“All Of Us Must Do The Work. All Of Us Must Begin Now.”: President-Elect Hinton Calls for “Lasting, Meaningful Cultural Change” at Hollins

President-elect Mary Dana Hinton shared the following message with Hollins University students, faculty, and staff on June 19:


Dear Hollins Community,

When we were together during my visit in February, none of us could have imagined the events of this moment. We are now planning for the resumption of college in the fall under the constraints of COVID-19, and each of us also has been called to use our voice to actively work towards justice and equity. I am grateful for President Gray’s support and counsel as I have worked with her and university leadership to navigate reopening and our inclusion efforts.

I have spent the past few weeks having difficult and, often, inspiring conversations with my family, with students I have the privilege of serving, and with members of the Hollins community. I have heard the hurt, concern, anger, and disappointment many of us feel. I have also heard the belief in our mission, the desire to do the work of transformational inclusion, the love for Hollins, and the choice to be and do better. It is with a spirit of hopeful action and a deep sense of honor for the Hollins mission and community that I write to you today.

Like all institutions across the United States, we must do the important work of facilitating and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, Hollins University has a special obligation in this moment as it relates to dismantling systemic racism. At Hollins our call must not only be in reaction to recent events, but also to reconcile our institutional past with enslavement; to ensure all of our students – including the voices and concerns of students of color – are heard, seen, and valued, and feel safe on campus today; to create an environment of inclusive excellence that supports rigorous teaching and learning in the liberal arts tradition; and to develop a plan that guides our efforts to be an inclusive community. We must be accountable for equity regardless of what is happening in the world around us.

As a leader, I recognize that in the moment it is easy to react, to send out statements, and to develop plans that sit on a shelf. What we are compelled to do at Hollins University, however, is engage significant cultural change that demands far more from me, and each of us, than merely reacting. As a learning institution, we must grapple with these issues individually and collectively.

As President-elect, I have already learned that we need to reconsider building names and continue to reconcile our institutional history. I have heard students reference feeling at risk on campus and in the classroom. I know that faculty, staff, and administrators must do the work of inclusion education and professional development. The responsibility of explaining why Black lives matter, and what that requires of the community, should not fall disproportionately on community members of color. We need a committed effort to diversify our faculty and staff, and to ensure all community stakeholders have engaged in anti-racist training. I also know these items are just a beginning. The dismantling of systemic injustice also means the building of just, equitable systems. The work must be done with both urgency and deliberate process.

All of us must do the work. All of us must begin now.

I am asking that, as we navigate this critical moment for our world, our country, and our campus, we dig deeper and not only react but commit to substantive, transformative change for the campus. I implore us to look at our culture, programs, policies, and practices to determine how we can transform the institution to ensure we are always working in an equitable and just manner. I am pushing myself, and asking each of you to commit alongside me, to do the transformative work of culture-change and inclusion – which will be long, hard, and uncomfortable. Lasting, meaningful cultural change cannot be done overnight. However, this cultural shift will ensure we stand firmly by our liberal arts mission and our humane values as we put equity and inclusion at the forefront.

To that end, I will be hosting town hall meetings beginning in July for faculty, staff, students, and alumnae. These will be critically important moments as I continue to learn about Hollins’ history, as we acknowledge the challenges of our present, and as we begin to envision a pathway of action towards a shared, aspirational, and inclusive future. Out of these meetings will come deliberate, impactful action, starting now.

Over the next several weeks, in preparation for those town hall meetings, I will be in dialogue with many groups on campus including, but not limited to:

  • Black Student Alliance
  • Descendants of the Hollins community
  • Inclusivity and Diversity Advisory Council (IDAC)
  • SGA Roundtable
  • The Working Group on Slavery and its Contemporary Legacies
  • International students
  • The librarians
  • Jeri Suarez (Cultural and Community Engagement)
  • Dr. Idella Glenn (OID), Dr. LeeRay Costa (Faculty Development)
  • Hollins Alumnae Board leaders

These groups and individuals, as well as others, have been working on issues of diversity and inclusion, and I look forward to learning from and with them as we develop a process for transformation.

Critical to this moment is ensuring we have a public timeline and accountability structure. At this moment I anticipate that we will:

  •  Identify campus concerns and outline the plan of action (summer/fall)
  •  Engage/Implement solutions (fall):
    • In addition to addressing and acting on what is learned during the summer, a guiding vision will be developed and coordinated activity begun
  • Assessment (ongoing)
  • Inclusion audit completed and report to the community (December 2020)

While this timeline is subject to change as this intentionally dynamic process unfolds, I commit to updating the community regularly about our direction, significant learnings, and the action steps we are taking to develop an inclusive culture.

Even as I learn more about Hollins each day, I continue to hold close what first drew me to this institution and presidency: the mission, values, and integrity of the Hollins University community. What compels me daily, and affirms my desire to partner with each of you, is the vibrant future I know we have ahead of us.

