Dr. Doria “Kathy” Stitts: From Family, Faith, and Fun to University Leadership
Some leaders make positive changes in small, local communities, or in their own families. Others are destined to impact hundreds, or even thousands, of lives. Dr. Kathy Stitts, Associate Professor of Marketing, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of University College at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) is doing both: changing lives on university campuses for three decades and in her community and family even longer.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Kathy described her childhood as “the BEST”- enjoying annual family vacations, “extended family” holiday dinners, roller skates, swing sets, and birthday celebrations. She also learned first-hand that the challenges of living in an inner-city neighborhood are news stories to some, but are realities for those living in a large inner-city. The oldest of three, Kathy, her sister and brother were raised by loving parents and a grandmother (Nana) who believed in education, made sacrifices, and trusted God to direct their decisions. Her father was a mailman and her mother volunteered and later worked as a secretary. Family, faith, and education were instilled in Kathy and her siblings early in life. The family prayed the rosary daily and were active in the church and community.
Kathy and her siblings received formal education at St. Adalbert, a black Catholic School in arguably one of the most segregated cities in America in the ‘70s, and ‘80s. Her parents modeled faith, activism, leadership, and love, which lifted Kathy to academic success at Beaumont School for Girls, a college preparatory school. Guidance counselors tried to help her navigate the college selection process, which was daunting for a first-generation student. These experiences perhaps foreshadowed Kathy’s interest in helping underserved populations of students.
An Ohio college was Kathy’s choice until an administrator at Florida A&M University (FAMU) convinced her to consider the School of Business and Industry. Sight unseen, the entire family made the long drive to Tallahassee in their infamous red station wagon. Once Kathy stepped onto campus, she was hooked! FAMU, an HBCU, was one of the best decisions Kathy made. She was nurtured, made lifelong friends, joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Incorporated, and earned her bachelor’s in accounting and an MBA. After a stint at Motorola, Kathy was one of the first Blacks to earn a PhD in marketing from Florida State University at age 26.
Kathy’s first academic post was as an assistant professor of marketing at Virginia State University, later serving as department chair. Dr. Arthur King recruited her to WSSU’s School of Business and Economics as Associate Dean. She has worked in several leadership positions at WSSU and utilizes her strengths to develop equitable, optimal student experiences. Many of her former students stay connected, reminding her of the lasting influence she has on their lives as their “Campus Mom.” She is a 2018-19 ACE Fellow, a member of the ACCU’s “Discerning the Presidency”program, a graduate of HERS Leadership Institute and Leadership Winston-Salem, in addition to serving on numerous community boards. As this amazing leadership journey continues, Dr. Stitts credits her success to wonderful family, friends, extended family, strong mentors that “made joy happen” and the realization that delayed gratification has its benefits. “I truly appreciate the journey from then to now.” She believes that black female leaders in higher education often must overcome obstacles of racism, ageism, and sexism as they strive to find the best fit for their skills, and as they push their limitless leadership trajectory without compromising their authentic selves. Dr. Stitts’s trajectory looks limitless.
“A disparity of empathy limits our communities,” says Stitts. “Many live in their own ‘bubbles.’ Unless something directly impacts those bubbles, they seem to be desensitized or insensitive to the lived experiences of those outside their environment. The challenge is to think about someone you love experiencing poverty, being homeless or hungry, living in a place with limited opportunities, being uninsured, having limited to no access to education, being ostracized or bullied because of sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Then ask, ‘How would I feel? How can I make a difference?’ If we begin to address these questions honestly and empathetically, we may begin to solve community issues, instead of being blind to them.”