Juanita Johnson-Bailey

Juanita Johnson-Bailey, director of the Institute for Women's Studies, has been teaching at the university for nearly 20 years. This month she received the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund Award. Courtesy University of Georgia.

For National Women's History Month, The Red & Black will profile influential women at UGA. This weekly installment will explore the lives of female faculty members who have distinguished themselves as champions of women's strength, power and intellect. 

Born in Fort Benning in Georgia in 1953, Dr. Juanita Johnson-Bailey grew up in the military surrounded by strong women. She said her love of travel — she has visited 24 countries, 14 of which are African — to her father and military background. Raised Catholic, she attended school taught by nuns, who she said along with her mother and grandmother, had the greatest influence on her life.

In a poem she wrote entitled “I Am,” Johnson-Bailey attributes the women she grew up around with shaping her character.

“I am from proud women who put their hands on their hips and read you like an open book,” she wrote.

Johnson-Bailey graduated from Mercer University in 1974 and worked as a journalist at the Macon Telegraph, a public relations agent in Chattanooga, an investigator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Tennessee and a patient’s rights advocate in Georgia.

She said she found her true passion in training adults and dealing with issues of social justice, which led her to the University of Georgia. In what she said she considers as the most defining moments of her life, Johnson-Bailey received her doctorate in adult education from UGA in 1994.

When she started teaching at UGA in 1995, she created the “Multicultural Perspectives on Women in the U.S.” course in the Women’s Studies department. She currently serves as the Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies.

Of the nine different positions she has held since beginning her career in academia, the directorship of the Institute for Women’s Studies has been her favorite, she said.

“I feel that there is an an energy and a mission [here],” she said. “I have my instruction, I have my activism and I have my scholarship and what more could you want,” Johnson-Bailey said.

She took the job as director after her friend told her she had to step up.

“She said to me, ‘well you’re always complaining about what’s going on and who’s sitting at the table. If you don’t ever go and take your seat at that table when the opportunity presents itself, you have no right to complain,’” Johnson-Bailey said.

While she currently serves as both administrator and professor, Johnson-Bailey’s real love is teaching she said. She began teaching when she first started kindergarten, she spoke about her teaching philosophy.

“Every day I ran the two blocks home to teach my grandmother what I had learned,” wrote Johnson-Bailey. “It all comes back to the first day that a five year-old came home, excited, eager, thrilled to show Mama Sarah what she had learned in school,” she wrote.

Johnson-Bailey’s career shifted from teaching her grandmother to acting as the major professor for doctoral students, who she said she considers her legacy.

“To date, I have been a major professor for 31 Ph.D. students and most of them have done dissertations on social justice topics and I see them making a difference, a real difference in the field in higher ed and that’s my legacy,” Johnson-Bailey said.

As for the future, Johnson-Bailey hopes to return to where it all began.

“I see my self back in the classroom, being a professor, because that’s what I came here to do and I’d like to return to it,” she said. 

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