WILLIAMSTOWN — As Maud Mandel was inducted Saturday as the 18th president of Williams College — she is the first woman to ever hold the title — she and others shared a message of inclusion, diversity and engagement.
The college's historic Chapin Hall was filled with faculty, staff, students, and friends and family of Mandel, who all welcomed her to the community.
"As you know, Williams is celebrating 50 years of coeducation," she told the crowd. "So, while at one point in recent history I, as a woman, could not have matriculated here, I now stand here before you as the first woman president of the school that graduates hundreds of women every year, and has committed to providing access and opportunity to students of all kinds."
Mandel, the former dean of students at Brown University, is a historian who has examined how policies and practices of inclusion and exclusion in 20th-century France have affected ethnic and religious minorities.
Mandel is the granddaughter of Austrian-Jewish refugees. After the ship her mother was on was turned away from the United States, Cuba and Canada, the passengers were returned to Europe. Her mother landed in Great Britain, where she was safe, she said.
Mandel's great-grandmother and namesake, and members of four generations of her great-grandmother's family, were killed in Poland, she said.
"In that way, I am connected to those who found freedom and to those it was denied," she said at her induction ceremony. "These histories, of my mother's narrow escape and of the murder of her extended family, were formative to my thinking about our collective obligations to inclusion and justice."
Michael Eisenson, chairman of the college's board of trustees, praised Mandel for her "profound commitment to diversity in its fullest definition."
During the long interview process, Mandel made many observations about Williams. The one that resonated most to Eisenson was that "student activism is to be embraced and encouraged as the much preferred alternative to lack of interest."
"With Maud Mandel as both a member and a leader of our community, I believe that Williams College will continue to attract an excellent and ever-more-engaged and diverse faculty, staff and student body, all of whom will have every opportunity to enjoy success," he said.
Christina Paxson, president of Brown University, also spoke in praise of Mandel's commitment to students and said the decision to hire her was "inspired."
"This is a historic and special day for Williams, and it is one that will generate joy long after the sunset this evening. But it does come at a tumultuous time in this country," Paxson said. "Divisions persist around issues of race, identity, equity, free expression, the value of science and claims of truth."
And that social turbulence is playing out on college campuses, making it a valid question as to why anyone would want to be a college president at this time, she said, jokingly.
But Mandel, she said, is as prepared for the job as anyone can be.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.