The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Different shades of Black and Gold: Reconnecting with Wake Forest President Susan Wente

Vanderbilt Football faces off against Wente’s Demon Deacons this morning.
Sports+Editor+Andrew+Wilf%2C+Editor-in-Chief+Rachael+Perrotta+and+Wake+Forest+President+Susan+Wente+on+Zoom+on+Sept.+8%2C+2023.+%28Hustler+Staff%2FRachael+Perrotta%29
Rachael Perrotta
Sports Editor Andrew Wilf, Editor-in-Chief Rachael Perrotta and Wake Forest President Susan Wente on Zoom on Sept. 8, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Rachael Perrotta)

As The Hustler travels to Winston-Salem this week for a rematch of Vanderbilt Football’s sour loss to Wake Forest last year, we caught up with Wake Forest President Susan Wente. Before stepping in as Wake Forest’s first female president in 2021, Wente served as provost and interim chancellor at Vanderbilt, among other titles in her 19-year stint in Nashville. 

We spoke to her on Sept. 8 about her time in Winston-Salem, fond memories from Vanderbilt and football. 

Vanderbilt Hustler: What has been the biggest difference as an administrator at Vanderbilt vs. at Wake Forest?

Wente: They’re both truly world-class, and I’ve been extremely fortunate to be a member of both. The standard for excellence at each of them is very, very high and the students excel in a multitude of different ways at each institution. I have enjoyed living in a smaller city and the small-town feel of Winston-Salem and how that creates other opportunities for university-city partnerships and interactions.

Were you interested in the role of Chancellor at Vanderbilt? If so, how does your role at Wake Forest help you to achieve that goal?

I was always interested, at different parts of my career, in learning how to lead in different ways. I had a really amazing experience serving as provost and then having the opportunity to serve as interim chancellor. It was actually during that time, believe it or not, even though COVID-19 hit during that year, that I learned that I enjoyed leading a university. That led me to think further about actually seeking out an opportunity for me to be able to do that.

What do you miss about Vanderbilt, and what is your best memory during your time here? 

Well, I have lots and lots of cherished memories. There’s no way I couldn’t from the significant time that I spent there. I would say the best two memories of any year at Vanderbilt are always the same every year in different ways: move-in and Commencement. You’ll hear a lot of people talk about how those are important milestones in the lives of our students and our families, and Vanderbilt had really special ways of celebrating those. 

I know for the two of you, you both arrived in the fall of 2020 which was different, and I always felt that loss for you. I do remember masking up and walking around the Commons while students were moving in to try to still convey that warm welcome. I can say that another really special moment was when the Class of 2020 returned to campus in person in May of 2021. I was really so very glad that we could bring them back to campus to celebrate in person and I will never forget being there in Vanderbilt Stadium — for the first time that I know of that we had commencement there — and being able to really celebrate bringing them back. That was a special memory.

What have been the biggest struggles and rewards of being a woman leader at a top institution in the country?

Being a leader of an organization as complex as a university is a tall order, no matter what your gender is. These are highly complex roles and have many, many responsibilities. I was just watching and have watched over the past couple of days late at night some of the U.S. Open matches, and the Open is celebrating 50 years of pay equity in tennis. But we still have so much work to do to rectify these kinds of inequities in so many places in society and in so many industries. 

So, as you notice, Rachael, women university presidents are still underrepresented; only 33% of all college and university presidents are women in spite of the fact that more than 50% of college students are women. As the 14th president of Wake Forest University, which was founded in 1834, I’m the first woman president here. Throughout my career, including as a biochemist, I’ve often been the first or the only or one of a few, and I’ll share two reflections with you based on those experiences. One, I would say that underrepresented leaders often have to work twice as hard or I don’t want to say how many times as hard for the same recognition that a traditional leader would see. A second reflection is that I think all underrepresented leaders feel a responsibility as I do to pave the way for others. How do you create opportunities for others to lead and to make space for more voices at the leadership table?

How has what you learned at Vanderbilt translated into your day-to-day life at Wake Forest? Could you name a few initiatives of which you were part at Vanderbilt that have informed your current leadership? 

When I was provost, I had a newsletter blog that went out once a month, and I often reflected upon my core leadership principles of trust, transparency and teamwork. When I was at Vanderbilt, I practiced them in many different ways, and I remain committed to them in my leadership at Wake Forest. So I have a blog again here from the president’s desk, and during my first year at Wake Forest, I was sharing these commitments. So I brought those with me from Vanderbilt. 

Andrew, you were asking about initiatives that I engaged in at Vanderbilt that really helped me learn about what I felt was important as a leader. One of those was really in terms of the work that I did in establishing our offices of equity, diversity and inclusion. Working both with Chancellor Zeppos as well as with all the deans, those were really important times for us to take some key actions. I think also I was very engaged across those 19 years in different times and places in strategic planning, and I learned a lot about leading and bringing people together, gathering consensus from all the different stakeholders across campus and both crafting a strategy and acting on that strategy.

Vanderbilt prepares to take on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Sept. 9, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Andrew Wilf)

The game this weekend surely will be bittersweet for you; what do you most look forward to in Saturday’s game? 

I guess I wouldn’t call it bittersweet because it’s really fun for me to get to see these two schools compete against each other. I’m excited to welcome friends and family from Nashville to enjoy the energy of Game Day in Winston-Salem. I love being a host and welcoming people to come here. I think one thing that I’m looking forward to in terms of Saturday’s game is that at least 80% of our Wake Forest students attended each home game during our season last year. Last week, nearly 4,000 of the 4,800 students who are here on campus this semester came out for our home opener, so I love that energy. And it really helps the team and the whole momentum of the game. 

Tomorrow will be great. I’m really looking forward to it.

What should Vanderbilt students know about Wake Forest Athletics and the initiatives that have been going on in the past few years since you’ve been there?

As I mentioned, we have a really great turnout of our students at our athletic events. So we’re really really proud of that. 

I think, like Vanderbilt, Wake Forest is an exceptional academic institution, and our athletes are students first. They are incredible students in the classroom in our dining hall, which we call the Pit, they are directly connected to our full student experience. We’ve won 56 conference titles in the ACC, and we’re one of only seven ACC schools to win 10 or more national championships, including most recently a national championship in women’s golf last year. When I went to Washington, D.C., and the White House with the women’s golf team to help celebrate that, who was also there? Vanderbilt Women’s Bowling! It was great to have a little reunion there. 

Wake Forest has gone to seven straight Bowl games, winning five Bowl championships and Coach Clawson’s teams have the second most wins in the ACC since the 2016 season. So that’s really some strong evidence of the high level that we strive to compete at. We have a residential undergraduate experience rooted in the liberal arts — that should sound really familiar — but I think sometimes people don’t realize how strongly we compete and win in so many ways.

Do you have a score prediction for the game on Saturday? 

No predictions here! Tremendous respect for the student athletes and the leadership of both programs, and I’m really really truly proud of the program Coach Clawson has built at Wake Forest. Rest assured, just like today, I’m wearing black and gold everywhere, and I’ll be cheering for Wake Forest.

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About the Contributors
Rachael Perrotta, Senior Advisor
Rachael Perrotta ('24) is from Cranston, R.I., and is majoring in cognitive studies, communication of science and technology and political science in Peabody College. She was previously Editor-in-Chief and News Editor. If she's not pressing you for a comment, she's probably trying to convince you that she's over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
Andrew Wilf, Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
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The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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