Meeting Colorado College’s 14th President L. Song Richardson, you’re immediately struck by the energy, poise, and warmth she exudes. She’s excited about this role she’s immersed herself in for the last 18 months. Yet, she describes herself emphatically as an introvert.
“I truly am an introvert by every definition,” says Richardson. “As a military kid, I learned to push myself out of my comfort zone to meet new friends. I was also terrified to speak in public. I worked hard to overcome that fear. If I can do it, anyone can. I share this piece of knowledge with our students and I hope it helps them, too.” Previously Dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law in sunny California, the move to head a liberal arts college in Colorado Springs would seem to be a big one.
“Yes, this move was huge, but as soon as I stepped onto the campus, and met faculty, staff, and students, I knew this was the right decision,” explains Richardson. “CC is a unique and extraordinary place. Our students, faculty, and staff are innovative thinkers who care deeply about democracy, equity, and access, and they are ready to address the issues facing our world today.”
One of three children of an inter- racial couple in the ‘60s, Richardson is passionate about her belief that everyone should have access to opportunities to be successful. “I was lucky,” she says. “My parents shielded my brothers and me from a lot of the racism they experienced when we were growing up. My passion and work ethic come from them. Together, they worked to provide amazing opportunities for their children – and we worked hard to take advantage of what was given to us.”
While CC felt like the perfect fit, Richardson was curious about the conservative reputation of Colorado Springs. “My husband and I are also an inter-racial couple. So, we were pleasantly surprised when we walked around downtown and encountered great diversity and great food. We are self-admitted foodies,” she says. “Colorado Springs is growing as a city and we need more diversity of not just people, but of ideas. That’s how we can truly change the world – with multiple points of view.”
“I love being involved with young people at the college level,” explains Richardson. “When I delved into CC’s history – its values, boldness and courageous moves over a century and a half – it spoke to me on a deep level because its values matched my own.”
“I was so impressed when I learned that this small liberal arts college was the first higher education institution in the Rocky Mountain region to achieve carbon neutrality and the eighth in North America,” comments Richardson. “And, CC made a commitment to anti- racism in 2018, well before the murder of George Floyd.” The arts were clearly important: The Fine Arts Center’s distinctive collection and programming, and the quality of CC’s Summer Music Festival concerts wowed her. And there was an obvious sense of empathy and humanitarianism. During pandemic lockdowns, students created CC Mutual Aid to help fellow students cover the costs of groceries and rent.
“I am very fortunate to be part of a community that doesn’t shy away from confronting challenging issues, asking difficult questions, and finding innovative and creative solutions – whether it’s transitioning quickly to remote learning or economics faculty and students publishing an article showing racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes,” she emphasizes.
Being humble about your accomplishments is one thing, but as Richardson points out, Colorado College needs to share more of its amazing achievements. Shining a light on this hidden gem in the middle of Colorado Springs is what energizes Richardson.
“Even the way we teach can be uncomfortable,” notes Richardson. “Block learning (and teaching) is intense. Immersing yourself in one subject for three and a half weeks is especially hard in this age of technology, limited attention span, and lack of concentration. This is why learning this skill is a superpower we are imparting to our students.”
Sitting in discomfort is a subject Richardson embraces, especially having practiced law. “If you want to convince people of a different viewpoint, you first have to see the world through their eyes,” notes Richardson. “Sitting in discomfort, being open and learning empathy are emblematic of what a liberal arts college does.”
“Working for myself where I can direct my training and my passions to help others has never intimidated me,” she says. “I am just incredibly fortunate that I could have the educational opportunities, the full family experience, and a community platform where I can work with others who have similar drive and aspirations.”
Moving forward for CC will involve more partnerships, says Richardson. “We are partnering with the business community, the Chambers of Commerce and our nonprofit organizations to build meaningful connections and programs in the community.” Richardson is also focused on how CC can grow its many contributions to the economic and community vitality of the Springs.
Richardson points out that presently, only 21% of Colorado College’s student population is from Colorado. “We want to increase that number, which circles back to my passion for providing access to opportunities for all.” The Colorado Pledge is one way CC is looking to increase the number of students from Colorado. CC is educating Colorado Springs about The Colorado Pledge – making a private education at CC as affordable, or more affordable for Colorado families, than many public universities. For a student from Colorado with a family adjusted gross income of less than $60,000, there is no parental contribution for tuition, room, and board. For Colorado families with an adjusted gross income between $60,000 and $125,000, they only pay for room and board. And for Colorado families with an adjusted gross income between $125,000 and $250,000, the parental contribution for a Colorado College education is the same or less than the cost of attendance at the flagship state university in Colorado.
Richardson says she is “100 percent hopeful” for the next generation. “This remarkable generation is pushing us to think differently and to act courageously to create a better, fairer and more equitable world. Change can be difficult,” she states. “But, when we are willing to sit with each other and engage as a community, that’s when we can find innovative solutions for our most intractable problems.”
Richardson notes that CC is acting on these goals and will use the results from an inclusive campus project to chart a new path – right in time for the college’s 150th anniversary. “We can’t share our 2024 plan yet,” teases Richardson. “However, our vision is to ignite the passion and potential of our students to create a more just world. To do so, we will focus on four pillars. They are student transformation; holding courageous conversations and taking bold actions; creating thriving communities – not just at CC, but in Colorado Springs, in Colorado, and with our alumni; and finally, elevating our profile.” “We want to be the shining gem, not the hidden one,” ends Richardson.