Vice-President for the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Dr. Marilyn Sanders Mobley is one of academia’s leading voices on diversity issues. A renowned scholar who in 2013 delivered a TEDxCLE Talk titled “The Paradox of Diversity,” Mobley attributes the formation of her interest in this crucial field to a course she took with Professor Quandra Prettyman in Barnard’s English department.
Prettyman’s “class was in what was then called ‘minority literature.’ And as far as I’m concerned that pretty much sealed the deal,” says Mobley, who went on to become a scholar of the author Toni Morrison’s work, a founding member of the international Toni Morrison Society, and the author of Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne Jewett and Toni Morrison.
“The way Quandra made the classroom an open space for dialogue is something that stayed with me,” Mobley recalls. “Listening to her gave me appreciation for nuances within difference that I carry with me now as a chief diversity officer. To read some of the writers in Quandra’s class that would shape my intellectual life was powerful.”
Mobley spent nineteen years as a member of the English department at George Mason University, where she founded the African American Studies Program and served as its first director. Her leadership role in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences led to an executive role as associate provost for educational programs.
She is also a proud mother and grandmother. To Mobley, family is of great importance, something she discusses in her 2016 memoir The Strawberry Room—And Other Places Where a Woman Finds Herself.
At CWRU, Mobley began the “Power of Diversity” series, which brings thought leaders to campus. She led the effort to create the Diversity 360 education program. The Trailblazers Project, an initiative to include portraits of distinguished alumni of color in buildings around campus, is in process. Ever the scholar, she occasionally teaches courses in the English department and also in the undergraduate program known as SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship). In her leadership, she tries to exemplify a both/and perspective rather than either/or approach when mediating between opposing thinkers.
Prior to taking the position at CWRU in 2009, Mobley served as provost of Bennett College, a historically black liberal arts college for women located in Greensboro, N.C. Being surrounded by bright, ambitious, and determined young women, and helping shape their intellectual lives, came naturally to her. At Barnard, issues of her time were hashed out in parlors such as those in Barnard Hall, and a similar scenario existed at Bennett.
“I have a special place in my heart,” says Mobley, “for how women’s colleges prepare women for leadership.”