With approval of its board of trustees, the University of Dayton will bestow an honorary doctorate degree on Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders, CEO of the world-renowned Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, at spring commencement exercises Sunday, May 12, in the University of Dayton Arena.
“We are delighted to honor Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders for her many contributions to the vibrancy and culture of the Dayton community, her commitment to education, and her advocacy for minority business ownership in Dayton,” said University of Dayton President Eric F. Spina, who made the announcement at the University’s Celebration of the Arts March 28. “She epitomizes what it means to be a partner for the common good and build a diverse community.”
Under her leadership, DCDC expanded the company’s community networks, board of directors and administrative staff to facilitate new art production and educational programming; developed institutional partnerships with the University of Dayton, Central State University and Wright State University; and eliminated long-term debt and increased revenue streams. DCDC received the 2016 Bessie Award for Outstanding Revival, presented by Dance/NYC and the New York Dance & Performance Awards. Considered “the Oscar” of the dance world, dance companies and dancers outside New York City historically do not receive Bessies.
“I am honored and humbled by this prestigious recognition. I thank God for the opportunity to serve our beloved community,” Hawes-Saunders said. “Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is a community treasure whose mission is to promote unity and amity through the spirit and power of its performance art. It is my hope that we may all be inspired to make a similar commitment to excellence.”
Spina highlighted the close relationship that has grown between the University and the internationally renowned, culturally diverse dance company rooted in the African-American experience. The company, which has toured the world and performed in Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia and South Korea, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“DCDC brings dancers and choreographers to campus for performances, classes and artistic collaborations that add to the University’s arts and intercultural education programming,” Spina said of the partnership.
Since the 2010-11 academic year, DCDC has provided community artists-in-residence to work with students from all majors and at all levels of dance experience to introduce them to the art of dance and its relevance to learning. University faculty and students from all disciplines also work with DCDC to create new academic and experiential learning opportunities. Current artist-in-residence Amy Renee Jones works with the University’s theatre, dance and performance technology program. As part of the campus residency, DCDC holds several free public events on campus.
Hawes-Saunders became CEO of the dance company after selling the two Dayton radio stations — WROU and WRNB — she built from the ground up. At the time, she was one of just 10 African-American women nationwide to own a radio station.
“She launched programming and public initiatives designed to renew energy among the area’s minority community,” Spina said. “Ro Nita is an advocate for business ownership by minorities and women and has won numerous national awards for her service, dedication and commitment to this cause.”
Hawes-Saunders has earned a Marconi Radio Award, the nation’s top radio broadcasting award, and several National Black Programming Coalition and ABC station of the year awards. Radio Inc. magazine named her among the top 25 African-American leaders in the radio industry.
A theater, film and English graduate of Denison University, she served on that university’s board of trustees from 1993 to 2017. For her 24 years of service as a trustee, she is now a lifetime member of the board. Hawes-Saunders also earned a master’s degree from The Ohio State University.
She also serves on the board of CareSource Foundation and is an advisor for the Center for Global Renewal and Mission. In 2018, she was honored by the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio as a community “pillar.”