Elon formally dedicates Janice Ratliff Building

The building, which is home to the Office of Residence Life, the Office of Student Care and Outreach and the Office of Student Conduct, is named for Janice Ratliff, who served the university for more than three decades as a dedicated staff member and consistent mentor to students.

Longtime staff member Janice Ratliff was surrounded by friends, family, former colleagues and scores of students she mentored during her more than three decades at Elon University on Friday to formally dedicate the building that now bears her name.

The dedication of the Janice Ratliff Building was a tribute to the impact Ratliff, a recipient of the Elon Medallion, had during her 35 years meeting the university’s needs and responding to student concerns with care and a listening ear. She is the first Black Elon staff member to have a campus building named in her honor.

Janice Ratliff credited the students for making her career so rewarding.

“Janice, you were known as the heart and soul of the Student Health and Wellness Office, and your colleagues knew they could count on you to care for each and every student you encountered, helping to ease their minds and those of their families far away from Elon’s campus,” President Connie Ledoux Book said at the event. “We are proud today to place your name on this building, in honor of your lifetime of service to others, that your example may serve as an enduring example for Elon students today, and for generations to come.”

A native of Elon, Ratliff joined the university in 1981 as administrative assistant in the Office of Cooperative Education. During her career at Elon, Ratliff worked in the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students, the Office of Student Development, the Office of Auxiliary Services and finally, the Office of Student Health and Wellness. Before retiring in 2016, Ratliff served as a mentor to generations of Black students, scores of whom remain connected with her as alumni. 

Ratliff told the crowd Friday that she was approached about working at then-Elon College as the school looked to increase the number of Black employees, who were few at the time. “This journey has been one of continual learning and adventure,” Ratliff said.

Nell Fearrington presented Ratliff with a plaque in honor of her contributions from the local Red Hat Society chapter, of which Ratliff is a member and leader.

Through the years, Ratliff said she was honored to serve as an adviser for a range of student organizations, and she became a go-to resource for Black students on campus. “When the Black students learned that I was there working in Alamance Building, they started to come by to say hey,” Ratliff said. “They would say, ‘It’s so nice to see someone who looks like me.’ … The students needed me and I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed them, too.”

Working with young people was so rewarding, Ratliff said, and she encouraged members of the crowd to do the same. “Students are the reason my name is on this building today,” she said.

Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley, who emceed the dedication event, said Ratliff was the very first person he met at Elon when he came to the university to interview. He was struck by her presence, her smile and her ability to make people feel at home. As a new member of Elon’s staff, he would ask people who he needed to meet to better understand how Elon works, and “Janice Ratliff” was the inevitable response.

“She taught me what it meant to work at Elon with a focus on student success and a commitment to help every student thrive and flourish,” Dooley said. “And she led with tremendous grace, dignity, and compassion.”

Ratliff played a vital role in the development and mentoring of students and as one of the first Black staff members to serve in the various roles she had on campus, she was a transformative presence for the university’s Black community. She was immersed in the life of the university, serving as adviser to the Black Cultural Society, which is now the Black Student Union, the Gospel Choir and Elon’s Finest. She served on the awards committee and faithfully attended the annual Phillips-Perry Black Excellence Awards Celebration.

MarQuita Barker, assistant dean for campus life and director of residence life, said she first met Ratliff when she joined Elon in 2008. Ratliff helped shape her as a young professional, and she saw firsthand how Ratliff showed so much care and concern for students during their journeys, whether it be a “gentle pat on the back” or “a stern look over her glasses” expressing that the student needs to get it together.

“Ms. Ratliff, I’m sure I speak for myself and hundreds of others, particularly Black students — we will never forget how you made us feel,” Barker said. “You made us feel seen, you made us feel heard, you made us feel important and cared for. This building dedication is a gesture that I hope truly helps you understand how much we care for you.”

Ratliff has been repeatedly recognized for her dedication to the university and for the impact she has had across the decades on the lives of countless students and colleagues. In 1999, she was awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and in 2006 was recognized as the Professional Hourly Staff Member of the Year. In 2010, she was honored by the Elon Black Alumni Network for her efforts to ensure the success of Black students. Elon’s student organizations recognized her many contributions to the university by naming two awards in her honor – the Black Student Union Janice Ratliff Community Service Award and the Student Government Association Janice J. Ratliff Award for Organization Volunteer of the Year.

For her service to Elon, she received the Elon Medallion in 2017, the university’s highest honor.

“Janice would be the first person to humbly minimize her impact on the Elon community and our students,” said Jana Lynn Patterson, associate vice president for student life and dean of students, who served as Ratliff’s supervisor for portions of her tenure at Elon. “This building represents your legacy of care and support for this community and all who were a part of it,  and we are all honored to be here with you today.”

Related Articles

Patterson said Ratliff modeled for faculty and staff the importance of being a mentor to students and being physically present for them, frequently giving time to students outside of the work day. “You sacrificed your time to be the rock that some of these students needed,” Patterson said. “At the time it may have seemed like small efforts, but as you look around here today, let us be reminded that sometimes the briefest conversation can be transformational.”

Patterson said it is fitting that the Janice Ratliff Building is home to student life functions that create a safe and welcoming learning environment, and that support students during difficult times. “If you were lucky enough to work with Janice Ratliff, you know that it is fitting these staff are housed in this building,” Patterson said.