CoP Launches Inaugural William T. Robie III Lecture & Award

In recognition of the 60th anniversary of desegregation at the University of Georgia, the College of Pharmacy sponsored “60 at 60,” a unique celebration that highlighted more than 60 PharmDawg faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends who exemplify the spirit of inclusiveness on the College’s social media pages. Culminating 60 at 60 was the inaugural William T. Robie III Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lecture & Award, which had more than 300 individuals in virtual attendance. These events took place earlier this year during Black History Month. To see this landmark lecture, which featured Robie, the first African American to graduate from the College, see the full recording here. The 60 at 60 features are available here.

In honor of this occasion, Mr. Robie answered a few questions about his experience as a student and alumnus of the UGA College of Pharmacy.

All these years later, how does it make you feel knowing you were the first African-American student to graduate from the UGA College of Pharmacy? 

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to share with young students who will be such an important part of our society and our communities, and in particular, working as pharmacists.

When I first came to UGA, I was totally unprepared for the college environment that awaited me. I felt rejected, ignored, and treated as if I were not welcomed in the College of Pharmacy nor in my dormitory where I unknowingly became the first and only African-American student to reside.  The only person who befriended me was the janitor who could neither read nor write.

Soon after school started, I realized how isolated I was not having study partners or friends to discuss pharmacy classes and not being invited to join fraternities, college organizations, or participate in sports (as African-American students were not allowed to participate even in Georgia football). Due to these experiences, I quickly became angry, bitter, and lonely and would stay by myself in the dorm during Georgia football games, at Sanford stadium, because I could not relate to the students and felt too uncomfortable.

Looking back, it was not my goal to be the first of anything.  I just wanted a college degree and to have a good career in life. It took me over thirty years to forgive the University.  Thank God for the Lord Jesus Christ who opened my eyes to teach me it was not the people, but rather destructive characteristics and habits that existed in humanity. I thank God that I came to understand that one of my missions and purpose in life is to help young people and others faced with similar challenges to have hope, vision, and confidence that they will survive and be able to rise above such difficulties.

I feel a great responsibility to share the lessons that I learned from my experiences as a college student, my career as a pharmacist and my personal life. These are lessons that can be of great value to young people. For many will be leaving home for the first time, coming into a new challenging environment of college life and then being thrust into their professional careers with tremendous responsibilities, opportunities and increased income. These are the transitional times in their lives as there are many things that pharmacy school cannot teach about life or managing difficult decisions.

William Robie's Georgia Pharmacist Magazine Headshot

What advice would you give a younger version of yourself?

  1. Problem Solver— See yourself as a problem solver and expect that as you gain exposure and experiences you will improve in your ability to solve problems.
  2. Build Relationships — Oftentimes, because of the hurts and insults of others, you may feel discouraged to build relationships. However, as you continue to develop the characteristics necessary to build healthy relationships, you will have good success and this is critical to find stability and peace in the midst of the challenges you will face in school as well as in life.
  3. Commit Yourself —Spend the necessary time learning the academic and practical application of pharmacy so you can effectively serve the people in our communities. Challenge yourself to learn as much as you can developing your own skills and knowledge of pharmacy which is essential.

Don’t waste time comparing yourself with others, rather seek to get as much out of yourself as you can — don’t spend as much time competing with others, but rather challenge yourself to learn more about your studies whether they are interesting or not — don’t overlook or waste time.

Why do you feel it is important that a pharmacy school has diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of its values and mission?

As pharmacists, our mission of serving our communities is more than processing prescriptions (counting and pouring). In order to be most effective, we must identify with our patients and communities — their issues, needs, mental and physical health states are important considerations.

A pharmacist must consider and include diversity in the pharmacy itself.  When we intentionally reach out to others who are different from ourselves, we grow and develop as healthy human beings through the process.

This work begins in the pharmacy school itself by the leadership teaching that the highest quality of our institution and our practice of pharmacy must include the respect and recognition of others being equal as human beings regardless of differences. Our goal must be to enhance and improve the quality of life for everyone we serve and work with. As we make these difficult choices, we will better grow in our ability to be more accepting of others. 

Why do you feel compelled to support the Stuart Feldman Summer Science Institute? To Support the Dean Feldman’s and Dr. Vivia Hill-Silcott’s vision. 

Several years ago, Dean Feldman invited me to dinner to discuss the program and to invite my participation and support in starting the Summer Science Academy/Institute. At that time, I did not have the time or resources to make a commitment.  However, I always remembered his kindness and how appreciative I was for the invitation. I really wanted to help such a worthwhile program of diversity and inclusion at the College of Pharmacy.

Several years later, Dr. Vivia Hill-Silcott, director of the program, invited me to speak for the closing presentation and awards banquet. It was such a rewarding experience for me. I saw the excitement of the students as they were being exposed to the college experience and the quality of the education and training at the University. They were all encouraged and motivated to return to their high schools and study with a greater sense of purpose.

Personal: Advantage, Privilege, and Favor 

Our country is prosperous partly because of our focus on and rewarding of competition and winning. As a result, many of us find ourselves in positions of privilege and favor. These advantages offer a great opportunity to develop and practice sharing and caring for others less fortunate. And in so doing, we will not only help ourselves become better pharmacists, loved and trusted by our patients and associates, but we will also better contribute to the health and prosperity of the communities we serve and our country at large.