Looking Towards the Future, Reflecting on the Past: President Joanne Berger-Sweeney Announces Plan for Retirement

5 min read

By Cornelia Ehlebracht ’25

News Editor

On Monday, April 15, 2024, in a presidential announcement, President Joanne Berger-Sweeney shared with the Trinity community her plans to retire from her position as the 22nd president in June 2025, following the completion of the 2024–25 academic year. She stated, “We will have many times to reminisce together in the coming months, as I still have another full academic year to lead this great college. But now it is time to begin the planning and transitions necessary to welcome a new leader.” In an interview with the Tripod Berger-Sweeney reflected with great honor and gratitude, on her soon-to-be 11-year tenure of dedicated service to the college. On Oct. 26, 2014, Berger-Sweeney, a distinguished neuroscientist with an experienced career in higher education, was formally inaugurated as the 22nd president of Trinity College. Her appointment marked a historic milestone for Trinity College as she became the first African American and the first woman to assume the presidency since the college’s establishment in 1823. As a Black female neuroscientist, Berger-Sweeney acknowledged the scarcity of representation in her field. She remarked, “I can tell you there were not too many of us around at one point. I am happy to see times have changed.” 

Berger-Sweeney’s journey is rooted in a rich family history of resilience and determination. Reflecting on her lineage, she shared, “On my father’s side, I can trace back to my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Pruett, who spent 40 years of his life in slavery and then became one of the first African-American men ever to vote in the United States.” 

Berger-Sweeney expressed pride in the progress made in enhancing the student experience at Trinity College. “We’ve significantly improved access to and the quality of the Trinity student experience,” she said, evidenced by the increasing strength and competitiveness of incoming classes. “When students walk across that stage ‘neath the elms, with their hard work being recognized, it becomes a defining moment in their lives. Mine, too.” Additionally, she commended the dynamism and diversity of the outstanding faculty and staff, as well as the strengthened relationship with the city of Hartford. 

Throughout her tenure, Berger-Sweeney emphasized the importance of fostering a learning community that embraces growth and inclusivity. She said, “It is important we continue to evolve into the learning community we wish to be,” and acknowledged the strides made by the Trinity community in embracing dialogue, debate and collective growth in response to societal shifts and global conflicts. Her hope is for her successor to maintain an optimistic mindset and prioritize the student experience, acknowledging the challenges faced by higher education, “This can be a challenging time for higher education, for a myriad of reasons, but a college president should never lose sight of the student experience and the important place higher education has in society; most especially, the value of a liberal arts education.” 

Approaching her final year as president, Berger-Sweeney expressed, “Most of all, my hope is to enjoy my final year, and to appreciate the gift that Trinity has given me – personally and professionally.” 

On Tuesday, April 16, 2024, the day following President Berger-Sweeney’s announcement, Chair of the Board of Trustees Lisa G. Bisaccia ’78 informed Trinity students, faculty, alums and staff of the recruitment and selection process for the 23rd president of Trinity College already underway, officially launching the search. The Board of Trustees has contracted executive recruitment firm Spencer Stuart to serve as a partner throughout the process. Bisaccia declared the formation of a search committee “that reflects important constituencies.” The committee includes “trustees Lisa Alvarez-Calderón ’88, Ross Buchmueller ’87, Walter Harrison ’68, H’18, Kelli Harrington Tomlinson ’94 and Damian W. Wilmot ’97, P’25; faculty members Davarian L. Baldwin, Kevin J. McMahon and Priscilla Meléndez; administrators David Andres ’04 and Sarah Raskin; and student Izabella Bautista ’26,” chaired by Bisaccia herself with Deputy Chief of Staff Tom Yelich assisting. 

On the same day, The Board of Trustees held a meeting to explain the plan of action and receive questions. Some members of faculty and staff felt underrepresented in the committee and questioned how elected governance structures, such as elected staff councils, will be involved in the process. Through listening sessions and community feedback, the Board aims to ensure that the selection process reflects the collective values, aspirations, and priorities of the entire Trinity community. Bisaccia described, “I was looking for people who have enough experience here to be familiar with how we operate, what our culture is, how we work and more importantly to be able to be ambassadors and spokespersons for our unique culture, our unique history and our differentiation.” The Board affirms its commitment to finding a successor who not only possesses the necessary qualifications but also embodies the spirit and essence of Trinity College. Trinity community members are invited to participate in a presidential search survey found online if they would like to share their perspective on the future of the institution or email TrinityPresident@SpencerStuart.com with questions, comments, concerns and candidate nominations. 

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