Campus & Community

In Memoriam: Dean Emerita Charlotte Mae Morocco (1941–2023)

Dean Morocco with Student
Dean Charlotte Morocco and a student at the 1993 Commencement, courtesy of Simmons University archives.

Since 1996, the Office of Student Life has bestowed the Charlotte Mae Morocco Award upon an exceptional graduating senior. This particular honor recognizes an individual “who has shown a strong commitment through positive contributions to the Simmons community. The award recipient is successful in their academic and co-curricular efforts; is sensitive to the value of diversity within the Simmons community; and is self-confident, skillful, creative, and compassionate.” Psychology major Caitlin P. Curry ’24 is this year’s awardee.

Symbolically, the awardees embody and commemorate the indomitable spirit of Charlotte Mae Morocco, who served as Dean of the College from 1970 to 1993. During her deanship, Morocco reinvigorated preexisting mentorship programs, created a more accessible Student Life Office, and helped develop resources and procedures to meet the needs of minority, disabled, and commuting students. She championed a student-first environment that Simmons still embraces. Dean Emerita Morocco passed away on January 24, 2023. She was 81 years old.

Small Town Beginnings

Dean Morocco
Dean of the College Charlotte Mae Morocco, circa 1980, courtesy of Simmons University archives.

Born on October 10, 1941 in Somerset, Pennsylvania, Charlotte was the eldest of five children of Charles Franklin Morocco and Mae Elizabeth (Shaulis) Morocco. She had four younger sisters, and through her interactions with them, she began to develop her leadership skills. According to her sister, Ann Morocco Becker, “Charlotte often took mother’s place when mother would leave. She would be in charge and made sure that we did our chores. . . . In a way, she helped raise us all.”

Charlotte Morocco’s humble background might seem unusual for that of a future college dean. Somerset, PA was (and still is) a small, rural, and predominantly working-class town comprised mostly of farmers. Her paternal grandparents, Biaggio and Flora Morocco, were Italian immigrants who encountered prejudice upon arriving in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. They did, however, integrate themselves into the Somerset community by opening a roller-skating rink (one that offered spaghetti dinners) and a boxing ring. They also helped build a local Catholic church. Charlotte’s father Charles worked as a high school math teacher for approximately 40 years and her mother Mae was a homemaker. Money was tight, but the Morocco family remained tight-knit.

“Our family [situation] affected Charlotte, and she never took anything for granted,” reflects Becker. This equitable outlook would serve Morocco well as she entered the sphere of higher education, which privilege and entitlement often accompany.

As a young student in Somerset, Morocco was driven to succeed. In 1963, she obtained her undergraduate degree from Shippensburg University, where she double majored in English and Mathematics Education. In 1966, she received a Master’s of Education from Ohio University, where she also worked as a residence hall director. After graduate school, Morocco soon found her niche in university administration. From 1966 to 1970, she served as assistant dean of women at Heidelberg College (Tiffin, Ohio), where she supported female undergraduates. “Charlotte loved working with women. And since she did this so well at Heidelberg, she felt that she could do similar work at Simmons and that it would be a step up for her,” says Becker. Morocco joined the Simmons community as Dean of the College on July 1, 1970.

A Collaborative Leader

“Charlotte left her lasting legacy as dean of the college,” says Dr. Carol Leary, who worked alongside Morocco as director of residence and associate dean of the College from 1978 to 1985. “Her colleagues loved her dearly for her collaborative, direct, and honest approach to problem-solving.”

According to Professor Emerita of Economics Barbara Sawtelle, Morocco was part of a “dream team” of four women who collectively invigorated student affairs at Simmons: “Charlotte’s leadership team in the Student Life Office was highly respected and very successful, particularly because it brought together people who fully collaborated in student life policy, operations, and initiatives, but embodied quite different perspectives, ideas, and approaches. For many years, Charlotte emphasized the ‘what;’ Associate Dean Elizabeth (“Betty”) Rawlins ’67MSEd, ’03HD focused on the ‘who;’ Administrative Assistant Susan Scheinfeldt Jordan ’85, ’93MA addressed the ‘how;’ and Director of Residence and Associate Dean Carol Leary delved into the ‘why not?’ In this way, the Student Life Office developed and assessed new programs and explored and resolved diverse issues.”

