Ruth Simmons is president of Prairie View A&M University, one of the country’s over 100 historically Black colleges and universities. She previously led Brown University and Smith College. Washington Post senior critic-at-large Robin Givhan spoke with Simmons about the state of HBCUs and her journey from growing up in a segregated Texas town to becoming a top leader in higher education.

Highlights

"It is extraordinary in this very moment that there is a coalescing of support for HBCUs that certainly I've never seen in my entire career, and it is something that is welcome, but it’s very different…This is an era unlike any that most of us have seen, and we’re very grateful for it and very intent on using the resources in the best way possible to improve on what we’re able to do for our students.” (Washington Post Live)
“There is no question that in our country today we are reckoning with the fact that life in this county for certain groups has not improved to the extent that we thought. That was a pretty rude awakening after the [George] Floyd murder…I’m embarrassed to say how surprised I was to learn that things had not progressed nearly to the degree that we had hoped in the 60s.” (Washington Post Live)
“What’s important is that they care, and that they’re actively searching for ways to improve upon the lives of so many people in our country…It’s better for us to give them examples than to watch them create things that have been done before only to stumble and delay progress….The future is theirs; it’s not ours.” (Washington Post Live)

Ruth J. Simmons, PhD

Provided by Prairie View A&M University.

Ruth J. Simmons serves as President of Prairie View A&M University. She was President of Brown University from 2001-2012. Under her leadership, Brown made significant strides in improving its standing as one of the world’s finest research universities.

A French professor before entering university administration, President Simmons held an appointment as a Professor of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies at Brown. After completing her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, she served in various faculty and administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College before becoming president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. At Smith, she launched a number of important academic initiatives, including an engineering program, the first at an American women’s college.

Simmons is the recipient of many honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship to France, the 2001 President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2004 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Foreign Policy Association Medal, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Centennial Medal from Harvard University. Simmons is a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves on the boards of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Holdsworth Center. Awarded numerous honorary degrees, she received the Brown Faculty’s highest honor: the Susan Colver Rosenberger Medal in 2011. In 2012, she was named a ‘chevalier’ of the French Legion of Honor.