Danielle Ren Holley breaks ground. A Howard University law professor and dean has been named the first permanent black president of Mount Holyoke College in the institution’s 186-year history. He will take up his role on 1 July 2023.
“I am truly excited to lead such a dynamic and important institution as Mount Holyoke,” Holley said in an interview with Diverse. “I think its values, what it represents, is the best of higher education.”
Mount Holyoke is a gender-inclusive women’s college in Massachusetts, one of the historic Seven Sisters, a group of highly selective women’s liberal arts institutions in the Northeast. Mount Holyoke is currently under the leadership of Interim President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, President Emeritus of Spelman College, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) as Howard.
Holley spent nine years at Howard, a time she called “transformative.” Under her leadership, the law school raised its national profile, created new programs, and received more funding and resources.
“This is a full-circle moment for me because Dean Holley was my very first Howard President hire in 2014,” said Dr. Wayne AI Frederick, who has announced plans to step down as president by June next year. “Dean Holley led the law school to unprecedented heights, founded the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center and pushed applications to all-time highs. Her presence and influence will be truly missed on our beloved campus.”
Holley said Howard and Mount Holyoke share similar connections because both were founded to serve and uplift populations marginalized by white patriarchal society.
“Unfortunately, in many educational institutions, students, faculty, staff and alumni feel that their identity — race, gender, sexual orientation, religion — are things that hold them back at their institution,” Holley said. “What I see at Mount Holyoke, I also experienced at Howard. Every part of who you are, these are things to celebrate, these are fundamental parts of our identity that help us make fundamental changes in the world and improve the educational environment.”
Holley added that mission-driven institutions have never been more important than now, “in this era of censorship, book burning, and denial of history.”
“Mount Holyoke was founded to challenge the idea that women do not need a liberal arts education,” Holley said. “What Mount Holyoke has consistently demonstrated over nearly 200 years is that having highly educated women and gender-marginalized people in our communities is one of the most critical things we can do in higher education.”
Mount Holyoke’s board unanimously selected Holley after a thorough search led by trustee, Mount Holyoke alumna and former White House deputy chief of staff for policy in the Obama administration, Mona Sutphen.
“As law and society become increasingly intertwined, President-elect Holley has risen enthusiastically to fill a critical need for interdisciplinary legal scholarship,” Sutphen said in a statement. “It will provide a unique, necessary and advantageous lens through which to focus the liberal arts.”
There were two student representatives on the search committee. One of them, Yihan Zhang, said it was a “tremendous honor” to help elect Holley to the position, adding that Holley “will be dedicated to strengthening inclusivity at our esteemed school.”
By becoming Mount Holyoke’s leader, Holley said she will continue the legacy of diversity that already exists in the community. Nearly a quarter of Mount Holyoke’s students are international, and another quarter identify as domestic students of color. First-year student financial aid packages average $47,930, and Holley said a large number of Pell grant recipients participate.
As president, Holley said she looks forward to finding new ways to connect liberal arts students to careers, graduate schools and professional programs, “showing why a liberal arts education is a critical foundation for anything. [students] I want to do.”
“I am a teacher and a scholar at heart. My job as an academic leader is an extension of the love of being in the classroom,” Holley said. “At Mount Holyoke, we inspire people and make people feel like they are the best that they are. I look forward to representing Mount Holyoke in the U.S. and around the world and speaking about the core values at Mount Holyoke that should be part of every institution of higher education across the country.”
Liann Herder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.