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LeRhonda Manigault-Bryant joins UNC as the new Stone Center director

LeRhonda Manigault-Bryant has an extensive list of accomplishments: author, filmmaker, scholar and administrator — just to name a few.

When discussing Manigault-Bryant's new position as director of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, Saskia Staimpel, the Stone Center's administrative manager, said "it all fits like a glove."

She follows Joseph Jordan, who has served as the Stone Center's director since 2001.

Manigault-Bryant, or "Dr. Rhon," as some call her, is a former tenured professor, Africana Studies Department chairperson and associate dean of the faculty at Williams College. Her first physical day on campus this month was the same day that the University announced her position. 

Manigault-Bryant said she was drawn to her role as director because she believed it would give her an opportunity to incorporate her skills, passions and experience into one position.

“I’m very fortunate that at this stage of life, I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job,” she said. “Someone told me about it, and said, ‘Hey, I think this would be a good fit for you.'”

The location of the University also excites Manigault-Bryant. She and her spouse, as well as her two children, recently moved to the area. 

“I'm excited that this is a homecoming for me, in the sense that I grew up in South Carolina and so I'm super psyched to be close to home, to be back in the South after having been in New England for so long,” she said. 

Staimpel said she appreciated Manigault-Bryant's roots in the area, as well as the personal connection she had to the Center’s mission through her work and academics.

As she begins her new position, Manigault-Bryant comes with a set of approaches that both she and Stone Center staff look forward to implementing. 

A spirit of sustainability is the theme that comes to mind when Manigault-Bryant thinks of goals within the Stone Center. 

She intends to apply this concept by making sure the use of space, resources and time are forward thinking and sustainable. 

Another focus of Manigault-Bryant is being proactive in her upcoming decisions, Staimpel said.  

"Her intentions (are) to listen to the constituents of the Stone Center, to meet them where they're at, and to honor all the work and all the efforts and investment that people have made in the Stone Center before making any kind of plans to shake things up,” she said. 

A focus on student engagement and outreach via Stone Center is also an approach that's important to Manigault-Bryant’s new position.

“She has this approach of programming with open questions — formulating a question and programming based on that — which, for me, is a program that's very organic and it invites lots of different input, " said Sheriff Drammeh, a senior program manager at the Center. 

Manigault-Bryant said she was glad to inherit the Institute of African American Research (IAAR), an entity that is now encompassed by the Stone Center, as she will be able to design a structure for it.

Drammeh said Manigault-Bryant's first week has been one of transition and excitement. 

“We’re really excited about her thinking, her vision for the Stone Center, and our focus is to help her succeed as much as Dr. Jordan did,” he said. 

In terms of success, the Center is looking forward to the upcoming semester.

“Dr. Rhon has outlined a broad vision of what she wants the fall to look like and has shared her thoughts with us and we're looking at different angles and different ways to execute on that,” Drammeh said.

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While much is developing and evolving, Manigault-Bryant said some aspects of the Center will not change.

“The mission of the Center in terms of thinking critically and getting everyone involved in terms of research, and thinking, and programming around Black life will certainly stay the same,” she said.