Professor Sarah McLemore Muses on Care, Community, and the Need for Empathy in her Parker Award Luncheon Lecture

English professor discusses how the ethics of care can lead us through the tough COVID years to our best GCC selves.

A headshot of GCC's English Division Chair, Sarah McLemore
Sarah McLemore (courtesy)

“Identity, community, and the need for empathy for each other. Having us come to understand that we’re more than students, faculty, staff, administrators, and a board. To understand that our lives as caregivers, volunteers, community organizers, amazing human beings balancing a lot, in and out of work. I wanted to talk about how all of this connects to the idea of ethics of care which I believe might help us find our best selves and our best GCC Community in 2022,” said English Division Chair and Instructor of English, Sarah McLemore, to participants attending her Parker Award Luncheon lecture.

On Sept. 9, Professor McLemore was awarded the prestigious Dr. William L. Parker Exceptional Service Award at the Faculty Institute Lunch in recognition of her 17 years of service to GCC, during which she wrote across the curriculum, served on the humanities and basic skills committees, and advanced accreditation initiatives. From her position as curriculum chair for seven years, she also developed curriculum from a governance committee to a senate subcommittee. The recipient simulcast her lecture in person and on Zoom.

Screenshot of Sarah McLemore's presentation
A screenshot of Professor Sarah McLemore’s presentation.

McLemore opened her lecture, titled “Care, Community, and Covid – Some musings about GCC in Fall 2022,” with humor and thanks. From her many laudatory remarks about her family, co-workers, and previous Parker Award recipients, it is evident that she respects the achievements and appreciates the robust working relationships she enjoys with her GCC co-workers – faculty and staff. Indeed, she refers to her colleagues as ‘frolleagues,’ i.e., a mash-up of “friends” and “colleagues.”

“Sarah was the Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator for seven years before becoming Chair of the English Division, so she arrived with a meticulous understanding of the mechanisms behind creating new programming that meets both the emerging needs of our students as well as the rigorous requirements of the Chancellor’s Office,” said DE Coordinator and English instructor, Piper Rooney. “I think that knowledge has allowed her to be very nimble in the ways she approaches English instruction and scheduling, fostering new courses, expanding the English Associates degree, and imagining the student of the future. I feel very lucky to be an instructor in the English Division with my egalitarian Chair so full of insight and charm!”

“I think that the concepts of the ethics of care is maybe just what is needed to help us see through this challenging time we’ve been in, to move forward to refine and reaffirm our GCC identity,” McLemore said. “An ethics of care provides a way to build community through compassion, empathy, and love for each other. The ethics of care is a theory of morality based on interpersonal relationships. The focus on care ethics is about empathy and sympathy for others. It’s about recognizing our positionality as humans. Meeting people’s needs where they are. Not where you think we should go or what you think would be best for them. Pivoting, adjusting based on what you see from people’s behavior and heard from them when they are most in need.”

McLemore didn’t just talk-the-‘ethics of care’-talk. “While it is true that Sarah is an incredible Chair for all the reasons related to the role, that isn’t what makes her so amazing,” said Lara Kartalian, Associate Professor of English. “She values her colleagues as friends and complex individuals navigating multiple pathways. She supports us in countless ways, and every decision is driven by empathy, compassion, and both her personal and professional ethics. Even through the most difficult times, we never felt isolated, and I know many of us will never forget that.”

“To my knowledge, she immediately began work on an institution-wide scale when first hired (before I taught here),” Rooney continued. “Sarah co-chaired Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) with Mark Maier, professor of Economics. She served as Assistant Chair to the English Division after her mentor, Alice Adams. She served on multiple important committees such as the Basic Skills Initiative and AB 705 committees. She was the Chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee for seven years and introduced data entry! She has continued to collaborate across disciplines with all kinds of Divisions, expected (such as ESL) and unexpected (such as Math). She is a powerhouse of innovation (and accreditation!) for the Division and institution.”

A committee of former Parker Award recipients is responsible for selecting a faculty member or counselor to receive the award based on the nominees’ multiple years of service and contribution to the college.

