She said, 'College is the last chance we have in making sure people don’t enter the world with value systems based on prejudice they think of as truth.'
Dr. Seaton would tell me stories of her time as a professional at John Carroll University (JCU) and in the city of Cleveland. All her stories centered on creativity, resilience, curiosity and us bonding over the many challenges of doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work as a person of color at JCU. She said, “College is the last chance we have in making sure people don’t enter the world with value systems based on prejudice they think of as truth.” This belief directed her vision and mission of OMA.
Dr. Seaton became the Assistant Director of OMA and worked alongside Director Ronald Oleksiak who established the department in 1987 and served as its only staff member until 1989. That year about 5.5% of faculty identified as faculty of color, and 4.8% of the 4,000 students consisted of students of color. JCU’s graduating class that year had 22 undergraduate students (3.8%) and 13 graduate students (9.2%) who identified as ethnic minorities. There was lots of work to be done to help improve these numbers and Dr. Seaton relentlessly got to work in improving the multicultural awareness of JCU students through campus speakers.
300+ speakers have come to JCU as a result of the Dr. Shirley S. Seaton Multicultural Awareness Program’s belief that colleges and universities have a responsibility to educate all students on how to navigate our actual multicultural world.
In 1989, the office began the Multicultural Awareness Program which continues to this very day. 300+ speakers have come to JCU as a result of the Dr. Shirley S. Seaton Multicultural Awareness Program’s belief that colleges and universities have a responsibility to educate all students on how to navigate our actual multicultural world.
Dr. Seaton had an entirely accomplished career before arriving at John Carroll. She graduated from John Adams High School in Cleveland. She held a BA and MA degree in history from Howard University, and a second MA in education from Case Western Reserve University, EdD from the University of Akron and a certificate in Chinese history and culture from Beijing Normal University. Dr. Seaton served as an instructor and administrator at the K-12 and post-secondary levels, and she was the Director of Social Studies for Cleveland Public Schools.
Dr. Seaton’s career in the Cleveland Schools included classroom teacher, assistant principal at Parkwood School and Lafayette School, principalship at Dyke School and Charles H. Lake School. She was also the first black woman in Ohio with an educational TV program on WEWS-TV in 1962. As a Fulbright alumna she studied in Italy, China, Egypt and Africa. Dr. Seaton received an outstanding educator award from Cleveland City Council, The Ohio of Representatives, U.S. Department of State and Humanitarian Award for Education from the Ohio Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission. She is listed in the Marquis Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Education, Who’s Who in Black Cleveland and was on the Board of Directors of the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Board of Directors of the Fulbright Association of Northeast Ohio.
She held memberships in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Alpha Sigma Nu Honorary Society, National Alliance of Black School Educators, NAACP Life Member and the Coalition of 100 Black Women. In October 2015, John Carroll was one of only five colleges and universities chosen out of a hundred nominations to receive the 2015 Higher Education Civic Engagement Awards presented by the Washington Center and the New York Life foundation. JCU was recognized specifically for the creation of the We the People service-learning program, which was initiated by Dr. Seaton in 2005 and coordinated by the Center for Service and Social Action.
She shared stories of resistance and the need to celebrate joy, while cautioning me that any campus program, policy, or practice that impacts people of color should include the voices of people of color in every step. In other words: nothing about us without us.
When I became Director of CSDI in 2016, Dr. Seaton charged me with the responsibility of documenting and sharing our department’s 30+ year history. This was no simple task. I enlisted the help of undergraduate interns to use Dr. Seaton’s documents, posters, notes, etc. as cultural artifacts and teaching objects. We started the very daunting work of cataloging and archiving our history and legacies.
Dr. Seaton helped me understand the beginnings of our department and the challenges of being a Black woman scholar in the academy. Sadly, several of those same challenges continue today for Black women and other scholars of color. She shared stories of resistance and the need to celebrate joy, while cautioning me that any campus program, policy, or practice that impacts people of color should include the voices of people of color in every step. In other words: nothing about us without us. I continue to practice this guidance across my leadership positions on campus and model this to my colleagues.
Dr. Seaton’s campus visits decreased after she became a resident at The Weils in Chagrin Falls, OH. She later became a resident at Montefiore Assisted Living in Beachwood, Ohio where she passed peacefully in her sleep on July 29, 2020 at age 96.
Dr. Seaton was preceded in death by her husband of 55 years, Joseph Lawrence Seaton. She is survived by her son Eric Dean Seaton, daughter-in-law Nicole, grandson Lourden Knight Seaton and granddaughter Legend Reign Seaton. Her life was dedicated to helping improve the access of educational opportunities for marginalized communities and she was a fierce advocate.
I will miss Dr. Seaton’s radiant spirit and the twinkle in her eyes when we shared a cup of tea with me.