Strength and Vulnerability: The Vocation of a College President

As a young girl in Kittrell, North Carolina, Mary Dana Hinton never imagined she might one day become the president of a college. Driven by a life-long calling to educational equity, she became the 13th president of Hollins University in August 2020 after serving as president of the College of Saint Benedict for many years. In a new episode of the NetVUE podcast series, Callings, she shares that on some days her calling feels heavy. She goes on to describe how the inspiration of her hard-working mother, the encouragement from early mentors, and the uplifting teachings of the black church have kept her going over the years.

President Hinton chooses to “lead from the margins,” the title of a TED talk she delivered in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

She talked some about what “leading from the margins” means during our conversation with her, especially during the recent years of pandemic and crisis.

In a short essay about women’s leadership published in 2016, President Hinton focused on the importance of mission but also of vulnerability. She wrote:

While a focus on mission demands clarity and strength, mission-driven leadership also demands a level of vulnerability. This notion of being a vulnerable leader is often contrary to the standard rhetoric about “good” leadership. There is a pervasive ideology that good leaders are strong and inscrutable, and that the word vulnerability is inherently incompatible with being a good leader… My own experiences as a woman of color, as a student and as a professional have shaped my unrelenting quest, my mission, toward achieving educational equity. My mission was born in vulnerability and sustained through intentionality. It is not at all incompatible with being a good leader.

Mary Dana Hinton, “Women’s Leadership,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education (2016).

The podcast can also be accessed through Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and other podcast platforms. We invite you to listen to this and other episodes of the NetVUE podcast, and ask you to share them with your friends and colleagues.

Click here to listen to the full episode of our conversation with Mary Dana Hinton.


Hannah Schell was a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Monmouth College in Illinois from 2001-2018. She is the author of “Commitment and Community: The Virtue of Loyalty and Vocational Discernment” in At this Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, ed. David S. Cunningham (Oxford University Press, 2015), and, more recently, “Loyalty in the Time of Catastrophe: Anthropocene Reflections” (co-written with Mark Larrimore). Currently the Online Community Coordinator and the editor of this blog, she is also a campus consultant for NetVUE. Click here to see other blog posts by Hannah.

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