Crafting of Ifill College Mission Statement Underway


Mackenzie Farkus

Faculty are busy crafting the mission statement of the Gwen Ifill College. The mission statement is due in December.

Charged with crafting a mission statement for Simmons University’s new Gwen Ifill College of Media Arts and Humanities, the six-person faculty task force has released an initial draft of the statement.

The statement reads,“We are a community of educators and learners guided by intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and generosity of spirit. We create a space where students can tell their stories, and our global story, in new ways. We believe in individual empowerment and civic engagement through language, artistic expression, imagination, and rigorous analysis. We derive strength and shared intelligence from our myriad differences as individuals.”

The committee met several times working to meet a December 1 deadline. The rest of the college’s faculty members will then vote on the mission statement presented by the committee. Following approval by the dean, the mission statement will be displayed on a wall of the recently renovated wing of the Ifill College.

Due to Simmons University’s academic redesign, numerous departments are encompassed in the Ifill College, including communications, Africana studies, arts and music, children’s literature, English, history, modern language, philosophy, and women and gender studies.

Because the school is named for the late Gwen Ifill, a Simmons alumna and the first black woman to host a national political broadcast on Washington Week in Review, some community members wondered how the committee would honor Ifill while also supporting the departments unrelated to journalism.

Dr. Lowry Pei, an English Professor at Simmons and mission statement committee chair, said creating a vision that includes the various disciplines of the college was always possible.

As a member of the English department and a writer of fiction, he sees similarities between Ifill’s profession and his own.

To me, the notion of constantly constructing and reconstructing a story that makes sense out of our experience feels like it encompasses all these different fields.” Said Pei. “Journalism is that in one way, and fiction is that in another way, and a history is that in another way an so on. Those things are not incompatible.”

Consisting of faculty volunteers, other members of the committee include associate professor Eduardo Fables, modern language and literature, assistant professors, Audrey Golden, English, and Frannie Sullivan, history, and senior lecturer, Lauren Rizzuto, children’s literature and Dawna Thomas, women’s and gender studies.

Department heads tend to agree with Pei. Dr. Danisa Bonacic, chair of the Modern Language and Literature department, stated she too sees Ifill’s legacy reflected in the work of her department.

“In her career, Gwen Ifill understood the complexities of foreign policies,” said Bonacic. “We believe that our students can improve their understanding of these complexities by immersing themselves in another language, another culture, and another historical perspective.”

Dr. Margaret Hanni, chair of the Art and Music department, also stated her optimism regarding the committee’s ability to incorporate her department into the mission statement.

“I would expect the mission statement to reflect Gwen Ifill’s thoughtful engagement with the world around her and her demonstrated passion for asking difficult questions and seeking answers to the,” said Hanni. “The Department of Art and Music is committed to engagement with the world, expressed through visual and musical expression.”

Following the appointment of Dr. Brian Norman, a white male, as the inaugural dean of the Gwen Ifill College, the committee faced added pressure from the Black Alumnae Association for what they call a “racially insensitive hiring decision” on behalf of Simmons.

In an email to Simmons University president, Helen Drinan, NBC News correspondent and friend of Ifill, Rehema Ellis, spoke on behalf of the Black Alumni Association.

“Gwen was one of the premier journalists of our time.” said Ellis. “The first dean of the college that honors her should reflect a combination of her intellect, scholarship, and integrity, as well as her race and gender.”

Pei said that diversity and inclusion are important to the mission committee as well as the rest of the university.

“Creating a diverse and inclusive community is central to the mission of the whole university and the success of the whole Gwen Ifill college,” said Pei.

According to Pei, the committee also be looked to students for input as they began crafting the statement. The committee intends to reach out to student organizations for guidance.

As a student in the Gwen Ifill College, Belle Indelicato, a second-year public relations and marketing communications major sees Ifill’s legacy as inseparable from goals of the new college.

“I hope that people see that it wouldn’t have been possible without Gwen Ifill,” said Indelicato. “The comm department shaped her and now she is shaping all of us.”

Editor’s Note: Story updated on Nov. 27.