The Berea College Board of Trustees has named Dr. Cheryl L. Nixon as the 10th president of Berea College.
Dr. Nixon, who received unanimous support from the Board of Trustees, will be the first woman to serve as Berea College president in the institution’s 167-year history. She will begin her tenure on July 1, 2023 following the retirement of President Lyle D. Roelofs.
Dr. Nixon currently serves as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. She previously served as associate provost, English department chair and graduate program director at the University of Massachusetts Boston. At both institutions, her service has been marked by a consistent commitment to access to educational excellence and a belief in the transformative power of the liberal arts.
“I am honored and humbled to be chosen as the next president of Berea College,” Dr. Nixon said. “Berea is an inspirational model of what higher education can and should be. I share Berea’s focus on inclusive excellence, having dedicated my career to serving underserved students. I have worked in both rural and urban settings to provide opportunities to students who often do not see themselves within higher education. By creating new ways to welcome these talented students into college, we can transform lives while also transforming communities. We must help students with wide-ranging interests and abilities feel inspired and empowered by the world of ideas. We must also help our communities—from Boston to the Navajo Nation to Appalachia—see and feel the benefits of higher education.”
Dr. Nixon also stressed the unique strengths of Berea College, stating, “Berea’s service to its students is grounded in the exhilarating values of the Great Commitments. Berea is a rare institution because it leads with its heart—it is not afraid to articulate courageous values. Add to that the Labor Program, which puts those values into action every day by taking pride in working together. There is no other college that connects learning to believing and doing in this same way, and it is a true honor to join this community of deeply committed thinkers and doers.”
The Berea College Board of Trustees began a presidential search process earlier this year after President Roelofs announced his upcoming retirement. A search committee comprised of a diverse mix of students, faculty, staff and trustees worked diligently to evaluate submissions from a field of 125 applicants.
“Finding a president for Berea College is an immense yet intimate task,” said Board of Trustees Chair Stephanie Zeigler. “Not only does the person need to have achieved academic excellence and the intellect to rise in their field, but the person also needs to be truly compassionate to care deeply about everyone on our campus. Our president must be a true believer and advocate for equality, access and the transformational power of education. I’m deeply pleased to say Dr. Cheryl Nixon is all of that and more. On paper, she immediately impressed the search committee with her academic background and career trajectory through every rank in higher education. Her experience with and dedication to the liberal arts as a means of changing lives, and her hands-on work with students, faculty and staff alike was unparalleled. She naturally and effortlessly embodies every superlative the community had requested in our next president.”
Dr. Nixon earned her B.A. in English and Political Science (summa cum laude) from Tufts University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Harvard University. Her research focuses on the invention of the novel in the 18th century, and her books and articles compare the early novel’s representation of the family to manuscript legal cases.
At Fort Lewis College, Dr. Nixon has overseen the creation of a new Academic Hub focused on student success. The Hub offers academic supports such as tutoring while also providing academic inspiration through undergraduate research, career design and place-based learning. She also spearheaded the launch of a nursing program that features community-centered approaches to rural nursing and Indigenous approaches to health. With grants from the Department of Education; state of Colorado; and the Mellon, Teagle and El Pomar Foundations, she has worked to build new pathways into environmental education, expand the Native American and Indigenous Studies department and design summer programs that feature learning cohorts.
Additionally, during her tenure at Fort Lewis College, Dr. Nixon received several institutional grants, including a $3.6 million Response, Innovation and Student Equity Grant to help create the “Southwest Colorado Educational Collaborative” and a $950,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation focused on “An Indigenous Framework for Humanities Education.”
Dr. Nixon has given many presentations and written numerous articles and two books. Her first book, “The Orphan in Eighteenth-Century Law and Literature: Estate, Blood and Body,” connects the 18th-century fictional and factual orphan, with an emphasis on legal concepts. Dr. Nixon’s second book, “Novel Definitions: An Anthology of Commentary on the Novel, 1688-1815,” focuses on the debate surrounding the invention of the English novel.
Dr. Nixon is married to Tim Monroe, who serves as the North American executive director of El Hogar Ministries, an organization providing homes and educational opportunities for up to 250 students in Honduras living in extremely impoverished and vulnerable circumstances. The couple has an adult son.
“While I was not involved in the process of selecting Dr. Nixon to succeed me as president of Berea College, I’m very pleased with the outcome,” Roelofs said. “Dr. Nixon’s experience at Fort Lewis College and the University of Massachusetts Boston have provided her a great foundation for her new position, and her understanding of the needs of underserved students will serve Berea College well. Laurie and I stand ready to help her and Tim with their transition into the community in any way we can. We wish her great success in leading Berea College—a place we know she will grow to love as much as we have.”
Since its founding in 1855 by Kentuckian John G. Fee, an abolitionist, preacher and educator, Berea has been guided by the welcoming and inclusive words of the Apostle Paul, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” (Acts 17:26). These words, which serve as the College’s motto, have guided Berea in building a strong liberal arts program of national reputation while maintaining the college’s eight Great Commitments.
WHAT MEMBERS OF THE SEARCH COMMITTEE ARE SAYING:
“Dr. Nixon’s background, knowledge, experience and presence positions her to effectively fit and collaboratively lead current and future expressions of our Great Commitments and mission,” said Berea College Trustee Dr. David Shelton, an alumnus who served as co-chair of the presidential search committee.
“The search process for Berea’s 10th president was extensive and detailed,” said Dr. Charlotte F. Beason, alumna and member of the Board of Trustees who served as co-chair of the search committee. “As the selection process advanced, it was increasingly apparent that Dr. Nixon not only possesses excellent academic and experiential credentials but, just as important, she has both the heart and values of a Berean.
“Dr. Nixon has exceeded my expectations for Berea’s next president,” said Berea College student search committee member Cameron. “Her enthusiasm and dedication to learn, grow and serve give me the utmost excitement to see how she contributes to Berea’s marvelous legacy.”
“I am very excited to have Dr. Nixon leading us into our next phase as president of Berea College,” said Joe Saleem, a Berea College alumnus who served as a staff representative on the search committee. “She brings an abundance of experience in serving diverse populations, creative use of infrastructure to serve the needs of students and servant leadership that will benefit the region and community surrounding our campus as well as the students and families we serve. I believe Dr. Nixon is the perfect president to lead us into the future, and I am honored to do this important work alongside her.”
“Dr. Nixon was a standout from the beginning. She has served in two widely divergent institutions, both of which serve student populations with significant commonalities with Berea students,” said Dr. Kennaria Brown, a faculty representative on the search committee. “So, she is already living many of our core values. I respect that she showed courage and creativity in addressing her institution’s problematic racial legacy in a forthright and inclusive manner.”