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Trailblazing president of Holyoke Community College to step down next year

Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal in 2017.
Sarah Crosby
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal in 2017.

About five years ago, Christina Royal became the first female president of Holyoke Community College. She was also the first person identifying as queer and the first person of color to lead the school.

Now, at age 50, Royal has announced she will leave HCC in July. She said her tenure has been marked by big challenges and promising changes for the community college.

Christina Royal, Holyoke Community College: In this time, we really have utilized the pandemic to become a better version of ourselves. In so many ways we have made some bold investments into students’ basic needs, really focusing very deeply on unanticipated emergencies that could derail an educational journey. And we focused on transportation, food insecurity, housing insecurity, child care, mental health, digital literacy, and so many other ways to be able to ensure that our students can be set up for success while they're here pursuing an education.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: So the Federal Reserve has signaled that there will be a slowing of economic growth, probably some rising joblessness. Historically, don't recessions — like we may be headed into — bring more students to community colleges? What's on the horizon for HCC?

Yeah, the pandemic has disrupted that correlation a bit. And I think we'd all agree that we see some mixed messages when we look at economic indicators.

However, with that said, we are seeing sort of increased focus again on education, as people have a sense of what the pandemic has brought, how it has disrupted their lives, and now how to get to a sense of whatever that new norm is, for their lives and also for our communities and the world at large.

So now we have more students who are taking classes physically on our campus, which is great because during the pandemic we were 100% remote, and then eventually we started to open up and have more flexible options. Now I'd say we have probably about a third that are on campus, a third that are online, and another third that are blended.

What advice will you be sharing with whomever is chosen to succeed you as president? Anything special?

What I would say to someone succeeding me in this role is that they are inheriting an institution with great stability, great support from the community, and many successes, as we have looked to not only make investments across our entire student body, but we've also been particularly interested in helping to address success gaps between our BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) students, as well as our white students. And to be able to make investments like we have in our El Centro (bilingual) program, to be able to expand our support and work with our Latinx students has been significant for HCC.

And I believe that it creates a great foundation for another president to come in and pick up on the great work that faculty and staff are doing currently, and to continue to further that.

It seems to me that a number of local college presidents have retired or announced retirements over the past 18 months, say — yours being among the latest. Is there something in the water or are there more educational opportunities elsewhere that are calling for you right now?

Well, certainly I can't comment on other people's decisions. But I do think that the pandemic has really provided an opportunity as we have all worked to further our institutions, but also to reflect individually on what the pandemic means for each one of us.

And for me, I can say that I'm seeking expansion and growth through new experiences and different types of learning. I am passionate about education at the core, and that also applies to me. And so I want to continue to, not only have a little bit of time to pause, but also to be able to expand and go to my next level.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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