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NCCU remembers Debra Saunders-White, school's first female chancellor

Posted November 26

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— The chancellor of North Carolina Central University died on Saturday after battling cancer, according to an announcement from the school.

Debra Saunders-White was the school's 11th chancellor and assumed the position there in June 2013. She made history at the university as the first permanent female chancellor. According to students and faculty, she will be forever remembered as the woman who ushered North Carolina Central University into a new era of success.

"Her loss is nearly immeasurable to our community, but her influence on higher education and her genuine love and dedication for NCCU, most especially the students, are clearly evident by her impact in Durham, across North Carolina and throughout our nation," the announcement said. "Chancellor Saunders-White was a powerhouse of energy and wit; she spent her life passionately executing on her visionary and transformative strategy of using education to create opportunity.

Saunders-White previously served as acting assistant secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education, according to the school's website.

Those who knew her said they understood mediocrity wasn't an option. She had an expectation of excellence.

“She had so much pride. So much enthusiasm. And she gained so much strength from the students. She was very much a student focused leader,” said Ayana Hernandez, NCCU vice chancellor.


So focused on students, in fact, that wasn't uncommon to see chancellor Saunders-White chatting with them in the lunch hall or walking around campus.

“We just had a long discussion. She asked me what my major was. And she discussed a few opportunities with me as well,” said Breon Sturdivant, NCCU alumni.

Gov. Pat McCrory released a statement on Saturday saying Saunders-White's work in education impacted the whole state.

"Chancellor Saunders-White's commitment to education, North Carolina Central University and the Durham community enriched our entire state," McCrory said in the statement. "Her tenure at NC Central was marked by accomplishment and growth and her leadership, especially in helping us to make critical investments in NC Central, will be missed. Ann and I offer our thoughts and prayers to Chancellor Saunders-White, her family and the entire NC Central community."

"Deb loved NCCU with all her being and treated each of its students as her own," said UNC President Margaret Spellings in a statement.

Saunders-White leaves behind two children, a mother and brothers. Her son left a bouquet of roses on campus Saturday in honor of his mother. He said above all, his mother believed with all her heart in the power of a quality education, even for the disenfranchised and often underprivileged.

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