Nicole Hurd inaugurated as 18th President


Speaking to students, professors, alumni, trustees, local media and more on campus, President Hurd outlined her vision for Lafayette and emphasized the importance of community during inauguration. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette News)

By Lucie Lagodich, Editor-in-Chief

President Nicole Hurd plans to steer the campus out of the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on building a stronger community during her time at Lafayette. Alongside students, faculty, staff and alumni representing every graduating class dating back to 1954, former President Alison Byerly, the Board of Trustees and the Mayor of Easton Salvatore Panto, among others, came together last Friday for the inauguration of President Hurd, the 18th president of Lafayette College.

Hurd is succeeding Byerly, who concluded her tenure on June 31, 2021, after eight years as president of the college.

“This has been a time of tremendous challenge for all higher education institutions. The events of the last twenty months have tested our systems, our structures, our assumptions and our communities. To begin a college presidency at such a time is an act of faith,” Byerly said. “It represents a commitment to the idea that colleges and universities and the students we educate have an important role to play in solving the many problems facing our country and our world. I’m confident that Lafayette College will live up to those expectations.”

The Inaugural Convocation began with remarks from Alexandra Hendrickson, college chaplain and director of religious and spiritual life, who spoke on the importance that this ceremony holds.

“We can choose through these inaugural moments of pomp and circumstance to participate. We can begin again. We can choose to be different, before this moment and after,” Hendrickson said. “The inauguration is a moment where we set the direction for the future of the institution and in many ways, affirm our commitment to the shared values that make us a unique entity. It feels providential that President Hurd so often uses the word ‘community,’ to center her hopes for Lafayette College. So may this gathering be a call to begin anew.”

Robert Sell ‘84, the chair of the Board of Trustees, spoke next. He shared memories of his experience at Lafayette as a student and his current position on the board where he worked closely with Byerly.

“Today we’re here to celebrate the journey of someone new to Lafayette, someone that’s already embracing who Lafayette is, someone that you’ll hear is falling in love with Lafayette. And so, we’re excited to welcome her to our community, to be our leader, to take this moment as an opportunity and drive this institution forward, push us to a place that we know we can be in, that we can succeed in and that we can all prosper in,” Sell said.

The convocation also heard welcoming remarks from Joshua Smith, professor of mechanical engineering and clerk of the faculty, David Ellis, the 13th president of Lafayette, Panto, Byerly and others.

“I fell in love with each one of you by first using my research nerd skills to learn about you on paper, actually on a laptop, and then by engaging in the more important and deep conversations that left me constantly wanting more,” Hurd said. “I’m not sure it’s normal to enjoy a search process as much every call, and every visit, left me thinking I want to be part of that community. It is an honor to join now and to serve this remarkable place. Thank you for believing in me.”

Before coming to Lafayette, Hurd worked for 15 years as the founder and CEO of the College Advising Corps (CAC), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving access to higher education for low-income students.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. always came back to one thing: are we a community, are we showing up. And as Dr. King sort of beautifully phrased it, ‘are we bending the arc towards justice,’” Hurd said.

Along with building a united community, Hurd spoke about the importance of having conversations and improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on campus.

“Access and inclusion, developing talent, being a community, bending the arc towards justice is why in 2005…we started the [CAC], and I took the risk of leaving the traditional academic path with…amazing colleagues and friends, and created a movement that has helped enrolled over 525 [thousand] first-generation, low-income, underrepresented students into higher education.”

In an interview, Hurd explained that she restructured some of her staff, choosing not to hire a chief diversity officer, saying that all staff members need to oversee DEI work. Instead, she is hoping to hire an individual to help facilitate the conversations and bring them to the campus community.

Hurd added that she is still in her “listening and learning phase,” and is holding off on making major decisions in her first few months as president.

“Until everybody does have a sense of being seen and valued and heard, I feel like I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I’ll give you a couple of things where I have made decisions,” Hurd said. “I announced last week in the faculty meeting, the diversity council…had given me a wish list of things that they’d like us to do on campus. I went and approved everything on the wish list. That is a place where I feel like I’ve seen and heard enough that I’m ready to take some action.”

Currently, Hurd is meeting with faculty, students and alumni alike, working to understand Lafayette and the people that are a part of it.

“I’ve made the same invitation to faculty that I’m making to students which is, please invite me to places, I really want to be a community together,” Hurd said. “I had some faculty actually invite me to class, which is awesome. I’m not there to judge or evaluate, I’m there just to kind of see…that unleashing of talent that, unlocking of potential, when I talk about sparks becoming fireworks.”

While holding off on institutional changes, Hurd plans to leave her mark at Lafayette by creating a stronger community. She explained that she hopes to build a campus that is “more just, more equitable, more diverse, more thoughtful of ways of being together and moving this place forward together.”

“I’m really ready to show up,” Hurd said. “Whether that’s a classroom, or whether that’s a dinner, or whether that’s in Farinon, or whether that’s in a library, wherever it is, I’m just excited to be in the community.”