Campus & Community

In Memory of Elizabeth “Betty” Rawlins

President Wooten and Betty at the 2023 Black Alumnae/i Symposium
President Wooten and Betty at the 2023 Black Alumnae/i Symposium

It is with deep sadness that I write to share that Simmons Dean Emerita Elizabeth B. Rawlins ’67MSEd, ’03HD – a beloved member of our community for more than 50 years – has passed away.

A believer in the transformative impact of learning and education, Dean Rawlins was an alumna of Simmons’ graduate urban education program. She went on to serve in a variety of roles at our institution – working with and mentoring students as a lecturer, associate professor, professor, and associate dean.

“I will always remember and treasure Betty Rawlins,” says journalist Rehema Ellis ’74, ’00HD. “She was more than just a dean to me when I entered Simmons in 1970. Dean Rawlins was also a mentor and role model who helped me, and so many others, navigate thorny, racially sensitive issues that marked our country and our campus at the time. … So many valuable lessons were learned at Simmons in and outside of the classroom because Dean Rawlins was there. She helped mold me into the woman and the journalist I have become. I am forever grateful that I was blessed to know her as my Dean and my friend.”

At Simmons, Rawlins was known for her passion, powerful advocacy, willingness to address issues of race and culture, and efforts to create spaces for Black students on campus. Her dissertation, “Black Alumnae of Predominantly White Colleges: Their Effect Upon the Development of Entitlement in Black Students,” is an important and groundbreaking work that highlights Black alumnae/i as a vital resource to gain knowledge about the experiences of Black students on college campuses.

“Dean Emerita Betty Rawlins was a transformative force at Simmons University, particularly in her profound impact on Black students,” says Professor Gary Bailey, MSW Program Director for the Simmons School of Social Work. “Through her unwavering dedication to fostering inclusivity and equity, Dean Rawlins created an environment where Black students felt empowered, supported, and celebrated. She actively mentored and advocated for Black students, ensuring that they had access to resources, opportunities, and a platform to amplify their voices. Her commitment to fostering a culture of belonging not only enhanced the educational experience for Black students but also contributed to the University's broader mission of creating a more equitable and just society.”

Rawlins was also a strong supporter of Simmons’ Black Student Organization, and played an instrumental role in establishing Simmons’ African American Alumnae/i Association (AAAA) and organizing the first Simmons College Black Alumnae Reunion and Conference on April 7, 1989. Rawlins referred to the conference as the “Entitlement Symposium,” – believing it was important that Black Simmons students have access to everything the institution had to offer, while acknowledging the struggles students faced in accessing those rights. In 2023, in recognition of her many contributions, Simmons’ annual Black Alumnae/i Symposium was renamed the Elizabeth Rawlins Black Symposium.

“Dean Rawlins was a radiant light, a cornerstone of support, and a trailblazing woman whose legacy extends far beyond her time at Simmons University,” says Kenyora Parham ’10, immediate past President of AAAA. “Her passion, commitment, and unwavering advocacy leave an indelible mark on the fabric of our institution and the hearts of all who had the privilege of knowing her. Dean Rawlins’ authenticity shone through in everything she did, fearlessly championing inclusivity and belonging long before they became cultural buzzwords. Her legacy is not just one of leadership, but of genuine care, empathy, and a relentless pursuit of justice. Elizabeth's presence, grace, and unwavering dedication to fostering a community where every individual felt seen, heard, and valued will continue to inspire generations to come."

Dean Rawlins’ commitment to students and education also led to the establishment of the Elizabeth B. Rawlins Endowed Scholarship Fund at Simmons.

"We may not have all known or ever seen Dean Rawlins but as a Black student on this campus, I will forever appreciate her walking so we could run,” says student Naleigha Evans ’24. “Dean Rawlins entered Simmons as a student just a few years after segregation ended officially and only excelled from there. For myself as a Black woman I feel empowered by Dean Rawlins story but as a Simmons woman I recognize that Dean Rawlins was the epitome of us. Her as a being speaks to the knowledge, strength, and outspokenness that we hold within our community and serves as testament to why the world needs Simmons students because like Dean Rawlins, we gain something special here."

During an interview with the HistoryMakers, Dean Rawlins was asked about her legacy. She spoke eloquently about being a positive force in the lives of young people and how she enjoyed having conversations about their education and their futures.

In her typically understated way, she said “I’d like to be remembered as somebody who not only cared, but tried to be helpful.”

Dean Rawlins’ legacy is that and so much more. Her kindness and love for Simmons infused so much of her life, and this institution will long continue to benefit from her passion, advocacy, and generous spirit. It was an honor and a privilege to know her, and on behalf of the entire Simmons community, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Dean Rawlins’ family – including her children Paul and Pattie, and grandchildren Sharisse and Keith – friends, colleagues, students, and all those impacted by this loss. Dean Rawlins was preceded in death by her husband, Keith Rawlins Jr. A memorial service will take place at Simmons University’s Linda K. Paresky Center at 1 p.m. on February 25, 2024. Visitation will immediately precede the service at noon. The service will also be streamed online for the Simmons community and friends. For more information on Dean Rawlins’ Simmons legacy or to leave a personal tribute, please visit the memorial webpage we have established in her honor.

Publish Date


Lynn Perry Wooten