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From Access and Opportunity to the Freedom to Make Mistakes: 4 Insights on DEI from the President of Amherst College

Written by David Sutphen on Sep 29, 2021

Related content: Higher Education, Diversity And Inclusion, Leadership

Last week, I was joined by my friend Dr. Carolyn “Biddy” Martin—the president of my undergraduate alma mater Amherst College—for EDU: Live, my monthly discussion series on equity, access, and opportunity in higher education and beyond. As always, I enjoyed the chance to talk to Biddy, who always seems to offer a unique insight or piece of wisdom, regardless of the subject.

Here are four memorable ones from our conversation:

1. On what Biddy sees as some of the biggest challenges facing higher education today:

“The recruitment and admission of talented students is part of the challenge. But I think the harder task proves to be equity, inclusion, and a sense of student belonging—I’d even call it ownership.”

2. On the expectation for college students to have nuanced perspectives when they’re still figuring out who they are:

“If you can’t make a mistake in college where your purpose is to learn, then where ARE you going to be able to make one?”

3. On Amherst’s efforts to ensure students are fully involved in their education and given equal opportunity:

“There’s nothing we’ve done that I think fails to benefit EVERY student, regardless of how ‘privileged’ or not they might be. That’s the beautiful thing about diversity and inclusion.”

4. On talking to Amherst students about the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech:

“Failing to understand that words matter in ways that are really serious—and refusing to take that into account on the grounds of one’s ‘freedom’—I can’t accept that.”

Through my six-year tenure as a member of Amherst’s Board of Trustees, I had the opportunity to learn so much from Biddy and see her leadership style up close. Being a college president is an unbelievably complicated job, but Biddy consistently rose to the challenge with a level of thoughtfulness, compassion, and clarity of values and vision that is rare among leaders in any sector.

Although I will be saddened to see her step aside at the end of this academic year after more than a decade as president, I—along with so many other Amherst alums, faculty, and staff—am thankful for the lasting and positive impact she’s made on the institution we all love so dearly.

I invite you to take time out to watch our full EDU: Live conversation (video below) to hear even more from Biddy. You can also register for our next episode scheduled for Wednesday, October 27 featuring Dr. Sandra E. Crewe, dean of Howard University’s School of Social Work. Learn more about Dr. Crewe in this interview about Howard’s new online Master of Social Work program.

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