Sharon Roberson

Sharon Roberson attended Vanderbilt University from 1974 to 1978, an era during which the campus was still adjusting to racial integration that had begun less than a decade earlier. Stories she shares during a 2018 interview shed light on her experiences as a Black student leader in a mostly-White college community.

In the summer of 1978, she worked with the Center for Health Services (CHS), the legacy organization of the Student Health Coalition.  She lived with a family in Haywood County while providing benefits counseling to residents as part of a larger effort to address issues of economic injustice in rural, predominantly Black West Tennessee communities.

She later went on to graduate Vanderbilt Law School in 1983 and remained in Nashville, serving for a decade in Tennessee’s state Department of Commerce and Insurance. She then worked in various other legal counsel positions within the corporate insurance world.

Since 2016, she has served as President and CEO of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee. As Sharon explains eloquently, the YW in Nashville is “dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”


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Sharon Roberson on respect for elders

Sharon Roberson shares how her cultural upbringing facilitated an innate respect for elders that, she believes, is foundational to achieving societal civility.   Full footage of Sharon Roberson’s 2018 oral history interview. Continued

“Whites treated Whites and Blacks treated Blacks”

Sharon Roberson discusses her witness of racial segregation in rural West Tennessee healthcare (circa late 1970s), noting how said disparities severely limited access to healthcare for many in the area.   Full footage of Sharon Roberson’s 2018 oral history interview. Continued

Sharon Roberson’s work with the YWCA

Sharon Roberson delves into more detail about her ongoing work with the YWCA and how her experience with the Coalition shaped the values which, to this day, inspire her professional priorities.   Full footage of Sharon Roberson’s 2018 oral history… Continued

Differences between West and East TN core injustices and approach to community organizing

Sharon Roberson describes community organizing work over time and the growing tension that transpired among Vanderbilt students from one summer to the next, particularly in light of apartheid in South Africa and the ongoing domestic fight for civil rights. Many… Continued

Sharon Roberson on institutional racism and her invitation to Chancellor Heard’s home

Sharon Roberson shares what she’s most proud of from her time in West Tennessee, explaining how it cultivated greater depth to her critical understanding of institutional racism and the ensuing drive to educate others on the matter.   Full footage… Continued

On Sharon Roberson’s mother, Lady Kendall

Sharon Roberson shares a story exemplifying her mother’s legacy of kindness and advocacy, highlighting the power of leaders to change institutions.   Full footage of Sharon Roberson’s 2018 oral history interview. Continued

Sharon Roberson on her family stay and community relationships in West TN

Sharon Roberson provides insight into the dynamic of student stays with local families and developing community relationships, including the mutually shared desire not to disrupt existing social norms that would persist after they left.   Full footage of Sharon Roberson’s… Continued

West TN summers and their impact on Sharon Roberson’s career arc

Sharon Roberson shares how her experience with the Center for Health Services informed her professional pursuits, particularly as it relates to combatting the mentality she’d witnessed among many people in West Tennessee–that being the impetus not to “rock the boat”… Continued

On the anti-establishment origins of the Coalition and Center for Health Services

Sharon Roberson and Margaret Ecker discuss how Vanderbilt University no longer has a Student Health Coalition or Center for Health Services, in part due to an unspecified anger more characteristic of the 1960s and 1970s student generation, on top of… Continued

Sharon Roberson’s early involvement with the Center for Health Services

Sharon Roberson tells of her first getting involved with the Center for Health Services, a Vanderbilt-sponsored affiliate program of the Student Health Coalition. She worked in West Tennessee (primarily Haywood County) and explains that unique to this region, in comparison… Continued

Sharon Roberson on systemic racism: then and now

Sharon Roberson reflects on her witness and personal experience of racism together with our ongoing culture of racism today, highlights the widespread mistrust of Medicaid expansion and Obamacare common among many people (largely due to politically-driven misinformation and propaganda), and… Continued

Appealing to community leaders, the health fair model, and rights and benefits counseling in West TN

Sharon Roberson describes the student-led approach to community organizing in West Tennessee, such as appealing to established community leaders (namely, ministers from local churches). She also details the health fair model and rights and benefits counseling, both of which were… Continued

Sharon Roberson on Black deference to White people in West Tennessee

Sharon Roberson describes an air conditioning situation in the Haywood County Public Health Services building which, to her surprise, highlighted how Black people, according to custom and engrained mentality, demonstrated deference to the White demographic.   Full footage of Sharon… Continued

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