Dannelle Whiteside, former general attorney for the U.S. Department of Education in the office of Civil Rights, became the new general counsel for APSU in January. A Nashville native, Whiteside has a long resume of work in Tennessee, including general counsel for the Tennessee Board of Education.

As a general attorney, Whiteside was responsible for making sure that educational institutions followed federal law.

“If you had a disability, and you needed accommodation. If you were not getting provided that accommodation, you would file a complaint with our office and we would investigate,” Whiteside said.

Whiteside’s plans for APSU involve helping the university transition through the FOCUS Act. In the past, Tennessee’s public universities like APSU were under the control of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which was over 46 institutions.

“Last year the legislature changed that structure to actually give us our own ability to make decisions,” Whiteside said. “We’re doing that through our own board of trustees.”

Whiteside will be working with the new board of trustees as a secretary, coordinating schedules and ensuring  they are compliant with the law. She also has plans to hire an additional attorney.

Whiteside has received the Nashville Emerging Leader award in education.

“It was exciting,” Whiteside said. “I’m public service oriented and mission driven; its nice to have some applause.”

Whiteside said she has never felt held back by her race or gender.

“I never have looked at being a black woman as anything that would limit me. I feel like it is an asset.” Whiteside said. “There have been times in my career where I felt like initially that factor has caused people to underestimate my ability […] I do the hard work and that speaks for itself.”

After working for the federal government in Pennsylvania, Whiteside said she is confident in her decision to come back to Tennessee.

“Living in Philadelphia really solidified the fact that I wanted to be closer to home.” Whiteside said. “I’m really happy to be back.”

The appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education has many worried about the future of American education, but Whiteside said a commitment to students will remain.

“I believe that no matter what we are going to do our best to serve students. That is not going to change no matter who is the education secretary.” Whiteside said. “Having worked for the federal government in the U.S. Department of Education, I know that they have concerns about the direction the department is going to go in.”

Whiteside also said students do not have much to worry about.

“I do not think that [DeVos] is going to have as much impact on the day to day. [Students] probably won’t feel the impact of what they do as much.” Whiteside said.

Whiteside said she is optimistic about the future of APSU.

“I am excited to be here.” Whiteside said. “I look forward to meeting the students and getting involved.”