(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
The leadership skills of Teresa Artis Neal ’83 emerged early. When all of the other kids taking piano lessons in Greensboro in the third grade practiced the classics, Beethoven and Bach, Teresa played “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”
Once she got to UNC, she quickly gained a reputation as a mover-and-shaker on campus: smart, urbane, a young Black woman who was going places. If you wanted to join her, she wanted you to come along. And if you were going to embark on a journey, she wanted to make sure you were well-equipped for what lay ahead.
Teresa was quite active in the Student Government Association. Students knew who she was because they would read about her in The Daily Tar Heel. When a classmate ran into Teresa at the student union and mentioned an interest in getting involved in student government, Teresa sat the woman down on a nearby bench and gave her a half-hour tutorial on how student government worked, the importance of understanding how to leverage financial resources and how Black students, in particular, needed more exposure to how finances impact politics and public policy.
That meticulous preparation has served her well throughout her career as a media attorney and an educator to the next generation of lawyers. After graduating from UNC, she enrolled in Harvard’s JD/MBA program, a useful degree that propelled its recipients to success in a number of arenas. Not many Black women opted for that degree, particularly at Harvard. But she encouraged other women to choose the program, always being realistic and direct about the obstacles and challenges Black women could face in the corporate world that people with that degree might enter.
Teresa is equally direct about the disparity between what UNC stands for and where Carolina should be. She believes strongly in the ideals on which the University was founded, that education should be available and accessible to all residents of North Carolina, all the while knowing that people of color, people like her parents, paid taxes to support a University that they were not allowed to attend.
Teresa was part of the first big wave of students of color at UNC, and she entered with realistic expectations, so she was less offended when UNC fell short of its equity goals. Not that she was less concerned, but she was prepared. And she worked for change. As a student, she served on a dean’s committee to suggest changes for General College requirements. As a member of student government, she developed a course that addressed multicultural issues across different academic disciplines.
After earning her bachelor’s in economics from Carolina and MBA and law degrees from Harvard, Teresa moved to Atlanta, where she joined Kilpatrick Townsend law firm as a banking associate, then became vice president of business affairs at a Turner Broadcasting subsidiary. Later, she returned to the Triangle as general counsel for Capitol Broadcasting Co. Currently, she has coupled her strong faith with her belief in using the power of media for good as media attorney at Trans World Radio, a global Christian media organization.
In 2016, Teresa began teaching as an adjunct professor at Campbell University Law School. Earlier this year, she accepted that same role at UNC’s School of Law and plans to alternate semesters at each school. The students keep her centered, she said, and give her hope for what they will achieve as they make their way in the world. She uses her ability to encourage and equip students for success in achieving their goals.
Over the years, Teresa has continued to work toward opening opportunities for students. Among the numerous boards she has served, she chaired the Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity that works with UNC’s development office. She encouraged alumni of color to claim a seat at the decision-making table through targeted giving, supporting in particular programs that benefit students of color.
She has served on the Board of Visitors, the GAA Board of Directors, the Carolina Women’s Leadership Council and on the search committee that brought Kevin Guskiewicz to the chancellorship. In 2016, Teresa received the trustees’ William Richardson Davie Award for service.
A current trustee, Teresa was elected the board’s secretary. As one of three Black members of the board, she has taken a stand and helped educate other members on how, for instance, naming buildings for white supremacists impacts Black students and faculty. A gifted diplomat and bridge-builder, she puts forward ideas that may not be in line with consensus but does so in a way that broadens the conversation rather than moves others to retreat.
She takes the long view, too, understanding that issues she advocates for now may not benefit students immediately but will help move the University forward.
“If you want UNC to change, be part of the solution,” she says, and she lives those values.
The Distinguished Service Medal is presented by the GAA Board of Directors.