Spelman Professor Beverly Guy-Sheftall Creates Scholarship in Honor of Dr. Levi Watkins Jr.

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Spelman College alumna and professor, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ph.D., has established the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars Program as well as a companion lecture series at Spelman that will explore contemporary issues of race, gender and sexuality, beginning in 2018. The scholars program and lecture series were launched with a pledge of $100,000 in May 2017.

Dr. Levi Watkins Jr.

Dr. Watkins, a Spelman honorary degree recipient, was the first surgeon to successfully implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a human. He was also an influential civil rights activist who helped open the door to hundreds of students of color at John Hopkins University School of Medicine. Following graduation from Vanderbilt University in 1970, where he was the first Black to graduate with a medical degree, Dr. Watkins went on to become the first Black chief resident of cardiac surgery at John Hopkins University Hospital. He later became a professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean at John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Watkins is the late cousin of Dr. Guy-Sheftall, C’66, founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Centerand the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies. A pioneering Black feminist scholar/activist, Dr. Guy-Sheftall has published a number of texts within African-American and women’s studies, which have been noted as seminal works by other scholars, including the first anthology on Black women’s literature, “Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature” and  “Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought.”  

Dr. Watkins was a member of the Women’s Research and Resource Center’s National Advisory Board from its establishment in 2008 until his death in 2015, and a generous donor to its endowment campaign. “He had a special relationship with Spelman College, and just as he prepared students for careers in medicine, so does Spelman. He was an advocate for social justice throughout his distinguished medical career and Spelman also encourages social change activism,” Dr. Guy-Sheftall said.

“The College is grateful for this generous gift from the Levi Watkins Jr./Beverly Guy-Sheftall Charitable Trust,” said Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D. “As an institution that upholds a supportive student experience, this gift will present new opportunities for critical conversation on race and sexuality with distinguished scholars and thought leaders, and provide a platform to recognize campus LGBTQ advocates and their scholarly achievements.”

Two sophomore students, who are self-identified LGBTQ advocates, will be named Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars in 2017 and awarded renewable $25,000 scholarships. The scholars will call attention to the importance of making visible the courageous and significant work of LGBTQ scholar activists within and beyond the academy, especially at HBCUs, said Dr. Guy-Sheftall.