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As the saying goes, “All good things come in threes.” This summer, Hamilton welcomed three new senior officers — Ngonidzashe Munemo, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty; Christopher Card, vice president and dean of students; and Sean Bennett, the inaugural vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Born in Zimbabwe, Ngoni Munemo comes to Hamilton from Williams College, where his roles included professor of political science, chair of the Global Studies Program, and, most recently, interim vice president for institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Bard College and master’s degrees and a doctorate from Columbia, Munemo served as a visiting instructor at the College of William and Mary before joining the Williams faculty in 2007. He has taught courses ranging from contemporary African politics to democratization and institution building, and is the author of several academic articles and the book Domestic Politics and Drought Relief in Africa (2012).

Munemo served on several committees at Williams, including chair of the Faculty Steering Committee responsible for representing faculty concerns. At Hamilton, he is charged with supporting faculty scholarship and development, promoting teaching in the classroom, enhancing curricular innovation, incorporating diversity and inclusion across academic domains, and supporting academic success of students. He also holds a position as professor of government.

Chris Card spent the last five years at Lawrence University as vice president for student life after serving nearly 20 years at Trinity College, most recently as dean of students. He has experience overseeing such areas as residential life, student conduct, dining, student wellness, and the career center.

Having earned a master’s degree in law and diplomacy at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, and a bachelor’s degree at Clark University, Card’s accomplishments at Lawrence include co-chairing a task force on emotional wellbeing; helping to secure $5 million to endow a dean position for the career center; and leading a renewed mission and programs for the Diversity and Intercultural Center.

A native of Jamaica, Card will serve Hamilton as an active student-facing leader while enhancing collaborative partnerships among offices within the Division of Student Life and across campus. His role supports the interdependence of the academic and co-curricular pieces of students’ education.

Sean Bennett most recently served in a similar role at Salem State University. As Hamilton’s first vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), he will provide leadership for constructive and collaborative change, guiding and educating campus stakeholders and championing transparency and shared accountability for DEI initiatives at all levels at the College.

Bennett earned an Ed.D. in higher education management at the University of Pennsylvania and holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Clarkson University and master’s of education degrees from the State University of New York at Brockport and Harvard University.

Before his appointment at Salem State in 2020, he served 10 years as an assistant dean and three years as director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Success at Rochester Institute of Technology in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. There he created a distributed leadership model for college advising and led retention initiatives that helped increase first-year retention in the College of Applied Science as well as the college’s participation in the university honors program.

We asked the new vice presidents their initial thoughts on coming to Hamilton. Here are a few of their comments.

Ngonidzashe Munemo.

Ngoni Munemo

From Bard to Williams, you’ve been drawn to liberal arts colleges. What led to Hamilton?

I reached a moment in my career where I had a choice — go back to being a faculty member or consider administrative roles. I initially didn’t know which to pick, so I pursued both. I actually found out I had been selected as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to South Africa the day before my first interview with the search committee at Hamilton. The College’s motto [Know Thyself] really pulled me in. Of course, the purpose of education is to find ways to think beyond oneself, but one must start with the self. The liberal arts allows for that journey, from the inner to the outer, and I find it interesting to think about what kind of a liberal arts experience best prepares students for lives in a complex and always-changing world. During my interviews and campus visits, the deep commitment of the faculty to the educational mission was clear, and I knew this was a place where I could see myself.

What are your thoughts on Hamilton’s Open Curriculum?

The open curriculum is ideal for the very curious, inquisitive, and self-starting student, one who is open to the breadth of courses offered and willing to see where they may lead. That is who I met at the matriculation ceremony [in the Kirkland Cottage] — students who showed intellectual curiosity and expressed a willingness to try a whole host of things.

On the faculty side, the open curriculum similarly requires an open mind and a willingness to engage in deep conversation with students, offering the occasional nudge or even some cajoling as faculty help students develop an overall coherence and clear trajectory for the courses they are taking. As the new ALEX [Advise Learn, EXperience] program evolves, students will have an expanded network of advisors they can connect with, which will only help them both take advantage of the open curriculum and find their own paths in and through it.

Hamilton has seen quite a few faculty retirements over the past five-10 years. What can you say regarding attracting the finest teacher-scholars to Hamilton?