The collaborative spirit radiated beyond Morocco’s innermost circle. Sandra Northrup, who served as an administrator for the Dean’s Office from 1989 to 2014, recalls that “we had a lot of fun, but we were always very serious . . . Working with Charlotte and Betty [Rawlins] were my best 25 years at the College.” Susan Jordan, who came to Simmons in 1977 (first as a secretary to Associate Dean Rawlins and then as an administrative assistant to Dean Morocco), articulates Morocco’s leadership style: “Charlotte was good at delegating, but she knew when to pull back. And she motivated and challenged her staff in productive ways. I experienced so much growth under her leadership.”

An early example of Morocco’s masterful leadership occurred in 1972 when she decided to renovate the first-year undergraduate advising program. In a memo to the faculty, she outlined her plan for creating more robust and customized mentoring, knowing it would serve students well as they embarked upon their post-Simmons careers. Reflecting on this initiative, Jordan notes, “Charlotte reminded faculty that they are on the same team [as the students]. I don’t think they always felt that way before Charlotte.”

Although not a traditional academic, Morocco conducted and shared her research on timely topics and issues regarding social equity. In 1980, she presented “Racism in the Community: Reflections on the Campus” at the Massachusetts College Personnel Association Conference. In 1984, she presented “Breaking the Silence About Rape, Sexual Harassment, and Battering” at the New England Women's Studies Association Conference. “My sister Charlotte was always a champion for the underdog; anyone who was being trampled on, she wanted to support,” says Becker.

From Mentorship to Friendship

Throughout her time at Simmons, Morocco mentored many colleagues and encouraged the next generation of leaders and educators.

Diane Hallisey, former assistant vice president of budget, expresses gratitude for Morocco’s dedication to everyone under her leadership. “As a less-experienced colleague, Charlotte taught me how important a part we all played in the development of our students, regardless of our position at Simmons.” Similarly, alumna and former Registrar and Assistant Vice President Donna Dolan ’84, ’86MS valued Morocco’s mentorship: “Charlotte was very helpful to me as a young administrator and continued to be a mentor through her retirement and long afterward.”

Morocco also mentored members of her family. With her encouragement, younger sister Elizabeth (“Beth”) Maul became an elementary school teacher. Morocco treated her many nieces and nephews as her own children, always offering words of advice and helping to subsidize their college educations.

Beyond mentorship, Morocco made lifelong friendships with members of the Simmons community. “Charlotte was a boss who became a mentor and role model, then she became a friend, and then a very close friend,” says Susan Jordan. “Charlotte saw me through two degrees, helped with my wedding, and supported me after my dad’s passing. She was just always there.”

An Advocate for Students

“Dean Charlotte Morocco encouraged all of her staff members to put students first and to experiment in new and innovative ways to serve students,” says Dr. Leary. This student-first philosophy privileges students’ agency and well-being, addressing their education holistically. As Dolan recollects, “Charlotte taught me how to think about the whole student, and to have patience and understanding.”

One reason why Morocco and her team centered the student experience so well was by fostering an accessible atmosphere. According to Professor Sawtelle, “The Office of Student Life had a perpetually open and welcome door for students, faculty, and staff, which was greatly appreciated by all. Charlotte listened to the students. She was honest, fair, and fun. She helped them make decisions and improve their academic paths and performances. Charlotte also encouraged students to become more involved in activities and student organizations, and she herself attended many student functions and gatherings.”

Natalie J. Fleischman ’84 (née Schwartzstein) recalls that whenever she approached the Dean’s Office, “Dean Morocco always seemed to be waiting for me all day to enter. That’s how it always felt; you were the person I’ve been waiting to see all day.” Morocco advised Fleischman to pursue a career in higher education that revolves around administration and leadership. “I did all [the things she recommended I do before graduate school] and she launched me on my 40-year professional trajectory. I have been forever grateful and appreciative.”

