Carol Quillien poses on campus in a black dress
Davidson College President Carol Quillen

Samantha Ewing ’23 (She/Her), Features Editor

Samantha Ewing (SE): What has been your favorite Davidson memory as President?

President Carol Quillen (CQ): That’s a really hard question. I don’t know that I have a favorite Davidson memory. Davidson attracts students and faculty who have all different kinds of interests, so it’s a really broadly diverse group of people. The activities that I’ve been able to participate in have been widely varied, so I can point to many great memories… It’s hard to pick just one thing.

When I think about Davidson, I think about the sense of community that this place has… and I know a lot of us feel like “Davidson wasn’t built for me.” Well, Davidson wasn’t built for me either. So when I think about it, I think about the ways in which this community has created options and possibilities for all of us to feel a sense of belonging. And so I guess my archetypical Davidson memories are places where people have done that for me–you know, really tried to say “this is a place for you.” Whether it’s the lacrosse team’s Quillen Day this year, or whether it’s when we have Valentine’s Day or students sending anonymous gifts to me. I’ve gotten a number of really wonderfully kind and generous, often anonymous notes from students just talking about their Davidson experience, which means a lot to me. So I would say it’s probably the things that build community, because I think that’s really what distinguishes Davidson, a broadly diverse place where we really do try to build community recognizing that that’s challenging. It’s not easy to do. 

SE: Do you have an accomplishment at Davidson that you are most proud of?

CQ: I don’t think anything that’s happened here during the time that I’ve served as president has been my accomplishment. I think Davidson is a place that attracts and cultivates leaders. Leading or serving in this role often means following. So to me, leadership is a team sport; leadership is working hard in a community to create a context where that community can make the changes that it wants or needs to make. Just like everyone else here, we’re trying to create that context where we can make the changes that we want or need to make: listening to other people’s great ideas, elevating those great ideas, following in the lead of students who have amazing ideas. So when I think about the things that have happened since I’ve been here, whether it’s the construction of the Wall Center, the Hurt Hub, Africana Studies, and other new curricular programs, SIAD [Student Initiative for Academic Diversity], all of these things that have happened while I’ve been here have been led by other people, and have been ideas of other people. I would say maybe over the past decade, we’ve all learned to be a little bit less afraid of what we might lose, and we’re willing to aspire to what we might do together. And that has been a community effort and a group project.

SE: What do you hope to see improve at Davidson in the future?

CQ: Like the country we inhabit, we have a long way to go to build a genuinely inclusive environment, and I hope that we remain committed to that as a community, and listen to people who have that direct experience that can help us build that environment and understand what that means.

Second, our community really needs thoughtful leadership. I hope that Davidson continues to cultivate humane instincts, and discipline and creative minds so that our students can offer their communities the kind of leadership that we really need and that we don’t see very often in public life right now. If we’re going to sustain these institutions that have helped us continue to work towards the promise of a democratic republic, we’re going to need people to support that. These institutions are fragile. I look to Davidson to provide that kind of leadership as we work to, again, fulfill the promise of a genuinely egalitarian and free society. We have a ways to go in order to continue to build an inclusive environment here, cultivate leadership among our students, and focus our attention somewhat on the institutions that enable democratic life. 

SE: What are you hoping to do during sabbatical? 

CQ: I’m going to spend some time in Washington. I’m learning about educational policy and engaging with people who are interested in democratic institutions and then thinking about how we can rebuild the public sphere and foster more substantive and productive collective conversations about our future. And then I hope I can write a couple of things. I mean, I have some things I’d like to write. So those are the tentative plans so far. 

SE: What are you most looking forward to in your time as a professor in the future? 

CQ: I really love being in a classroom. I learned a lot from students and I had such amazing teachers in my life that honestly opened up whole new worlds for me—things I had no idea even existed or ways of thinking that were completely different from what I was familiar with. I learned how to question things that I have taken for granted for a long time, and I find that feeling exhilarating. So learning for me is powerfully liberating. I turn to books when my own experience in the world is puzzling to me and I can’t make sense of it. It’s really important to me that our students and all young people are able to see education in that way—as a liberating thing, as something that is freeing. By studying stuff, you can acquire the tools you need to understand your own experience in the world and acquire the skills and talents that you need to make change when you think change needs to happen. So I look forward to being in a classroom experiencing that myself. Also, I hope to enable other students to experience the sense of liberation that education brought me. 

SE: Do you have any last thoughts or feelings you want to share with the Davidson community? 

CQ: My overwhelming feeling is one of enormous gratitude. You know, for a nerdy kid who was an introvert, I never imagined in my life that I would have an opportunity like this. And I have learned so much about myself and my shortcomings and about what it means to be in a community. I’ve had opportunities to work with amazingly talented people. I think my overwhelming sentiment is gratitude towards the people that have built Davidson, the people on whose shoulders we all stand and the students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, community members that I’ve gotten to know over the past 10 years. So I guess my last word is just one big, enormous, wholehearted thank you.