Women of Color Conference named for Lyllye Parker
The Women of Color Conference and the Women of Color Speaker Series at the University of Oregon have been renamed in honor of Lyllye B. Parker, advising coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Academic Success and a member of one of Eugene’s leading African American families.
More than 500 students, faculty and staff from all over the West attended last month’s conference and gave a standing ovation to honor Parker for all that she has contributed to the UO in general and women of color in particular.
Parker was born into the first African-American community to settle in the Eugene. Her family has become almost synonymous with black history in Eugene. Her parents, Sam and Mattie Reynolds, were leaders in Eugene. Her mother was a civil rights activist, community advocate and one of the founders of St. Mark Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in west Eugene (located on what is now called Sam Reynolds Street.)
Despite their lack of formal education, the Reynolds instilled in their children the importance of education – a value that led Parker to apply to the University of Oregon to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the age of 40. She had been busy being a mother and caretaker and the opportunity to attend college wasn’t available to her before then.
But when her daughter graduated from high school, Parker thought it would be fun for the two of them to go to college at the same time. “I thought we could study together,” Parker said. “And I was thrilled when I was accepted at the University.”
Parker finished her degree in sociology, with a minor in Women’s Studies in 1991.
“There were six other ‘non-traditional’ students,” she remembered fondly. “We would meet every week and talk about the special challenges we had.”
Parker was the only African American in that group, but found support through the Council for Minority Education, which has evolved to be today’s Office of Multicultural Academic Success.
“There was more hate speech and racial slurs,” she said. “But it was not so hostile that people left. The students, with the support of their allies on campus, worked with the administration to address the issues in a timely fashion to bring resolution to whatever issue they were facing.”
In 1995, Parker — known affectionately around campus as Miss Lyllye — joined the staff of the Office of Multicultural Academic Success. She has worked formally as an academic advisor, but more informally as an ally for students of color in particular and generally all students who are dealing with the challenges of life on campus.
“It is difficult to quantify Miss Lyllye's work on campus,” said Kari Herinckx, a graduate student in the School of Education. “She is more than an advisor; she is a mentor and a sincere inspiration who considers each student who walks through her door as one of her own.”
According to Andrea Valderrama, Diversity Coordinator for the ASUO Women's Center, the new name of the Women of Color Conference is the Lyllye B. Parker Conference, but more than likely it will be referred to as the Parker Conference. The speaker series will be called the Lyllye B. Parker Speaker Series.
This honor is a fitting cap to a career that, as Parker describes it is “coming down the other side of the mountain.”
She is getting close to retirement but continues her work because, she says, “I have been blessed to work with some of the most amazing and energizing students.”