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.