The UMSL Black Faculty and Staff Association celebrates 40 years with gala

by | Mar 6, 2023

BFSA members reminisced about the organization's impact and also announced the creation of the E. Paulette Isaac-Savage Black Excellence in Service and Leadership award.
Black Faculty and Staff Association executive committee stands in front of an UMSL backdrop smiling.

The BFSA executive committee hosted a gala to commemorate its 40th anniversary. (From left to right) Harry Harris, BFSA president, Sherry Hieken, Carla Jordan, Antoinette Sterling, Cierra Price and Richard Middleton (Photo by Kyle Simmons)

The Black Faculty and Staff Association at the University of Missouri–St. Louis held a gala to commemorate its 40th anniversary Saturday night at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Along with BFSA members, staff and even some students were in attendance to celebrate the association’s milestone and service on behalf of Black faculty and staff.

The night began with opening remarks from E. Paulette Isaac-Savage, professor of adult education, who gave a review of the association’s history. Otis Beard, who was in attendance, and Janice Vails were the first chairperson and chairperson-elect respectively, of the association in 1984. After Vails took over as the chairperson, her successor was Anita McDonald, a former assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and dean of the Evening College, the first African American dean at UMSL.

In addition to providing support and advocacy for Black faculty and staff, the association also instituted student scholarships, an initiative begun by previous chair of the association, Michael Evans. Over the past 5 years, the BFSA has awarded over $15,000 in scholarships to help students with educational expenses.

Harry Harris, president of the BFSA was proud of the work the association has done and its longevity.

“It’s been 40 years of the Black Faculty and Staff Association really being there for our Black faculty and staff and being the voice of all Black faculty and staff across the campus. To keep it going for 40 years, I think that’s a significant milestone.”

Some things coming up on the BFSA agenda include the applications for the student scholarships, which will open up soon and will be accepting nominations, the Jerome E. Morris Public Lecture Series that begins in April and the State of Black UMSL event in May.

A highlight of the evening was the announcement of the E. Paulette Isaac-Savage Black Excellence in Service and Leadership award that will be given each year to a BFSA member. Isaac-Savage was delighted and surprised to be the first to receive the recognition.

Harry Harris presents E. Paulette Isaac-Savage with a plaque.

Harry Harris presents E. Paulette Isaac-Savage with the Black Excellence in Service and Leadership award, named after her. (Photo by Wendy Todd)

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Isaac-Savage said. “I was caught totally off guard. It certainly made me emotional because I just did not see that coming at all. I feel really special and honored to have that named after me.”

Colette McLemore Dixon, associate provost for student success, helmed the executive committee that planned the gala and wanted to ensure that the night was not only an opportunity to look back on the association’s history and look ahead at what’s come, but also as a moment to connect and celebrate.

“I know the executive board really was excited about this being a big event,” she said. “So my thoughts were trying to ensure that people would have a good time while still promoting scholarship by discussing the history of the BFSA, having student students involved and having retirees participate. I envisioned it being actually what it turned out to be–a nice event where Black faculty and staff on campus could really just let their hair down, commune with each other and have a good time.”

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd