Renee Johnson-Thornton, currently serving as the University’s Dean of Equity and Inclusion, recently accepted an appointment as the Dean for the Class of 2018, according to an email sent to the Class. This email was sent from the Dean for the Class of 2017 Louise Brown, who made the appointment public on Friday, Oct. 30.
“It is with great pleasure that I write with the good news that we have a new Dean for the Class of 2018—Renee Johnson-Thornton,” Brown wrote. “Currently serving as Wesleyan’s Dean for Equity and Inclusion, she will bring to this position a deep knowledge of the Wesleyan community and wealth of experience working with students in curricular and co-curricular concerns.”
Johnson-Thornton spoke to the challenges affiliated with assuming this role. She stated that she is looking forward to applying her extensive experience to her new role as a class dean.
“I’m excited about moving to the class dean office,” Johnson-Thornton said. “I have worked with many members of the sophomore class already in another capacity, and, while I recognize… that I will be working with a larger number of students than I’ve ever worked with in the past, I am welcoming the opportunity to the challenge, and I’m confident that I have the educational background, the disposition, the knowledge of the Wesleyan student body… and I believe that background will serve me well as I help to guide students through their academic and personal lives over the next few years.”
Johnson-Thornton added that she views this upcoming role as a collaborative one, in which partnerships with students are instrumental to success at the University.
“I am very committed to student achievement, and overall well-being, and I have worked very hard to improve and increase my own understanding and skill sets so that I could be as effective as possible as a partner with students,” Johnson-Thornton said. “That’s how I see it. I see this role as a class dean as an opportunity to help guide and support students through a very challenging and also rewarding period in their lives.”
Following the departure of the previous dean, Marina Melendez, last summer, each of the other three class deans took a temporary role with the responsibility of serving a portion of the Class of 2018, as well as their respective class dean. Johnson-Thornton will assume the position on Nov. 16; until then, the class will remain separated among the other three deans.
From a position in Trinity College’s Engineering program, Johnson-Thornton joined the University faculty in 1998 as the Associate Director of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. Since then, she has held a wide array of administrative positions including Assistant Dean for Diversity and Student Programs, Associate Coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, Assistant Dean for Academic Resources, and Assistant Dean of the University. She moved into her current position of Dean of Equity and Inclusion in 2013, right when the Office of Equity and Inclusion was established.
“I’m really one of these people who, when I find something I like, I stick to it,” Johnson-Thornton said. “I’m extremely loyal. Wesleyan’s been incredibly good to me. I have earned a Masters here in the Masters in Liberal Studies program, and I then pursued a PhD, and I earned that PhD last December [from the University of Rhode Island], and I studied Wesleyan students who enrolled in introductory environmental science courses.”
Her dissertation, titled “Studying Science: Students Gaining Access to the Community of Practice of Environmental Studies,” focuses on the social context in which learning takes place, one of her core interests. This stems from her own experiences as a student and professional, where learning to navigate university life led her to a network of professionals and a strong support system. She explained that she aims to emulate both the network of professionals and the support system in her administrative roles. It is from these roles that Johnson-Thornton has gleaned insight into what best serves college students.
She looks forward to guiding students through the challenges they face as they enter new environments, particularly through the struggles that can sometimes come along with it.
“My role is not necessarily to remove the pain, but to stand by students and guide them through those challenges, to figure out ways that they can engage in conversations with people who they don’t necessarily agree with, understand, but through dialogue we can grow and we can develop deeper understanding and appreciation for each other,” she said. “So it’s that kind of approach, and I don’t see it as something that we could ever finish doing.”
An event for students to get to know Johnson-Thornton will be held by the class deans at the end of the month, according to Dean Brown’s email.
University President Michael Roth looks forward to Johnson-Thornton taking on this new role.
“Dean Renee Johnson-Thornton has been a great contributor to the Wesleyan community for many years,” Roth wrote in an email to The Argus. “I am delighted that she will be a new Class Dean.”