Mullen-James Social Justice & Equity Impact Award

Established in 2021, this award is given annually to a member of the UNCA community in honor of Dr. Dee and Dr. Charles James, Dr. Dolly Jenkins-Mullen, and Dr. Dwight Mullen. These four professors dedicated their personal and professional careers to social justice, equity, and inclusion within their fields. They molded and inspired the minds of thousands of students over the course of their multi-decade tenure at UNCA to not only have a greater understanding of these issues but to go out in their own spaces and communities and do the same.

The recipient of this social justice & equity impact award is presented to those alumni, students, or initiatives in which, through their actions, advocacy, and/or collaborative partnerships have demonstrated a true commitment and dedication to systems change and work either at the University or broader community level. The recipient advances the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They have demonstrated genuine cultural competency, and an understanding of the importance of social justice. They also have initiated or participated in sustainable, results-oriented work that has had a durable, positive impact. The recipient’s deep and abiding commitment to social justice and equity work enriches the lives of communities and students of color and has brought honor to their alma mater.

Political scientists Dolly Jenkins-Mullen and Dwight Mullen, Chemistry Professor Charles James, and English Professor Deborah (Dee) Grier-James all retired in May of 2018, having served as UNC Asheville faculty since 1984. They were among the University’s first African-American faculty members, recruited as part of an effort to diversify the faculty.

The two faculty couples braved community hostility and racist comments in their early years. Dwight Mullen, for example, received death threats for his political commentaries. Each of them, however, went on to make tremendous contributions on and off-campus, and to earn the gratitude of countless students as teachers and mentors.

In their first decade on the faculty, the Mullins and James worked together to create the African-American Colloquium, a program designed to create community and support for first-year African American students on campus. The colloquium included classes, tutoring, mentoring, and advising, along with special annual trips to places significant to experiencing and understanding African American history and culture around the country. Their work to develop and staff the colloquium was emblematic of the role they would play over three decades as educators and advocates.


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Past Recipients



Wilhelmina Bratton ‘78 has been a local advocate for inclusion in Asheville for her entire life. She was the first black woman city council representative, and served her tenure with distinction. Bratton was also Asheville’s first black vice mayor. In one of her most impactful moments as a reformer, she pushed to change the mayor’s position to being directly elected by the public after watching the former model systematically exclude black candidates. She was successful and continued to champion Asheville and its diverse population throughout her career. Bratton has continued to serve the University and community in retirement, and most recently presented to UNC Asheville’s Leadership Asheville Program on the city’s history and its efforts to make it a better community for everyone.


Dr. Deborah (Dee) Grier-James ‘73 began her efforts to diversify the campus in 1969 when in her freshman year, she became one of two African American women to integrate the women’s dorms. That same year, Asheville-Buncombe College had just achieved UNC status. She returned with Dr. Charles, joining Drs. Dwight and Dolly in 1984. In 1985, she established the Writing Center under the auspices of the Department of Literature and Language (now English Department). She directed and tutored in the Writing Center while simultaneously teaching classes from freshmen to MLA students, for more than fifteen years. Her Writing Center work was specifically aimed at increasing academic accessibility for students who had previously been marginalized as well as supporting students of all backgrounds to achieve and maintain academic excellence. She transitioned to a position directing the department’s First-Year Writing program as a continuation of that effort. She also developed and taught courses in African and African American literature for her department, the Women’s Studies Program, and the Africana Studies Program. Like the Mullins, and Dr. Charles, she was appointed to the Africana Studies Program. She taught and lectured in both the Humanities and Arts and Ideas as well. In 2000, she was awarded the Board of Governor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. Her work with the African American Colloquium, the Ghana Study Abroad cluster, and Ghana Summer Study Abroad Programs as well as her work co-chairing the Diversity Action Council for her last five years at UNCA highlights her commitment to inclusion and collaboration as well as to the Liberal Arts.


Dr. Charles James ‘73 was devoted from the beginning to the teaching of science to both non-scientists and future scientists alike. He served as director of the General Chemistry Introductory Labs. He was also central to the UNCA Science Day Program, an effort to increase the participation of women and students of color in the sciences, bringing local high school students to campus for activities sponsored by the different science departments across campus. That informed his work in developing the university’s Ghana Cluster, three courses linked to the popular study-abroad program in Ghana.
He developed a course-specific to that program, “Science in Ghana,” focused on helping students learn to “see” science in a different culture, both in traditional academic settings as well as outside the classroom. This program also gave students instruction and experience in becoming culturally competent. Dr. Charles led the collaboration of other UNCA faculty and staff in developing and delivering this program—accompanying both student and faculty trips over ten times, from 2-6 weeks each, during his tenure.
The program received the Best Practices in International Education Award for Study Abroad Programming from NASPA — Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. In addition, he too taught three of the four required Humanities courses for several years as well as participated in the First Year Programs—infusing both with the perspective of a trained scientist and student of and participant in other cultures. Like his colleagues, Dr. Charles was appointed to the Africana Studies Program and was a key participant in the African American Colloquium. Dr. James also endeared himself to hundreds of very young children by playing Santa Claus at the holiday party held at the university for many years for youngsters in area Head Start programs and worked with the Marvelous Math Club—a program aimed at erasing the Opportunity Gap for students of color.


Dolly Jenkins-Mullen joined the UNC Asheville’s Political Science Department, moving from adjunct to tenured associate professor. Even untenured, she chaired the department and was awarded a Distinguished Teacher Award. At the time she was appointed department chair, she was the only Black woman to chair a Political Science Department in North Carolina (in public or private universities), and she simultaneously served as Vice-Chair of the Asheville City School Board. Dr. Dolly taught in several of the required Humanities courses, doing more work on expanding its curriculum, and was appointed to the Africana Studies Program. She consistently contributed courses to the Women’s Studies Program as well.
Dr. Dolly, too, served as a Special Assistant on Diversity and Inclusion—previous to Dr. Dwight’s term in that position. She was known for her mentorship and help to students outside of the classroom. Among her major contributions to the Political Science Department was her coordination and oversight of the department internship program and was given the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award in 2009.


Dr. Dwight Mullen’s diversity work at UNCA includes creating the Africana Studies Program, chairing the Department of Political Science for eight years, working as a Special Assistant for Diversity and Inclusion to the Chancellor (Jim Mullen). In addition, he taught in and lectured for the Humanities Program—always working to help it expand and move toward greater inclusion. More recently, he is known for his long-running State of Black Asheville project, in which he mentored students in researching racial disparities in Asheville housing, income, employment, health and longevity, education, arrest and incarceration rates, and many other factors. The State of Black Asheville research was presented to the meeting of Buncombe County Commissioners in 2017 in which the commissioners voted unanimously to create the Isaac Coleman Economic Community Investment Fund. In 2014, Mullen received the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. He has served as a Fulbright senior scholar in Malawi. During his tenure at the University, he was also the recipient of a Distinguished Teaching Award (2001) and the Feldman Research Award (2017)