A longtime advocate for minority students, Hudlin Wagner has announced she will retire at the end of this school year, after 25 years as a Carleton administrator.
Wagner, who lists her age on Facebook as 108, came to Carleton as associate dean of students in 1990. She has been vice president for student development and dean of students since 2005.
“I can’t imagine Carleton without her,” said Professor Adrianna Estill, who worked with Wagner on several projects, including the Campus Climate Survey and Women of Color retreats. “She is a source of warmth and strength for all of the women of color on campus.”
In her Sevy office, Wagner surrounds herself with reminders of her heritage: a bow and quiver hang from the wall, and a dream catcher dangles from a stand be- side her desk.
Wagner keeps a coffee mug full of folded notes from students, which she calls “warm fuzzies.”
The top one says, “You’re a strong woman and I applaud you for that. This experience has made me stronger.”
Mixed in with the memorabilia are a few tools of Wagner’s trade: a shiny conference table surrounded by leather chairs and several copies of Keep It Real, a board game in which players ask each other tough questions (“When you are dating someone, how long do you think you should wait before saying ‘I love you’? Why?”) to break down boundaries.
Born to a military officer and a college dean, Wagner vowed in her youth to never become an administrator, she said. But after sitting at Woolworth counters to fight Jim Crow, protesting the Vietnam War and advocating for divestment from apartheid-era South Africa, Wagner began to see young people as the key to a better world. She worked as an English teacher in East St. Louis, Ill., and then became a student affairs administrator at Southern Illinois University.
During her job interview at Carleton, Wagner found herself slipping into a debate about class with the group of students who interviewed her. She was impressed.
“I thought, ‘I’m looking at future global leaders who have the capacity to make change in the world that’s much needed,” she said.
As associate dean of students, Wagner stepped into a Division of Student Life that was slimmer than it is today. There was no Office of Disability Services for Students, recalled Liz Ciner, a former associate dean of the college. So, when Wagner noticed that some students were having an especially hard time with foreign languages, she scraped together funding to pay for diagnostic tests to see if the students were eligible for an exemption from the language requirement, Ciner said.
Wagner took advantage of any opportunity, from the Rodney King beating to the O.J. Simpson trials, to get students talking about difference, colleagues recalled. After Hurricane Katrina, she helped organize a “teach-in,” she said. Classes were canceled and professors gave presentations about the government’s response to the disaster and discussed the impact of race relations in New Orleans.
Colleagues also remember Wagner for her involvement with students. Wagner said she makes a point to watch the Golden Schillers, go to the Battle of the Bands and watch comps talks. She has also co-taught a biannual off-campus seminar in Ghana with History Professor Harry Williams.
“Classes [used to] ask me to sign an agreement to say that I wouldn’t leave until they graduated,” Wagner said. “But I stopped signing that about four years ago.” Even after she leaves her current position, she plans to stick around Carleton for another year. She doesn’t have concrete plans yet, but said she hopes to do something with alumni.
She also hopes to spend more time with her fly fishing group, the Fly Girls.
Associate Dean of the College George Shuffelton will lead a search committee made up of staff, faculty and students. He said he plans to find a replacement by winter or spring term.