New Wellesley College President Committed to Women’s Health and Education

-By, Alison Poussaint

On September 30, 2016, Wellesley College held the ceremony for the inauguration of President Johnson. The ceremony began with a colorful parade: faculty members wearing the robes of their alma maters, students representing sports teams including the Championship Crew teams and swim teams, and alumnae wearing their class colors. After the processional of faculty, students, and alumnae, President Johnson entered the ceremony and was met with loud cheers and chants of “PJ! PJ!”, a nickname given to her by the Wellesley College students.

Wellesley students were excited about the appointment of President Paula A. Johnson, the fourteenth president at Wellesley College, a prominent liberal arts school in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She has held impressive leadership positions at world-renowned institutions such as the chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, as well as a professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her presidency is historic: she is the first African-American president of the college and the first physician president of the school.

The inauguration program began with speeches by many distinguished women. In her speech, the Senator of Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren described President Johnson “as a woman of great vision who pursues excellence with sharp intelligence and unwavering determination” who will “lead a university of some of the smartest, toughest, most passionate women on earth.” Through her kind and powerful words, Senator Warren ultimately conveyed the great benefit of having such a strong female leader and pioneer leading Wellesley College over the next few years.

“I am here today because of a 30-year career in women’s health, and my deep commitment to women’s education. I stand before you on the shoulders and hard-won wisdom of so many women who laid the groundwork and pointed the way,” President Johnson remarked in her speech at the latter part of the program. “In these women, I see the power of education to change women’s lives and create a better world. I see the power of shared experience, shared ideas, shared commitments, across time and space, across cultures and identities. I give gratitude to them and for them,” she continued. She demonstrated the idea that in order to move forward and grow even stronger as women united, women must look to spirited and motivated women in the past for both answers and courage. Although she sees great hope for women, President Johnson is very aware of the fact that, in the perspectives of her students, “women face distinctive challenges” such as “unequal pay for work” and “vast underrepresentation at the highest levels across professions and industries.” She reflects that these setbacks are minor, and that women, especially Wellesley women, know that “the world is far better of with women at the table.”

Arielle Mitropoulos, a Winsor alumnae from the Class of 2015 and current Wellesley College student reflected on her experience having a new Wellesley College President:

“Everyone has been very excited to welcome President Johnson to Wellesley. With the coming of a new President, a new era is ushered, bringing new and fresh ideas, and perhaps different ways of leading the school. President Johnson has been very visible on making an effort to meet as many students as possible. She is a dynamic, and successful woman in her field, and is a great role model for all women.” Though President Johnson has only begun her direction at Wellesley College, she has been a strong female role President at Wellesley and shown exceptional leadership in her previous fields. These are lessons for Winsor girls as well. Winsor girls will not only be part of innovation, they will be the innovators. Winsor girls are independent and passionate girls who will one day drive the movement for the representation of women in various fields, become the role models that all young women and girls will strive to be, and be the most hardworking and inspiring women in their fields.