Posted: October 6, 2006
Catherine Adams joined the Mount Holyoke staff in August as the new coordinator of multicultural affairs. With an extensive educational and professional background, she's a perfect fit for the position.
Adams grew up in Philadelphia in a family of middle school teachers. She attended public schools in Philadelphia and went to college at Johnson C. Smith University, a small liberal arts college in Charlotte, North Carolina, graduating in 1990 with a degree in English. After working for several years at the Charlotte Observer in the metro and feature departments, she earned a master's degree in African American studies at Temple University. In 1999 she enrolled in the Ph.D. program in African American studies at University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She is writing her dissertation about the treatment in contemporary literature of all-black settlements in Oklahoma that arose between the end of Reconstruction and the years after World War II. "I've been in it for so long and I'm still passionate about it," she said.
During graduate school in Amherst, Adams worked for three years at Smith College, both as a residential adviser and as interim dean of multicultural affairs. This experience allowed her to get to know students and how they live, not just how they are in the classroom. "You live and talk and eat with them. You're involved with many facets of their lives outside the classroom."
As coordinator of multicultural affairs, one of Adams's primary responsibilities is to oversee the College's cultural houses. She has been impressed with the quality of events connected with Latina Heritage month, which is celebrated from September 15 to October 15, just as the academic year gets underway. "The students planned this last spring. There was a lot of careful, early programming." This year she plans to support existing programming and explore student interests across campus before launching anything new. She wants to be accessible to the campus community. "I want to be out and about. Even though I can't attend every event, I want to be visible as much as possible to staff and students." She is eager to learn about what has gone well in the past with multicultural programming and what could be done better. "It's a clean slate for me," she said.
One of Adams' immediate goals is to get a thorough understanding of "how all the pieces fit together at Mount Holyoke." She said that while Smith and Mount Holyoke certainly have things in common, she does not want to "put Mount Holyoke in the same mold" as Smith. "I want to know what makes Mount Holyoke work. What are the special qualities of this campus? First semester will be a massive educational moment for me," she said. "I'm doing a lot of listening."
Adams can't say enough about the warm and open community she has found at Mount Holyoke. "I had always thought of it as a friendly place but it has exceeded my expectations," she said. "I get emails from students welcoming me, introducing themselves, and offering to help me. Just walking across the campus, I meet people who notice that I'm a new face and they introduce themselves. I haven't experienced this since I was living in the south."
Adams's office is Mary Lyon Room 304. She has regular office hours for students on Thursdays and Fridays from 3:30 to 5 pm.