Meet Sonya Stephens


Sonya Stephens — a leader, a scholar, an educator and an ardent believer in the value of a women’s college and a liberal arts education — was named president of Mount Holyoke College by unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees on April 23, 2018. She succeeds the College’s 18th president, Lynn Pasquerella ’80. Her appointment as president is effective July 1, 2018.

Stephens arrived at Mount Holyoke in 2013 as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, following a national search led by an all-faculty committee. She was appointed acting president of the College beginning on July 1, 2016, by the Board of Trustees, also by unanimous vote, for a period of three years.

Acting President

Under Stephens’ leadership, in fewer than two years serving as acting president, she presided over numerous key campus initiatives, including the development and implementation of The Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021 and the comprehensive self-study process for the College’s re-accreditation review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

She oversaw the Community Center construction and the opening of the renovated student life hub and the Weissman Student Commons, both of which opened in fall 2017, and the Dining Commons, which opened in January 2018, on time and on budget. The Community Center’s grand opening will be held in September. She is also overseeing the College’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by its bicentennial in 2037.

She believes deeply that one of the College’s fundamental distinctions lies in the richness of its diversity. Her significant, authentic engagement with the issues of equity and inclusion resulted in her introduction in 2017 of the annual BOOM! (Building on Our Momentum) learning conference, and hiring the College’s first vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty

Stephens arrived at Mount Holyoke in 2013 as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, following a national search led by an all-faculty committee. Working closely with divisions across the College and with the Five College Consortium, she led efforts to enhance the reputation of the College and increase support for faculty research and curricular innovation.

As the chief academic officer, she was responsible for faculty research and curricular support, faculty governance, and academic budgeting and infrastructure. She oversaw an operating budget of $52 million and worked closely with divisions across the College, including the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, the Weissman Center for Leadership, and the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. She also collaborated with the Five College Consortium on shared initiatives, departments, programs and faculty hiring.

As dean of faculty, Stephens was instrumental in the creation of academic programs such as the Data Science Initiative, a Nexus concentration in data science, and the Women in Data Science partnership. She oversaw the establishment of the College’s Makerspace, promoted entrepreneurship opportunities on campus and prioritized environmental commitments.

She developed a program in support of emeriti faculty and their continued scholarly engagement with Mount Holyoke. She promoted the deep integration of The Lynk, Mount Holyoke’s curriculum-to-career initiative, and re-envisioned the Career Development Center.

A career devoted to service and scholarship

Stephens previously worked at Indiana University Bloomington, where she was chair of the Department of French and Italian and served as the University’s first vice provost for undergraduate education. She led the campus-wide development and implementation of new general education requirements and was responsible for assessment and re-accreditation efforts. Her support of teaching and learning was both instrumental and collaborative, and led to the development of an integrated Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. She also oversaw the early development of the institution’s roadmap for student success.

She began her career as a faculty member at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she chaired the Department of French, and led the creation of the School of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. She also served for eight years as the faculty-in-residence director of a team responsible for the academic and personal welfare of 850 undergraduates.

An expert in 19th-century French literature and its relation to visual culture, Stephens is the author of “Baudelaire’s Prose Poems: The Practice and Politics of Irony.” She has also edited several books, including “A History of Women’s Writing in France,” and most recently, “Translation and the Arts in Modern France,” which was published in July 2017.

Stephens holds a B.A. in modern and medieval languages and a doctorate in French from the University of Cambridge. Her master’s degree in French studies is from the Université de Montréal, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar. Her deep commitment to women’s colleges began with her undergraduate studies at New Hall, a college for women at the University of Cambridge that is now known as Murray Edwards College.