Rhodes College Recognizes 2019 Distinguished Alumni

Three individuals standing in front of class banners
(l-r) President Marjorie Hass and award winners Dr. Sherry L. Turner and Dr. William Van Davidson

Annual awards were presented at Rhodes College’s Alumni Convocation on Nov. 16 during Homecoming/Reunion Weekend. Dr. William Van Davidson from the Class of 1962 received the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award. Dr. Sherry L. Turner from the Class of 1984 received the 2019 Black Student Association Distinguished Alumni Award.

Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who has brought honor to Rhodes College through extraordinary achievement in his or her profession and community.

Dr. William Van Davidson ’62 received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Rhodes, a master’s degree in geography from The University of Memphis, and a doctorate in geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After a few years of undergraduate teaching at Arkansas State University in the 1970s, Davidson landed a position at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. During his tenure in LSU’s geography and anthropology department, he served as department chair for three terms, won a Fulbright Research Scholarship in 1991 and a Distinguished Faculty Award in 2002, and was recognized in Rolling Stone for his Geography of Jimmy Buffett course.

Devoted to field studies, Davidson has traveled extensively in Latin America, conducting research for his many publications and leading student field research. In 2011, the Geographical Review described him as “the leading historical-cultural geographer of Central America.” After his retirement from LSU in 2002, Davidson researched and published a comprehensive historical atlas of Honduras that is, as one reviewer put it, “an outstanding piece of scholarship that only a lifetime of research and reflection could have produced.” 

Black Student Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award

Established in 1998, the Black Student Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes African-American alumni whose record of outstanding personal achievement and service to others has inspired Rhodes students and brought honor to their alma mater. 

A native Memphian, Dr. Sherry Turner earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and anthropology/ sociology from Rhodes, a master’s degree in developmental psychology from North Carolina State University, and a master’s degree in theological studies from Emory University. After earning a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Turner was hired in 1990 by Mount Holyoke College, where she was a member of the faculty as well as an assistant dean and ombudsperson. 

In 2002, Turner joined the staff of Spelman College in Atlanta, where she held positions including assistant to the president and vice president for student affairs. She also was executive director and CEO of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, Incorporated, and in 2016, she was hired as the director of institutional success and support for UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building in Atlanta. A developmental psychologist, Turner has been actively involved in teaching, writing, and research with focus on child psychology, adolescent sexuality, the psychology of women, the psychology of African American women, and intergroup dialogue. In February of 2019, Turner became vice president for strategic initiatives at Rhodes, where she will provide executive leadership in developing and implementing a strategic campus vision for diversity and equity.