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Dean Esther Levine Reflects on 35 Years at Holy Cross

September 10th, 2015 by 

Tom Rettig

Esther Levine, international scholar and student advisor and former class dean, has brought a unique voice, strong convictions and a deeply personal narrative to matters of diversity and inclusion throughout her 35 years at the College of the Holy Cross. In the many vital roles Levine has shouldered during her rich and challenging academic and administrative career at the College, her love for teaching, advocacy for her students and belief in the Jesuit mission have remained strong, vibrant and freely expressed.

“I loved Holy Cross from day one,” she says. “I think it was a natural fit. The Jesuit ideal is about respect for people and the education of the whole person, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.”

In the fall of 1980, Levine joined the Spanish department faculty and went on to teach for 70 more semesters. During her 30 plus years at the College, she served as advisor for the international scholar and student program, advising international faculty, scholars and students on immigration matters; and was named dean with special responsibilities for African-American, Latin American, Asian-American and Native American (ALANA) students. Last May, Levine stepped down after 16 years as class dean to the classes of 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 in anticipation of her retirement.

During Levine’s years as dean, the College made an institutional commitment to ethnic diversity. “She worked tirelessly to try to ensure that those students could succeed, be happy and be successful here. It came from her heart,” says Tina Chen, director of academic services and learning resources.

A significant part of Levine’s legacy at Holy Cross is the success of the Odyssey program which she created in 1997, beginning with the Class of 2001, and directed for nearly two decades. Odyssey is a one-week program for multicultural and international students, as well as American students living abroad, first-generation college students and for students for whom English is their second language, designed to immerse students in the academic and campus atmosphere unique to Holy Cross. Odyssey has grown from 20 participants to nearly 100 this year from the Class of 2019.

Melisa Jaquez ’06, assistant director of the Center for Career Development, experienced Levine’s support personally. “From the moment I arrived on campus for the Odyssey Program, Dean Levine took me under her wing,” says Jaquez. “Whether I was in her office sharing good news or bad news, she always supported me and helped me grow as a student in such an honest, caring and loving way.”

Levine knows well that ensuring a diverse community of faculty, staff and students increases the College’s capacity for excellence in teaching, learning and research—and prepares students for an increasingly connected and diverse global world. It also meshes with the College’s Jesuit foundation, which celebrates the relationship between diversity and the pursuit of social justice.

“Esther is Latina, she’s Cuban and she’s Jewish at a Jesuit school,” says Chen. “In many ways she has experienced herself as outside the majority culture in the United States. She knows what it is to be a stranger in a strange land. But it’s important to remember that her efforts to make students feel comfortable and thrive at Holy Cross extended beyond the ALANA and international students. She showed the same care and concern for the students in the four classes for which she was class dean.”

Ronald Jarret, associate dean of the College and professor of chemistry, often turned to Levine for advice when he was dean of the class of 2012. “Her interactions with her students were personal and often seemed like conversations in progress. I was a better class dean because of her influence and example,” says Jarret.

For this academic year, her last on the Hill, Levine will continue to serve as the international scholar and student advisor and to train people at the College about immigration matters as she transitions to retirement.

Retirement means that Levine can leave meetings and committees behind to spend more time with her husband and family, including her two married daughters and six grandchildren. “It will be a time of discovery,” she says. “I’ve been so busy working. What I’ll miss most is interacting with students.”

And so will they.

Contributions to this piece from Elizabeth Walker.

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