The road we must tread together will not be easy. But as we commemorate Juneteenth this week, it has never been more fitting or more important that we commit ourselves now to working collaboratively, to being vulnerable to and with one another, to learning and leading, and to privileging hope over fear. I have every confidence we will do this work with excellence and become a stronger community because of it.

Levavi Oculos,

President-elect Hinton




President-Elect Hinton Joins Higher Ed. Leaders, New York Times Magazine to Discuss College This Fall

President-elect Mary Dana Hinton is among the higher education leaders brought together this week by The New York Times Magazine to consider “What Will College Be Like in the Fall?”

In her introduction to the discussion, Staff Writer Emily Bazelton notes the challenges colleges and universities face as the coronavirus remains a global threat this fall and winter. “On one side of the ledger are the health risks of density if students return to the dorms and classrooms and facilities….On the other side are disruption and derailment, concern about the isolation of online learning and economic loss for institutions, college towns and regions.”

Bazelton asks, “As colleges and universities make decisions now about their operations over the next academic year, what are the conditions for trying to reopen campuses? If students return, what changes to college life will be needed to contain and suppress the virus?”

Hinton and five other panelists explore “the new realities of life on campus in the midst of a pandemic,” and address specifically the following questions:

  • “If Schools Reopen, What Will Campus Life Look Like?”
  • “What About Working on Campus?”
  • “What Will Learning Be Like?”

Hinton believes reopening Hollins “will be a time of mutual accountability and collective responsibility for the well-being of one another. Healing and the safe re-establishment of community has to be the priority for student life on campus. The community has to collaborate.”

The president-elect goes on to highlight the distinction that “for students whom we want to have social and economic mobility, it’s not just the transactional part of education that matters. It’s the transformational component. And we hear from our students that the development of critical thinking, problem solving and leadership skills – skills that are so important in this search for equity and mobility – happen within and outside the classroom. Being together, being seen and heard, really matters. Also, for some of our students, they need the housing, they need food, they need safety, they need to be in community.”

Joining Hinton in the discussion are Carlos Aramayo, president of the Boston chapter (Local 26) of the union UNITE HERE, which represents dining hall staff members at colleges and universities; Michael V. Drake, president of Ohio State University and a physician; Richard Levin, former president of Yale University and an economist; David Wall Rice, a psychology professor and associate provost at Morehouse College; and Pardis Sabeti, a biology professor at Harvard University and a member of the Broad Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

“I Found My Heart at Hollins”: President-Elect Hinton Shares How the Campus Community Is Already Inspiring Her

As she prepares to take office in August as Hollins University’s 13th president, Mary Dana Hinton declared that “the potential of Hollins feels unlimited” and that she is ready to “lock arms” with students, faculty, staff, and alumnae “and journey together into the future.”

The comments highlighted a wide-ranging video conversation between President-elect Hinton and Interim President Nancy Oliver Gray that was produced for Hollins’ annual Reunion celebration, May 29-31. Recognizing all classes ending in zero or five, and the class of 2018, “Virtual Reunion 2020” was held remotely this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the classes’ in-person reunion postponed until summer 2021. The virtual event welcomed all alumnae to view a variety of online videos at their own time or during remote watch parties. Alumnae were also encouraged to use this time to reconnect with classmates and their Hollins roots.

Hinton noted that her passion for women’s education began during her high school years when she attended Saint Mary’s School, an all-girls school in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I learned about the power of women’s voices and about the importance of women supporting women. Having experienced an all-women’s education helped make me a leader. That realization has only heightened over the past six years as I have led a college for women.” Hinton comes to Hollins after serving as president of the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota.

Describing Hollins’ mission as “a perfect fit” for her, Hinton praised the university for being “steadfast over time in its commitment to women’s education. When I look at the fact that our undergraduate program is centered around developing women’s voices and leadership, that speaks to the deepest part of my personal and professional being. One of my favorite new phrases is, ‘I found my heart at Hollins.’ I love the fact that the women of Hollins are fiercely intelligent, unapologetically ambitious, and incredibly generous.”

Hinton identified several key priorities for her first year in office and said the most important goal for her as a leader will be to learn the university’s culture. “You do that by being present and getting to know all of the stakeholders and constituents. As I’m listening and learning, we need to make sure we are creating an environment of innovation where we explore new ideas and work toward becoming the institution we want to be. I view this first year as centered around building a shared, aspirational future, and recognizing that future will involve investments in new programs, sustaining or perhaps expanding existing programs, focusing on our financial sustainability, and working on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The president-elect emphasized her confidence that Hollins “will persevere through the pandemic and come out stronger on the other side. We cannot allow COVID to define who we are as an institution. We have to be even more creative, forward-looking, and determined. It will demand more of and more from each of us, and I think we are up to the challenge. We will stand up and proclaim the value of who we are and what we do.”

