Clad in robes of red and black, Wendy Raymond was sworn in as the sixteenth president of Haverford College on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The next morning, her first as the highest-ranking official on campus, she left her 1 College Circle home feeling, as she put it, like a “kindergartner or a first-grader going off to school” for the first time.
“It was the funniest thing,” she said in a Thursday, September 19, interview conducted in her spacious Founders office. “I’ve just never had that experience before, but I had this feeling of, ‘Wow, I have so much to learn, and there’s so much to explore and there’s so much to experience ahead of me.’ And I think that’s a reflection of how much I already love Haverford.”
Raymond comes to Haverford with 25 years of experience as a professor and administrator under her belt. A Midwesterner by birth and a molecular biologist by training, she taught classes on everything from immunology to cellular machinery at Williams College in Williams, MA, from 1994 to 2013, winning a bevy of prizes—including the Campus Life Award and the Student Choice Award—for her efforts. It was at Williams that she discovered a passion for issues of “diversity, equity, and inclusion”—a phrase that, in conversation, she often acronymizes to “D-E-I”—especially with regard to STEM fields.
As a woman in science who’s “seen a lot,” Raymond said with a chuckle tinged with irony, “diversity and inclusion in STEM is something that I’m really passionate about, so that is inclusive of women but not exclusively.”
Since she first started at Williams, Raymond has managed to parlay that passion into a full-blown second career. In the last 15 years, she co-directed the Symposia on Diversity in the Sciences at Harvard University, the University of Washington, and the University of Louisiana at Monroe; co-convened a Liberal Arts Diversity Officers Presidents Forum; was consulted by Wesleyan University, Bates College, Hope College, and Skidmore College on the subject of building inclusive campus academic programs; participated in the Spencer Foundation’s Forum for Excellence in Higher Education; and chaired the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering, all while holding down one high-level academic position or another. Given these sparkling credentials, it’s only natural that Raymond—whose scientific research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Cancer Society, among other organizations—anticipates bringing her experience with DEI issues to bear in her work here. Already, she says, students have reached out to her.
“I was surprised last spring when I learned about the work that women in STEM here did to elevate to our eyes the kinds of comments that they’ve received, the kinds of attitudes they’ve experienced from their fellow classmates,” she said candidly. “As someone who has come up in a civil rights era, to see that on a campus like Haverford College we’re still fighting some of those battles is sobering and a little confusing. And I’m excited to get in there and help make a difference.”
In 2007, after almost 13 years at Williams, Raymond was named the college’s first-ever Associate Dean of Institutional Diversity. (According to the Williams website, this position entails “work[ing] to eliminate harmful bias and discrimination, close opportunity gaps, and advance critical conversations and initiatives that promote inclusion, equity, and social justice on campus and beyond.”) During her three-year tenure, Raymond personally recruited and mentored new faculty members of color and co-coordinated the creation of “Claiming Williams,” an annual day of events devoted to raising awareness of various forms of privilege.
Raymond’s commitment to DEI in the sciences and beyond was a significant factor in her selection, testified Emily Lin ’20, a member of the Presidential Search Committee.
“Wendy was incredibly personable, and it was clear that she not only did her research but also truly understood the Haverford ethos and what the role of Haverford president entailed,” Lin wrote in a September 22 email. “For example, Wendy clearly values student voice and agency and emphasizes listening to and collaborating with all stakeholders when addressing issues.”
In June 2018, five years into a new position as the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty of Davidson College in Davidson, NC, Raymond was approached by two members of the Presidential Search Committee, who told her that her name had come up in a discussion of potential candidates.
“After they did that, I mean, I was in as a candidate,” she said with a laugh, “and I told them that they actually didn’t have to convince me, that I was already happy to apply.”
Raymond’s interest in the position stemmed from her personal connection to Haverford: her husband of 26 years, David, is a member of the class of 1982. (He graduated with a degree in geology from Bryn Mawr). In addition, she said, she has been consistently impressed by the intelligence and work ethic of alumni and faculty members she’s met in the course of her career.
“I have had colleagues who’ve come out of Haverford at each of my other institutions, Williams and Davidson, who have just emulated the best of what Haverford is, and I really admired Haverford from their own experiences,” she said. “And then, as a leader nationally, I’ve always run into Haverford people doing interesting things.”
In Raymond’s telling, the application process was imbued with secrecy to a degree that would not be out of place in a James Bond movie. Interviews were conducted in out-of-the-way venues (Raymond’s first took place over a cup of coffee in a “French café”), and tours took place in the city of Philadelphia rather than on the Haverford campus itself.
“It was kept under wraps,” she said. “Because everybody’s got a job, some of them might [be] sitting presidents at other places, they don’t want their institutions to know that they’re looking because, you know, it’s not going to work out for most of the applicants, it’s only going to work out for one.”
Late that November, almost half a year after the Presidential Search Committee had contacted her and countless rounds of interviews later, Raymond was offered the position. In an official statement emailed to the entire Haverford community on December 7, Rick White, the Chair of the Board of Managers, wrote that her appointment “gives the Board every confidence that the College will continue its positive momentum and realize new ambitions in the years ahead.”
Now, three months into the school year, Raymond’s focus is on coming up with a “strategic plan” for the future of Haverford, one that will likely incorporate DEI elements. Changes to campus layout and institutional policy students can expect to see within the next year include the expansion of the Council on Diversity and Inclusion; a response to the issues uncovered by the Clearness Committee Report; continued movement toward carbon neutrality; the replacement of current Provost Fran Blase; the renovation of Roberts Hall; and the launch of the Haverford debt-relief program, a donor-funded initiative that will make it possible for young alumni who took out student loans while at Haverford to pursue less financially lucrative careers.
Raymond welcomes student feedback on any and all of these changes.
“I know that, as a newcomer, I really just need to learn so much,” she said. “And that will happen by me asking lots of questions.”
In the meantime, however, Raymond seems to have discovered the secret to cultivating popularity among college students: having a dog. Peanut, a middle-aged beagle with a penchant for sniffing everyone and everything around her, is swarmed by admirers everywhere she is walked. She even has her own Instagram page, @peanutprezpup, which has accrued over 300 followers since it was created in early October.