Hermenia Gardner Set To Retire
By by ERICA GORDON-MALLIN, Contributing Writer
Hermenia Gardner, affirmative action officer and College ombudsman, will be moving into phased retirement this fall.

But the change will not mark a complete break between Gardner and the College.

"I'm not exactly 'retiring,'" she said. "I think of it more as me being away from Amherst, getting Amherst's work done."

Gardner will be busy performing many services for the College, such as completing an affirmative action office/college ombudsman handbook, working with Professor of Fine Arts Robert Sweeney on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day activities, and preparing for a national round table on affirmative action (scheduled to take place on campus in March 2001).

"She's brought a systematic, professional approach to affirmative action," said President Tom Gerety. "I hope the phased period will be as strong as ever."

As affirmative action officer, Gardner has worked to make the student body more diverse in many areas.

"She's an astute teacher, a brilliant programmer, and she gives new meaning to the term networking, as evidenced by the caliber and number of extraordinary lecturers, thinkers, religious scholars, and statesmen that she has brought to this campus. Her work has reached legendary proportions with a very small staff," said Associate Dean of Students Jean Moss.

The Amherst diversity/inclusion model for affirmative action is geared toward paying particular attention to the following characteristics of applicants: race and ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, class, sexuality, and age, according to the advisory committee on affirmative action workbook.

Under Gardner's supervision, the affirmative action office has been working toward attracting a student body diverse in all these categories.

Gardner has worked closely with the Multicultural Awareness Work Group, the Dialogue on Race Committee, and the Martin Luther King Committee.

These committees scheduled events designed to bring about heightened awareness of diversity issues, and have brought in guest speakers including Cornel West, Barney Frank and Elie Wiesel.

Gardner's role as College Ombudsman carried with it the responsibility of acting as a neutral dispute mediator.

For the past eight years, she has worked with Amherst students as well as managers and employees of the College in resolving conflicts, Gardner said.

Through practices such as counseling, mediation, constructive feedback and informal fact-finding, Gardner has helped many members of the community to find solutions to their issues involving discrimination.

Gardner has also played a vital role in the development and implementation of the College sexual harassment/sexual respect conversations and workshops.

Since the 1960s, Amherst has had an administrator designated to work for affirmative action in the admissions process, but it was not until 1993 that College administrators decided to employ a full-time, professional, experienced affirmative action officer. At this point, Peter Pouncey, then the president of Amherst, actively recruited Gardner.

Prior to her appointment to the College, Gardner was already a pioneer in the area of affirmative action, having developed the Best Practices in Affirmative Action Advisory Committee Model.

In April of 1993, Gardner accepted the appointment at Amherst, because the College, she said, "showed a commitment to student diversity."

Upon her arrival at Amherst, Gardner set about establishing a full-time affirmative action office and began putting her model to work, Gardner said.

She calls the establishment of the office one of the greatest challenges she has encountered in her career, but mentions also that it was "the exciting part about coming here."

In 1994 and 1995 she made a concerted effort to introduce the affirmative action office to the campus, holding a regional conference to demonstrate to the student body the presence and role of affirmative action on campus.

Although she will no longer be keeping her regular office hours in Converse Hall, Gardner emphasized that she will still be available for students. She will be reachable by e-mail, voice mail, fax, and even a toll-free number.

Gardner developed extremely close ties with many of her students, whom she called "the real jewels in our crown here."

Gardner said she was touched by students' reactions to her leaving, and said, "The feeling of being appreciated, that one's presence has made a positive impact, is something that one cherishes," she said.

"To be an affirmative action officer is a controversial job. [Gardner] has been very adept and smart and has dealt with the post with the dexterity of a diplomat. She has been a diplomat, an ambassador, and has maintained loyalties to the institution and the people that she's served," Moss said.

"If you walk through campus with Hermenia Gardner, or go to any meeting with her, you'll see that people greet her with genuine respect, admiration, and warmth. She walks among students, faculty, and workers on campus," Moss added.

"Hermenia doesn't rush to judgment," said Professor of French and European Studies Ronald Rosbottom, "[She] rejects the cant of those who would politicize human relations, and, firmly and with that gentle strength that one sees only when she needs to use it, she has managed to make us all think more deeply about our relations with each other-and not just in the spirit of affirmative action."

"She has brought the College a national reputation as a good place to be a student, no matter one's background, by using her reputation to bring prominent speakers and experts in the fields of human relations to our campus," he said.

"She has also reminded us that Amherst is founded on a host of ethical beliefs, that teaching and serving others are moral callings, and that we shouldn't be afraid to recognize it," he added.

"Hermenia is one of those persons, and there are more here than one might think, who doesn't distinguish between 'doing' and 'living.' There is no dividing line between Hermenia's personal life and beliefs and her professional duties," Rosbottom said.

Issue 03, Submitted 2000-09-20 19:30:14