Mount Holyoke College appoints Danielle Ren Holley twentieth president
Danielle Ren Holley, noted legal educator and social justice scholar, will become the twentieth president of Mount Holyoke College on July 1, 2023. The Board unanimously elected Holley following a thorough and inclusive search process.
President-elect Holley is the first Black woman in the 186-year history of Mount Holyoke College to serve as permanent president, and the fourth Black woman in history to lead one of the original Seven Sisters Colleges.
Since 2014, President-elect Holley has served as dean and professor of law at the Howard University School of Law. She is widely viewed as having renewed Howard’s historically important law school and raising its stature and visibility as the leading educator of social and racial justice lawyers.
“In addition to her exceptional leadership and ability to cultivate shared purpose, President-elect Holley brings a strong vision for what Mount Holyoke is and, more importantly, what our College can become. She has a strong track record of strategic growth and innovation, which will serve us well,” said Board of Trustees Chair Karena V. Strella ’90. “President-elect Holley is widely recognized for her broad intellectual interests and curiosity, as well as for her rigorous advancement of racial and social justice in the legal field and beyond. We look forward to welcoming her to the Mount Holyoke community, particularly as we continue our work together to create and maintain a culture of belonging and a society that advances the dignity of all.”
“It is an understatement to say I am excited to join the vibrant and dynamic Mount Holyoke community; in truth, I am ecstatic and exhilarated. My personal and professional endeavors reflect my commitment to create educational opportunities for talented and deserving students, including those who may encounter doors that are closed or unwelcome. Mount Holyoke shares this vision — here, I have found students who want to break down barriers and create lasting, equitable change for all, and faculty, staff and alums dedicated to helping these students strive for a brighter and bolder tomorrow. My own liberal arts education helped me find my path forward, and what Mount Holyoke gives to its students will stay with them long after they graduate,” said President-elect Holley. “I want to extend my sincere appreciation to the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee for their time and commitment to providing a meaningful search process. To the Mount Holyoke community, I have a simple but heartfelt message: I am so happy and proud to be your president-elect, and I look forward to working alongside you to ensure that Mount Holyoke forever shall be.”
“I would like to extend to Dean Danielle Holley my sincerest congratulations on her appointment as the twentieth president of Mount Holyoke College. This is a full-circle moment for me because Dean Holley was my very first hire as the president of Howard University, joining our faculty as the dean of the School of Law and a professor of law in 2014," said Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, President of Howard University. "Dean Holley has led the law school to unprecedented heights, including moving the Howard University Law School rankings into the top 100 in the U.S. News & World Report, establishing the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center and driving applications to all-time highs, to highlight just a few. Her presence and impact will be truly missed on our beloved campus.”
Other achievements of President-elect Holley’s tenure at the Howard School of Law include the introduction of a six-year BA/JD program, the launch of experiential learning and career preparation initiatives with World Bank, Microsoft and Amazon Studios, among others, and a 200 percent increase in fundraising success, including a $10 million grant to support public interest law, the largest in the Howard School of Law’s history.
President-elect Holley’s publications, presentations, and media appearances address a wide range of civil rights and equity topics, including desegregation, racial discrimination and affirmative action, the history of the civil rights movement, diversifying K-12 pipelines to higher education, admission of undocumented immigrants to public colleges and universities, women in academic leadership and reproductive rights. She is a leading scholar of the impending Supreme Court decisions regarding race-conscious college and university admissions, and her analysis and perspective are often sought by members of the press and in other settings.
“I admire so many things about Danielle Holley,” said Dr. Christina Paxson, President of Brown University. “She understands the power of a liberal arts education to create the visionary leaders the world sorely needs. She is deeply committed to advancing equity and justice. She has excellent academic judgment. She is a natural collaborator and great listener. For these and numerous other reasons, Danielle is a marvelous choice to be Mount Holyoke’s twentieth president.”
“President-elect Holley’s wide expertise and knowledge will undoubtedly be an asset to our College and our community. As law and society have become increasingly intertwined, President-elect Holley has enthusiastically risen to meet the critical need for interdisciplinary legal scholarship. She will provide a unique, necessary and advantageous lens through which to focus on the liberal arts,” said Mona Sutphen ’89, trustee and co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee.
"I am enormously honored to have had a part in the appointment of President-elect Holley on behalf of our student body," said Yihan Zhang '25, one of the two student representatives for the Presidential Search Committee. "In addition to her demonstrated professional commitment to understanding and practicing the law, she is personally motivated to pursue excellence on behalf of the students, faculty, and staff she represents. She will also be dedicated to strengthening inclusivity at our cherished College."
Prior to joining the Howard School of Law in 2014, President-elect Holley served as distinguished professor for education law and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of South Carolina. Earlier in her career, she served on the faculty of Hofstra University School of Law, practiced law as an associate at Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston, Texas. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and she was a law clerk to Judge Carl E. Stewart on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
President-elect Holley currently serves as co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She also sits on the boards of the Law School Admissions Council and the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. She is a Liberty Fellow through the Aspen Global Leadership Network. She was also a fellow with the American Council of Education at Brown University in 2021-22, and currently serves on the board of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. President-elect Holley is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
Her full curriculum vitae can be found on the Mount Holyoke College website.
President-elect Holley has won numerous awards, including the inaugural Impact Award from the Association of American Law Schools, the American Bar Foundation’s Montgomery Summer Research Diversity Fellowship Distinguished Alumni Award, the Lutie Lytle Conference Outstanding Scholar Award, the National Bar Association’s Heman Sweatt Award, and the University of South Carolina Educational Foundation’s Outstanding Service Award. She was twice awarded the Outstanding Faculty Member award during her tenure at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
Holley will join Mount Holyoke College at an exciting time. This year, the College set a new record with over 5,000 applicants for undergraduate admission to date; concluded the $41.5 million “Meet the Moment” scholarship initiative, which included the largest alum gift in the College’s history; was selected as a Beckman Scholars Program awardee by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation for the first time in its history; established a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center in collaboration with the American Association of Colleges and Universities; was granted over $550,000 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to support the development of a more inclusive STEM curriculum; launched the “Teaching for our Moment” program to address teacher burnout in public schools through its graduate division; and was ranked #1 for “Most LGBTQ-Friendly,” #2 for “Most Active Student Government,” #7 for “Best School for Making an Impact” and #9 for “Professors Get High Marks” by the Princeton Review.