LEWISTON — The dean of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College has won a significant award from the University of Maine School of Law, the university announced Tuesday.

Dean Joyce Gibson will receive the 2018 Courage is Contagious Award on  Thursday night at USM’s Abromson Center in Portland.

Gibson is the third recipient of the annual award, which will be given during the “Justice for Women Lecture.”

The featured speaker will be Mariam Jalabi, director of the Syrian National Coalition Office at the United Nations in New York. Her talk is titled “The Struggle for Human Rights: From Syria to Maine,” and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, will introduce her.

The event is free and open to the public, registration is required.

Gibson has been the dean at the L-A College since 2009. Before that she was interim vice chancellor and associate vice chancellor at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. She has written books and articles on how to help students at risk and culturally diverse classrooms.


Gibson was chosen as this year’s recipient because of her community-building efforts in Lewiston, said Catherine Lee, founder and manager of Lee International, which helped establish the Justice for Women Lecture Series.

As dean, Gibson “has worked tirelessly to build the college as a resource for the community and for the region,” Lee said in a statement. “She has a deep commitment to Maine and has been a bold and effective advocate for social justice. She is a woman of courage whose activism has inspired others in our community to stand up for fairness and equal opportunity.

Gibson said she was not expecting any award. “I had no idea I would be the recipient,” she said in an email. “It was a total surprise.”

Her parents taught her to always try and do the right thing and to stand up for others, she said. “I have tried to honor their teachings and have not always been successful.” Everyone must demonstrate courage based on their values and beliefs, she said. “Satisfaction comes from the act, not the outcome.”

Gibson, 71, grew up in Mississippi, one of six children. She has lived through segregation.

She grew up in Yazoo City, Miss., attending schools that separated white and black students, Gibson said during a 2015 Sun Journal interview.

Her father didn’t want to work on the family cotton farm, and went to school to become a dentist, eventually joining the Air Force. “Segregation was hot and strong, and it was tough,” Gibson said. Her parents always told her and her siblings to be a champion for people who are the underdogs.


Her parents also drilled into Gibson and her siblings that they were going to college, because it was the way to get out of poverty.

Gibson attended high school in Japan, graduated from Dover Air Force Base High School and from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She also earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and a doctorate in education administration.

While many people don’t like change, “change is constant,” Gibson said. “Maya Angelou said we have to pay the rent for our space in the world, so you have to do something for your contribution. Helping people get a leg up to improve themselves and their communities is what I think education is all about.”

Gibson is stepping down from her post as dean and will return to teaching,  she said Tuesday. She’ll be on leave from April to August to prepare for teaching again.

L-A College’s associate dean, Brian Toy, will serve as acting dean through the end of the year, Gibson said.


Joyce Gibson, dean of the Lewiston-Auburn College at the University of Southern Maine, has won the 2018 Courage is Contagious Award from the University of Maine School of Law. She will receive it Thursday night in Portland. (Sun Journal file photo) 

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