With first year complete, Holmes-Sullivan discusses challenges, triumphs, hopes for years to come
At the beginning of Fall 2022 academic semester, Robin Holmes-Sullivan was inaugurated as the 26th president of Lewis & Clark. Her inauguration was historic, making her the first woman, openly queer person and person of color to serve as president. In 2019, Holmes-Sullivan started at LC as the vice president of student life.
Before, she served as Vice President of Student Affairs at University of California and oversaw the 10-campus, 200,000-student system. Holmes-Sullivan then headed to Eugene, Ore. and spent 25 years at the University of Oregon (UO). She worked her way up from clinical coordinator in the counseling center to vice president of student life.
AlthoughHolmes-Sullivan was experienced in college and university administration before her promotion, the presidency role was an adjustment for her.
“I’m doing things that are a little bit different than I’ve done for a long time,” Holmes-Sullivan said. “When I came to Lewis & Clark as a vice president, and it was my third vice presidency in student life, and that doesn’t mean that I just knew it all or in those kind of things, but I felt pretty confident that I knew what to do and what to expect and then the rhythms … So, I haven’t had a new job where I’m learning and trying to figure things out in a very long time, probably, like 17 years.”
Holmes-Sullivan has taken pride in the liberal arts education that LC has to offer. In discussions with the Board of Trustees, she has emphasized how the college will “double down” on the liberal arts traditions. This means providing students more choices when it comes to studies, professional programs and extracurricular activities, as well as giving LC the opportunity to distinguish itself from other small liberal arts colleges.
“We have a very, very good law school and an outstanding graduate school and that already makes us different,” Homes-Sullican said. “So somebody will ask, ‘well, maybe you are a university?’ Nope, we’re not a university. We are a liberal arts college, and even our professional schools are all in the tradition of the liberal arts, so everything that we’ve added to those classes … data sciences, health studies, entrepreneurship, they’re all of those classes that are still in the tradition of the liberal arts.”
One of the objectives for Holmes-Sullivan is improving student facilities. In her prior experience at UO, she helped with the renovation of the Student Center and the Student Recreation Center.
“I know the impact that really good student facilities can have on the overall student experience, so I turned my attention to that pretty much right away when I started Lewis and Clark in 2018,” Homes-Sullivan said. “We did a lot of focus groups and we actually brought in an outside consultant to help us work for over six to eight months with students about what do you want? What do you need? What’s missing? What would make the experience better? And how can we develop this facility in order to respond to those needs?”
At this time, students wanted a place on-campus where they could be loud late in the evening, things were open later and they could gather and study with friends. After hearing and collecting information from student feedback about on-campus student spaces, Holmes-Sullivan worked with other administrators to find a solution that emphasizes socialization on campus. As a result, the once Templeton Student Center was renovated into Stephanie Fowler Student Center. The renovation included remodeled offices for student clubs and affinity groups, study spaces and an enhanced Trail Room dining facility.
Holmes-Sullivan wants students to know that she listens to the student body even if her role may focus on the college at a larger scale.
“I do have to yield some of my day-to-day interactions with … students … but I never want to get so far away that I don’t know what’s really going on, or that students ever feel that I’m not accessible to them,” Holmes-Sullivan said.