurturing role turned into an institutional one as Williams helped found what would become the Black Cultural Center and Academic Success Center.

She also served on the first executive board of the Black Faculty and Staff Council in 1975.

For her efforts, Williams was honored by being named a Purdue University Old Master.  In 1971-72, she received the Leather Medal, given annually to the individual who contributes most to the welfare, success, and reputation of Purdue. In 1975, she received the Helen B. Schleman Gold Medallion for leadership service and for contributions to and concern for women students.

In 1993, the Helen Bass Williams Scholarship award was established as a tribute to her life and work.

Williams receives the Title IX Distinguished Service Award posthumously.


Clara Bell Sessions

Clara Bell Sessions served as a role model and mentor to many Purdue minority nursing students and provided national leadership on issues related to gender equity in education.

Sessions, professor emerita and former director of continuing education in the School of Nursing, was well-attuned to the conditions facing minority women and women in general. A strong advocate of creating organizations to assist an individual’s advancement, Sessions in 1985 helped establish Purdue's Minority Student Nurses Association to support and address the needs of minority student nurses. 

In 1988, Sessions worked with colleagues to form the Minority Faculty Fellows to encourage and support Purdue’s administration in hiring minority faculty members. The group played an instrumental role in the hiring of 10 minority faculty across colleges and served as the forerunner of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, established in 1993.

In 1992 and 1993, Sessions co-chaired the National Congress of Black Faculty Council on Research and Education. Sessions served as a cabinet member on the Human Rights Committee of the American Nurses Association and was a charter member of the Association of Black Nursing Faculty in Higher Education.

Sessions' efforts were recognized with service awards from the Indiana Diabetes Association, Indiana State Nurses Association's board of directors, Delta Omicron Chapter of the Nursing Honor Society of Sigma Theta Tau, and Indiana Department of Aging and Community Services.

Following her death in 1996, the Purdue University Black Caucus of Faculty and Staff chose to honor Sessions by presenting an annual award in her name to the African-American senior with the best academic record in nursing or health sciences.


* Profiles on Leah Jamieson, Amy Ruley, Dorothy Stratton, Emily Wadsworth and Toyinda Wilson-Long

* Profiles on Sally Frost Mason, Tamara E. Morse, Margaret Moan Rowe, Helen Schleman and Beverley Stone

* Profiles on Laura Reasoner Jones, Dorothy Leland, Joan Marshall, Robert Ringel and Carolyn Peck

* Profiles on Zenephia Evans, Mary Harrison Ford, Monica Gary, LaNelle  Geddes and Eva Goble

* Profiles on Nancy Cross, Jane Zimmer Daniels, Carol Dewey, Carol Ecker and Barbara Edmondson

* Profiles on Martha Oakley Chiscon, Barbara S. Clark, Sally Combs-Dunaway, Barbara Ivy Cook and Cheryl A. Cooky

* Profiles on Evelyn Blackwood, Roger Blalock, Beth Brooke, Morgan Burke and Susan Bulkeley Butler

* Purdue's Title IX anniversary website

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