Dean of Students Strives for Inclusivity in First Year

The college welcomed new Dean of Students Elizabeth Agosto to campus in mid-June to begin work in the 2019-2020 academic year. As dean of students, Agosto will be responsible for overseeing several areas of Student Affairs, including Residential Life, Student Activities and the resource centers, among others. Chief Student Affairs Officer Karu Kozuma announced Agosto’s hiring in an email to the community in March, writing that “Liz’s approach to her work aligned perfectly with Amherst’s mission: she believes a student’s academic performance is closely tied to their feelings of belonging, their values and sense of identity, and their ability to connect, both with one another across differences and to the community.”

Agosto was chosen by a selection committee comprised of students, faculty and staff, according to Kozuma’s email. On the committee were Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought Professor Martha Umphrey; Senior Associate Dean of Students Charri Boykin-East; Senior Associate Dean of Students Dean Gendron; Associate Dean of Students Scott Howard; Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones; Professor of Geology Anna Martini; Camille Polk ’21; Silvia Sotolongo ’19; and Estevan Velez ’20.

“While the search process produced several very strong candidates, Liz stood out for a few key reasons. Her personal story clearly led to her resolute belief that working in student affairs was not just a job or a career, but a calling,” Kozuma’s email noted.

“From my conversations with Liz during the interview process to the work she has already done in the summer, it is evident that Liz brings so much that will benefit the Amherst College community,” Kozuma said in a statement to The Student. “I feel blessed to have a thought partner who cares deeply about the student experience and learning, and I am excited about working with her.”

Agosto comes to Amherst from Dartmouth College, where she had worked as an administrator for the past 12 years. She started at Dartmouth in 2007 as the program coordinator of student involvement, and was promoted to associate director of the Center for Student Involvement the following year. She spent 2011 and 2012 as special assistant to the dean of the college before becoming senior associate dean of student affairs in 2013.

During her time at Dartmouth, Agosto helped create the First Year Student Enrichment Program, a peer network meant to help first-generation college students navigate Dartmouth. She also focused on combating sexual violence on Dartmouth’s campus, and reported to The Dartmouth in April that she is proud of the school’s growth in that area.

Agosto received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Dartmouth. She went on to earn a master’s in sociology from Fordham University and spent two additional years at Fordham completing doctorate coursework in sociology.

Agosto names Amherst’s overt commitment to inclusion and ability to produce graduates who are well-equipped for a rapidly-changing world as factors that drew her to the college.

“As a student-focused, liberal arts institution, Amherst reflects what I believe is the best of higher education,” she wrote in an email interview.

As the dean of students, Agosto hopes to build an understanding of the community grounded in personal connections. “At a high level, I want to build strong partnerships with students to honor the breadth of identities and experiences students bring to campus while also working together to cultivate community on campus and in our residential spaces,” she wrote.

She added, “I am committed to finding ways to communicate clearly and frequently with students. I am excited to engage in robust conversation with students, where we are able to have differences of opinions, about what makes Amherst special and how we can continue to support the wellbeing, safety and academic excellence of each student.”

Agosto said her plan “to listen more than [she talks]” will help to inform her visions for the long term.

“Ultimately, my goal is to support processes, policies and practices that are clear, that are grounded in theory and best practice while also being appropriate for Amherst and that allow students to feel a sense of belonging, to have support during challenges and failures and to ultimately thrive at Amherst,” she said.

When asked what she would like students to know about her, Agosto mentioned that her father was in the Army when she was growing up, and as a result, she traveled all over the country. Later, she became a first-generation college student and “struggled during [her] time in undergrad.”

She added, “I love karaoke, and line dancing, and books, and cooking shows,” and that her spirit animal is the flamingo.

“Mostly,” she wrote, “I want students to know that I am excited to be here at Amherst and looking forward to getting to know you all. I will be out and about as much as possible. Please reach out and invite me to a meeting with your organization or lunch at Val or a performance. I am really looking forward to working with you all.”