A Bennett Belle’s journey to becoming the first African American and female Director of the Peace Corps
In honor of Women’s History Month, Bennett College is highlighting one of its notable and influential alumna, Carolyn Robertson Payton. Payton, a 1945 graduate of Bennett College, made history when she became both the first African American and first female Director of the Peace Corps in 1977.
As Director, Payton paved the way for Black women and people of color. She believed in diversifying Peace Corps volunteers and worked tirelessly to bring young people on board, aiming to attract more Black and Hispanic volunteers.
Appointed by President Jimmy Carter, Payton was also the first psychologist to take on the role of Peace Corps Director. After graduating from Bennett College with a degree in home economics, Payton earned her Master of Science degree in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and her doctorate in counseling and school administration from Columbia University Teachers College.
Born in Norfolk, VA in 1925, Payton’s passion for education was established early in life. Her grandfather, born into slavery, ensured all his children attended college, including Payton’s father. Gender or race would not stop Payton from furthering her education.
“Bennett Belles are global citizens with a passion for leadership, activism, and impacting their communities and the world. Director Payton carried that passion and persistence with her throughout her life and career, including when she became Director of the Peace Corps,” said Bennett College President Suzanne Walsh. “We continue that legacy of breaking down barriers, wherever they exist, through our work on behalf of gender equity and inclusion.”
Event: Conversations on Gender Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and the Power of Service
On Wednesday, March 22, Bennett College and the Peace Corps will host a special “Thought Leader Event” where attendees will learn more about Payton’s legacy and the Peace Corps. Bennett College President Suzanne and current Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn will host a set of live, global conversations on gender equality, diversity, inclusion, and the power of service.
This free event is open to the public, especially college students.
This free event is open to the public, especially college students. Registration is required for the in-person sessions. Attendees can choose to attend in-person or via Zoom. Thought leaders and participants from around the world will discuss the ways in which the thread of gender equity is woven throughout national and international service and development work. The event takes place in the Global Learning Center Multipurpose Room (521 Gorrell Street, Greensboro) and via Zoom, from 11:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Lunch will be provided, but you must register.