Dr. Cheryl Chatman has served as the Executive Vice President and Dean of Diversity at Concordia University, St. Paul since 2000. She works closely with the president and campus to help provide a climate necessary for institutional excellence, and serves as a link between and among the campus and the larger community.
Dr. Chatman is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Council of Black Minnesotans (2012); Iowa State University’s Alumni Achievement Award (2009); the Spirit of Gandhi award (2016); and the UMOJA Community Award for maintaining Unity in families, community, nation and race. Model Cities, the Minnesota Performance Institute, and Life Skills Development Center honored her for dedication and service to the community. She has also been recognized by the university Staff Organization Executive Board for Excellence in Action, for a caring heart, love for people, being the heart of the campus, and assisting in reflecting Concordia as a Christian university.
In addition, she served as the co-chair of the 5oth Anniversary of the Selma March commemorated in St. Paul; was a member of the planning committee for Everybody In, an organization committed to closing the racial equity gap in Minnesota; was an appointee to the Governor’s Council on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Celebration for more than 10 years; and has been a board member of Lutheran Education Foundation of Minnesota (LEFM); and is currently on the board for ARTS US.
To celebrate Women’s History Month we asked Dr. Chatman a few questions about her career, her advice for aspiring young women, and, of course, her literary role models!
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Like Black history, women’s history should be acknowledged and appreciated all year. I believe that monthly celebrations are modest efforts to accomplish at least two noteworthy purposes. Celebrating Women’s History Month affords everyone an opportunity to teach, learn or be reminded of significant contributions and accomplishments made by incredible, talented, and amazing women from all walks of life. Women have played such vital roles in producing, raising and supporting humankind, enhancing and advancing civilization and creating and contributing to all areas and aspects of life.
Women’s History Month provides a clear reminder of the importance of not repeating the omission and exclusion of this critical sector of our history. It’s a wonderful opportunity to generate a new narrative and more inclusive history that will hopefully cause our children, grandchildren and future descendants, to be proud to be an American.
Tell us about a female role model that inspired you.
My maternal grandmother continues to be an inspiration and motivator in my life. In the 1930’s, after the accidental death of her husband, she became a widow of six children. During such a difficult time to be Black in America, my grandmother struggled to make ends meet but did so with honesty, integrity, and strong moral values. Her demonstration of faith has had an enormous and profound impact on me and the choices that I’ve made in life. Through daily example, she taught me basic, yet meaningful and useful life lessons such as, putting God first in all that I do, treating others the way I wanted to be treated, to not settle for less, and to do my best in all that I endeavored to achieve. In her eighties, she was still maintaining the books for my uncle’s business. She was the Sunday School Superintendent for over 45 years, while providing on-going training for those who would follow in her footsteps. My grandmother has had the greatest influence on my faith walk of life.
Dr. Loma Meyer began working at Concordia 50 years ago in 1967. What does her CSP Legacy mean to you in the work you do today?
This is a timely question for me since I currently hold one of the positions previously held by Dr. Meyer. She was the first Executive Vice President here at CSP, among other significant positions she held during her tenure here. Dr. Meyer was truly a dynamic and outstanding trailblazer of her times. She is what I would call “a quiet storm.” I’m sure her quiet demeanor helped to disarm the challenges she faced as she forged ahead with new, innovative and even controversial ideas, which have helped to take the university to advancements and progress that we’re still benefitting from today. Dr. Meyer definitely paved the wave for women in all roles and responsibilities at CSP and academia throughout the country. I’m sure you could get wonderful and positive testimonies from any woman, supervisor or colleagues who encountered Loma Meyer in their lifetime.
As a woman in leadership, what roadblocks have you encountered and what keeps pushing you forward?
A few of the roadblocks I’ve encountered throughout my career have included:
– lack of respect and trust for my abilities, opinions or input
– being “unheard” or undermined;
– being isolated or excluded from ‘hidden agendas;’
– observing distrust of students’ motives, actions or inactions;
– witnessing demeaning comments, responses or references regarding the marginalized
My faith has been a major foundation of stability for all of the challenges and obstacles I’ve experienced as an educator and administrator. Beyond that, having supporting mentors, family members and trusting colleagues have provided me safe spaces for sounding out, reasoning through situations, and/or receiving advice on how to approach, respond or not respond to adverse and disheartening situations. Some of the lessons learned from my grandmother, mother and aunt have also played significant roles in my persistence and survival.
What is a piece of advice for aspiring young women in today’s world?
Most importantly, young women must believe in themselves first, and this takes time and oftentimes require encouragement and support from others. Then every woman needs to discover and acknowledge her gifts, strengths and potential, and strive to discover the connections of these qualities to their purpose in life. Along with these realizations, young women need to stand firm in their values and beliefs. The following quotes encapsulate other advice I would offer:
“What you are is God’s gift to you. What you become is your gift to God” – Hans Urs von Balthasar
“…So live (life) as what you are supposed to be – The masterpiece of GOD” – Family Friends Poem
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.” – Goethe
We are highlighting strong literary women (authors and fictional characters) with a #shepersisted display in the Library. Who is a strong literary woman that resonates with you, and why?
Maya Angelou was a multitalented, multidimensional conscientious writer, poet, storyteller, memoirist, award-winning author, playwright and phenomenal woman. Her work continues to be stimulating, soul searching and affirming. Maya Angelou had a way of making anyone feel gifted, capable, hopeful, and blessed. Her existence and persistence were designed to motivate and inspire people to live life to its fullest, and to do what you can to make life a better place for all humankind.