“I think it’s very natural for Ithaca Is Books to be a very real mantra here.”
In the fall of 2017, Shirley Collado was inaugurated as the ninth president of Ithaca College. The child of Dominican immigrants, she grew up in New York City and received her BS from Vanderbilt University and her MA and PhD in clinical psychology from Duke. Before arriving in Ithaca, she was a professor of psychology and dean at Middlebury College and an executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer at Rutgers.
President Collado’s Recommended Books:
M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A by A. Van Jordan
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Tyranny of Meritocracy by Lani Guinier
I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Tenderness permeates both voice and touch as Ithaca College President Shirley Collado picks up M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, one of the four poetry collections written by her husband, A. Van Jordan. She originally read his work, she explains, to get a better understanding of the man she would be dating. It is this theme of books serving as connection that would become a thread throughout Collado’s personal literary journey.
When Collado was inaugurated last year, she became the first Dominican American President of a U.S. college. But growing up in Brooklyn, she didn’t have much experience being surrounded by books. As the daughter of two Dominican Republic immigrants whose schedules were full with trying to provide for the family, she says, “Having extra time for my parents to read to me in Spanish or English, based on their work, was a luxury to even fathom.” Aside from some Spanish newspapers, there weren’t many options at home for reading materials. That is, until Collado was in middle school and her mother invested in a set of encyclopedias, purchased one at a time from a traveling encyclopedia salesman.
“It was a very expensive thing to do,” Collado explains, joking that she’s not sure current students would even know what physical encyclopedias are. “This was before the Internet or email, before Google. I was mesmerized by these books.” They became her gateway into literacy and facts, a way to discover the world around her whether it be for class or for her own personal desire for information.
The idea of discovery and travel is what really attracts Collado to literature, both in fiction and nonfiction. From reading Catcher in the Rye in high school and becoming aware of a privileged world that was not her own to seeing parts of her life in Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, books became the way she could experience new places and people when physically traveling was not an option.
It’s not only traveling through time and spaces that attracts Collado to reading, but also traveling through people’s lives more broadly. Her book choices make this clear. A story of two brothers, one with psychosis and the one who takes care of him in a complex tale of pain and also beauty. The life of the first African American to go to the national spelling bee. An analysis of the practices that keep our students from higher education and how they can be combated, written by the first black woman to be tenured at Harvard Law. An intense love story featuring a black feminist. The books Collado chooses touch on the varied and deeply emotional, challenging experiences that we as humans can face and how those struggles apply to those that society often works against. Whether she sees herself reflected in the words or not, it is slipping into the experiences of her fellow human beings that makes these works so powerful to her.
That sense of connection is what draws her to Ithaca Is Books as a concept as well.
“I love the context of Ithaca Is Books. The whole ‘Ithaca Is...’ movement here is really fantastic,” she says with a chuckle. “And I think it’s a great avenue for everybody to feel like they’re a part of this community through our different vantage points and lenses and experiences.”
“I think it’s very natural for Ithaca Is Books to be a very real mantra here.” Collado says it with an air of contemplation yet firm belief.