‘It’s about time we have a female president’: Campus reacts to President-elect Sian Leah Beilock

Beilock visited campus on Friday for the first time since becoming president-elect, meeting with members of the community.

by Daniel Modesto | 7/29/22 5:10am

Source: Courtesy of Leslie Jennings Rowley

Last Thursday, the College announced that Sian Leah Beilock — the current president of Barnard College — would serve as the first female president of the College. Campus leaders and students expressed excitement and high hopes for the new president, who will assume the post on July 1, 2023, following College President Phil Hanlon’s retirement in June 2023.

Beilock visited campus last Friday, meeting with students, faculty, staff and alumni, according to the College. Approximately 400 people greeted the president-elect at a two-hour reception at the Hanover Inn.

Devontae Lacasse ’24 attended the meet-and-greet on Friday afternoon. He said he appreciated how Beilock’s background in cognitive science will help her tackle some of the issues on campus, such as mental health, which she stressed as a priority during the meet-and-greet.

“Hearing her say that [mental health was a priority] definitely was something that resonated with a lot of students and resonated with me because I know that’s something that we are trying to make better,” he said. “Seeing that her priorities line up with one of [our] main priorities, especially mental health at an institution like Dartmouth, was something that was definitely very reassuring.”

In an interview after the reception, Beilock said that the reception demonstrated the strength of the Dartmouth community, which she had “already suspected during the interview process.” She noted that many people appreciated that she will be the College’s first female president, a responsibility that she takes seriously.

“I think a lot of people resonated with the fact that I’m the first woman president, and it’s something that matters to me,” Beilock said. “I am a cognitive scientist, and I’ve spent a lot of my research career studying how women and girls succeed in math and science, oftentimes when they’re underrepresented, so I take that responsibility to heart.”

In addition to students, alumni, including actress Connie Britton ’89, Jake Tapper ’91 and Mindy Kaling ’01, also reacted to the announcement on social media.

Some students at Barnard shared positive sentiments about Beilock, who is the institution’s current president. Teri Franco, a rising senior at Barnard, posted a TikTok in which she expressed her sadness about Beilock’s departure. In an interview, Franco said many students at Barnard “across the board” felt upset upon hearing the announcement.

“From my experience, everyone was upset,” said Franco. “…On different political orientations, different demographic groups, the various groups that I’m a part of — across the board — were all super upset. Everyone felt like this was a loss.”

Rising sophomore at Barnard Amelia Lang said that she was “not entirely surprised” to hear the announcement of Beilock’s departure from Barnard, noting that she had heard rumors about Beilock leaving. She added, however, that it was interesting to see other peoples’ reactions to the announcement given that Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, also announced plans to retire in June 2023.

According to the Board of Trustees chair Elizabeth Cahill Lempres ’83 Th’84, the presidential search process started with the appointment of 19 faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees to the presidential search committee to create a “truly representative of the community at large.” The committee then held 12 public listening sessions and sent a survey to encourage participation and collect names for their consideration.

Lempres said that the presidential search committee — both at large and in small groups — conducted interviews with candidates, sometimes in a “relaxed atmosphere” to get to know the candidates as individuals. She noted that the committee also spoke with people who had worked with Beilock because the committee wanted to see how she would fit into the Dartmouth community.

“That was a big factor for us, making sure that the community would fully embrace the individual and also that the individual would be excited to be part of the Dartmouth community,” Lempres said. “And I think [Beilock] checks both those boxes very fully.”

The presidential committee recommended Beilock to the Board of Trustees meeting on June 19, Lempres said. The trustees were able to meet Beilock in-person before they voted unanimously in favor, according to Lempres.

Student Assembly president David Millman ’23 celebrated Beilock’s election, adding that it was “about time we have a female president.”

“I think that’ll bring such a needed perspective in that role to the College,” he said.

Millman said that he hopes Student Assembly will work with Beilock throughout the transitional process and start informal conversations with Student Assembly to “tackle some of the pressing issues” and make sure that “student perspectives are heard throughout the process.” 

He took issue with the lack of participation from Student Assembly in the presidential search committee. In 2012, the presidential search committee that elected President Hanlon was composed of 14 faculty, staff, students and alumni — the sole student representative was the student body president that year, Suril Kantaria ’13.

“There’s precedent for involving student government, in some capacity as the elected representation of the student body, in that sort of committee, or some type of session or feedback gathering or some part of the process,” Millman said. “And that just didn't happen this time.”

According to Millman, it is important that Student Assembly works with Hanlon in his final year on student issues, such as mental health and student housing.

“I think that there’s a tremendous opportunity to work with President Hanlon throughout this last year, and try to make substantial progress on issues that he may consider to be his legacy that he’s leaving at Dartmouth,” he said.

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