Gray lauded Hinton for her “bold, clear-headed, ambitious commitment to elevating Hollins,” and in turn, Hinton cited how honored she felt “to inherit the legacy” of Gray, who was the university’s 11th president from 2005 to 2017 and served as interim president during the 2019-20 academic year.

“The world needs the women we serve at Hollins: Women of consequence, women of passion and determination, women of influence.” Hinton said. “It is at this moment that we choose transformation over transaction, hope over hurt, future over fear. And, it is at this moment that we journey forth – sisters, leaders, and friends – as we lift our eyes and see all that is before us, and with gratitude to our past, we move forward.”

Watch the complete conversation with President-elect Hinton and Interim President Gray.




“We Journey Together with Purpose and Hope”: Hollins Welcomes President-Elect Hinton to Campus

Hollins University President-elect Mary Dana Hinton proclaimed, “I want to hear your hopes, dreams, fears, and ambitions. I will hold them in my mind, and even more so, gently in my heart,” during her first address to the campus community on February 21.

Hinton, who currently serves as president of the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, was named the university’s 13th president on February 13. She was greeted with a standing ovation by an audience of students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and members of the Board of Trustees as she entered the Hollins Theatre, accompanied by Board of Trustees Chair Alexandra Trower ’86 and Interim President Nancy Oliver Gray.

“Mary is warm. She cares. She is interested in everything you have to say,” noted Trower during her introduction of Hinton. “She embodies the heart and soul of our beloved institution.”

Gray remembered meeting Hinton for the first time at a meeting of independent college presidents in January 2019. “I was so impressed with her depth, her insight, and her understanding….It became increasingly clear what a collaborative leader she is. It will be a huge honor for me to share the title ‘Hollins President’ with her.” Gray was Hollins’ 11th president from 2005 to 2017 and returned as the university’s interim leader for the 2019-20 academic year.

Mary Dana Hinton
“Together, we will create a collective vision.” President-elect Mary Dana Hinton spoke for the first time to the Hollins community on Feb. 21.

In her remarks, Hinton recalled growing up in the small, rural community of Kittrell, North Carolina, located approximately 150 miles southeast of the Hollins campus. Despite her family’s economic challenges, she said her mother always told her that “we had much more than other people. While that argument could not be made regarding material possessions, she always said, ‘Because you are able to think clearly, you have an obligation to give back to others.’ I didn’t know how that would unfold and I certainly never envisioned leadership at this level.”

Hinton said two factors changed her life. “I had a group of people who believed in me and told me I could be something. And, most importantly, I was able to access an education. A liberal arts education. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the liberal arts saved my life. I have shared many times that there is not a single doubt in my mind that had I not been exposed to the liberal arts, I would not be here today. Yes, I learned how to think and how to deconstruct and reconstruct knowledge. But even more, a liberal arts education is about our relationships with learning and with people.”

Hinton credits a former teacher with giving her the confidence to “do anything. She saw beyond my poverty, my complete lack of social capital, and my insecurity. She was willing to see my humanity and insist that the great values of the liberal arts tradition could change the trajectory of my life.”

The transformative effect brought about by her education, and the ability to impact the lives of others, “are what drive my commitment to the mission of Hollins University,” Hinton stated.

The president-elect emphasized that it is essential for the campus community to work cooperatively in providing a distinctive experience for students in a way that is sustainable but also takes advantage of the university’s strengths. Referencing the opportunity for mission-driven growth first cited by Bessie Carter Randolph during her presidency from 1933 to 1950, Hinton said, “We will be unflinching in our faith to our long-run task as we seek new opportunities for our shared success. We will determine, as a community, what cannot be compromised. We will create space for that which may be new and invigorating.”

Hinton called for creating together a collective vision that “will transform and inspire us. In that ultimate vision, I won’t see my entire reflection. Likewise, when you look at it, you may or may not see your full reflection, either. But, if we look closely, if we look at the values articulated, the strategies indicated, and the ways in which we will measure ourselves, I feel confident that we will see one another.

“Developing this vision will require active engagement, the nurturing of trust and confidence, and working with a sense of urgency balanced with a sense of thoughtful deliberation. It will require us to be open and invite change, while maintaining the soul of who we are. It will require we journey together with purpose and hope.”

Hinton concluded her remarks by invoking the spirit of Levavi Oculos, the university motto, which is taken from Psalm 121.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills for you. I will lift up my eyes to the hills with you. I will lift up my eyes to the hills because of you.”

Hinton officially takes office as Hollins’ next president on August 1.


Watch President-elect Hinton’s address in its entirety.

In this interview with Roanoke’s News 7 (WDBJ-TV), President-elect Hinton talks about her eagerness to spend time with faculty, staff, and most of all, students.