By Judith Schwartzstein, Director of Public Affairs, Sarah Lawrence College
Oct. 11, 2017: Cristle Collins Judd was inaugurated the eleventh president of Sarah Lawrence College on Friday, October 6. Presidents and delegates from over sixty colleges, universities, learned societies, and associations in higher education and guests from the communities of Bronxville, Yonkers, and other areas of Westchester, as well as hundreds of alumni, students, faculty, and staff of the college, participated in a morning symposium and afternoon ceremony, both of which may be viewed on the college's website.
The inaugural theme, "Democracy and Education," was chosen to reflect the college's historic commitments while speaking to the urgency of liberal education today in the United States and beyond.
President Judd's inaugural address touched on the college's history, ethos, and challenges in the context of the state of the country and the wider world, and she urged an embrace of the values that form the core of a Sarah Lawrence education and its emphasis on innovation and creativity.
Citing the Sarah Lawrence motto, "Wisdom with Understanding," as particularly relevant for our time, she highlighted "the essence of a Sarah Lawrence education: discovering which questions to ask and how to follow them relentlessly, digging deep to pursue a possibility, and bringing all of one's creative energies to bear."
She also said that the motto "signals a way of proceeding—with understanding—that reminds us of the necessity for empathy, for generosity and grace when encountering competing views, for an inclusivity, that is itself deeply and openly inclusive. For only then can we learn to speak to one other across deep ideological divides and to create a society that can transform itself peacefully rather than violently. This is a tall order for a college campus to model but one to which we must aspire."
Prior to the formal ceremony in the afternoon, a symposium on democracy and education included panelists Martha Minow, professor of law at Harvard Law School, Salamishah Tillet, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Daniel Weiss, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"Democracy around the world faces serious challenges; education sits at the crossroads of the information revolution and widening inequalities," said Professor Minnow in her remarks. "Both education and democracy are fragile unless people desire—and fight for—political participation, knowledge, debate, critical reasoning, and freedom, whether in governance, their societies and schools, or in design of the Internet."
Salamishah Tillet, who, with her sister founded A Long Walk Home, Inc., a Chicago-based nonprofit that uses art to empower young people and end violence against girls and women, focused on the responsibility of institutions to their local communities and the role of art in bringing about change.
The "role liberal education must play in fostering the aims of a functioning democracy" was clearly articulated by Daniel Weiss, who, prior to becoming the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, served as president of Haverford and Lafayette colleges. "In its practice, liberal education teaches persons the moral and intellectual responsibilities—both socially and individually—of protecting, preserving, and expanding freedom."
The symposium struck the cord Sarah Lawrence's new president has set for the coming year and beyond. A series of events throughout the inaugural year will explore the "Democracy and Education" theme from a variety of vantage points, helping the community gain a greater understanding of Sarah Lawrence's past and present as "we chart its future and, along with it, the future of American higher education."
Concluding her inaugural address, Cristle Collins Judd summed up her commitment: "I am deeply honored to serve as the eleventh president of Sarah Lawrence College and I am humbled and excited by the opportunities before us." Referencing the college motto, the inaugural theme, and the title of a work newly composed for the occasion, Judd concluded with this charge: "Through wisdom with understanding let us engage democracy and education so that together we will change the odds."
Pictured here: The inauguration of Cristle Collins Judd, the new president of Sarah Lawrence College.
Photos courtesy Judith Schwartzstein, Director of Public Affairs, Sarah Lawrence College