On Jan. 26, in a historic move, Lewis & Clark’s Board of Trustees announced that they had selected Vice-President of Student Life (VPSL) Robin Holmes-Sullivan as the institution’s 26th president.
Holmes-Sullivan is LC’s first Black, female and LGBTQ+ president.
The announcement came after an extensive year-long search headed by search committee chairs Paula Hayes ’92 and Patrick Mahaffy ’85. Holmes-Sullivan will replace current President Wim Wiewel, who is set to retire at the end of the Spring 2022 academic semester.
According to a statement to The Pioneer Log, Holmes-Sullivan decided to go forward with the presidential application after a substantial career in student affairs in both California and Oregon.
“As a professional who has spent the past three decades working with students, I feel well-positioned to help ensure our college does the best possible job of helping students to navigate these difficult times and achieve their full potential,” Holmes-Sullivan said in a statement via email.
According to Holmes-Sullivan, her first job as president is to maintain the positive trajectory that LC has been on recently, academically and in regards to community.
“We must ensure that faculty and staff have the resources and opportunities to innovate, improve and expand our already excellent academic offerings,” Holmes-Sullivan said. “We also must ensure that we offer students a campus experience where there is an even greater sense of belonging and community, and one where we communicate through both words and action our firm commitment to equity and inclusion for all.”
Holmes-Sullivan’s appointment marks a notable moment for LC, which is a Predominately White Institution (PWI). While LC has been strengthening its efforts to increase numbers of BIPOC students on Palatine Hill, the faculty and staff remain largely white.
Iyanah Fuller ’22 currently serves as a peer educator for the Office of Multicultural Engagement (IME). In the past, she has served as a co-president for the Black Student Union (BSU) and as BSU’s representative to the Associated Student Body. In all her time as a student leader, Fuller did not have the opportunity to work with a Black faculty or staff member.
“I have not been able to work with anybody in a leadership or professional capacity at the school who identifies as Black,” Fuller said. “Going into a PWI, you have to have certain expectations about who you’re going to see. And I didn’t anticipate being exposed to a lot of Black leadership.”
Director of IME Joanne Zhang believes that having BIPOC faculty and staff members positively impacts students of color on campus.
“From my personal experience in an educational setting, having someone who may look like you or have had similar lived experiences can be a game-changer in helping others make meaning of their own experience.” Zhang said via email.
Holmes-Sullivan agrees with this sentiment.
“Seeing me in this role will influence a generation of young people to see that they can also dream big; that when they speak, people will listen; and that when they lead, people will follow,” Holmes-Sullivan said.
Through IME, Zhang regularly engages with and aids in supporting BIPOC students.
“I’m so thrilled to have her represent us to the larger, external community,” Zhang said. “I think her representation is very much needed for our BIPOC community and will inspire all, and in particular, our Black community and womxn of color to achieve true greatness.”
According to Fuller, she knows that Holmes-Sullivan is dedicated to improving this campus for BIPOC students, and is capable of doing so.
“I hope that in the future black students, when they do the work that they do here, they’re getting paid fairly. They’re getting the support they need,” Fuller said. “And they’re seeing people in leadership positions who look like them.”
Fuller is also glad that Holmes-Sullivan will get to play a larger role in the college, one that Fuller believes she deserves.
“We just have to give her all the support, all the good, all her roses (and) all her flowers,” Fuller said.
Zhang believes Holmes-Sullivan’s past is indicative of the type of change the president can enact on Palatine Hill.
“I have so much hope for LC’s future under Robin’s leadership.” Zhang said, “Robin has a proven track record of getting things done in a mindful way and thus, I’m excited for what the future holds.”
Going forward, Holmes-Sullivan pictures a bright future for the college. She foresees LC to be not only an exemplar for academic scholarship, but also as an institution committed to enacting social change.
“I also want us to become known as an institution that not only supports exploring for the global good, but also changing the world for good: a college that never forgets its history, that is always learning from the past, and that is moving forward purposefully and with integrity into the future,” Holmes-Sullivan said.
Holmes-Sullivan is slated to begin her tenure as president on July 1. She hopes to hire a new VPSL by that date.