Hollins’ new president, Pareena Lawrence, talks about her vision for the university to prepare women to be global citizens who understand their responsibilities and are ready to lead lives of consequence.
By President Pareena Lawrence
Since accepting the privilege and responsibility of serving as Hollins University’s twelfth president, two of the questions I’ve been asked regularly, and ones that I relish the opportunity to address, are: Why Hollins? What drives your passion to lead an institution dedicated to providing undergraduate liberal arts education for women?
Growing up in India, I was a quiet, shy child. Because of my father’s work, my family moved every couple of years, and he recognized how that was negatively affecting me. He knew I needed stability, and he was a strong believer in the power of education. So, beginning in the seventh grade, he made significant sacrifices and arranged for me to attend a highly regarded all-girls boarding and day school.
The next six years were among the most pivotal in my life. The school gave me a space to grow and find myself. It was a safe place. It gave me the opportunity to take risks without the fear of failure. It bolstered my self-confidence and encouraged me to explore many different areas to discover where I excelled. My friends were an incredibly supportive network of women—we built each other up instead of tearing one another down. We challenged each other but more importantly we cheered for each other to reach the finish line. I grew in grit and resilience. Within two years at this school, I was a different person.
At a women’s liberal arts college such as Hollins, this kind of deep transformation is a daily occurrence, but on an even higher intellectual level with many more opportunities. A liberal arts education isn’t simply about intellectual development in the classroom. For four years, you’re immersed 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, in deep learning together with your peers. I truly believe much of the learning at a liberal arts institution happens outside the classroom when students are engaged in discussion and debate, working on group projects, or participating in athletics or other cocurricular and extracurricular activities. Critical thinking, communication, and leadership skills are taught in the classroom and then honed and practiced in a variety of ways outside the classroom. Intercultural competency is enhanced through active, ongoing contact with those from diverse socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and international backgrounds. Professors and staff foster deep mentoring relationships. Students learn and experience what it means to be a responsible global citizen and how to work across differences to find common ground. All this happens much more organically at a residential liberal arts college, and especially at a women’s college. In contrast to the linear progression that occurs at many other institutions, the trajectory of intellectual and personal growth is exponential at places such as Hollins.
I believe more than ever that the women of the United States need women’s institutions of higher learning. The glass ceilings and concrete walls are present in every sector of our economy. But I am even more certain that, because of the deeply entrenched gendered norms and inequities in many parts of the world, the women of the world need women’s institutions such as Hollins. My vision is that Hollins will become an international force for educating women. My goal is that our trademark becomes this deep sense of individual and social responsibility where we enable and empower women to make a difference within their spheres of influence. Through years of research I have witnessed firsthand the impact empowered women can have on a community, village, or a region. I am confident that through education, women can create better lives not only for those around them today, but for future generations.
The multitude of Hollins women who have embraced this philosophy to affect change culturally, economically, and politically have much to contribute to realizing our role as a global institution. I look forward to learning from you and drawing upon your experiences as we prepare the next generation to lead lives of consequence.