Renewal is essential for any community of learning. We are accustomed to thinking about renewal on the student side — a new class arrives every year as another one leaves. It can make us nervous when the renewal is on the faculty side. On one hand, with a shift [in the faculty] a wealth of knowledge is lost. Retaining that institutional and scholarly memory, making sure it’s woven into who we are and how we continue, is important for our students and our mission.

But it’s an exciting time, too. We need the scholarship, creative work, and new ways of thinking about old questions that come with people who more recently earned their advanced degrees. This brings us back to our motto of knowing thyself — how do we prepare students for engagement in the 21st century? I am lucky to come in at a moment when so much incredible work has already been underway to recruit a phenomenal faculty. It’s imperative that we continue the momentum of developing a generous program of startups so [new faculty] can launch their scholarly and creative projects when they arrive.

You’ve published on a range of subjects. How did you arrive at your research interest and career in higher education?

I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother taught primary school for almost 50 years. My grandfather’s first job was as a teacher and then a headmaster. Education was their priority, and they were proud to send me to the University of Zimbabwe. There I encountered two politics professors who took me under their wing. One even invited me to join a weekly seminar with his colleagues as faculty shared their research. During my final year, I was invited to participate in a year-long exchange program at Bard, where I worked with incredible faculty mentors and met the woman who would become my wife. I returned home and worked for six months, but went back to Bard in 2000 to finish my undergraduate degree. I had the opportunity to write a senior project — mine was about the evolution of African education in colonial Zimbabwe — which gave me a taste of the kind of research I wanted to do in the longer term. At Columbia, my Ph.D. dissertation focused on drought and famine relief, the project that informed my first book. My current research involves understanding the cause of persistent student protests in higher education in South Africa. But beyond my research, I have loved my time in the classroom and advising students one on one. That connection to what drew me to the liberal arts in the first place — interacting with students — remains at the heart of my work today, with faculty at Hamilton.


 

Christopher Card Vice President and Dean of Students.

Chris Card

How have your past experiences informed your approach and leadership style?

I try to be present and engaging, direct and transparent. For me I’ve always lived on campus. It’s important to have that shared experience with students. I use that to inform how I lead and model appropriate behavior. I have high expectations, and although [college life] isn’t always going to be easy, students should know that, when things get difficult, there’s a strong support network.

I have learned, coming from Jamaica to where I am now, to be mindful that many folks from my background don’t end up in places like this. I am privileged to have had access to rigorous education as a ticket to success. I was raised by a single parent, a mom who instilled a deep commitment to academic excellence as an educator herself. I believe in providing that transformational power of education to others by working to create an environment where all students can grow, learn, and challenge themselves in a supportive community. This is our precious burden. I have seen how education can lift people, families, and communities. I am a testament to that.

Do you have any thoughts about priorities you will tackle first?

I’m looking forward to engaging my [student life] colleagues, faculty, and especially students to learn about the things we should build on and those we need to change. There are these important notions of belonging and striving for equity of experience for all of our students. All colleges are wrestling with “what does DEI mean?” How do the lived experiences of all students get played out? And how do we bring cohesion to learning inside and learning outside the classroom to create a seamless experience for our students? The whole college should be a lab for learning — walking paths, dining halls, residence rooms. My leadership will be informed by what I’m hearing and what students are requesting and what staff is requesting. One priority is tackling staffing challenges within the student life sector. We have an amazing staff here at Hamilton and some key positions to fill. Our process for recruiting and retaining top staff and supporting them should be deliberate and intentional, as we are also mindful that four years of a student’s time here goes by quickly and these are issues that affect them today.

“I believe in providing that transformational power of education to others by working to create an environment where all students can grow, learn, and challenge themselves in a supportive community.”

At Lawrence you co-chaired a task force on wellbeing. What did you learn from that experience?

