ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (Feb. 12, 2024) – In response to the nationally publicized suicide of a Black woman administrator in higher education, mental health and academic professionals at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) recently attended “A Courageous Conversation: Women in Leadership Lunch and Learn.” Organizers designed the event as an avenue to combat stigmas associated with emotional wellness and workplace bullying.  

“I wanted to be a part of the movement to help us help and heal ourselves,” said Vonda Easterling, assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Student Affairs and University Advancement.  

In January, Antoinette ‘Bonnie’ Candia-Bailey, once a vice president for student affairs at Lincoln University in Missouri, took her life after alleged bullying and mistreatment at her job. The incident sparked a national outcry about the struggles some Black women face in the workplace and the importance of self-care and safe spaces to express personal and professional difficulties.     

Easterling received correspondence from attendees, before and after the event, expressing their gratitude for such an outlet, where they learned about available resources, expressed their concerns, and were empowered to take care of themselves. 

“The purpose of the event was to invite women to have an intimate conversation about our shared experiences with prejudice, racism, bias, and discrimination in the workplace and how we can take better care of ourselves and support each other,” said Latonia Johnson, director of Student Counseling Services at ECSU.  

“Feedback was offered and suggested that we continue this conversation, include additional events to support younger professional women, have more woman-to-woman conversations, explore how to care for oneself, and address the ‘mean girl’ mentality in the workplace,” Johnson added.  

ECSU Chancellor Karrie G. Dixon attended the event and shared her support and her sentiments about having such an offering on campus.  

Her presence was motivating, Easterling said.  

“Prior to this event I heard the Chancellor give closing remarks at the (university-led) MLK march. She remarked about the importance of supporting women in leadership roles. That moment confirmed for me that we needed to do this event,” she said.  

Sherron White, interim associate vice chancellor of financial services at ECSU, attended the event. A key takeaway for her was the idea that, “Together (we can) inspire, learn and elevate other women to new heights.” 

White said she was also reminded of a quote by author and educator Booker T. Washington that says, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” 

On-campus options for employees were provided at the event, including the Employee Assistance Program offered through Human Resource and online resources like ComPsych. Johnson recently offered mental health tips to students who may experience different stressors throughout the semester.  

“We want to ensure our entire campus community has what they need to be successful,” Johnson said.