Opening the 2019 Soup and Hope series Jan. 17 in Sage Chapel, Shirley M. Collado, president of Ithaca College, urged her audience of more than 160 to “model a humanity we want our youth to reflect back to us.”
Collado knew from her own life how children look to the examples of adults. Her grandmother moved from the Dominican Republic to New York City; both her parents worked, with her father driving a taxi 14 hours a day, six days a week. But they lived deeply for social justice and instilled in their children the belief that everyone matters.
Collado said her father took deep pride in his taxi business, and she and her two brothers would help him clean the cab every Sunday so it was ready for the week ahead. In addition to having a spotless cab, Collado said her father refused to put a divider between the front and back seats, even for his own safety, because he wanted people to see his face, talk with him and connect with him.
Through her parents’ and grandmother’s example, Collado learned integrity, a strong work ethic, empathy, compassion and servant-leadership. She also learned that “young people watch us in the same way – how we handle ourselves in the tough spots … how we approach difficult moments.”
“It is important for young people to see how we grapple with our stories,” she said. “They pay attention to who we are.”
Because young people are always closely watching the actions of their elders, those who work with students “must commit to setting an example,” Collado said. “Words matter, but what you do every day really has a profound effect.”
Collado recounted the moment when she deeply understood the “profound effect” of what it means to be a college president. Shortly after being named Ithaca College president, Collado was approached by a group of female students of color. Looking nervous, one of them asked her for a hug and started crying. The student said that her mother, with whom she was on Facetime from her home in the Dominican Republic, was also crying. When Collado asked why they were crying, the daughter said, “I had no idea our president could look like me.”
Collado said she has felt welcomed in Ithaca and able to be herself as a whole person. “There is a certain magic that happens in a dynamic place like Ithaca, when people are encouraged to express themselves,” she said.
But, she continued, “building a strong community can be difficult and challenging.” Collado encouraged the audience to lean into difficult conversations, to sustain a culture rooted in full participation, in equity and in inclusion.
“We need intentional movement toward humanity,” she said. “We must live and lead with authenticity and courage.”