Agnes Scott’s First Black Student to Receive Honorary Degree

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gay Johnson McDougall enrolled at Agnes Scott College in 1965 as its first black student but transferred two years later.
Gay Johnson McDougall
“They [Agnes Scott] weren’t ready for me and I wasn’t ready for them,” McDougall said.

She returns to the college May 8 for its 121st Commencement when Agnes Scott will present McDougall with an honorary degree recognizing her distinguished career as a world-renowned attorney and advocate for international human rights. McDougall, the United Nations’ Independent Expert on Minority Issues, will deliver the charge to the approximately 200 graduates in the class of 2010.

“Gay McDougall exemplifies the courage and leadership we hope to instill in all Agnes Scott students. It took great courage for her to integrate this college. She has continued to be a trailblazer throughout her career, working to promote human rights, speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable and oppressed, and championing more just and inclusive societies around the world,” said Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agnes Scott. “We are thrilled to welcome her back to a college that she helped put on a path of transformation toward the wonderful diversity we celebrate today. It is a privilege to be able to recognize her with an honorary degree.”

After she left Agnes Scott in 1967, native Atlantan McDougall went on to graduate from Bennington College. She later earned her Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School and her LL.M. from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

McDougall has played a leading role in the international human rights movement. Active in anti-apartheid efforts during the 1980s, she was one of five international members (and the only American) to serve on South Africa’s 16-member Independent Electoral Commission. The goal to organize and administer that country's first post-apartheid elections was successful, and Nelson Mandela was elected president. She served as executive director of Global Rights from 1994 to 2006 and in 1999 received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for “innovative and highly effective” work toward the establishment of international human rights.

In 1998, McDougall was the first American ever elected to serve on the United Nations treaty body that oversees the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. She subsequently served as a special rapporteur to the United Nations on the issue of systematic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices in armed conflict. In 2005, McDougall was named the first United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues. In 2006, she was named Distinguished Scholar in Residence at American University’s Washington College of Law.

She has served on many boards that administer justice and international aid, including The Global Fund for Women, CARE, The Council on Foreign Relations and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, where she serves on the judges panel for the annual Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award.

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.