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Dean Renée T. White

Renée White, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, describes Simmons as innovative, collaborative, and equitable. She describes herself as a leader who likes to inspire others to take chances, and she is convinced that Simmons has the opportunity to develop "new habits of mind" for the 21st century.

  • » leading expert on gender, race, and HIV/AIDS
  • » former professor of sociology and Black studies at Fairfield University
  • » areas of research and teaching include: reproductive health, social inequality, sexuality, and social justice
  • » B.A., Brown University
  • » M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology, Yale University

HOW DO YOU THINK SIMMONS AND YOUR PARTICULAR SCHOOL APPROACH LEADERSHIP?

In my view, the College has the opportunity to develop what I would call new habits of mind that will bode well for the 21st century. Within the College of Arts and Sciences, the kind of leadership that is valued respects the perspectives of all stakeholders and allows for disagreement and differences.

WHAT LEADER DO YOU ADMIRE AND WHY?

There are a few different people I admire. I have always been fascinated by Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker. Both were civil rights visionaries who were involved with the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Center, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. They were working women who developed unique styles of leadership within a male—centered coterie of leaders.

IF YOU HAD A DAY TO GO ANYWHERE OR DO ANYTHING, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND WHOM WOULD YOU BRING?

I would go to Costa Rica, where my mother was born, and visit the banana farms my grandfather had; back to Tuscany — to either il Duomo or Pitti Palace/Boboli Gardens; or to New Orleans for a po' boy at Mother's or breakfast at Surrey's. In all three cases, I'd bring my best friend and favorite travel partner, my husband Jeff.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES YOU SEE FOR HIGHER EDUCATION?

There are a few messages within public discourse that have been problematic. First is an anti-intellectual strain that proposes education is elite, exclusionary, and even undemocratic. Of course, none of this is the case, and I would argue that Simmons is an institution that could be perfectly poised to offer a counter—narrative about the essential nature of higher education. Secondly, higher education is often assessed in relation to employability and cost—benefit analysis. What this means is that the less tangible values inherent in education are rendered invisible — learning to be a critical independent thinker, having comfort in unfamiliar situations, developing an interdisciplinary sensibility, and just being well—rounded. This is not to deny the importance of crafting education that enhances students' abilities to be effective in their jobs, but that's not the only value of higher education.

TELL US ABOUT A TIME YOU FAILED AND WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM THAT EXPERIENCE.

I was a figure skater and I had a bad accident. No matter how many times I tried, I could not overcome my fear of falling (or perhaps failing?). I decided that I would stop competing and would instead teach little kids to skate. I learned from that experiene that you can be your own worst enemy and critic, that it takes time and skill to quiet the nay—saying in one's own mind, and that it's better to fail and try again than to give up, but ultimately it is important to forgive yourself when you do fail.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORD?

A word that I'm drawn to is grace. It evokes a state of being, peace, spirit, and stillness.

Renée White was appointed to lead the undergraduate and graduate programs in the College of Arts and Sciences as Dean in 2011. White encourages all students in the College of Arts and Sciences to become leaders in their chosen field.  To support this, White just completed a very successful first year of her innovative three-year pilot project, the SURE (Simmons Undergraduate Research Experience) fellows program. This program provides funding for students to attend conferences, present their research or serve as a research assistant to a faculty member.

Dr. White works across disciplines to build new programs and create opportunities that encourage innovative approaches to teaching and learning. With this in mind, she co-founded the first Vision 2020 college chapter in the nation at Simmons College and initiated the college's membership in the Clinton Global Initiative University Network, which supports, mentors, and provides seed funding to leading student innovators and social entrepreneurs. In addition, she introduced Global Connections, an all-college diversity graduation requirement for undergraduates.

White is the co-author of three books, including the acclaimed Spoils of War: Women of Color, Cultures, and Revolutions (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), and Putting Risk in Perspective: Black Teenage Lives in the Era of AIDS (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998). She has served as editor of the Journal of HIV/AIDS Prevention in Children & Youth and the People of Color Caucus newsletter for the Society for Values in Higher Education. She is currently an advisor to the Journal of HIV/AIDS and Social Services.

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