Pomona President Gabi Starr inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences, recognized for education equity efforts

President Starr poses, wearing a baby blue twill jacket and shirt with a pearl necklace around her neck.
As an inductee into the Academy, Starr continues to bolster educational efforts for accessibility and equity. (Courtesy: Pomona College)

Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr officially joined the ranks of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at an induction ceremony Sept. 9 to 10, following a year’s delay due to COVID-19.

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy was founded in 1780 during the American Revolution by John Adams and other Founding Fathers who believed a new republic needed institutions to gather and advance knowledge for the public good. 

The Academy is currently led by Starr’s predecessor at Pomona, David Oxtoby, who served as the college’s ninth president. Among the earlier inductees, Academy members range from Oprah Winfrey, Charles Darwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking and Condoleezza Rice.

An acclaimed scholar of English literature and neuroscience, as well as a former dean at New York University’s College of Arts and Science, Starr was elected into the Academy in 2020 for her work in leadership, policy and communications with a specialty in educational and academic leadership. 

“Several people said that one of the things they found notable was work that I’ve done on prison education,” Starr said, referencing the cross-university prison education program she created that offers degrees in liberal arts to students in a medium-security prison.

In addition to this work, Starr facilitated a partnership while at NYU with New York City’s largest community colleges to create an educational pipeline to future STEM careers.

“In general, in everything that I try and do — whether it’s raising money, whether it’s helping to produce new programs — it’s about trying to forge collaborations in different kinds of places, so that we have better access to education for talented people from all around the world,” Starr told TSL. 

The Academy also credited Starr’s research accomplishments in studying the brain using fMRI to see how people respond to different forms of art, which Starr wrote about in her 2013 book “Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience.” 

Becoming an Academy member wasn’t an explicit goal for Starr, who said that her appointment still feels “unreal,” even after the delayed ceremony. 

“It seemed ludicrous as an idea that I would ever become a member,” Starr said. “It’s a group of people like Kimberlé Crenshaw that I deeply admire, and the work that I do seems nowhere near comparable.”

Crenshaw, a leading scholar in race and law, spoke about the importance of Critical Race Theory in one of the keynote speeches at the induction ceremony. Starr said this address, along with one given by CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, was an especially memorable part of the experience. 

Both speakers were inducted in the ceremony, along with Starr and two Pomona alumni, Thomas McDade ’91 and Adela Yarbro Collins ’67.

For Starr, the highlight of the ceremony was meeting famed lawyer, professor and equality advocate Anita Hill, to whom she introduced her children.

“She’s probably one of the reasons I got into the academy,” Starr said. “Watching [the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas] and trying to understand it was totally formative for me as a young feminist, and to get to meet her was amazing.” 

As a member of the Academy, Starr plans on contributing to projects that restore what she describes as “crises of public trust,” especially in institutions of higher learning. 

“I really want to be part of work that helps to restore some of the faith in higher education as a public good,” Starr said.

“I really want to be part of work that helps to restore some of the faith in higher education as a public good,” Starr said.

For Pomona, Starr’s goals return to her passion for accessible education. She hopes to offer the college’s efforts in closing achievement gaps as a model for other higher education institutions. such as the Pomona Academy of Youth Success (PAYS) which offers mentoring services to underrepresented high schoolers in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

“I’d like us to be able to replicate some of the work that we’ve done through [PAYS] with community colleges in Southern California and serve as a hub for helping students who have completed two-year degrees to go on to get Bachelor’s degrees in Claremont and around the country,” Starr said.

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