Sarah N. Roth joined Meredith College as dean of the School of Arts and Humanities in July. In this Campus Connections interview, learn more about Roth and her goals for Meredith’s largest school.
What made you interested in working in academic leadership at Meredith?
“I was really excited about the fact that Meredith is a women’s college. I believe so much in the mission of Meredith to educate women to be leaders, to be liberally educated citizens. I liked a lot of the high-quality programs that Arts & Humanities has, and I also liked the classrooms to careers programs that are in place and are starting to develop even further. I like that Meredith is a small, liberal arts college, which is where my roots are.”
Please share a little bit about your background. What are some of the courses you taught and programs you led in previous positions?
“I have taught a lot of different classes in history, as well as an introductory course in African American studies. My history classes tend to be women’s history or the history of race. Specifically, I have taught Slavery and Resistance, the Segregated South, the Civil Rights movement, and Race, Violence, and Memory. One of my favorite classes is Visionaries, Rogues, and Lunatics. That’s one I have taught as an introductory honors class. It covers the slave rebel Nat Turner, who is one of my research interests; religious leader Anne Hutchinson; Marcus Garvey; Huey Long; John Brown; and the first woman to run for president, New York stockbroker and free love advocate Victoria Woodhull. The idea was to pick figures from the past who were controversial at the time, and who still give rise to debate so that students can examine questions like, Were these people ethical? Were they in it for themselves, or were they really visionaries dedicated to changing society in positive ways?”
How do you hope your previous experience as a faculty member and in administration benefits Meredith College?
“At my previous institution, I was for several years the chair of the Humanities Student Recruitment and Retention committee, so I have experience attracting majors to arts and humanities disciplines. What is really rewarding is when a student comes in as a major in one of the more technical fields, but as they go through the classes and talk to the professors in an arts and humanities discipline, they realize that that is where their passion lies. Then at some point, they develop enough faith to make that leap into doing what they really want to do. Part of the way for us to help students include the arts and humanities in their decision making when they choose a major requires increasing visibility for arts and humanities among students and their parents but also on campus in general. That’s something I would like to do here as well.”
Why is it important that students get an education that is grounded in the liberal arts, no matter what their majors?
“What we need today as a society and as a world are people who are creative and thoughtful, who think critically about things and come up with innovative solutions to problems that they see. And the liberal arts is a key place where that happens, where that training, where inculcating those modes of thinking, happens. Like no other field, the arts promote creativity, and help students to get in touch with that side of themselves so that they can bring those ways of seeing the world into their careers. But at the same time, the liberal arts also allow students to be analytical and to come up with their own perspectives based on research, based on really evaluating a subject or situation with a critical eye. Another quality that we don’t have enough of these days is empathy, and arts and humanities help to instill that sense into people who study them. That’s something we don’t usually measure or assess, but it’s an inherent and a valuable part of those disciplines.”
As dean, how can you help support the humanities and arts at Meredith?
“I have a lot of ideas and hope to hit the ground running but with the buy-in and enthusiasm of the faculty. We have a great faculty who are doing amazing things with the resources they have and who are eager to do even more to enhance the educational experience for Meredith students. I see it as my job to help upgrade and enhance those resources so that when students come here and they major in one of the arts and humanities fields, they have the best experience they possibly can.”