Diversity champion receives inaugural Diversity Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award

May 27, 2022
MUSC interim chief equity officer Dr. Willette-Burnham Williams at the May 12 luncheon. Photos by Anne Thompson

Long-time diversity advocate and leader Willette Burnham-Williams, Ph.D., was honored alongside other Tri-county individuals and organizations for their dedication and efforts championing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the inaugural Lowcountry Diversity Leadership Awards 2022 presented by the Charleston Regional Business Journal and Furman University’s Riley Institute. Burnham-Williams was recognized with the first Lowcountry Diversity Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award at a reception held May 12 at the Harbor Club in downtown Charleston.

Burnham-Williams, who is an assistant professor and interim chief equity officer at MUSC, was recognized for her sustained commitment and devotion to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and dedication to others throughout her 45-year career.


“I’m truly honored and humbled for being the first to receive an award of this type at this point of my career, said Burnham-Williams. “What else could a ‘little colored girl’ born in Williamsburg County, South Carolina, do but commit her life to the work of inclusion, access and equity? To stand here today and talk about a lifetime of commitment to the work of diversity, equity and inclusion was something I didn’t have an option to opt out of. It’s who I am and it’s what I do and comes from a place of love and compassion and commitment. The work that we do continues to be the work we must do and has to involve all of us. From every life experience and every identity we must represent, we have to work together.”


With more than 30 years’ experience working at various institutions including Williamsburg Technical College, The Citadel and College of Charleston before joining MUSC in 2006 where she led the Office of Student Diversity and rose through the ranks to help expand and advance the institution’s strategy and influence for diversity, equity and inclusion. Burnham-Williams has worked progressively in complex executive leadership roles and is recognized as a pioneer in developing strategic diversity initiatives and multi-faceted in organizations large and small, public and private. She is intuitively skilled at taking a consultive and collaborative approach to drive organizational change and shift organizational culture and priorities.

Dr. Burnham Williams and members of MUSC's leadership and Office of DEIInterim Chief Diversity Officer Dr, Willette Burnham-Williams, center, is joined by MUSC leaders and Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion staff.

In her current role, Burnham-Williams has led the creation and implementation of MUSC’s inaugural strategic plan for D&I. A member of the President’s University Leadership Council, she spearheads major strategic goals and objectives for transforming the organization’s culture of equity, inclusion and engagement.

Under her leadership, MUSC was recognized by Forbes magazine as among America’s best employers for diversity. MUSC ranks in the top 3% of medical schools nationwide in enrolling and graduating Black men, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. It has also earned recognition by the Human Rights Campaign

Foundation’s LGBTQ Health Care Equity Index Report for leadership in providing equitable and inclusive care.


Burnham-Williams has earned top honors among women in education including a Martin Luther King Distinguished Service Award for distinguished service in the Lowcountry and Martha Kime Piper Award presented by the South Carolina Women in Higher Education. She serves on the Summerville Rotary, the board of Dorchester Count Center for Children and the board of Owens Christian Academy.

Lisa Montgomery, former executive vice president for Finance and Operations, helped recruit Burnham-Williams to MUSC where they set diversity goals and strategies throughout the institution.


“This award is very well deserved. To say that Willette is passionate about this work is an understatement. She’s committed, passionate, tenacious and has moved MUSC so far in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion space over the years. It’s been my pleasure to be on this journey with her and watch it evolve from a one-to-two person office to a true culture shift at MUSC. The commitment, direction and support from leadership has been instrumental, ad Willette has been the right person to lead this and at the right time,” said Montgomery.


Chase Glenn, director of LGBTQ+ Health Services and Enterprise Resources, has worked closely with Burnham-Williams since arriving at MUSC more than a year ago. Together, they’ve expanded resources, developed policy, services and programs for all of MUSC’s LGBTQ+ community members as well as the Tri-county.


“It’s such an honor to work under the leadership of someone like Willette who has been doing this work for decades and is such an expert,” said Glenn. “When you think about MUSC building and becoming the preeminent example in the country of this type of work, there’s no better person to honor than Willette. I wouldn’t be at MUSC for me and my work. Her true vision of inclusion goes beyond identities. What an incredible honor – Willette’s leadership is unmatched!”