Q&A: New Scripps president Suzanne Keen on her first two months and what’s next

President Suzanne Keen poses on the Scripps campus.
Suzanne Keen serves Scripps College as its 10th president. (Courtesy of Scripps College)

Having officially assumed the role of Scripps College’s 10th president in July, Suzanne Keen sat down with TSL to discuss how her first two months have gone, what brought her to the college and how her background will inform her future plans. 

TSL: What attracted you to Scripps? How have your first two months been?

Suzanne Keen: Leading Scripps College is an extraordinary opportunity for a feminist scholar and educator. Honoring the memory of my mother, who was a Pembroke College graduate, inspired me at the beginning. She loved studying at a women’s college where she had leadership roles back in the 1950s and where she had full access to a coeducational experience at Brown University. 

Scripps offers gender-diverse students the best of both worlds — a woman-centered education in a coeducational consortium. That’s really special. It’s been a whirlwind these past two months, but I’m loving it.

TSL: What do you want students to know about you?

SK: I love to read, write and teach. Although teaching isn’t part of the plan for my work at Scripps, I consider myself one of hundreds of Scripps educators supporting student learning, supplementing what faculty do with students in our work — for and with you. 

My scholarly research on empathy has persuaded me that we all learn better and are more likely to thrive in an atmosphere of genuine care. I bring that spirit to my work.

TSL: What are your short-term and long-term goals?

SK: In the short term, I am striving to get to know the people, places, customs and traditions of Scripps. Practically, my very first task is shepherding the college through its reaffirmation of accreditation, a review process that vouches for Scripps’ stellar reputation with its peers and guarantees our access to federal funding, which is vitally important, especially to students with federal grants for scholarship as part of their financial aid.

Our Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation emphasizes two things I care a lot about: inclusive student success and innovative learning organization. 

In the long term, I hope to improve access and affordability of Scripps, to make this wonderful opportunity more available to talented students without considering [their] parents’ ability to pay. I hope to ensure that regardless of their intersectional identities, including aspects of themselves [they] may not show on the outside, Scripps students feel welcomed, supported and included, as well as academically challenged!

I am a feminist scholar. For example, for six years I served as the co-editor of an Oxford University Press journal, Contemporary Women’s Writing. However, my experience as an educator in small liberal arts colleges has demanded that I keep learning, growing and changing.”

TSL: What is something you’ve worked on in the past that you hope to expand on while at Scripps?

SK: I am an English professor, a friend of the arts and the interdisciplinary humanities. Those commitments will remain. But, in two different small liberal arts colleges, Washington and Lee University and Hamilton College, I have raised funds for faculty positions, student research and improved facilities in the sciences. 

The Joint Science Department and the Nucleus building really demand that I make an extra effort to support STEM education on behalf of the many Scripps students, now and in the future, who are interested in science.

TSL: How do you anticipate your past experiences will help you lead a historically women’s college?

SK: I am a feminist scholar. For example, for six years I served as the co-editor of an Oxford University Press journal, Contemporary Women’s Writing. However, my experience as an educator in small liberal arts colleges has demanded that I keep learning, growing and changing. 

Leading a college that offers gender-diverse students a woman-centered education means being committed to listening, learning and growing in my understanding of each new generation of students. Three decades of empathetic practice in my teaching has prepared me to continue growing and adapting in response to those changing generations of students.

TSL: Recently, Scripps and other 5C students have pushed for institutional divestment from fossil fuels. How do you plan on addressing these concerns?

SK: You may know that my scholarship is on narrative empathy. I am very interested in how we can cultivate not just empathy but also pro-social action on behalf of others impacted by the climate crisis. That includes discovering strategies for evoking empathy for the injured earth and atmosphere. 

I have already met with a group of people who are pursuing sustainability initiatives here at Scripps. I am committed to that practical work. 

The Board of Trustees controls Scripps’ investments through its endowment management. I have yet to attend a Board of Trustees meeting, but I will get that chance soon. I am looking forward to learning more about the nature and proportions of the endowment’s fossil fuel investments, if there are any. 

In the meantime, I am interested in the ongoing conversation about Scripps’ pursuit of achieving carbon neutrality, ideally without having to rely primarily on purchased offsets. The scale of the problem and the rapidity with which the planet has been hitting dire milestones can be discouraging. I hope that we can take heart as we employ a multi-pronged approach to climate justice. Advocacy is important and so is commitment to conservation. In my two months in California, I have become a careful collector of sink and shower gray water, which I use on the plants that are drooping in the dry heat.

Facebook Comments