In her address to the gathering, McLemore acknowledged that “working with these diligent, intelligent, crafty Parker Award colleagues, has taught me much about the importance, the grind, the bureaucracy but also the rewards of time-sensitive, time intensive, and sometimes painstaking service commitments.”
“All I can say is Sarah McLemore is very well deserving of this award,” said Ramona Barrio-Sotillo, the 2015 Parker Award Recipient. “She is dedicated to the college, her students, and her profession. She is an amazing faculty member, friend, and member of the community. When I received the award in 2015, I was very honored and surprised because it was unexpected. Parker award winners have a passion for what they do. Sarah (like myself and the other Parker award recipients) is one of those people.”

Former Parker Award winner Paul Mayer, associate professor in noncredit ESL, noted that he is inspired to work at GCC with each presentation he hears annually. “Her message about the importance of caring for one another is worth bearing in mind each time we step into a student’s life. Dr. Ryan Cornner, superintendent/president of GCC, expanded on it later in the afternoon when he said that there are about a thousand employees at GCC who have daily contact with students, and if each one reaches out to a student who is struggling and then demonstrates that they care, we will have the best retention rate in the area.”

The observations of several previous Parker Award recipients were highlighted in the later part of McLemore’s presentation. “Our faculty believe in the partnerships with, and the pathways between, instruction and student services,” McLemore said. “We believe in the power of working together to ensure student success. We see how academic counselors can be those who encourage, inspire, conspire…and sometimes kick students in the butt…into getting through our courses. And I think this value we place on these partnerships goes back fundamentally to the concept of community and ethics of care.”

McLemore also noted her division in particular. “We in the English division, and I know beyond our academic division know that these students who ghost us in class, but yet don’t drop, who come, but never turn in a paper… they’re not giving up on us,” she said. “But something major might be happening in their lives for which they need support. That’s why so many of us observe the need for more connections with counseling in our survey results.”

Previous Parker Award recipient Laura Matsumoto acknowledged McLemore’s commitment to her students. “Sarah is an infinite ball of positivity and energy. She is highly engaged at levels of faculty and administrative collaboration that significantly impact GCC’s academic operations and support of students. I can rest assured that anytime I might need to call on Sarah for her expertise, that she will be there. Sarah is so knowledgeable, yet humble, and is truly an exceptional servant of GCC!”

Near the end of her musings and recollections, McLemore focused on what one possible future could be for GCC. “We’re facing a strange new paradigm of college life that we must define and navigate together. We define this reality together, and we continue to listen to each other, to meet each other’s needs, as colleagues, as friends. We do this, and we continue to best support our students and each other.”

McLemore and her department spend time analyzing data and looking at student trends. They validate what they see in terms of student success and gaps and then attempt to fill the gaps where they can, supporting their students. The Spring 2022 English 101 and English 101+ instructors were surveyed about their students who were not successful in class to clarify what forms of support the instructors believed would have better helped the students succeed. Many likely topics emerged, such as financial support, help with research, and the need for additional office hours. McLemore stopped for emphasis when she delivered the news that “instructors felt that the single biggest factor that could have transformed student success in English courses was academic counseling support.” She asked the audience to “pause for a minute to really think about how mind-blowing this is in terms of where we are and where we are trying to get with guided pathways and all the great discussion, I know we will have around success teams today.” McLemore concluded with her vision of the future, “I know that the path forward, for us all, is through listening, respect, responsiveness, and love. That’s how we’ll imagine ourselves into the great future that awaits us in our community wherever we are at GCC in 2022.”

The Dr. William L. Parker Exceptional Service Award, first awarded in 1993 to philosophy professor William L. Parker, is awarded annually. The Parker Award seeks to recognize excellence in nominees who have demonstrated good college ‘citizenship’ through contributions to college life outside the classroom, such as committee participation and leadership, outreach work, and grant work.
According to a ‘snapshot’ analysis of federal data from 2018 by the American Association of University Professors, “Women make up 43 percent of full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty members and 54 percent of full-time, non-tenure-track professors. Women are 50 percent of assistant professors, 45 percent of associate professors and 34 percent of full professors,” reported Inside Higher Ed. The 30 Parker Award recipients are 17 male (56%) and 13 female (43%).

The Career Service program provides a venue for students to assess their life priorities and developmental needs, research current occupational and academic information, and receive individualized support in defining and achieving their career and educational goals. To receive free career counseling, refer to:

To learn more about faculty and counselor awards and see the names of previous Dr. William L. Parker Exceptional Service Award winners, refer to: