When Dr. Dwight McBride was appointed as 9th president of The New School University in 2019, he was yet again a change agent, becoming the celebrated university’s first Black president. The announcement came as The New School celebrated its Centennial, a milestone of academic leadership, public engagement, and creative experimentation.
With more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and 146 degree programs, The New School is the only university with world-renowned, comprehensive design, social sciences, humanities, and performing arts schools. Its distinctive strength derives from its core commitments to creativity and social engagement and by naming McBride as new president, the university trustees set the tone and direction for the institution’s second century as a progressive beacon in higher education.
When McBride joined me on The Caring Economy in September, we followed his journey from a young Black boy in South Carolina to the ivy-covered walls of Princeton Universityand on to thepresidencyof The New School University. The common theme throughout our conversation is that he is a life-long teacher and student who elevates others with his wake.
“We are extremely pleased to welcome Dwight to The New School,” said Joseph R. Gromek, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Co-Chair of the President Search Committee. “Dwight is a phenomenal leader, a builder of complex programs, an academic, and a scholar who has a great appreciation for our mission, values, and goals. His exceptional experience embodies a commitment to all aspects of academic excellence and demonstrates his dedication to ensuring students are at the center of higher education’s mission. As The New School marks its Centennial and we look forward to the next one hundred years, he is clearly the right leader for this university at this extraordinary moment in its history. I along with the rest of the Board and the university community look forward to working with Dwight.”
Prior to joining The New School, McBride was provost at Emory University and before that he was dean of the Graduate School and associate provost for Graduate Education, as well as the Daniel Hale Williams Professor of African American Studies, English, and Performance Studies at Northwestern University in Chicago. Previously, he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. He moved from strength to strength with each promotion and groomed and advanced countless colleagues and students of all backgrounds as he grew his career.
A leading scholar of race and literary studies, McBride has published award-winning books, essays, articles, and edited volumes that examine connections between race theory, Black studies, and identity politics. His book Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality, a collection of essays offering contemporary cultural criticism, was nominated for the 2006 Lambda Literary Award and the 2006 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. He is a two-time Lambda Literary Award winner and has been principal investigator on grants from the Teagle Foundation and the Arcus Foundation. In 2003, he was awarded Monette/Horowitz Trust 2003 Achievement Award for independent research that combats homophobia. Most recently,McBride co-edited the posthumous books of two colleagues: Lindon Barrett’s Racial Blackness and the Discontinuity of Western Modernity and Vincent Woodard’s The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture. His research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
At the time of his appointment McBride stated: “I am joining a community that truly inspires me. I look forward to using all I have learned throughout my career to help the students, faculty, and staff seize the possibilities of this century and make their mark on the world. I am excited for the opportunity to have a role in shaping the university’s future and ensuring that The New School builds on its inspiring legacy of preparing socially responsible citizens for the challenges of tomorrow.”
McBride, like several past guests on the show, gives much credit and praise to specific teachers in his high school experience who cultivated his talent as well as his aspirations. He shares a tale of laughing at one of his teachers, Mr. Brown, when he suggested that McBride apply for admissions to Princeton University. McBride initially did not allow himself to dream of such an opportunity, but by the end of the college application season, not only had he applied, but he was accepted. And after matriculating, he rose to become the first Black class president while an undergraduate. And in the spirit of paying it forward, he regularly returns to his former public school to encourage and inspire young students to dream big, work hard, and pursue their dreams.
When I asked him about naysayers who view racial considerations as unfair for college admissions, he questions their knowledge of the facts and data. He states: “People who come to that view imagine that they’re starting from a place of fundamental fairness – with an underlying assumption that everyone is treated the same way. But that’s just not the way the world has worked.”
He goes on to explain that white supremacy has been at core of America from beginning. He states: “LGBTQ people have been marginalized. Woman have been marginalized and still make just 74 cents on the dollar compared to men . . . To create equity,we must begin with a realistic assessment of where we are. Any student of history knows we need to read the data and statistics. Then we understand that fundamentally people are NOT treated equally.”
My final question to McBride was about what gives him hope in higher education and contemporary society. He was exuberant in stating: “I’m an optimist. I was encouraged by the human instincts and adaptability that came with pandemic. We learned new technologies. That knowledge and capability can be broadened to give greater access to opportunities across society.”
He concluded, ever the student and educator by swearing is allegiance to education: “The transformative power of education gives me hope. As well, it gives me hope how this generation cares about climate change. Our generation may well have been asleep at the wheel and today’s students’ insistence on climate as the issue of our time is encouraging. Similarly, the incredible reckoning that came with George Floyd has wrought important conversations and change in all sectors.We have challenges ahead, but we also have a lot to work with.”
As with all guests on The Caring Economy, McBrideexemplifies how leaders with purpose-driven lives and careers are shaping our contemporary workplace for the better. Students become teachers and teachers become students. A virtuous cycle as demonstrated by McBride.