Coming back to the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin is like coming home for Rafielle Boone Freeman. Every day is like a Homecoming for the 1993 graduate.
Freeman’s husband is Dr. Yancy Freeman, UT Martin’s 12th chancellor whose administration began Aug. 9. The couple grew up in Memphis, both attending Central High School.
“It was so interesting because he was two grades above me, but I always knew who he was,” said Rafielle (pronounced “rah-fee-ELLE”). “We always knew of each other, but got to know each other when he was in the pre-law program at Memphis State University, now called the University of Memphis, with my best friend, sorority sister and UTM alum, Kimaria Seymour.”
Rafielle was a member of the first graduating class of an accredited bachelor’s degree program in nursing at UT Martin.
“That was a big thing, for the program to become accredited,” she said. “It meant that I graduated from a high-quality program.
“I was, however, part of the first class that got to wear pants! In nursing, you had the hats and you had to wear dresses. Our class did not have to wear hats and dresses; we got to wear pants.”
Rafielle said that her studies in nursing helped to prepare her for her career.
“When everyone thinks of nursing, they think about being in a hospital, one-on-one with the patients. I worked at Methodist Hospital while I was in school,” she said. “I actually was a patient-care assistant. I subsequently graduated and worked at the same facility until I married the love of my life and moved to Chattanooga, where I continued to work until I was hired by Tennessee Health Plan.
“I worked in the chemistry lab here my freshman year, doing work-study, but I would also go back home and work in the hospital.”
Rafielle said her studies in nursing gave her an opportunity to learn about several different areas of medical and behavioral health care.
“UTM gave me a tremendous opportunity to care for people, learn, grow, and develop,” she said. “I worked in areas such as urology, neurology, medical:surgical, respiratory and cardiac respiratory. I loved caring for people and their families.
“I am now a health care quality improvement professional. The work I do supports to improve health outcomes and lives across the state of Tennessee.”
Rafielle is the director of clinical quality improvement for BlueCare Tennessee, which is BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee’s Medicaid business.
“I love working with people who have need,” she said. “Within the Medicaid population, there are underserved low-income populations. Many have significant social needs like food, clothing and housing. This definitely impacts their ability to get the health care they need.
“I work with extremely talented individuals, people across the state. I’m working with our leaders to try to promote equitable quality care.”
Rafielle has been with BlueCare Tennessee for 28 years. It is a career she enjoys and finds fulfilling.
“I never dreamed that I’d be working at a company that long,” she said. “I never dreamed that my nursing career would be there, but it’s never a dull moment, and I feel like there’s always something new and innovative going on.”
Rafielle said she was excited when Yancy told her that he was applying for the chancellor position at UT Martin, and they both felt that the timing was right.
“I believe the Lord is in all things,” she said. “Our daughter (Camille) was getting ready to graduate from high school, and we always wanted to be sure that she felt secure in her environment. Camille will transfer to UTM in the spring semester.
“Yancy said, ‘I’m going to apply for this job in Martin,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I love Martin,’ It was the best time of my life here. I’ve loved the people and the relationships I’ve built here and the friendships that I still have today.”
While on campus, Rafielle was initiated in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Zeta Lambda Chapter. She remains an active member of AKA.
“On the campus at UT Chattanooga, I was an AKA undergraduate adviser and very involved with guiding and mentoring the young ladies,” she said. “The sorority is very dedicated not only to community services but to community service and helping the community, which I love.”
Rafielle said that at UTM she would like to mentor young women from all walks of life. In addition, she wants to serve to address issues surrounding health-care disparities and equity within rural communities.
“There is a need to make sure that everybody has access to the right medical care and mental health care,” she said. “We need to take away the stigma of getting emotional support and mental health and that it is OK to say, ‘I need to talk to someone’ and ‘I need to listen’ and offering this open ear’ regardless of race or ethnicity. I think that mental health is the key to being healthy emotionally and physically.”
Rafielle and Yancy have two children. In addition to their daughter, Camille, their son, Yancy Jr., is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at UT Chattanooga. Rafielle is the daughter of Clarence and Bettye Boone of Mississippi.
Rafielle is happy to come full-circle back to UT Martin, and even though it is 30 years after she graduated, the familiarity remains.
“I am especially loving the students, faculty, staff and alumni of UTM,” she said. “They bring me life. The people in this community have embraced our family. I am humbled. I now have experienced that God’s dreams are bigger than mine.”
Photo: Rafielle Freeman speaks at the First-Year Initiative Convocation on Aug. 18, greeting new students to the campus just days after her husband, UTM Chancellor Dr. Yancy Freeman, began his administration.