Standing before a crowd of 300 in the Hogan Ballroom, Mable Millner, the College’s associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion and director of multicultural education, addressed current and former administrators, faculty and staff who had gathered to celebrate the contributions of her colleague and friend Jacqueline “Jackie” Dansler Peterson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
“You have seen much change in the life of this campus and been a part of it all,” Millner said to Peterson.
Peterson, the first woman, person of color and lay person to be named to the president’s cabinet, capped her 20 years of service at the close of the academic year. The reception in May, held in Peterson’s honor, was an opportunity for her colleagues to express their gratitude and well wishes.
“The change that [Jackie] has pioneered and the transformational work that she has done to serve our students, their parents, our staff, faculty and alumni over the past two decades has been extraordinarily graced,” extolled College President Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.
From the development of programs that connect classroom learning with campus life opportunities, to the revision of student conduct and community standards, to the establishment of the Office of Multicultural Education and the Gateways Orientation programs, Peterson’s legacy at the College is one of transformation, diversity and inclusion.
Peterson played a key role in the College’s efforts to become more diverse ethnically, socioeconomically and religiously.
Former College President Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., worked alongside Peterson for 12 years. “We worked together not only to recruit a more diverse pool of students, but also to ensure that they had the support they needed to be happy and successful. With a dedicated team from across the College, we were able to more than double the proportion of students of color in the student body and significantly increase all the indicators of success, engagement and satisfaction for that group.”
Throughout her career, Peterson was guided by a holistic philosophy of education — one that helped students find success both in and out of the classroom, and taught them to nurture their mind, body and soul. “Who am I? Who do I want to become? Who do I want to be for others?” These are the questions that Peterson posed to students year after year as she challenged them to live the mission of Holy Cross.
“Over the past 20 years, under Jackie’s leadership, Student Affairs has become a critical partner in our efforts to educate the whole person,” says Peterson’s longtime colleague Margaret Freije, provost and dean of the College. “She and her staff have taken the lead in developing our students as leaders, teaching them the importance of working together to achieve common goals and helping them do the hard work of building communities that are diverse and inclusive. Jackie and her team, through their expertise in student development and their commitment to our Jesuit mission, provide the network of support our students need to fully participate in the rigorous liberal arts education Holy Cross offers them.”
Remarkably, Peterson has had an impact on approximately 14,000 Holy Cross students. She welcomed them on move-in day and witnessed their joy on graduation day — and she was there for all the days in between, assisting those struggling with personal and family issues, training and mentoring those in leadership roles, and celebrating students’ myriad athletic, artistic and community achievements. Through it all, in good times and in bad, she was the consummate professional, demonstrating a deep understanding of what students needed in order to grow into mature and responsible adults.
“I’ve greatly admired Jackie’s strength, her determination and her character though all of the varied challenges of our day-to-day work,” says Paul Irish, associate dean of students and director of student conduct and community standards at the College. “Above all, Jackie places faith and family first. This ethos was modeled in the Division of Student Affairs and helped to create a division that has been welcoming, warm and compassionate.”
In her speech, Mable Millner, the College’s associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion and director of multicultural education, invoked Maya Angelou’s poem, “Phenomenal Woman,” and drew comparisons to Dean Peterson. Photo by Tom Rettig
Millner agrees. “Having found one like you as a leader and colleague has been no less than a gift,” she shared as the reception came to a close. “Jackie, I felt so privileged to have found deeper community with you both professionally and personally. These same feelings have been extended to the many students who found comfort, refuge and safety with you. Your guidance and encouragement have helped so many students thrive and survive [at Holy Cross].
“We have all been fortunate to have you as a member of this community,” concluded Millner.
Written by Rebecca Smith ’99 and Kimberly Staley ’99 for the Summer 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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