“ . . . I am brought to a tremendous sense of pride in our College and its ability to expand on its historical sense of who we serve, who we welcome, and who we are.”
On my desk, as I write this letter, is a framed snapshot of three remarkable women: Dr. Kathleen Campbell (professor emerita, theatre), Dr. Carol Daeley (professor emerita, English), and Dr. Bernice Melvin (professor emerita, French). The photo is a reminder to me of the tremendous legacy our emeriti professors leave behind when they retire. But it is also a reminder to me of the ways that Austin College has embraced and supported women as leaders and scholars and the ways women have, in turn, shaped the College’s history.
I am often asked what it means to me to be the first female president in Austin College’s long history. Most of the time I don’t think about it one way or another, striving only to lead with as much skill and energy as I can muster and not stopping to think about the ways my experiences as a woman shape my work. But when I do reflect on the symbolic nature of my appointment, I am brought to a tremendous sense of pride in our College and its ability to expand on its historical sense of who we serve, who we welcome, and who we are.
Even in our earliest stages, when our students were all white, and Presbyterian, and male, the College was opening its doors to students without the means or social connections to “head
east.” And over time, the doors of entry continued to widen as students of all races, genders, ethnicities, orientations, religions, and economic positions have been welcomed into our community.
Each of these steps has been accomplished through reflection on our mission and values and in the spirit of love rather than fear. As Chaplain John Williams likes to say, “it isn’t that we are Presbyterian but we are diverse; it is that we are Presbyterian and so we are diverse.”
In 2018, we will mark our 100th anniversary of co-education—a century of educating women. Preparing for this milestone is a great opportunity to reflect as a community on the College’s long history of offering opportunity and educational access to increasingly diverse students. And while we have much to celebrate, it is also an opportunity to consider what is next for us. What does it mean to create an inclusive campus culture—one in which reflection on diversity is not merely a social good but an intellectual necessity?
How can we move beyond measuring representation and toward fully embracing the advantages that diversity offers for deeper learning? How do we continue to model critical engagement
across differences in ways that foster respect and mutual growth? How can we use the lessons learned at Austin College to repair a broken world? These are questions that will be on our minds in
the coming year and beyond. I hope you will add your voice to our conversation.
If you have not yet read Adding Value to a Changing World, our current strategic plan, I encourage you to read it on the College’s redesigned website. One of our key goals is to adopt the best of current digital technology to enhance liberal arts learning. You will read about the ways our faculty are transforming the curriculum and thereby preparing students to lead and serve for the future in the article, Liberal Arts in A Digital Age. At a time when liberal arts colleges are increasingly being asked to account for themselves, I am pleased that we are finding the right balance between embracing change and maintaining our core sense of mission.
And I will end with a glimpse at my summer reading list with the hope that some of you will send me some equally good recommendations. I’ve been recently immersed in collections of essays written by novelists and poets: Citizen: An American Lyric (Claudia Rankine), Bluets (Maggie Nelson), The Odd Woman and the City (Vivian Gornick), The Din in the Head (Cynthia Ozick). And summer plane travel means time for long novels as well: A Guide for the Perplexed: A Novel (Dara Horn), The Turner House (Angela Flournoy), and The Mathematician’s Shiva (Stuart Rojstaczer). May your summer be equally full of such intellectual pleasures!