June 30, 2022
Dr. Meeks speaking at the NAACP Tucson Branch

Arizona Women in Higher Education (AWHE) is a state network dedicated to creating and improving opportunities for women to enhance their leadership potential, build community, and support other women in higher education. Every year, AWHE honors one woman who has exhibited exceptional leadership qualities and achievements. This year, that woman is Dr. Cheree Meeks, Assistant Dean of Programs, Diversity and Inclusion at the W.A. Franke Honors College. Dr. Meeks is the first Black woman to receive this award since its inception in 2013.

Dr. Cheree Meeks at the Dunbar Pavilion.

Dr. Cheree Meeks at the Dunbar Pavilion.

“I’m learning to be okay with praising myself. It feels weird, but I also know that it matters.” Meeks reflected, when asked about winning the award.

“When I first moved here, I was looking for opportunities to connect with other leaders and women and got involved with Arizona Women in Higher Education. I started presenting at conferences and wanted to focus on bringing in my identity as a Black woman. It was so amazing because after I would present, I would meet other women of color who would say, ‘Hey, that’s been my experience too.’”

Originally from Waterloo Iowa, Dr. Meeks earned her BA in Political Science and MA in Student Development and Postsecondary Education from The University of Iowa. She completed her doctorate in Higher Education and Organizational Change at Benedictine University in 2016. Dr. Meeks’ research explores the experiences of African American mothers working in student affairs, with a focus on race and gender as intersecting identities. She has taught at several different institutions, with an emphasis on student experience, learning strategies, and leadership development. Over the years, Dr. Meeks has had various responsibilities in the Franke Honors College— including overseeing the First Year Experience. She is excited to hand off the research component, the First Year Project, to a colleague this year so she can re-direct her time to initiatives related to inclusion, diversity, equity, and justice.

Dr. Meeks (middle) with 2021 Franke graduates Pearl Craig (left) and Precious Craig (right)

Dr. Meeks (middle) with 2021 Franke graduates Pearl Craig (left) and Precious Craig (right). Both are currently Pharmacy students and recipients of NAACP awards.

Throughout Dr. Meeks’ work, there is a noticeable and important theme. As a Black woman with a longstanding relationship to academia, she noticed and experienced something that many people in her sphere of higher education didn’t. This came to a head in 2020, in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Dr. Meeks noticed there was a gap in recognizing the impact that these events were having on the Black staff and students at the W.A. Franke Honors College.

“There were things that I knew if I didn’t bring up in a meeting, nobody was going to bring it up,” said Meeks, “things happening in the world that were greatly affecting me and my community, that many of my colleagues just didn’t realize or have to bear the burden of.”

Historically, the University of Arizona has been an institution with a predominantly white and Hispanic population. According to the University census, people of the African diaspora make up about 3.3% of the Franke Honors College, 6% of the entire university student population, and about 3.8% of the employee workforce population. Currently, Dr. Meeks is actively seeking to change that number and create and foster a space for Black students to feel heard, seen, and included at the Franke Honors College, which is why she founded Black Excellence Scholars.

“I wanted to create this program to connect the Black experience to the honors experience. My hope is for students to feel empowered and connected in spaces where they are often overlooked and underrepresented.”

Dr. Cheree Meeks (right) with students Khadija Sawayz (left) and Lauryn White (middle) at Tucson's annual Juneteenth Festival.

Dr. Cheree Meeks (right) with students Khadija Sawayz (left) and Lauryn White (middle) at Tucson's annual Juneteenth Festival.

Black Excellence Scholars is a program that centers the Black experience as it facilitates community building, research opportunities and support, leadership enrichment, culturally responsive mentoring support, and community cultural experiences. The community building aspect of the program includes networking opportunities for students to meet and connect with Black faculty and staff at the University of Arizona, as well as with other professionals throughout Tucson. The program also includes a scholarship award for students who actively participate and complete the program.

Outside of the work she is doing at the Franke Honors College, Dr. Meeks has an impressive list of accolades and community involvement, including serving as president of the Tucson branch of the NAACP. Meeks remarked that she sees the most change is affected through policy and aligns with the mission of NAACP to ensure that rights are being protected and racial discrimination is eliminated. She is also heavily involved in speaking at local prisons about the detriment that incarceration has on communities of color.

“I want people in 20, 30, 50 years from now to know that I did everything I could, everything I have the capacity to do, to make life better for them. I am going to be someone’s ancestor, so I need to act accordingly.”

The quote that she references is from poet Amir Sulaiman, spoken at this year’s Juneteenth Celebration that aired on live television, “You will be someone’s ancestor—act accordingly.” Meeks shared that in the Black community, there is a sense of reverence regarding ancestry and what that means for them today.

Creating a legacy that future generations will be proud of is a pillar that Dr. Meeks is building her life on, both personally and professionally. We are honored to have Dr. Meeks as a part of our staff at the W.A. Franke Honors College and congratulate her for being named the 2022 Arizona Women in Higher Education Woman of the Year.


Black Excellence Scholars Program  

Arizona Women in Higher Education