Hollins University President-elect Mary Dana Hinton proclaimed, “I want to hear your hopes, dreams, fears, and ambitions. I will hold them in my mind, and even more so, gently in my heart,” during her first address to the campus community on February 21.
Hinton, who currently serves as president of the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, was named the university’s 13th president on February 13. She was greeted with a standing ovation by an audience of students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and members of the Board of Trustees as she entered the Hollins Theatre, accompanied by Board of Trustees Chair Alexandra Trower ’86 and Interim President Nancy Oliver Gray.
“Mary is warm. She cares. She is interested in everything you have to say,” noted Trower during her introduction of Hinton. “She embodies the heart and soul of our beloved institution.”
Gray remembered meeting Hinton for the first time at a meeting of independent college presidents in January 2019. “I was so impressed with her depth, her insight, and her understanding….It became increasingly clear what a collaborative leader she is. It will be a huge honor for me to share the title ‘Hollins President’ with her.” Gray was Hollins’ 11th president from 2005 to 2017 and returned as the university’s interim leader for the 2019-20 academic year.
In her remarks, Hinton recalled growing up in the small, rural community of Kittrell, North Carolina, located approximately 150 miles southeast of the Hollins campus. Despite her family’s economic challenges, she said her mother always told her that “we had much more than other people. While that argument could not be made regarding material possessions, she always said, ‘Because you are able to think clearly, you have an obligation to give back to others.’ I didn’t know how that would unfold and I certainly never envisioned leadership at this level.”
Hinton said two factors changed her life. “I had a group of people who believed in me and told me I could be something. And, most importantly, I was able to access an education. A liberal arts education. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the liberal arts saved my life. I have shared many times that there is not a single doubt in my mind that had I not been exposed to the liberal arts, I would not be here today. Yes, I learned how to think and how to deconstruct and reconstruct knowledge. But even more, a liberal arts education is about our relationships with learning and with people.”
Hinton credits a former teacher with giving her the confidence to “do anything. She saw beyond my poverty, my complete lack of social capital, and my insecurity. She was willing to see my humanity and insist that the great values of the liberal arts tradition could change the trajectory of my life.”
The transformative effect brought about by her education, and the ability to impact the lives of others, “are what drive my commitment to the mission of Hollins University,” Hinton stated.
The president-elect emphasized that it is essential for the campus community to work cooperatively in providing a distinctive experience for students in a way that is sustainable but also takes advantage of the university’s strengths. Referencing the opportunity for mission-driven growth first cited by Bessie Carter Randolph during her presidency from 1933 to 1950, Hinton said, “We will be unflinching in our faith to our long-run task as we seek new opportunities for our shared success. We will determine, as a community, what cannot be compromised. We will create space for that which may be new and invigorating.”
Hinton called for creating together a collective vision that “will transform and inspire us. In that ultimate vision, I won’t see my entire reflection. Likewise, when you look at it, you may or may not see your full reflection, either. But, if we look closely, if we look at the values articulated, the strategies indicated, and the ways in which we will measure ourselves, I feel confident that we will see one another.
“Developing this vision will require active engagement, the nurturing of trust and confidence, and working with a sense of urgency balanced with a sense of thoughtful deliberation. It will require us to be open and invite change, while maintaining the soul of who we are. It will require we journey together with purpose and hope.”
Hinton concluded her remarks by invoking the spirit of Levavi Oculos, the university motto, which is taken from Psalm 121.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills for you. I will lift up my eyes to the hills with you. I will lift up my eyes to the hills because of you.”
Hinton officially takes office as Hollins’ next president on August 1.
In this interview with Roanoke’s News 7 (WDBJ-TV), President-elect Hinton talks about her eagerness to spend time with faculty, staff, and most of all, students.