Two staff members have been recognized for their work on campus and in the larger community with 2024 Social Justice Awards.
The University of South Carolina created the Social Justice Awards to recognize individuals who have exemplified the philosophies of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. through acts of community service, social justice or racial reconciliation.
The 2024 selections include the director of the only North American partner of the Anne Frank House and an assistant provost for graduation and retention
They will be honored at the university's annual MLK Commemorative Breakfast on Friday (Jan. 12).
Doyle Stevick, executive director of the University of South Carolina’s Anne Frank Center and a professor in the College of Education, is dedicated to fostering understanding and compassion among students, faculty and the broader community.
Stevick says his personal encounters with racist extremism drove him to explore the power of education to undermine prejudice and foster pro-social dispositions.
“A very nightmarish experience changed my direction,” Stevick says. “One of my former students had fallen in with a white supremacist cult and decided he was going to try to start a race war. He shot 11 people before he shot himself in a gun battle with police.
“The experience was deeply unsettling to me.”
Stevick says the shocking incident was not an isolated one and he began to teach and study ways to use education to overcome bigotry, including antisemitism.
“The Anne Frank House understood better than most the importance and power of young people’s voices,” he says. “Anne’s voice has resonated around the world from writings she produced when she was 13, 14, 15 years old.”
Stevick’s scholarship emphasizing education for democracy and civic education, which share many goals with Holocaust education, has been published and presented at UNESCO programs in places across four continents, including Costa Rica, India, Serbia, Switzerland, Ottawa and Paris.
“If anything can reduce racism and antisemitism, it is the hard work that Doyle Stevick has taken on through the many facets of the Anne Frank Center, work that — now more than ever — needs to be held up and celebrated,” says Jessica Elfenbein, chair of USC’s history department.
As the inaugural director of USC’s Anne Frank Center, Stevick has helped build a permanent exhibition and educational program in partnership with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, becoming one of only three partner sites in the world, joining Berlin and Buenos Aires, and the only one in North America.
A professor in the College of Education, he founded and directed the Office of International and Comparative Education before serving as director of European Studies and Russian and Eurasian Studies. Soon after his arrival at USC in 2007, he co-authored the “Faculty Excellence Initiative in African Studies,” which created new tenure line faculty positions for Africanists in educational leadership, political science and public health.
“Stevick has a history of scholarship and teaching that promotes understanding and action to prevent racial bias, prejudice and discrimination,” says Arlene Andrews, Carolina Distinguished Professor Emerita and volunteer at the Anne Frank Center. “In keeping with his scholarly agenda of promoting civic engagement, the Anne Frank Center aims to help young people find their voices as anti-racist leaders who celebrate our common humanity, recognize differences as a cultural treasure, and work through challenges together.”
The center has hosted the play “Letters from Anne and Martin,” which explores the surpising commonalities in the experiences and reflections of Anne Frank and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who were both born in 1929.
“Experiencing the play brings to life why we must embrace the peaceful struggle for freedom and human rights that were experienced by Anne and by MLK,” says Abraham Wandersman, Carolina Distinguished Professor Emeritus of psychology and a volunteer at the center. “That so many thousands have already experienced the lessons that can be learned from Anne because of the Anne Frank Center is a tribute to Doyle Stevick — his humanness and his leadership of the Anne Frank Center.”
As the university’s first assistant provost for graduation and retention, Shelley Dempsey gets to put her life philosophy of helping others to use by helping students find the support they need to succeed at USC.
“I get to focus my time on helping students not only come into the university … but getting them to the other end where they get to walk across that stage,” Dempsey says.
Dempsey’s current focus on first-generation students is about more than those students — it’s about their families as well.
“We want to be able to welcome that whole family to our campus,” Dempsey says, adding that getting to campus is just the beginning, those students must succeed.
“As our campus begins to change and we become a much more diverse campus, I think it’s so important that we not expect that all the students are going to change to fit our campus,” she says. “We have to look at where do we need to change to serve these students. You can’t have access without having the opportunity to succeed on campus.”
As a three-time USC graduate with master’s degrees in higher education and business administration and a Ph.D. in education and leadership policy, Dempsey knows about success at South Carolina.
She has worked in various capacities at the university, including Student Affairs, at the Darla Moore School of Business and the USC Alumni Association before beginning her tenure in the Provost’s Office. She also served as the first president of the USC Staff Senate.
“Shelley has committed much of her career developing opportunities and programs to ensure students from diverse backgrounds graduate successfully on time, while still having experiential learning opportunities such as study abroad and achieving the feelings of belonginess on our campus,” says Mary Alexander, vice provost for academic administration and chief of staff.
One recent effort led Dempsey to help create a program that lets students with limited financial resources participate in study abroad opportunities.
“She is not one to forgo a difficult path if she knows it will help students and their future successes in life,” Alexander says.
Outside of USC, Dempsey works as a volunteer and advocate for women and children experiencing homelessness.
“Shelley volunteers within her community to assist families in need by providing their most basic needs, whether it be through donations or her own pocket,” Alexander says. “She gives of herself and her time unselfishly to help others in need, no matter what that need may be.”
Dempsey says a key to be useful is to meet people where they are.
“We all carry with us the things that have happened in our life and we all have a story,” she says. “I feel like it’s my job here on earth to help people without judging them.
“It’s so energizing to know that you can make a difference in somebody’s life and that the work we do matters.”