Dannelle Whiteside

Vice President for Legal Affairs and Organizational Strategy at Austin Peay State University

Higher Education

Education: University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff - University of Arkansas
Nashville, TN, USA


Dannelle Walker Whiteside is a higher education leader, education lawyer, TEDx Speaker, authenticity advocate, and force multiplier. She currently serves as Vice President for Legal Affairs and Organizational Strategy at Austin Peay State University where she is the institution’s chief legal officer and also oversees public relations and marketing and strategic initiatives. She joined Austin Peay in 2017 as general counsel and was promoted to vice president in the spring of 2019. During her career at Austin Peay, she has also served as Secretary to the Board of Trustees. In August 2020, she served as interim President for seven months, leading the institution through the COVID-19 pandemic. Her appointment by the APSU Board of Trustees made her the first Black president of the more than 95-year-old institution. Whiteside has also been an adjunct professor of education law at Belmont University’s College of Law.

Prior to her time at APSU, Whiteside served as General Attorney for the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, General Counsel for the Tennessee State Board of Education, and District Policy Advisor for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

She was recently named a 2021 40 Under 40 winner by the Nashville Business Journal and was named to the 2020 class of the Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI), a premier leadership development program of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). In 2019, Whiteside was named to the inaugural cohort of the Tennessee Higher Education Leadership and Innovation Fellows program. That program, sponsored by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), is designed to develop the next generation of enterprise leaders in higher education. Whiteside has also been named a Nashville Emerging Leader in the Education category by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, a Nation’s Best Advocate: 40 Lawyers Under 40, and a Nashville’s Top 30 Under 30. Whiteside received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, with honors and received her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, graduating Summa Cum Laude. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Tennessee.

Whiteside and her husband Sean are the proud parents of two young sons, Donovan and Shannon.


Leadership, Motivation, Free Speech, Work/Life Integration, Education Law, Leadership God's Way

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Best Story

I remember studying for the bar exam. For those of you not familiar with the process of becoming a lawyer, it’s 3 years of law school, which is torture in and of itself. Then you graduate, but you can’t really be excited because you know that thing standing between you and the practice of law is a bar exam. Now you graduate in May and the exam is at the end of July. So I spent the entire summer after graduation in a four-person study group preparing for the bar. It was brutal. I have blocked out most of it, expect this part. Two weeks before the bar, my study group took a practice test. Out of the four of us, I was the only one who failed. I was devastated. I went home crying. I told my mom that I was going to have to pick another career because I wasn’t going to pass and I wasn’t going to become a lawyer. Now if you ask my mom this story, she’ll tell you about how she pulled out an old-fashioned switch and threatened to spank me with it if I didn’t pass, but I’m gonna skip over that part. I gave myself that day to pout and then I said I’m going to give studying my best effort these last few days and give the rest to God. Well, a few months later, I got my results. I was the only one in my four-person study group to pass the bar. I needed every bit of that early failure to set me up for my ultimate success.

Origin Story

In Mya Angelou’s book “Our Grandmothers” she writes, “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.” We often forget that there are generations of women who have fought hard so that we can sit in the seats we occupy today. Knowing their stories and their challenges should provide you with some strength for your journey. When I was in my first year of law school, I called my mom crying because I just didn’t think I was going to make it. I was going to pack my stuff and come home. I was expecting my mother to agree with me and welcome me with open arms. Over the phone, she had a stern voice. She said, “You come from a loooonnnng line of women who worked hard and endured hardships. They didn’t quit and you won’t either.” Armed with that pep talk, I chose not to quit because I harnessed the strength of the 10,000 who came before me. And we now see how that story unfolded.

Understand that you will face challenges in your journey of being the change you want to see. It may feel like you’re fighting alone, you may feel like you can’t do it, but you come with the strength of 10,000.