Navigating Challenges

Inevitably, Morocco encountered occasional obstacles at Simmons. In an October 1975 article in the student newspaper Janus (renamed The Simmons Voice in 1997), students vented their “frustrations” about the College’s administration. Morocco implored students to come to her with their concerns, but also conveyed that institutional change does not happen overnight: “Lack of change is often interpreted by the student to mean her concern has not been heard. This is not true.”

Carol Waller Pope ’74, a former Trustee and past president of both the African American Alumnae/i Association and the Simmons University Alumnae/i Association, remembers how Dean Morocco “deftly navigated an unprecedented era [i.e., the 1970s] characterized by fervent protests and impassioned calls for change, particularly led by African American students advocating for an African American Studies Department and enhanced diversity across the College. . . . Dean Morocco recognized students’ rights in policy shaping and celebrated their contributions.”

One disagreement between Simmons’ administration and the students was widely publicized, as it became the subject of a 1992 New York Times article. Without the students’ knowledge or consent, the College decided to rent on-campus dormitory rooms to 30 international male students from the Language Institute for English. Once the news broke, outraged Simmons students conducted a sit-in at the President’s Office. Morocco eventually conceded that students should have had a say in this decision. “Students have a right to be outraged that they weren’t involved,” she told The New York Times. In part because of Morocco’s ability to listen to student concerns, the controversial co-ed housing never materialized.

As her colleagues recall, Dean Morocco weathered these storms with grace and wit. “Charlotte had a marvelous sense of humor, which she employed effectively when meeting with students,” says Northrup.

“Charlotte was the advocate for students, and she would go to bat for them,” says Jordan. “She did not coddle, but would listen to you and be supportive. . . . She could be very blunt, but she was also understanding and compassionate. Her approach was practical and proactive, and that’s how she lived her life.”

A Legacy of Learning, Leadership, and Service

Reflecting upon Morocco’s 23-year deanship, Jordan realizes that “Charlotte was right where she needed to be and right where Simmons needed her to be. And she knew that student success had to be achieved holistically: intellectually, emotionally, and physically.”

Carol Waller Pope acknowledges Morocco’s “significant institutional reforms.” As she continues, “Dean Morocco’s enduring legacy epitomizes strong leadership in times of challenge and transformation, leaving an indelible mark on the institution and inspiring future leaders.”

In her farewell message to the Class of 1993 (published in Microcosm, the student yearbook), Dean Morocco emphasized how a Simmons education equips women to make a world of difference: “The challenges and expectations of our society seem at times overwhelming. How can we possibly embrace the solutions to such issues as world hunger, environmental devastation, the federal deficit, racism, sexism, homophobia, drug abuse, violence, AIDS, homelessness, and illiteracy? How can we keep a sense of optimism that indeed there are solutions? The source of my own peace of mind is the confidence I have in each of you and in the education you received at Simmons College. . . . [With your cultivated] intelligence, tolerance, respect, ethical principles, confidence, and a sense of humor, plus your own unique skills, knowledge, and talents, you will effect positive change.”

After retiring from Simmons in 1993, Morocco relocated to Florida and spent summers in Somerset with her family. Despite being a two-time breast cancer survivor, up until her 80th birthday she enjoyed biking, canoeing, sailing, playing bingo, and riding her electric scooter. Morocco and longtime friend Susan Jordan traveled to Atlantic City and Las Vegas to gamble —the former Dean’s favorite pastime. She spent the last year of her life in Somerset with her sister Ann Becker and passed away in 2023, due to heart valve-related complications.

Charlotte Mae Morocco is survived by her four sisters: Ann Becker, Sue Louise Bowser, Elizabeth Maul, and Donna Morocco, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.

“My sister Charlotte was truly wonderful, right up until the day she died. She was caring, communicative, wise, encouraging, and feisty,” says Becker. “She was the glue that held our family together.”

In January of 2023, Morocco’s family gathered in Somerset to memorialize and celebrate her life. “At the cemetery, we thought about all those young women who came to see her at the Dean’s Office,” says Becker. “We have no idea how many lives she touched at Simmons.”

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Kathryn Dickason