New Elma Lewis head has civic engagement experience

by Emily Tanaka / Beacon Correspondent • March 2, 2016

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Judy Pryor-Ramirez, new executive director of the Elma Lewis Center.
Courtesy of Judy Pryor-Ramirez
Judy Pryor-Ramirez, new executive director of the Elma Lewis Center.
Courtesy of Judy Pryor-Ramirez

Judy Pryor-Ramirez has been named the new executive director of the Elma Lewis Center and she said she will take up her new post in July.

Emerson created the Elma Lewis Center in 2013 to expand engagement with the local community, according to its website. It was named after Emerson alumna Elma Lewis, who spent much of her life using performance to serve the Boston community.

Pryor-Ramirez said Emerson recruited her to submit an application in 2013 for the center’s founding director position, but she said she didn’t make it to the final round of interviews. Former Executive Director Kelly Bates, who left the college in 2015, got the job instead.

Pryor-Ramirez acted as director of the office of civil engagement and social justice at the Eugene Lang College of The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City. She said she did a lot of work there involving people from urban environments and the disadvantages they face in society. In 2013, she created “The Young Men’s Initiative,” a program through the university and the New York City mayor’s office where students mentor young kids of lower socioeconomic status.

Pryor-Ramirez said she spearheaded the program by creating and teaching a sociology course to the mentors. The class discussed the power and privilege the these students possessed. It also talked about how to be aware of these biases when working with members of these communities.

“We should be engaging in a partnership with the community when they are needed, not because we want to do something or have a particular agenda,” Pryor-Ramirez said.

Pryor-Ramirez said she wants to get to know Emerson and understand its culture before making plans to change any programs. She said she wanted to evaluate the current partnership the college has with the community.

Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion, was head of the search committee for this position. Spears said Pryor-Ramirez has the required background in working with the community from a higher-education perspective.

“The question is, how can we bring those skills together in a really dynamic way to create new kinds of opportunity for Emerson to work in meaningful partnership with members of the community?” Spears said.  

Pryor-Ramirez said she likes that Emerson is a small liberal arts school in an urban environment. She said she enjoys the college’s emphasis on civic engagement, which is one of the five strategic initiatives implemented in 2011. Others included academic excellence, internationalization and global engagement, innovation, and financial strength.

“I feel like I’m coming into a community of people who are excited about their work already and I caught on that energy,” Pryor-Ramirez said. “I’m just here to evaluate that and to provide a platform for the center. And also to really name and claim Elma Lewis’ life and her legacy and use the center as a vehicle for that, and identifying what our future goal will be as a center moving forward.”