Like other institutions of higher learning, Bennett College has many traditions. But one of Bennett’s most sacred, and arguably one of its most heartfelt, is the Casual White Breakfast.
Held annually in the Sallie Walker Brown Dining Hall just before the start of fall classes, the Casual White Breakfast is a way of welcoming incoming fresh women to Bennett.
As its name suggests, attendees wear white while enjoying the usual morning fare: eggs, bacon, grits, French toast, fruit, muffins, orange juice and coffee.
What makes Bennett’s Casual White Breakfast so special is the sisterhood it embodies. A unity candle is lit, and class superlatives are given to the fresh woman who lives closest to Bennett and the one who lives the farthest away. Maria Brewington, whose home is 1.5 miles from campus, and Sijil Butt of Pakistan, earned those honors at this year’s Breakfast on August 18.
Superlatives are also given to the fresh woman with the highest GPA, the youngest one and the most seasoned one. Hannah Ross, Amoni Broadie and Meagyn Ferguson were recognized in those categories, respectively. Ross, a graduate of Orange High School in Hillsborough, enrolled at Bennett with a 4.778 GPA. Broadie turned 17 just last month. Ferguson is 26.
But what caps off the Casual White Breakfast and leaves attendees with smiles on their faces and music in their hearts is the sing-a-long during which the choir director leads the crowd in four songs. The first, “Grace,” blesses the food. The third, “Tell Me Why,” explains why Belles – as Bennett students and alumnae are affectionately called — love their institution so. The fourth and final song is the alma mater.
But the second song, which really charges the audience and during which Belles and others wave their white, linen napkins in the air, is “The Preference Song.”
It begins by saying, “There are many, many schools in the East and in the West. Sometimes you may be questioned as to which one is the best. If you really want to know, there is one that will stand out. It’s dear old Bennett College; that’s the one you hear about”. What endears the song to Belles worldwide is its chorus: “Some prefer to go to Spelman; others A&T. Some say here’s to Talladega; others Johnson C. But Bennett College is the best, girls. Lift high your colors bright. Raise your voices in a cheer, girls for the dear old blue and white rah-rah-rah!”
Choir Director Dorothea L. Taylor, a 1999 Bennett graduate, led the August 18 sing-a-long.
Audrey Demps Franklin, a 1972 graduate and Executive Director of Alumnae Relations, never tires of “The Preference Song”. And given her position, Franklin attends several White Breakfasts annually.
“The White Breakfast is truly one of Bennett’s best traditions,” Franklin said. “And there’s nothing like the looks on people’s faces when they attend one for the first time. The Casual White Breakfast is particularly important because it sets the tone for our new students and demonstrates the sisterhood, decorum and professionalism that Bennett Belles are known for. It really is special.”
Bennett’s White Breakfast tradition dates to the 1930s, when under then-President Dr. David Dallas Jones, Belles hiked about five miles from campus, around Thanksgiving, to present gifts to elderly residents before returning to campus, dressed in white, to fellowship together.
The tradition has evolved over the years, and now it’s commonplace for alumnae chapters to use the Breakfast as a fundraiser. The Casual White Breakfast was started by former Bennett President Dr. Gloria Randall Scott to welcome incoming fresh women and welcome back returning students, faculty and staff.
Steve Willis, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, served as master of ceremonies for the Breakfast.
“Of all the Bennett traditions, and there are many, the Casual White Breakfast is my favorite,” Willis said. “It epitomizes the elegance and grace of Bennett and unequivocally demonstrates to our new students they have chosen a nurturing and loving place at which to spend the next four years.”
This year’s Casual White Breakfast began with greetings from Niquia S. Harris, Miss Bennett College, Paige Matthews, SGA President, and Dr. Yardley Nelson Hunter, a 1975 graduate and vice-president of the Bennett College National Alumnae Association. Invocation was given by the Rev. Dr. Natalie McLean, a 1980 Bennett graduate.
“Welcome to the oasis of sisterhood,” said Harris of Willingboro, New Jersey. “While some of you may be nervous and anxious, I want you to understand the next four years will be some of the best four years of your life.”
Matthews told the fresh women she wanted to attend an institution that would pour into her soul while being supportive and loving.
“To say my experience at Bennett College has been nothing but amazing is an understatement,” said Matthews of Atlanta, Georgia. “The girl you are when you come here should not be the woman you are when you leave.”
Yardley welcomed the class of 2021, saying, “Bennett is where you’ll grow as a woman, love as a woman. Some of us are your professors in your class, some of us walk the campus as staff members and some of us, like me, visit the campus.”
Thyais Artis Maxwell, a 2000 Bennett graduate and principal of the Bennett College Early/Middle College, brought greetings. “This is a full circle moment for me,” Maxwell said. “I sat in this cafeteria several years ago and never thought I’d return in this position.”
Kemani White, an Early/Middle College student, performed an impressive rendition of “Read All About It,” by Emeli Sandeꞌ, followed by remarks from Keonte Coleman, Interim Dean of Professional Studies and an Assistant Professor of Journalism & Media Studies, and Dr. Sonja Ricks, Director, Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
Bennett College President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins also addressed the incoming fresh women.
“As the 18th President of Bennett College, it is my distinct honor and indeed my pleasure to welcome you to your new home away from home for the next four years,” Dawkins said. “I’m the president so of course I’m biased, but I’ve worked for and visited numerous institutions throughout the country and can say without reservation you’ve made an outstanding choice in Bennett.”
Dawkins told the students about the College’s Academic Cultural Enrichment Series, or ACES, mentioned the institution’s strong international program that since 2009 has sent more than 200 students to Australia, China, Costa Rica, South Africa, South Korea and Tanzania, and said faculty and staff will help them navigate college.
“Young ladies, there are so many wonderful opportunities for you here at Bennett College, and I urge you to take advantage of each and every one of them,” Dawkins said. “Have a fantastic year and please know we’re here for you!”
Admissions Counselor Jasmine Faison, a 2010 Bennett graduate, read “Phenomenal Woman” by Dr. Maya Angelou and announced the superlatives recipients.
Bridgett Davis of Greensboro said she chose Bennett because it’s in her hometown, is all-girls and she’s Methodist. Bennett was founded by the United Methodist Church.
“I loved the White Breakfast,” Davis said. “The food was good, and I loved the fact that we girls were dressed in white and came together with the alumnae, faculty and staff.”
Davis said she enjoyed the sing-a-long in particular.
“I don’t have a great voice, but with everybody singing I felt comfortable and just sang my little heart out,” she said. “And I love the preference song because it proves we take pride in who we are.”