From his own experiences with racism as a Black student at the University of Mississippi, Lloyd Holmes developed a passion for working on equity and inclusion in education. He now plans to bring that focus to his new position as president of De Anza College.
“I want students to feel like they are at home when they are at De Anza,” Holmes said.
The Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously last month to appoint Holmes as De Anza College’s new president. He started July 1 and took over for current interim president Christina Espinosa-Pieb, who will return to her previous role as vice president of instruction.
Holmes comes to De Anza from Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where he served as vice president of student services.
When the position at De Anza opened up, Holmes said he was excited because of the innovative work he’s seen De Anza undertake on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
He knew of De Anza College through his work with the League for Innovation in the Community College, where Foothill-De Anza chancellor Judy Miner serves as a board member. When Miner joined the league and met Holmes, she said she was immediately impressed by how he welcomed her to the group.
“There’s just this natural inclination that he has, in whatever setting, to be welcoming,” Miner said.
That extends to his work as an educator. Holmes said he believes that one of his primary missions is to ensure students feel included. In part, that drive comes from his experiences being told he did not belong at his own college.
As a student at the University of Mississippi, Holmes was once walking down the sidewalk when four white men in a Jeep waving the confederate flag screamed the N-word at him, telling him to “go home.”
When he attended a college football game in 1990, Holmes didn’t realize that the student section was functionally still segregated. When he accidentally sat with the white students, he was yelled at and called the N-word.
Rather than believing he didn’t belong and leaving, Holmes said he was determined that he could succeed and the school was his home. He went on to earn both his master’s and doctorate from the University of Mississippi and took the mission of inclusion in education to heart.
“I’m in education because I recognize the impact that we can have on society,” Holmes said. “I recognize that on a daily basis, we are impacting individuals.”
Holmes ended up serving as the associate dean of students at the University of Mississippi, before becoming the dean of students at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. In 2008, he moved to North Shore Community College in Massachusetts. Working at the community college level became a particular passion.
As a former community college student himself, Holmes said he sees himself in many of the students, who often come from underrepresented or economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Before transferring to the University of Mississippi, Holmes attended Itawamba Community College. He said his experience there was overwhelmingly positive, and he made lifelong friends.
Growing up, Holmes’ family struggled financially. His father died when Holmes was a baby of an accidental gunshot wound. His mother raised him and his brother, using public assistance until she could get a job outside the home.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Holmes said his mother always taught him that he was just as good as anyone else and that he couldn’t let his present circumstances determine where he’d end up in life. He took what she said to heart and believed that he could succeed.
“A part of my job is to be certain that I give back,” Holmes said. “I’ve been given a lot in life and I’ve been able to achieve quite a bit. That means absolutely nothing if I’m not giving back.”
He will be taking the helm at De Anza at a time when the college is working to chart a path forward during the coronavirus pandemic. Finding ways to adapt to the “new normal” is going to be a focus, Holmes said.
Beyond the present challenges, Holmes wants to work to make sure students feel safe and included on campus. He said colleges have an obligation to examine themselves and put focused effort into ensuring students have equal opportunities.
“Every single one of us at De Anza has a responsibility to … recognize the worth and the beauty that’s found in each and every single student,” he said.