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Dawna Jones Named Director of Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture

Dawna Jones will lead the Mary Lou Williams Center

As we prepare for the excitement of our students returning to campus, we are also excited to announce the new Director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. Dawna Jones, an extraordinary leader in community-building and advocacy for Black students, faculty, and staff, will begin her role August 11.

Dawna comes to Duke from UNC-Chapel Hill, where she was assistant dean of students and adjunct instructor in the Higher Education program. At UNC-Chapel Hill, Dawna has been instrumental in establishing case management protocols, interventions, and coordinated supports for undergraduate and graduate students. She has also served as outgoing chair of the Carolina Black Caucus, founding chair of UNC’s Financial Literacy Consortium, and served on the Commission for History, Race, and a Way Forward.

Dawna has held previous positions at West Chester University and is the President of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chapter of the NAACP. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Transformative Leadership for Civic and Community Engagement at North Carolina A&T State University and holds a master’s degree in social work from West Chester University, a master’s degree in higher education management from the University of Pittsburgh, and a bachelor of arts in sociology from Pennsylvania State University. Throughout the search process Dawna captured everyone’s high regard by focusing on relationship-building, asking thoughtful questions about strategic development for the MLW Center, and placing an emphasis on building collaborative communities of faculty, staff, and students that celebrate Black excellence.

John Brown, Vice Provost of the Arts, chaired the search committee, which included Kelyce Allen ’22; Valerie Gillispie, university archivist; Joyce Gordon, director, Jewish Life at Duke; Jordan Hale, dean of New Student Programs; Noah McKee ’22; Cody Perry ’23; Ariel Powell Fuqua School of Business B’21; Gustavo Silva, professor of biology; and Tasha Curry-Corcoran, associate director, Collaborative Learning and Communications (ex-officio). Our finalists met with faculty, identity center directors, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni, as well as many university partners.

Vice Provost Brown notes: “Dawna was a standout from day one. Her thoughts and vision aligned with what we need in the person who is to lead the center. I am delighted by her decision to join us. This is indeed something to celebrate.”

Students appreciated her compassionate and relational approach balanced with her understanding of the need for MLW to be a center that meets Black students at the various intersections of identities. In the MLW director role, Dawna will be a member of our Identity and Cultural Center team; partner with faculty and staff to support Black student development; develop innovative training regarding cultural wealth and anti-racism; and support our Black student groups.

Cody Perry ’23 commented, "Dawna Jones brings a great mix of prior knowledge to this position from a variety of experiences including community engagement, anti-racism training, and advocacy for students. I believe this experience, combined with her passion for providing students with what she didn't have and commitment to helping students be their authentic selves will make her an excellent director moving forward. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does for the MLWC in the future.”

We are deeply grateful to Quinton Smith for his service as interim Director over the past few months. Q has brought steadiness and innovation to the Lou at a most challenging time, and we are delighted to announce that he has been promoted to Associate Director of the Mary Lou William’s Black Cultural Center effective this month. His steadfastness, leadership, innovation, and student focus will continue to have a profound impact on the Duke community, and he and Dawna will have an early focus on hiring several new staff to complement their strategy and vision for the Lou.

We are grateful for everyone involved in this process including the search committee, campus partners, and student leaders.

Please join us in welcoming Dawna to Durham, to Duke, and to the Division of Student Affairs.


Mary Pat McMahon
Vice Provost and Vice President of Student Affairs

Shruti Desai
Associate Vice President of Student Affairs for Campus Life