Colby College is bringing back a 1994 graduate to be dean of the college “at a crucial time in the college’s history,” the college announced Wednesday.

Karlene Burrell-McRae, who begins July 1, “will have broad oversight of the student experience at Colby and will work to fully integrate Colby’s academic and campus life programs,” according to a news release. She will have responsibility for the several departments that have direct responsibility for student and campus life, and will be the lead officer overseeing campus-wide diversity and civic engagement.

The role, that of Colby’s first chief diversity officer, is a new one for the college and encompasses student affairs responsibilities as well as civic engagement and diversity and inclusion efforts, Kate Carlisle, director of communications, said in an email Wednesday.

The liberal arts college, which will hold its commencement Sunday, has about 1,850 undergraduate students.

Burrell-McRae is currently associate dean of students and executive director of the Center for Identity and Inclusion at the University of Chicago.

Colby President David Greene said in the release that Burrell-McRae “is bringing back to Colby her creative, deep intellect, her passion for developing extraordinary opportunities for students, and her commitment to a diverse and just community.”


“Her experiences at other top colleges and universities have prepared her to return to Colby and help lead the College into the future,” he said.

She arrives at Colby “at a crucial time in the college’s history,” the release said, citing a surge in applications and “an increasingly generous financial aid program,” the college is “attracting a historically diverse pool of the most talented students.”

“The college is committed to ensuring that all students experience the best of a Colby education in a fully inclusive environment,” the release said.

Burrell-McRae said she is excited about “the opportunity to participate in leading transformation and institutional change at my alma mater.”

“I admire Colby’s institutional commitment to unifying the campus community through the intersections and integration of intellectual engagement student life, and community citizenship,” she said. “I am honored to have been chosen for this role, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Burrell-McRae was chosen after a national search by a team comprising adminstrators, staff and students. Student Elizabeth Paulino, class of 2018 and a member of the committee, said the group met with Burrell-McRae several times and “we saw a warmth of character and genuin interest in students’ lives that shows us her deep commitment to listening first.”


“Karlene is not afraid to ask the tough questions,” Paulino added, “the kind that will really make you think.”

Burrell-McRae earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked there, and later at Swarthmore College, “in progressively responsible roles in student and multicultural affairs,” the release said.

“As a Colby trustee since 2014, Burrell-McRae emerged as an important voice on the board, using her experience as an educator to inform strategy and decisions,” the release said. Her roles have included vice chairwoman of the Nominations Committee and a member of the Student Affairs Committee.

Robert Diamond, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said, “Karlene brought valuable perspective and inquisitiveness to the work of the Board of Trustees. She helped us all to explore questions in different, more nuanced ways, and she will be an absolutely terrific leader for Colby.”

Burrell-McRae will be joined in Waterville by her husband and two children.

Karlene Burrell-McRae’s name has been corrected.

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