UNC Asheville Names Building for Professors Mullen and James

Pictured (left to right): Dr. Deborah (Dee) Grier-James (English), Dr. Charles James (chemistry), Dr. Dwight Mullen, and Dr. Dolly Jenkins-Mullen (both Political Science). Photo: Urban News

A ceremony was held in conjunction with the university’s fifth annual African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia Conference on Oct. 19, 2018.

Husband-and-wife professors Dr. Dolly Jenkins-Mullen and Dr. Dwight Mullen, and Dr. Deborah (Dee) Grier-James and Dr. Charles James, were honored Oct. 19, 2018 by the renaming of the UNC Asheville Humanities Lecture Hall as the Mullen and James Humanities Hall.

All four professors joined the faculty in 1984 and retired in May 2018, at the end of the academic year. The two couples braved community hostility and racist comments in their early years. Dwight Mullen received death threats for his political commentaries, and the Jameses, after graduating from UNC Asheville in the 1970s, could not find housing near campus because of their race. Each of the four went on to make tremendous contributions on and off campus, and to earn the gratitude of countless students as teachers and mentors.

Dee James is best known for her role in nurturing the writing skills of UNC Asheville students. As Director of the First-Year Writing Program, she held an important role in creating and leading the UNC Asheville’s Writing Center. She was given the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award in 2016.

Her husband Charles, a professor of Chemistry, was instrumental in developing the university’s popular study-abroad program in Ghana, and he, his wife, and other faculty members organized student trips to Ghana. This program has received the Best Practices in International Education Award for Study Abroad Programming from the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Dwight Mullen, who taught Political Science, is widely known for his long-running State of Black Asheville project, in which he mentored students in researching racial disparities in housing, income, employment, health, mortality, education, and incarceration rates, affecting African Americans in Asheville and surrounding areas. His research, presented to the Buncombe County Commission in 2017, was one of the pillars used by commissioners in establishing the Isaac Coleman Economic Community Investment Fund. In 2014, Mullen received the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. He also has served as a Fulbright senior scholar in Malawi.

Dolly Jenkins-Mullen was also a professor of Political Science, who taught generations of students and served several years as chair of the department. There she led the Political Science Internship Program and was recognized with the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award in 2009. She also served as vice-chair of the Asheville City School Board.

In their first decade as UNC Asheville faculty, the two couples worked together to create the African-American Colloquium, a program designed to create community and support for first-year African American students. The colloquium included mentoring, tutoring, counselling, and annual educational trips around the country. Their work to develop and staff the colloquium was symbolic of the disciplines they nurtured for over three decades as educators and student and community advocates.

Chancellor Nancy J. Cable, commenting on the renaming of the Humanities building in honor of the four pioneering professors, said, “We are immensely grateful for the leadership of Dee James, Charles James, Dolly Jenkins-Mullen, and Dwight Mullen, their many contributions to our campus, and their commitment to the Asheville community. It is with our deepest respect and gratitude that we recognize their courageous service and lasting legacy by naming the Humanities Lecture Hall in their honor.”

Dr. Agya Boakye-Boaten, associate professor of Africana studies and director of Interdisciplinary, International, & Africana Studies Programs at the university, said, “These educator have changed the course of this university’s history in many profound ways, and laid strong foundations for future generations to come. They will always be remembered for their commitment to building an inclusive and resilient community that has illuminated our paths with dedication, a strength which they have now bequeathed us with the responsibility to keep the lights burning.”

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