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Dr. Ben Vinson III indicates goal of improving student, faculty experiences as president

Howard University’s newly minted 18th president, Dr. Ben Vinson III, emphasized the importance of preserving the university’s rich culture and outlined his priorities for the university during his inauguration ceremony, which was met with admiration from the Howard community.

President Ben Vinson III, Ph.D., gives his speech during his inauguration ceremony. (Jacob Hanesworth/The Hilltop)

President Ben Vinson III spoke about continuing Howard’s legacy and working to build on several aspects of the university during his inauguration ceremony on Saturday, where he was officially inducted into office as Howard’s 18th president.

Hundreds of students, faculty, alumni and friends and family of Vinson packed Cramton Auditorium, anticipating what Howard’s newest leader might say about building on the success of the university. Vinson’s inauguration comes two months after his convocation address and echoes similar sentiments and promises of building Howard University at its “maximum strength.”  

At the core of Vinson’s message was his dedication to maintaining the rich culture and history of Howard University, a mission he began within his first few months as president.

Vinson emphasized the importance of Howard’s legacy, alluding to the familiar “HU, you know” call and response phrase, a thematic element used throughout his address that describes how Howard’s legacy resonates with the university’s community, affirming, “we do know at Howard.”

“I know and you know that everywhere we show is an opportunity to educate, teach and learn,” Vinson said. “Each step of our 150-year journey has been transcended because, at Howard, our footprints exceed our presence,” he continued. “We touch lives around us in immeasurable ways.” 

Vinson took on presidential responsibilities on Sept. 1. In early October, Vinson told The Hilltop that some key areas he planned to focus on during his tenure are the rigor of academic curriculums, elevating the research enterprise and prioritizing student safety, among other areas. 

During his speech at the ceremony, he touched on initiatives aimed at improving Howard’s student graduation and retention rate, hiring and retaining world-class faculty and increasing scholarships for students. He also said that he will aim to cultivate faculty experiences and bolster students’ academic and social experiences. 

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Additionally, Vinson wants to strengthen Howard’s finances, internal processes and fundraising, as well as “elevating our connections to our local community” and emphasizing the need for understanding “the deep roots of the African diaspora.” 

The ceremony displayed short videos of friends, family and colleagues of Vinson, including Vinson’s cousins and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who congratulated him on his induction. Among them, the former president of Howard Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick shared a message of support for Vinson.

“I wish you the best of luck. Howard University is a very special place,” he said. “You now have the auspicious responsibility of captaining that ship. You have a great team, and while this job can be very isolating, I hope you rely on that team…”

Faculty senate member professor Gene Bailey in the School of Education said that the inauguration ceremony was “inspirational.” Bailey has been a part of the Howard community for 50 years and worked with previous presidents. 

“I thought it was very inspirational and I’m very very pleased with the new president,” she said. “We’re excited to work with him.” 

Ann Laurie Pierre, a junior biology major from Boston, who serves as Miss College of Arts and Sciences, referred to Vinson as “the people’s president.” Pierre described her admiration for Vinson’s leadership style, calling him a “servant leader.”

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As a member of the royal court, Pierre has had the opportunity to get familiar with Vinson this semester and expressed that Vinson is willing to interact with the student body. “He sees us and he’s amongst us,” she said.

During his address, Vinson detailed an email he received a few weeks ago from a first-generation alumna who celebrated the legacy of the school and reflected on her time as a student at Howard. Vinson then asked the alum, Zakiyyah Salim-Williams, who graduated in 1998 with a B.A. in Political Science, to stand prompting the audience to applaud.

Salim-Williams said the ceremony held extreme importance to her, not only because of Howard, “I have no long legacy at Howard – and my time here was just four years,” she said.

“But, if I can be in a speech at Howard that would live forever in my mind and tie me to this amazing university.”

Salim-Williams was first motivated to write an email to Howard University’s newly appointed president after hearing him being interviewed on NPR. She felt that the interview was not reflective of the Howard University she experienced.

“I actually would not have emailed [Vinson], but for the fact that I actually didn’t love the interview. Nothing he said, but I actually didn’t love that person who’s interviewing him was asking him all about the hardships at HBCUs, the crime at HBCUs, all of that,” Salim-Williams said.

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She decided to email him herself so he could tell her his vision of Howard. 

Vinson invited Salim-Williams to be in the audience which she described as “a small act of kindness” that reminded her what she learned during her time at Howard University. She continued to describe how bringing others along through personal progress was one of the values instilled during her time that she feels Vinson understands as well.

This sentiment was shared by one of Vinson’s many family members who were in attendance during the program. Vinson’s cousin Afiya Ward, a senior business major at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, said that his address demonstrated his dedication to building community.

“He’s about community, he’s about family, he’s about bringing people together and lifting as he climbs,” Ward said.“I’m excited to see what he brings to the university and what he gains from the university.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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