“I want to start by saying my name is Jane Fernandes and my pronouns are she/her and I also use inclusive they/them,” the candidate for the New College presidency said, addressing a crowd of students on a Zoom webinar on April 1. “But the pronouns I really want to use with you someday are we and us.”
During her campus visit on April 1 and 2, Fernadnes went through a whirlwind of virtual and in-person meetings, Q&As and meals with students, faculty and staff. Fernandes is the second of five total candidate finalists coming to campus. During these meetings, Fernandes emphasized her commitment to community and appreciation for New College’s values.
“This whole place has me spellbound,” Fernadnes said, smiling, facing a partially-filled room of students in the Sudakoff Conference Center on Friday, April 2. In her opening remarks, Fernandess expressed her sense of awe and wonder about what she had learned about from visiting an urban history course earlier that morning.
“My mind is blown!” she shared.
Jane Fernandes is currently on sabbatical from being the president of Guilford College, a small liberal arts college outside of Greensboro, S.C. Fernandes is a professor of literature by training — she wrote her dissertation on American Sign Language (ASL) literature at the University of Iowa — but has been a higher education administrator for the past few decades.
At the beginning of the virtual meetings, Fernandes was eager to address “the elephant in the Zoom.” She was born deaf, but was brought up by her hearing father and did not learn ASL until later in life. Two interpreters accompanied Fernandes on her campus visit.
As far as diversity and inclusion efforts, Fernandes drew on her background as a deaf person in a Zoom Q&A forum with students on April 1. Fernandes said she “goes places where nothing has been made with me in mind,” and “seeks to understand differences in people and communities” to cultivate a welcoming and inclusive campus community.
“We can’t depend on minorities and underrepresented people coming here to make us a diverse and inclusive community,” Fernandes explained. “I think we have to say we will be inclusive and create a culture that we need, then we will have the POC that we want.”
Fernandes also discussed her experience navigating tensions between students and campus police. Fernandes drew on her past experience collaborating with public safety officers who intervened to provide students with necessary support services to address infractions, rather than write students up for violations or engage in punitive measures like college or county law enforcement.
She also emphasized her support for restorative, rather than punitive, justice in addressing campus safety concerns/rule violations/etc, and also expressed support for a community safety model rather than a campus police department.
Fernandes also expressed her full support for LGBTQ students on campus, and cited her own work advocating for transgender students in North Carolina following the passage of the controversial “bathroom bill,” or Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which required transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate in government and public buildings.
When asked what she considered to be NCF’s greatest strengths and weaknesses, Fernandes immediately drew on the college’s transparent and inclusive presidential search process, as well as the college’s high caliber faculty, intensive curriculum and gifted students. She also said that she felt like most people at the college understood its mission and are devoted to seeing it through.
When she was directly asked about her vision for increasing enrollment at New College, Fernandes offered examples for boosting student numbers at the four other institutions she has worked at, such as bettering the student experience through improvements such as food quality and student activities, but said that she would need to learn more and do more digging before she could speak to New College’s enrollment situation.
“Retention is really hard because it’s really about everything,” Fernandes emphasized. “If 200 students left at the end of the semester, there are 200 reasons.”
Although Fernandes noted that New College’s academic program is like a Cadillac, she described her impression of students’ experiences at the college as “a used car lot,” and expressed that she wishes to dovetail the two to create an authentic, valuable educational experience.
Overall, Fernandes expressed a genuine desire to build upon the college’s strengths while “putting in the elbow grease” to address its weaknesses.
“Coming here has really made it crystal clear to me that I love this college and I really love everything you do,” Fernandes said. “If I’m not chosen as president, I’ve really had a wonderful experience. I have learned so much and I will be changed as a leader because I was here and that’s enough. But, if I have the honor to be chosen as president, I’ll be totally committed to all of the hard work that has to be done.”
The Board of Trustees will convene on Tuesday, April 20 to decide the next presidential candidate. Community members are encouraged to submit feedback on the presidential candidates at ncf.edu/presidentialsearch.