Thanks Dr. Gates Black

Matt Aukamp, Communitarian Feature Writer

Talking with Dr. Linda “Joy” Gates Black, you’re instantly put at ease. She’s quick to smile, quick to laugh, and she gives a feeling that she genuinely cares about what you have to say. The conference room outside her office is adorned with artwork from DCCC students, and her assistant Diane graciously offers snacks.

Dr. Gates Black is fiercely intelligent. She has the clarity of an educator, the decorum of a politician, the compassion of a grandmother, and the authority of a leader. It’s not hard to see why she’s held so many prestigious titles over her decades-long career in higher education.

Dr. Gates Black is winding down her time at DCCC. She is set to retire on June 30, six years to the day since she took over from her predecessor, Dr. Jerry Parker. She is only the fourth president in the college’s 55-year history, both the first female and first African American president.

While a shorter term than previous presidents, it was nevertheless deeply impactful for both the students and the community. During Dr. Gates Black’s tenure, DCCC has focused on a number of diversity initiatives, opening its Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and its Center for Equality and Social Justice in 2020, which hosts its “Dialogues for Diversity” series. Diversity and equitable access to college resources have been the major focuses of her time at the college.

She grew up as an only child in Dayton, TX, a small town outside of Houston with a population of under 5,000. Dayton, like hundreds of school districts in Texas, failed to integrate until the 1970s, causing her to attend her first four years in a racially segregated elementary school. Neither of her parents was a college graduate, though their constant support instilled in her a sense of commitment to her goals and her community. Eliza Mae Guidry, her mother, became the first African American Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem of Dayton.

“I come from that kind of background, where we’re committed to making things better for others, for our overall community.”

Unable to afford the secondary education she sought, Dr. Gates Black enlisted in the Air Force in December of her senior year of high school. Her goal was to put herself through college and major in social work.

She described her time traveling in the military as “exciting.” She ended up stationed in Germany for several years as a pharmacy technician. Her husband, also a member of the armed forces, lived with their child in a small town in the Eifel Mountains.

“It was wonderful,” she described, of the area, “In the morning they would drive the cattle down the road, then the bread trucks would come out and people would buy bread during the day, and then in the evening they drove the cattle back up the road.”

After her time on active duty, Gates Black returned to the U.S., enrolling at Cambridge College in Massachusetts. There she would complete her undergraduate degree and master’s certification in Education, and later return for her first job in higher education.

“They never let me go completely,” adding that she still checks in with her dean regularly.

After remarrying and moving to the San Fernando Valley, Dr. Gates Black took her first job in community college, at Los Angeles City College. She found the diversity of students in age, nationality, and background refreshing. In contrast to the entitlement that she would sometimes encounter from students at private universities, the students at community colleges reminded her more of her own experience.

“They come for various reasons, but they know they want to have a better life. They may not know how to get there, but they know they want that,” she said, “Helping people who may only have a dream of what they want to achieve, and to help them to achieve that dream, that helped me to find my niche.”

In 2017, she was back in Texas, where she had been vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Success at Tarrant County College for seven years, when a search consultant called, looking for a new President of Delaware County Community College.

 “I have no idea how they found me!” She was unanimously selected by the DCCC Board of Trustees and became the President of the college on the first of July 2017.

Having worked on her dissertation at Bryn Mawr College, she was familiar with the area and was won over by DCCC’s missions of diversity and equity. One aspect that intrigued her was moving from a college with 100,000 students to one with a fourth of that number.

“When you have that large of an enrollment, it’s like a cruise ship. It’s not easy to turn. You have to let everybody know ‘Ok, at 1 o’clock Tuesday, we’re all going to turn.’ Here, having the opportunity to do that work in a smaller kind of environment and effect change was really exciting for me.”

Now, on the verge of retirement, Dr. Joy Gates Black looks back on her accomplishments at the college with pride. Despite weathering a global pandemic and a nationwide drop in college enrollments, the college has made some major strides under her leadership. The school signed co-admissions agreements with Drexel’s nursing program in 2017, and West Chester University in 2018, and was named a Center of Excellence for Domestic Maritime Workforce Training and Education in 2021. But her biggest point of pride is in providing more equitable access to students, notably securing a location and $66.5 million in funding for the new Southeast Campus in Drexel Hill.

“A large percentage of our students don’t have access to automobiles, so they were taking two buses – an hour and a half each way – to the Marple campus. I said, ‘We need to do something about this.’”

A 7.5-acre campus is set to begin construction in Upper Darby this year to serve around 2,000 students. In the interim, her team has secured bussing directly from Southeast and Upper Darby to the Marple campus, another of her points of pride.

After over three decades in higher education, Dr. Joy Gates Black is ready to retire. After all the long meetings and stacks of reports, after managing a cabinet and a staff of over 800, after long nights and weekends of community meetings and trips to Harrisburg, no one can say she doesn’t deserve it. While president, her major act of recreation has been walking “sometimes up to 11 miles a day,” and listening to audiobooks. “I love Tom Clancy!”

Dr. Gates Black and her husband spent the last few years slowly building a small retirement home in Texas, where they plan to move to support her parents, now ages 88 and 91.

“The pandemic played havoc with their support system. I felt like it was time to support them like they’ve supported me all these years.”

She will also be spending more time with her four children, five grandchildren, and her Labrador retriever, Oasis.

“Now that doesn’t mean I’m going to go sit under a tree. I look to continue, in some way, advancing the role of higher education.”

As for the college, Gates Black is excited about its future. The ground is breaking for the new Southeast campus on May 6, the college is seeing positive enrollment for the first time in years, and the college is preparing to welcome Dr. Marta Yera Cronin as its new president in July of this year.

“People have said, ‘You’re going to miss this,’ and I probably will, but that’s okay,” Dr. Joy Gates Black said, “Like when I left the military. You miss that, too. But you move on to something else to fill that space.”

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