In January, Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’98 announced that Shawna Patterson would serve the new director of the College’s Davis Center.
Patterson, who most recently worked as a House Dean at the University of Pennsylvania, assumed her new role during Winter Study. She has worked at Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida State Universities, and she holds a Ph.D. from Florida State.
Patterson was initially drawn to the College by a sense of curiosity about the school and a desire to work in a more intimate environment.
“I rely on a relationship-centered approach where I can forge authentic relationships, and I felt that here was somewhere where I could make a difference and have the freedom to do that,” Patterson said.
“There’s a genuine want here to have this work be effectual on campus, not just lip service, but a genuine belief that this is needed … The students are impassioned and committed to being social change agents, and the administration is willing to say, ‘We want to help them’ – that’s not always the first thing that’s said everywhere.”
Patterson originally comes from a military family, to which she attributes her drive and active personality.
“It widened my worldview early on, with the opportunity to live in different countries and different parts of the country,” Patterson said. “It gave me a chance to see more, understand more and do more.”
Following her undergraduate studies in sociology, Patterson entered the workforce as a social worker in Detroit, Mich.
Shortly thereafter, she began to chafe at a system she perceived was resistant to change and not allowing her to help her clients. She then returned to graduate school and discovered her interest in working on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in institutions of higher education.
“I had the opportunity to work with underrepresented populations, to understand higher education as a system, and found I was most effectual in these spaces,” she said.
In an email announcing Patterson’s appointment, Haynes cited her extensive experience in a variety of higher education settings.
“At Michigan State University, she supported diverse student populations, developed inclusive residential curricula for residence halls and advised student organizations,” Haynes said in the email.
“At Penn State University, she oversaw the safety and security functions for the residential housing system and worked to foster an environment that valued diversity and demonstrated a commitment to social justice.”
As she acclimates to her new role here at the College, her first goal is to continue to grow as a member of the community and to immerse herself in new activites both inside and outside of the College.
“I would love to get more involved in Williamstown, North Adams and Pittsfield to understand who my neighbors are,” Patterson said.
In addition, Patterson hopes to make the Davis Center a model on the international stage.
“I want this to be a space where everyone’s looking to see what we’re doing, where we’re on the cutting edge,” she said. “It can be a focal point for a variety of reasons, a foundation for models and techniques.”
Patterson sees her role within both the Davis Center and the College community as that of a facilitator foremost.
“My plan is to begin with understanding [the Davis Center’s] mission and goals, doing this as a collective with the staff,” Patterson said.
As for the campus community, Patterson hopes to see a place where all students are able to thrive.
“I hope that students are able to get a renewed understanding of themselves as individuals,” Patterson said. “I see education as a tool of enlightenment. The college experience should allow you to get to know who you are.”
Above all, Patterson stressed her openness and availability as she begins her new position at the College.
“I’m an open book and an open door, visible and accessible,” she said.