Cultivating Brave Spaces and Vibrant Minds

By President Shirley M. Collado, December 15, 2017
Reflecting on my first semester at Ithaca College.

In late November, Van and I attended an Ithaca College TEDx event. For both of us, one thing that stood out powerfully was how fluidly the student speakers traveled between personal insight and social analysis; how openly they sought to understand and address important issues based in their own experiences. They courageously made themselves vulnerable to a room filled with friends and strangers, sharing what they’d learned about themselves and the world. This compassionate resilience is a trait that I admire deeply in today’s students.

As a clinical psychologist and as someone who’s felt so warmly embraced by the Ithaca College community, I recognize the difficult work these students did to create an environment where they can express their authentic selves and speak their truth, while encouraging others to do the same. It’s not a simple task, yet it’s absolutely critical at a residential college such as ours to cultivate the brave spaces that enable vibrant minds to flourish.

As I reflect on my first semester at Ithaca College, I find it fitting that the TEDx talk resonated so deeply for Van and me. The talk was a powerful reminder of the important work that's been done to invest in student affairs over the past six months, and how that work will influence the lives of our students and the health and wellness of our entire community. This year, we welcomed Dr. Rosanna Ferro to campus as vice president of the newly established Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life. We also saw the intentional addition of two positions in the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services plus one case manager to meet the growing demand for student counseling and support. 

Our community has also united in the belief that an investment in a truly student-centered approach to a residential experience must be mirrored by an equally strong investment in the quality of our academic affairs. Last month, we officially launched our search for the next provost with a detailed prospectus that was the result of months of thoughtful, thorough discussions and the building of consensus around the qualities this next leader should have to continue the college’s upward trajectory of pedagogical and academic rigor. 

And while we’ve recognized the importance of educating and supporting the whole student, we’ve also worked to reenergize our community of faculty and staff, committing at our very first All-College Gathering in August to focus on the clear direction provided to us by the campus climate survey results to increase opportunities for career advancement and mentoring. I was proud to announce on November 30 the President’s Seed Grant Initiative and the President’s Fellows Program, both of which seek to support the survey results by encouraging faculty, staff, and students to develop expertise and apply existing knowledge in unexplored areas--efforts that are also imperative to our strategic visioning process.

The foundation of all of our work this semester, though, is a shared understanding that the ways in which we take care of one another matters. That when we focus on opportunities to achieve academic and professional heights, it is equally important to balance those moments with opportunities for joyful expression and a genuine personal connection. Tuesday offered our community of faculty and staff one of these moments, as we danced and laughed together while sharing good food and drink at the year-end celebration. That balance extends to students, too, and I’m looking forward to joining the college’s vice presidents and deans at Monday’s late-night breakfast at the Terraces. We’ll not only show our support during one of the most stressful times of the year—finals week—we'll express our commitment as college administrators to creating an atmosphere that feels like home … pj's and slippers are encouraged attire for all.

When I first made the decision to come to Ithaca College, I felt it was my calling to become a part of this community. With my first semester nearly complete, I feel that calling stronger than ever. This is only the beginning of our journey together, and I have been continually humbled and impressed by the talent, ideas, commitment, and contributions of our faculty, staff, and students. Together, we all will write the next chapter of our college’s history, as we honor the deep roots that connect us to our past, and set the stage for a growth spurt that will take us places we’ve never before imagined.