Student wellness is integral to academic success. There’s been significant scholarship on mental health issues concerning the current college population. We know that this age is often developmentally when mental health challenges manifest. Both academic factors and issues outside the classroom should be evaluated. [At Lawrence], our data showed some issues tied to the curriculum that were stress points. More students committing to social change as activists, and the emergence of Black Lives Matter and Me Too, also affected mental health. Our work in this area must ensure that we are at best-practice levels for services we deliver. This includes educating our community to refer and respond when they encounter a student who may be having an issue. Students who come to us now have just gone through a big disruption and are emerging from COVID into this space of independence. What will that mean for students’ ability to cope and grow? We will have to watch and monitor this over time.

What keeps you optimistic in your work?

Not a single dean of students in the country doesn’t sit with pride on commencement day watching students who have grown and changed over the years cross the finish line. I have learned that the outcomes we want to see may not happen over four years. Sometimes that lightbulb doesn’t switch on until later. I have a box of letters that I keep from former students. One came from a former student 12 years after he graduated. He wrote to me the day he became a father. “Dean Card, I felt compelled to write. I know we had a difficult time, but today I am holding my first child. In that one instance I realized what you were doing to get me to this point to be a responsible man.” Learning may not happen all at once. That is the reward.


 

You’ve been at Salem State and RIT and Clarkson, both known for their focus on STEM and research. What drew you to the liberal arts at Hamilton?

While I was studying engineering [as an undergraduate], my professors’ biggest critique [of my course selection] was around my interests in anthropology, sociology, and writing. I couldn’t divorce myself from a world around me connected to language and words. As a person of color at a predominantly white institution, I found peace in reading [James] Baldwin and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The open curriculum here gives students the freedom to explore. It harkens back to what I wished [my undergraduate experience] would have been more like. I am still a nerd and a techie. To really wrap your arms around diversity, equity, and inclusion, you must understand how it crosses many different areas — human resources, student affairs, faculty — and view it through the lens of how it works, what is on the inside, what are the pieces. Engineering is a beautiful marriage for seeing the parts and how they might fit together.

“My hope for young people is that in understanding what we’re experiencing today, they can see the possibilities for when they have children of their own.”

What are your initial thoughts on the atmosphere of equity and inclusion at Hamilton?

The recommendations of the president’s advisory council that led to the creation of my position suggests the College is looking to do this very important DEI work in a way that it hasn’t in the past — to look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m just starting to assess the climate and begin a listening journey. One area, for example, is the challenge of staff retention. It’s important to learn from and hear individual stories while also being analytical around understanding why people leave, understanding the data.

The role of a DEI leader is still in its infancy. I think back to my time as an undergraduate. There was no such thing as a computer science department; it was part of mathematics. In a lot of ways I feel that’s where we are in this field — transitioning DEI so it is seen as its own entity that connects to all the work we do. My first few months will very much be about understanding all the pieces and advising the president on the structure of how these things might fit together. Then come the recommendations and doing the training and implementing.

What are some of the measures of progress in terms of becoming a more inclusion community?

In welcoming and embracing all of the ways diversity opens doors for marginalized groups, let’s not forget the origin of this work is about racism. Diversity can’t be used to “clean up” this other work that we as a country have not wanted to deal with. We should embrace all identities but not in a way that suppresses or diminishes the origins of some of the work or ignores the history of racism in our country or institution. Our work will include engaging in campus climate surveys and gathering and critically analyzing data around such areas as recruitment and retention. In identifying tools with colleagues who work in this space, we must be sure to represent the voices of our community in meaningful ways and capture the identity of Hamilton. I don’t know that we will ever get to a point where everyone is 100% satisfied. But we should be telling the uncomfortable stories as we do the comfortable [ones].

In a news item announcing your appointment, you say, “Although we live in a time of great challenges, I remain optimistic about the possibilities.” What makes you have that outlook?

Building relationships is tricky because everyone is coming from different experiences. “Know thyself” is a starting point, but to what purpose? You can find optimism for the future by reflecting on your history — reflecting on those who set the table and preceded us. Go back to those who saw a very different America and said, “We want better.” It’s important not to lose sight of where we’ve been and where we’ve come from and what we need to do next — to reflect on the history of sacrifices people made. How dare I consider Dr. King’s America and say I’m too tired. How dare I say I can’t do the work. We have momentum — why can’t we do more and do more faster? My hope for young people is that in understanding what we’re experiencing today, they can see the possibilities for when they have children of their own.

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