College president reflects on first year in office
Genevieve Coleman | Friday, May 21, 2021
When Katie Conboy was appointed Saint Mary’s president in February 2020, she spoke about her hopes for the upcoming year. Despite many uncertainties due to the pandemic, Conboy noted that the three priorities she entered her term with guided her throughout the year — the first being unity among the campus, all of whom were brought together by their choice to be at the College.
“I continue to believe that we all chose Saint Mary’s,” she said. “You know, I chose it, students chose it, faculty members chose it, people who have come to work in other areas of the College made a choice. So, we have to acknowledge we all belong here, and we need to work on making that matter.”
Conboy also expressed a wish for the College to be connected to the greater local community.
“So, yes, we are the community of Saint Mary’s, but we want to have a permeable border with our outside community,” Conboy said. “And that’s not just the tri-campus community, but also the community of South Bend. I really hope for those kinds of connections, but I think one of the challenges of reality versus my hope was that in this period of COVID, it’s just hard to build or sustain connections when you’re having to distance all the time.”
In addition, Conboy sought to “Revere and Revise” during her time at the College — values highlighted in her strategic plan.
“I think we want to revere those things about our past that are really important and that we wouldn’t be Saint Mary’s without,” Conboy said. “But we also want to revise and continue to grow and to change to meet the needs of the times.”
While she said she is proud of the College’s response to the pandemic, Conboy also expressed hopes that during a more normal semester, she can continue to learn about what the College needs.
“I’m really proud of our COVID response,” she said. “I think that that’s something that we’ve done better than a lot of other colleges and universities, but it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I am most excited about having much less emphasis on COVID response. Next year, there’s just a lot that I want to learn and that I want to help accomplish at the College, and it’s hard to do that when you’re faced with immediate and pressing demands and responses on a daily or weekly basis.”
One of the moments during the year in which Conboy said she felt the most excited to take part was the College’s Christian Culture Lecture with author Tara Westover, which she said was viewed by over 40,000 people due to its new virtual format.
“It wasn’t just a thrill for me because I got to interview Tara Westover, which was wonderful, but I was so proud of the creativity that the organizers showed, how we capitalized on what we’re learning about how to run virtual events,” Conboy said. “And if we had had that event on campus as we usually do, and we will return to doing that, maybe we’ll find a way to do something with a virtual piece of it.”
Despite her hopes to hold more virtual events at the College, Conboy noted that she is also looking forward to traveling to more in-person events in the future.
“We’ve sometimes found more ways to be virtually together than we probably found in a regular year,” she said. “Although I’m really ready to go out and visit people in different parts of the country who are sustaining and supporting Saint Mary’s, and I’m ready to be at more events that happen on campus and to really be there for students and faculty and staff.”
This semester, Conboy sang in the College’s spring musical cabaret. She explained how she meant for it to show the campus community a different side of herself.
“It’s the kind of thing that, if a president goes and does that with students, you don’t ever forget it, it’s just important … to show people that you can be a little vulnerable and playful and not just be a person of authority,” Conboy said.
She also directed words of wisdom to graduating seniors, telling them to enjoy the things they do in their lives.
“Be willing to be reasonably good at lots of things and to enjoy them and don’t get caught up in needing to be the best of these things,” she said. “Live your life with a lot of fullness.”
In terms of tri-campus relations — especially in light of a series of emails sent among members of Zahm Hall in the 2019-2020 academic year, in which vulgar language was used to refer to Saint Mary’s students — Conboy said she feels encouraged by the work that must be done.
“I think the tri-campus relationship is actually very strong,” she said. “And while we all agree that we have ongoing work that we need to do in many areas, I believe there’s a commitment to taking on that work.”
Conboy also commented on meeting the ideals of the tri-campus in order to improve the community.
“Each of our campuses needs to find its own healing,” she said. “So, things have been happening for the Saint Mary’s students — we need to find those things, and we need simultaneously to recommit to our tri-campus ideals. Ideals are ideals and we’re all trying to live up to them. But when things happen, [we] fall short. Then we recommit and we say ‘Let’s do better,’ and we try to find ways to do better.”
Conboy said she hopes both the tri-campus and the outside world can understand the pride that comes with being a part of the Saint Mary’s community.
“I just want to send a message to the world — through who we are and how we comport ourselves — that being Saint Mary’s is a proud thing,” she said.