2024 Alumni Awards Profiles

Denise Iverson-Payne ’74Denise Iverson-Payne ’74

Reunion: 50th
Residence: St. Pete Beach, Florida
Grinnell major: Anthropology and Black Studies
Profession: Higher education administrator, public school administrator, public service

3 ways Denise embodies Grinnell College’s mission of lifetime learning and service

  1. Denise became the first special assistant to the president for diversity at Gustavus Adolphus College in the early 1990s – decades before the birth of DEI related jobs. Among her many initiatives was developing a diversity awareness session during orientation for incoming college students, called “E Pluribus Gustavus,” and a national community service initiative. She taught courses in anthropology and led courses in South African history, which included a January course for the Gustavus choir to visit South Africa. She also became the “campus mom,” acting as a mentor, venting outlet, and confidant for scores of students.
  2. As assistant vice chancellor for student development at North Carolina A&T State University from 2001 to 2016, Denise taught courses, arranged for international trips for students, and served on the committee that led the effort for the design and construction of a new Student Union building.
  3. Her deep desire to ensure that Black students had a feeling of belonging and value on Grinnell’s campus drew Denise back to Grinnell to plan Black Alumni Weekend in 2014. She spoke to students about the history of struggles and successes of Black students on Grinnell’s campus.

Something you probably didn’t know about Denise

As a legacy gift to leave her family and community, Denise currently is working on a cookbook, to be titled Manna, that’s not only filled with favorite recipes from her family’s reunions and special occasions, but also will describe the unique cooking styles and techniques that can be traced to her forefathers’ and foremothers’ arrival to this country.

A collage of photos featuring Denise Iverson-Payne ’74

Bonus Denise Fun Facts

  • Denise was part of the first group stewards of Grinnell College’s Black Cultural Center (BCC) along with Juanita Carswell McKennie ’71, Luverne Vann Taylor ’72, and Roxane Brown Johnson ’74. The foursome proudly and respectfully served as caretakers of the facility and welcomed students to activities held at the BCC.
  • After graduation from Grinnell, Denise enrolled in the first off-campus “East African Institute,” a six-week study in Kenya and Tanzania. 
  • Denise co-sponsored and was the most ardent supporter for a social justice theatre company, “I AM WE ARE,” at Gustavus Adolphus who observed a 25-year anniversary at the College as well as presented at conferences around the world. 

A quote about Denise

“To describe Denise Iverson-Payne as a trailblazer in her lifelong mission of serving in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion would be an understatement. Not only was she among the first to earn her undergraduate degree with a double major in Black Studies & Anthropology, but she also was among the first to forge a path for colleges and universities to introduce such initiatives and academic areas of study.”

Roxane Brown Johnson ’74

Read more 2024 Alumni Award Recipient profiles.