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Q&A with Dr. G-S on Women’s History Month

March 14, 2022
GS and Breanna Hoffner sitting in the President's Office

Written by: Breanna Hoffner '22

March is Women’s History Month, so there’s no better time than now to interview Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith, the first female president of York College of Pennsylvania. Senior Breanna Hoffner sat down with Dr. G-S to discuss what Women’s History Month means to her and where she believes women fit into society today.

Q). What does being the first female president of YCP mean to you?

A). First of all, let me say that YCP has a very long history—some people think that as a four-year institution we’re not that old, but we’re an institution that dates back to 1787. But, being the first female president, having followed someone who was here for 22 years and centuries of men who have led this institution, I was selected because I had really, I would say, prepared myself for that next step. But, I do know that, to me, it's also a responsibility. It's a responsibility to serve as a role model for young women who are thinking about going into academic administration. Or, I would say young women, like you, to see women in leadership. The other thing I will say is that I'm not just the first female president. I'm the first woman of color to lead this institution. I have dual responsibilities—serving as a role model for several communities. 

Q). What are some challenges that you have faced as the first female president of YCP?

A). I'll tell a funny story about that. When I was being interviewed for this position, someone came up to me and said, “Well, you know, you have some very big shoes to fill,” speaking of my predecessor who was a very tall gentleman. I think he must have been about 6 feet 7 inches or so, and I said, “You know, I'm really not worried about that because I wear high heels.” I have my own leadership style of course, but I think it's one that's influenced by the fact that I am a woman, and that I bring certain different attributes and characteristics. I think that sometimes it can be a bit unexpected, or that people may not realize that it is a difference of style. Having a different leadership style is something that I would say that this community had to get used to. 

Q). Where have we made strides as women? And then, where do you think we need to be making more strides? 

A). We need to think about women assuming all different types of roles. We often talk about it, in terms of sitting in the C Suite, which is the executive suite in any type of field. We talk a lot about work-life balance. We also talk about ourselves as being wives and being mothers and that, of course, takes some time to do those things which can be a sacrifice. What I tell people is, “You can't have everything every time and all the time, but you can have all of it some of the time.” Some of the things that I've done is to have women on my cabinet, to make sure that we’re hiring women, and to have women who are in the pool. I have also worked to diversify our Board of Trustees here – more women on that as well.

Q). You spoke about women filling the roles of wife, mother. What do you believe a woman's role is in society today?

A). I think a woman's role is whatever she wants it to be. I think that…women should be supported and mentored to do what it is that they want to be. Not every woman wants to be a college president, but many do. And how do we help them to that path? 

Q). Lastly, who were a few of your female role models growing up?

A). Certainly, my mother was a role model for me in terms of aspiring to that next level and also showing me that it could be done. But, also showing me what it is that she had to sacrifice to do that. When I was in the fifth grade, she went back to school to get her doctorate…I remember her working on her dissertation. My mother told me years ago that she always wanted to be the wife of a college president. She had her doctorate and had been in administration, but then she told me, “One day, you can be a president.”