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Woman, president, “rock ‘n’ roll roadie”: Joyce McConnell’s inauguration

Joyce McConnell was inaugurated as Colorado State University’s 15th president Thursday at the University Center for the Arts, marking a number of firsts for the holder of this position.

Speeches at the event included a welcome address by Mahalia Henschel, the CSU Land Acknowledgement by Jan Iron, a welcome address from the Board of Governors by Nancy Tuor, the Installation and Investiture of the President by Tony Frank and the Inaugural Address by McConnell. 

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“President McConnell is the first president in our history to come to us from West Virginia, the first president to have rock ’n’ roll roadie on their résumé and the first to pose for their formal portrait without a necktie,” said Henschel, a senior communication studies major and presidential ambassador, in her welcoming speech at the ceremony.

McConnell, notably, is also the first female president in CSU’s 150-year history.

“I think that having a female president sheds a different light on some issues that are very important in our culture today,” said Marla Trumper, the director of Presidential Engagement and attendee of the ceremony.

McConnell has worn many hats and has worked as a lawyer, professor, dean and provost before accepting the presidency position at CSU.

Tuor, chair of the Board of Governors, credited McConnell with all of these titles in her welcome speech on behalf of the Board of Governors but added that McConnell was also “a student who once discovered her own path and dreams through higher education.”

McConnell discussed the importance of education in her family, her grandparents having immigrated to the United States from Greece with little schooling and without speaking English.

“But they valued education above all else because they understood its transformative power,” McConnell said. 

When Frank, chancellor for the CSU System and former CSU president, formally passed down the torch to his successor in the Installation and Investiture of the President, he gave her some advice.

“Whatever challenges walk through your door, know that their like has walked through that door before and that the people who were in that room before you dealt with them by keeping their eye on the long-term horizon of the University and not being enslaved by the tyranny of the moment,” Frank said.

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Every single member of our community deserves to know that they are welcomed and valued for every aspect of their identity, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, immigrant status, socioeconomic status, disability, age or veteran status. They deserve a place where there is no question, theirs or anyone else’s, whether they belong because they do.” -Joyce McConnell, president of CSU

And McConnell has faced many challenges, all within the first semester of her presidency.

In response to incidences of racism on campus, McConnell created the Race, Bias and Equity Initiative, in which she appointed Blanche Hughes, vice president for Student Affairs, as its lead administrator.

“I think that she’s taken really strong stances on the issues with race and equity, … and I have no doubt that she’ll bring great perspective and voice to the concerns that a lot of those communities have been feeling at CSU,” said Brittany Johnson, assistant director of Donor Relations and Stewardship and attendee at the ceremony.

Referencing change she hopes to create at CSU, McConnell brought up a Greek proverb in her Inaugural Address: “People plant trees so others may climb them and rest in their shade.”

She followed this by posing the question: “What trees do we need to plant today in order to meet the needs of those who will follow us?”

The “trees” McConnell said she plans to plant cover a large spectrum of campus issues but most notably, inclusivity and accessibility.

“Every single member of our community deserves to know that they are welcomed and valued for every aspect of their identity, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, immigrant status, socioeconomic status, disability, age or veteran status,” McConnell said. “They deserve a place where there is no question, theirs or anyone else’s, whether they belong because they do.”

She specifically discussed the barriers to education that many students and their families face, branching from issues of affording college tuition to worries over immigration status.

“Some of these promising young people are living in uncertain immigration status,” McConnell said. “Some of them are actively afraid that pursuing a degree at CSU could bring unwanted attention to them or their families.”

It doesn’t matter what I would do or what any previous president would do or would have done. The only thing that matters is what you will do because you are the 15th president of Colorado State University, and this wonderful place is now entrusted to your care. … Take care of Colorado State University.” -Tony Frank, chancellor of CSU System and former CSU president

Expanding mental health resources was another proponent of change McConnell mentioned.

“We believe the expansion of mental health resources will result in the University retaining students in crisis who might otherwise leave, helping them keep healthy and safe and be a part of the CSU community,” McConnell said.

She also discussed working on recruiting Native American students whose tribal lands were built over.

And in honor and respect of the Indigenous peoples whose land the school stands on today, Native American culture was incorporated into a large part of the ceremony.

The Iron Family Singers performed a blessing song for McConnell with the intention of empowering the president and extending blessings toward everyone she serves.

Iron, a Navajo woman and IT professional in the Agricultural Experiment Station headquarters, read the Land Acknowledgement and talked to the importance of “reconciliation.”

“As we come together to welcome and celebrate our new president, we must continue our journey of healing and reconciliation with all nations, with Mother Earth and all our creator’s blessings,” Iron said. “We must also recognize that we — you and me — we are the new stewards of this land and take that responsibility seriously. Our future generations are depending on it.”

McConnell echoed the sentiment of working toward worldly change.

“Serving our students is the essential part of our land-grant mission, but as a University, we’re also in the knowledge business,” McConnell said. “And as a land grant, we are going to create that knowledge to address the critical, environmental, social and economic challenges facing our world today.”

In his Installation and Investiture, Frank gave one final piece of advice to McConnell.

“It doesn’t matter what I would do or what any previous president would do or would have done,” Frank said to McConnell. “The only thing that matters is what you will do because you are the 15th president of Colorado State University, and this wonderful place is now entrusted to your care. … Take care of Colorado State University.”

Joey Wagner can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @joeyleewagner.

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