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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Q&A with College President Sian Leah Beilock

Beilock discussed her first year at the College, tensions on campus and her goals for the future.

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Three days after Commencement, College President Sian Leah Beilock — Dartmouth’s first female President — will conclude her first year in office. From a hope-inspiring inauguration and various new campus initiatives — such as the Dartmouth Climate Collaborative and Dartmouth Dialogues — to a narrow student vote of no confidence and arts and sciences faculty censure, Beilock’s tenure has been marked by both commendation and controversy. In emailed responses to The Dartmouth, Beilock unpacked her first year at the College and her plans going forward.

You assumed your role as College President on June 12, 2023 — almost exactly one year ago. What are your biggest takeaways from your first year on the job?

SLB: Reflecting on my first year as College President, I am struck by the resolve and spirit of our community and by the extremely close bonds that unite us across generations, ideologies, fields of interest and life experiences. The past year has been filled with challenges and opportunities, and I have witnessed firsthand the unwavering commitment of so many of our students, alumni, faculty and staff to the values that make Dartmouth a world-class university and an extraordinary community. 

There is something special about Dartmouth. I heard it a lot before arriving, and now I’ve lived it. Through hundreds of conversations this last year, small moments of community and generosity have really stuck out to me. I’ve loved the opportunity to ski with the ski team and ski patrol at the Skiway, to get to know my neighbors on Webster Ave. and to have countless conversations with community members on campus and around the world. It hasn’t been an easy year, and while there have been tense moments, our community’s kindness remained on display during our challenges.

We’ve accomplished so much in a short amount of time, but we’re really just getting started. As I look ahead to the summer and beyond, I’m excited about the new Climate Futures Initiative and research underway at places like the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health and so much more.

Relatedly, how could you apply those lessons to the Class of 2024? What advice — drawn from your time at Dartmouth or otherwise — would you offer the graduating seniors?

SLB: To the Class of 2024, you entered during a global pandemic and are leaving in the midst of international conflict and turmoil. You’ve risen to the challenge of becoming incredibly resilient earlier than previous generations. My advice is to think for yourself while also constantly interrogating your own assumptions and values. Constantly seek out people who have different experiences and views from your own. In whatever comes next, avoid the tendency to surround yourself with like-minded people or those who have had similar life experiences. Your ability to adapt, persevere and thrive despite historic obstacles is a testament to your strength and determination. As you advance to the next phase of your life, surround yourself with people who challenge you. You have already shown you can thrive in uncomfortable situations. Use that strength to put yourself in conversation with those who will make your views and impact sharper, broader and more informed. 

As College President, you have spearheaded several new initiatives — from the Dialogue Project to the Dartmouth Climate Collaborative. Which projects are you most proud of, and what do you hope to accomplish next?

SLB: I am immensely proud of the work we’ve done together this year, from hosting all of the living Surgeons General and the launch of the mental health strategic plan, Commitment to Care, to how our faculty came together following Oct. 7 to bring their teaching and research expertise to bear on a major world crisis and the launch of Dartmouth Dialogues. One moment that was particularly meaningful to me was hearing from students who participated in the One Small Step Initiative, a major component of the Dialogue Project.

It’s the first-ever university-wide partnership with the nonprofit StoryCorps, and it brings together Dartmouth community members with opposing views to engage in respectful conversation — even in the presence of strong political disagreement.

The testimonials from the first cohort of students who participated in these conversations underscore the transformative power of these dialogues. For instance, the students described how their conversations helped them see beyond political and ideological differences to recognize our shared humanity. These stories are poignant and illustrate the deep personal connections that can be forged through open, empathetic communication.

Looking ahead, I am excited about more Dartmouth Dialogues programming and events. The Dialogue Project is expanding skills training for students in empathy, humility and listening skills, and students will be intentionally exposed to those with whom they disagree. We are cultivating a generation of students who are not only academically accomplished but also equipped with the skills necessary to navigate and shape a complex, interconnected world.

Your first year at the College ended in controversy — many students and faculty condemned your response to the May 1 protest, where 89 individuals were arrested. On May 15, students narrowly voted no confidence in your leadership, while the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted 183 - 163 to censure you on May 20. How would you respond to this criticism? How — if at all — will the two votes influence your actions going forward?

SLB: Universities must be a place where people hold a variety of viewpoints, and I am proud that today’s Dartmouth students, faculty and staff are embracing this idea — voicing their opinions and standing up for what they believe in, even when they feel it might be easier to stay silent. We do not agree on everything, and in fact that is not the goal. But we all — myself included — have a responsibility to foster and contribute to a community where we can enjoy open, civil discussions on any topic, regardless of the complexity or difficulty of the subject matter.  

At the same time, many community members have rallied behind you. A petition of support is circulating, for example, with more than 4,000 signatories. What has this role taught you about balancing positive and negative feedback?

SLB: I want to hear from as many people as possible. Research — my own included — shows that the best decisions get made when there are many perspectives at the table. That said, in my role as College President, I always need to be guided by Dartmouth’s academic mission and our core values — which are my north star — and do what I believe is best for the institution.

Campus is teeming with questions — Will new housing be built? What will happen to arrested protesters? Will Dartmouth Dining prices be lowered? If I were to open your “To-Do List,” what would be ‘Item #1’?

SLB: The truth is, there are many high-priority items for me. Dartmouth is a dynamic institution with many needs and many opportunities. Right now, I’m looking forward to my first Commencement and celebrating with our graduates.

After that, we look ahead to welcoming the Class of 2028. Housing, our energy transition, mental health support, dialogue skill building — it’s all on my to-do list, and I’m excited for what’s to come. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.