HARTFORD — Several hundred Trinity College students, faculty and alumni greeted Joanne Berger-Sweeney, named Thursday as the college’s first African-American and first woman president, with enthusiastic whoops and applause. “How could you have a warmer welcome for someone?” said Berger-Sweeney, a dean at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. “It’s not very often that I get to walk into a room and there’s a standing ovation.” But then, she noted, to a roar of laughter, there were no seats in the room.
Berger-Sweeney, 55, a neuroscientist who was accompanied at Thursday’s announcement by her husband and two children, told the crowd she fell in love with Trinity the moment she first set foot on campus — shortly before New Year’s. “We came through the arch … I looked to the left and saw the chapel, I looked to the right and saw this beautiful long walk, and I thought: I think I could be here,” Berger-Sweeney said. “… Some people may want to be on small bucolic campuses in Maine, but not me. I want to be right here.”
After that visit Berger-Sweeney decided to apply and emerged as the winner when the Trinity board of trustees Tuesday voted unanimously for her. She will be the college’s 22nd president. Berger-Sweeney will take the helm at Trinity as it continues to grapple with financial challenges, a reputation as a party school, security concerns, campus climate and conflict with fraternities and sororities over policy changes.
“Trinity is a forward-looking institution that excels in liberal arts and sciences, and both are areas of excellence for Dr. Berger-Sweeney, who rose to the top of our highly competitive candidate pool,” said Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh, who led the search committee and will become chairwoman of Trinity’s board of trustees on July 1. “She impressed us with her strong academic credentials, curricular innovations, collaborative nature and enthusiasm for the Hartford community.
“I strongly believe that her vision of Trinity College as an elite liberal arts college with an urban pulse is one that will guide us, inspire us and lead us on a path to distinction and greatness,” Thornburgh said. James F. Jones Jr., who has been Trinity’s president for a decade and will retire June 30, called the moment historic and said that Berger-Sweeney’s appointment brought him “an enormous sigh of relief” to know that his “successor is going to be a star.”
Berger-Sweeney, who has been dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts since 2010, brings with her experience that is relevant to Trinity, Thornburgh said. “At Tufts, she has proven herself in areas that coincide closely with, and are important to, Trinity: proximity to a city, a strong athletic tradition, budget and program coordination, an historical Greek tradition, and a deep appreciation for a liberal arts education.”