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Danielle Holley welcomed as 1st Black permanent president at Mount Holyoke College

Danielle Holley has been named the 20th president of Mount Holyoke College.
Screen capture from announcement
Danielle Holley has been named the 20th president of Mount Holyoke College.

After a unanimous vote by the Board at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, the school has chosen a new president. Danielle Holley is currently the dean of Howard University Law School.

A noted legal educator and social justice scholar, she will also be the first Black woman in the 186-year history of Mount Holyoke to serve as its permanent president. Holley explains what that distinction means to her.

Danielle Holley, president-elect, MHC: I am so honored to be the president-elect of Mount Holyoke College. I think Mount Holyoke is such an outstanding liberal arts college and really represents all the values that have meant the most to me during my entire career, really pursuing education for freedom, for liberation, to help create more opportunity. And so being the first Black permanent president of Mount Holyoke is an important moment for the institution and of course also for me personally. But it really reflects the values of Mount Holyoke. I think Mount Holyoke is an inclusive and a diverse campus, a campus that values the promotion of justice and fairness. And so, it really aligns well with my values and feels like a natural fit.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: One in four domestic students at Mount Holyoke is a person of color. What message does it send to also have a president of color leading that school?

You know, I think the message I want to give to all students and faculty and staff and alums is that the doors are open for us. That with an education like the education that you get at Mount Holyoke, you are ready to step into any room, into any opportunity. And so, I hope when all students see me and faculty and staff, they see the possibility of what they can achieve and what they can be in the world, especially when they do it with a sense of service and a sense of commitment to others.

Recently, there's been turnover of presidents among the five colleges. How are you going to bring stability?

That's a great question. I think stability is very important in higher education. We are seeing a trend across higher education. I think a lot of it is due to the post pandemic as academic leaders, many of us work 15-hour, 16-hour days for almost two years straight. And so, we are seeing a lot of burnout. I have to say, I find academic leadership and the leadership of institutions like Mount Holyoke to be energizing. So, I know that there will be a lot of stability here because I find this work so energizing and Mount Holyoke is such an outstanding institution that it will be a place that feels like home. And that's what it feels like for students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

You've lived in Massachusetts before, probably in the Boston area when you were at Harvard?

I did. I lived at Cambridge when I went to Harvard Law School, so I lived in Cambridge for three years.

Have you spent much time in western Mass.?

I haven't spent a lot of time in western Mass., so I'm very excited to get to be a part of the Western Massachusetts community and to really get to know my neighbors and become a member of my community. Everywhere that I've lived, I always make it a priority to get to know people in the community and really do community service and become a part of the community in which I live. I think it's deeply important that as institutions of higher ed, that we are part of our communities and are seen as a positive benefit to our communities. And so, I'm very excited about becoming a member of the western Mass. community and getting to know the people in this community.

One of Mount Holyoke oldest traditions is Mountain Day. It begins with the ringing of a bell, and it's the day when students get a surprise fall day off from classes to climb up the nearby mountain called Mount Holyoke. Are you going to be taking part?

I absolutely will be at the beginning of the trail on Mountain Day to cheer everyone on. I don't know if I will do the entire tradition. I'm a little bit afraid of heights. So, I will be there to cheer them on.

One of the things that I love most about Mount Holyoke is all the incredible traditions. I think traditions are there to help us build community and have joint legacy. So, when you talk to an alum of Mount Holyoke from 1989 and you talk to an alum from 2019, we have all these incredible traditions and legacies that really pull us together. And so, I'm excited about Mountain Day, about Convocation, about experiencing my first milk and cookies experience and all the incredible traditions of Mount Holyoke I'm looking forward to participating in.

Mount Holyoke College is a funder of New England Public Media. Our newsroom functions with editorial independence.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.