Voices of Simmons

Inclusive Actions and Accountabilities

A message from Chair of the Board of Trustees, Regina Pisa and President Helen Drinan.

Over the past several weeks, we have had a number of difficult conversations with members of our Simmons community who are dismayed that we did not select as the inaugural dean of the Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities a woman of color. 

Classmates, friends and faculty from Ms. Ifill’s student days – and some who came to know her in her adult life – have expressed deep hurt and disappointment. Indeed, some have requested that we remove the new dean and re-open the search.   

We understand the disappointment that the inaugural dean of the Ifill College is not a woman of color, as that would have been one way to honor Ms. Ifill’s legacy. However, it is not appropriate to terminate our new dean who was selected through a deliberative search process with a national firm and community engagement. Instead, we should direct our energies to continuing to identify ways we can honor Ms. Ifill’s legacy.

From the moment he was a candidate, Dean Norman has been thinking deeply about the promise and responsibility of naming a college in Ms. Ifill’s honor and has already begun working with faculty and others to advance her legacy through public engagement, student mentoring, faculty diversity, public programming, and other initiatives. One such initiative was to be the first annual Ifill Symposium, bringing together faculty, students, community partners, alumni and luminaries into conversation around big questions Ms. Ifill herself would be asking of the world today. We have postponed that new tradition until next year. 

We believe this moment is an opportunity to elevate the conversation about inclusion, equity, and diversity on our campus, and to think through best practices in creating an inclusive and equitable experience for all members of the Simmons community. 

Following the outcome of the dean search we have taken these immediate actions:

  • On June 1, we created a new role on the President’s senior leadership team, dedicated exclusively to increasing diversity and improving inclusion.
  • We will ensure through coordinated outreach beginning this fall that students, staff, faculty, administrators and trustees understand their role in making Simmons the most inclusive and welcoming academic community in New England, as defined in our Community Culture Redesign plan.  
  • Effective October 1, we will begin quarterly reviews of demographic data of trustees, faculty, staff and students.
  • By the beginning of the next academic year, staff, faculty, administrators, and trustees will report on defined diversity, equity and inclusion goals for their work. 

It is also clear we need to take additional actions to increase diversity in the final pools for senior searches – something that we will undertake more aggressively going forward: 

  • We believe that more tailored training on specific tactics and approaches will enhance our efforts in achieving the diversity that we strive for in our searches. With that in mind, we will provide more diversity training and supports to all search committees and measure our progress throughout the recruitment effort.  
  • We also believe that better engagement of our alumni in future senior search processes and deepening our outreach to affinity groups will help us identify even more diverse candidates.

We understand these actions will not satisfy completely some of our alumnae who are disappointed in us. And we agree that the effort around inclusive hiring is important, but what counts more are the results. We are committed to ensuring that all voices are heard and all perspectives valued. This will make Simmons University a place that all of us can be proud of.


Regina M. Pisa
Chair, Board of Trustees

Helen G. Drinan

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