Wellesley College Names Its First African-American President

In a historic move, Wellesley College has named Dr. Paula A. Johnson, a Harvard Medical School professor and public health expert, as its next president. 

According to The Boston Globe, Johnson said she “felt a special responsibility as the college’s first African-American leader,” and will focus on student diversity as one of Wellesley’s strengths.

“I’m incredibly excited to see a person of color as the president of the college; it’s a wonderful and unprecedented move,” Tiffany Chan, Wellesley Class of 2015, told Her Campus.

"It's very refreshing to see somebody lead the college who is so connected to women leaders in general, but especially this generation of women, having taught and worked with them consistently throughout her career," Kayleigh Butler, Wellesley Class of 2014, said in an interview.

“Even among a superb group of candidates, Dr. Johnson stood out through her record as a scholar and leader, together with her passion for women’s advancement, education, and well-being, the energy and insights she conveyed in our discussions, and her enthusiasm for Wellesley,” Debra de Hoyos, chair of the search committee, said in a press release Thursday morning.

Michelle Surka, Wellesley Class of 2014, told Her Campus, “I’m pretty excited that she’s a person of color with a STEM background, and I know from other alumnus that’s the overwhelming opinion—the hope is she might be able to help the school better prioritize race and class issues.” In a country simmering with racial tensions on campus and off that our leaders still refuse to address, this move couldn't come at a better time. It's incredibly relevant as students and faculty look to address issues of political correctness, equality, access, and diversity not seen in many of Wellesley’s peer institutions.

“Overall, I do hope that her appointment will set the tone for responding more promptly to these issues,” Chan said.

The former chair of the Boston Public Health Commission, Johnson is a strong and vocal advocate for women’s health and brings a physician’s expertise to the role.

“She doesn’t have a traditional academic background, and I think that’s a real breath of fresh air,” Surka said. Chan, now a graduate student at Harvard Medical, added “I think that this bodes really favorably for increasing Wellesley’s presence in healthcare and public policy.”

For more on Johnson’s expertise, check out her 2013 TED Talk, “His and Hers…Healthcare,” where she discusses the intersection of women’s rights, medicine and research.

"I believe that Dr. Johnson is the perfect fit because she embodies the core values of Wellesley College. She is making a difference in the world by improving women's health with undeniable success," Sheena Dupuy, Wellesley Class of 2014, said. "Dr. Johnson will serve as a great role model and leader for the students of Wellesley College and I can't wait to see what the future holds!"

The 2,400-strong undergraduate institution boasts powerful women like Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright as alumni. For a school whose motto—Non ministrari, sed ministrare, or “Not to be ministered unto but to minister”—implies building up young women who will make an impact on the world, Johnson’s appointment will add significant weight. “[She] will help us uphold the school motto to the fullest," Chan said.