Earlier this year, Sarah Lawrence announced that Dean of the College, Jerrilynn Dodds, would be stepping down from her position after the 2014-15 academic year. In a recent interview, Dodds reflected on the past six years, and what the future holds. Dean Dodds arrived at Sarah Lawrence in 2009 to take her current position. Interestingly enough, she had history with the college long before joining the administration.
“I actually applied to Sarah Lawrence when I was applying to college,” she explained, “I ended up choosing Barnard instead, but I always loved Sarah Lawrence. It’s a truly unique place and I was very thrilled to come to a place where the intellectual discourse is very high and the vocation of teaching is taken so very seriously. It’s a great combination.”
Upon arriving at SLC, Dean Dodds admits that the interworking of Sarah Lawrence is so unique that it took her about a year to understand all the different concerns and to learn how to be a member of the community.
“Sarah Lawrence is a very particular, very democratic place; it’s not a top-down institution and, to accomplish things, I had to understand the community’s goals,” she said. “I had a dual role as dean – to represent and advocate for faculty and to mediate the needs of the institutions as a whole and goals of senior staff and the president.”
Of all the things that have changed since becoming Dean of the College, Dean Dodds is most amazed about the educational changes.
“We now hold major international conferences such as the “Re-envisioning Pakistan” conference. Film has grown; the sciences have grown exponentially. Our students are participating in the kinds of studies generally only available to grad students at other schools. We’ve acquired new properties such as The Center for the Urban River where student can participate in water and air monitoring and environmental advocating – all wonderful and exciting changes.”
Dodds has also seen an incredible amount of growth in her field of art history, citing integration of visual arts with computer science and a recent explosive interest in curating.
“What I love about Sarah Lawrence is it’s not a place where the administration says, ‘We’re going to do this and this and that’s final’,” she continued. “Rather it is the students who express what their desires in terms of studying are and it is the job of the administration to nurture the needs of the students.”
As for why she is leaving now, Dean Dodds explained that this was part of the original plan. She would take on the role as Dean of the College for five years and then she would step down and another person would fill her shoes. She has only remained Dean for an extra year to help out Sarah Lawrence as they search for a replacement.
“They’re currently doing an internal search, as it has to be a member of the faculty, and it looks to be exciting,” Dean Dodds said. “This person will have to know the ways of the schools and understand how things work and they will find different faculty interests to explore.”
Her plans after leaving will not take her very far from campus. For the next academic year, Dean Dodds will be joining the art history faculty at Sarah Lawrence, which is something she says she has always wanted to do and is very excited about. Dean Dodds’ art history work has specifically focused on relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims through literary and visual arts.
Dean Dodds currently holds lecture series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, something she loves doing, and, if she could change one thing at Sarah Lawrence, it would be the ability for Sarah Lawrence student to be in NYC and take advantage of the many opportunities the city presents.
“I would want a building in New York City,” she said, “where we could expand our offerings and students and faculty could spend a little more time working in an urban center.”
However, out of all the things that Dean Dodds will remember, perhaps her first year is the most memorable. When she first arrived, Dean Dodds was diagnosed with cancer, making learning about the interworking of the college even more difficult.
“I was walking around bald from the chemotherapy and I will never forget what a caring community this was, and how accepted I was into their midst,” she said. “The staff of the Dean of Office in College is incredible and I think that speaks to the unique, tight community we have here at Sarah Lawrence.”
by Mary Kekatos '15