A never-ending gift for retirement

issue 01 | summer 2024
Toni King

Speaking at the 2024 Academic Awards Convocation, President Adam Weinberg jokingly told the audience that while Toni King is retiring, Denison has no plans to let her stop teaching.

King, a professor and the director of the Center for Black Studies, was seated on the Swasey Chapel stage. The president timed his remarks to correspond with the presentation of the Charles and Nancy Brickman Distinguished Leadership Award, given to senior faculty members who excel in commitment to the university.

King is a 2020 Brickman recipient. She’s also been an influential figure on The Hill for nearly three decades, advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Beyond her teaching responsibilities, she served in leadership roles with the Black Caucus, an ad-hoc group of faculty and administrative staff whose mission is the success and retention of Africana descended students, faculty, and staff, and Sister-Leaders in Dialogue, a group she co-founded to support women students of color in their leadership development. King also was among the founding members of the Faculty of Color/International Faculty (FOCIF) group in 2008 and was the associate provost for faculty diversity from 2009 to 2014.

Before clearing out her Knapp Hall office, the author of Black Womanist Leadership: Tracing the Motherline spoke with Denison Magazine. Answers have been lightly edited for context and brevity.

Does it feel like you have been here since 1997?

It feels like I blinked, and 27 years passed by. I remember visiting the campus while looking for a position in this part of the country. I was freelance consulting in DEI at the time. I met with the provost, Charlie Morris ’62, and he kept connecting me with people on campus. Even as I strolled the grounds, there were faculty members and staff who were so friendly and helpful. I came away really impressed, and when Denison posted the position for Black studies and women’s and gender studies, I immediately applied.

What are some things you are most proud of during your time at Denison?

I’m most proud of the students who I have taught and mentored, and the alums who I’m still in touch with. They are a never-ending gift to someone like me. I’m also proud of participating in and co-chairing the Black Caucus for so many years, and for helping get the idea of FOCIF off the ground. It’s been wonderful to see how it has grown.

Can you share a story from a former student who benefited from your mentorship?

Mimoza Czeku ’02 just visited Denison recently and scheduled time to have coffee. I recall long talks with her about her leadership on campus as a DCGA Senator and other co-curriculars. She was always a boundary spanner who created connections between groups. She could be found holding what we now call “courageous conversations” characterized by talking about and across differences. In her work-study position at the Center for Black Studies, she and I would often unpack her experiences. She’s now a sales business development professional for Norsemen Defense Technologies, where she says her economics major and Black studies minor prepared her to seamlessly connect across any level of organizational hierarchy — from support staff to military generals. She reminded me that she uses the wisdom from our conversations every day.

What changes have you seen in diversity and inclusion on campus over the years?

The numbers of diverse students may have gone up and down over the years, but it’s trending upward. The culture of diversity, however, is significantly different when one thinks about the student body and how it has built up the culture. It’s always been present, but they are adding textures and layers to it. We have an African and Caribbean Student Association. We have dance groups that have brought in cultural traditions. It’s just a wonderfully intellectual and artistic mix. HERE US is such a good example of what the faculty and student body have combined to add. Denison Forward and the recognition given to administrative, staff students, and faculty is another.

So what does the next chapter hold for Toni King?

There will definitely be travel with my husband. I will still be writing about topics I’ve always written about: Black women’s leadership and diversity in higher education. There will be some consulting work. The consulting I do will involve some of what I was most proud of at Denison. How to build a culture of diversity. How to share stories that show diversity is growing deeper. How to enable more groups to bring all they have to offer into the community. I might be retiring, but this kind of work will never stop for me.

Published May 2024
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