James Bennett ’69

2014 Catharine Lealtad Service to Society Award

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Young James Bennett was a sought-after high school valedictorian, basketball player and Merit Scholar in his all-black high school in Texas City, Texas. Encouraged by basketball coach Doug Bolstorff, he took the road less traveled to Macalester. As one of only six African American students in his first-year class, he felt “less like a pioneer than a survivor.”

Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Bennett committed his career to social justice and providing educational opportunities to students who didn’t fit the traditional profile of the time.

Bennett was part of a group of students who founded the Black Liberation Affairs Committee (BLAC). He was active in the collaboration that launched the Expanded Educational Opportunities (EEO) program, which he joined as a staff member following graduation. An English and education major, Bennett also taught courses on black literature in the English Department. He went on to earn a master’s in interdisciplinary studies at Mankato State University and a PhD in higher education administration at the University of Washington.

In 1978 his career took him to Bellevue College in Washington, where he served in various capacities, including as dean of instruction (1990–2006) and vice president– equity and pluralism (2006–2011). He served on the board and as president of the National Council of Black American Affairs, which bestowed on him their national Leadership Award. Bennett’s influence is reflected in the fact that, 45 years after he graduated from Macalester, four different alumni nominated him for this award. When James Bennett retired in 2011, the tributes that meant the most to him were those of the students, whose success was always his unwavering goal.