Building a Beloved Community: A Profile of Associate Dean Patricia Carey (PhD ’82)

During a career spanning nearly five decades, Patricia Carey built a community of inclusion and belonging at NYU.

It’s a crisp November day, a touch of winter is in the air, and Patricia Carey, Steinhardt’s associate dean for student affairs, is meeting with the Administrators of Color Network at NYU’s Kimmel Center.

It’s a standing room only event that has been advertised as a chance to have lunch and learn about a woman whose reputation at NYU precedes her.  It’s possible that everyone at NYU knows Dean Carey or has heard of her. Today, she is sharing insights on her professional journey.

Associate Dean Patricia Carey (photo credit: Debra Weinstein)

There’s a sense of familiarity in the air as people greet each other and pull the guest of honor into the conversation.

Sitting in the room with Dean Carey or seeing her across Washington Square, someone says, you get the message that all things are possible.

Carey has been described by her colleagues as regal, graceful, firm, intuitive, a “wo-mentor,” a pathbreaker; a leader, who “can walk with kings” and not lose her “common touch.”

Associate Dean Patricia Carey was a counselor at NYU’s Higher Education Opportunity Program.

In December, she will retire after almost a half century of service to New York University.

During her tenure, Carey has been a student in the Department of Applied Psychology (PhD ’82); a counselor in NYU’s Higher Education Opportunity Service, director of Counseling and Student Services, and, since 1991, Steinhardt’s associate dean for student affairs.

In 1992, she was appointed NYU’s Assistant Chancellor and then Associate Vice Provost for Diversity Programs.

“Pat Carey’s career has exemplified Steinhardt values of innovation, inclusion, and impact,” says Dean Dominic Brewer. “Not only has she made an outstanding contribution to NYU; she has made us a leader in student affairs across the country.”

* * *

Since its founding in 1890, NYU Steinhardt has been at the vanguard of equity and civil rights. This is evident in its admissions practices.

In 1891, fifteen years after the Civil War, one fourth of its first graduating class were women of color.  Among them were two school teachers, Henrietta Cordelia Ray and her sister, Florence T. Ray, daughters of Charles B. Ray, a prominent abolitionist and owner of The Colored American, a newspaper published weekly for African Americans. The Ray sisters were instrumental in creating the first “free kindergarten for colored children” in New York City.

Henrietta Cordelia Ray was among the graduates of the first class of NYU’s School of Pedagogy.

In 1929, the school admitted a young woman who had been rejected by Barnard College because it had exceeded its “two black students per year” quota. The student went on to earn two degrees, a BA and an MS in educational psychology. She was Dorothy Height, the civil rights activist.

Civil rights activist Dorothy Height is a School of Education alumna.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, when Jim Crow Laws prevented 140 Black teachers from being educated in their southern home states, the school created a special program for them to earn graduate degrees during summers and weekends.

And then there is Carey’s hallmark achievement, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars program, a recruitment and retention initiative that recognizes and supports students from diverse backgrounds. One of the most prestigious honors programs at NYU, it is awarded to students who have demonstrated a commitment to furthering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through academic excellence and service.

At the meeting, Carey shares with NYU’s administrators how the MLK Scholars program came into being. In 1986, Carey was among the members of NYU’s Association of Black Faculty and Administrators who presented a proposal to NYU Chancellor L. Jay Oliva and Ann Marcus, then vice president of student affairs. The program they proposed would champion King’s vision and enrich students through seminars, travel colloquia, and internships.

Carey was an architect of NYU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars program.

The following fall semester, sixteen outstanding students of color enrolled as the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars at NYU.

Today the program is a model for other MLK Honors programs throughout the country.

“Pat created a lot of programs that are now known as programs for inclusion and diversity,” says Steinhardt Dean Emerita Ann Marcus, who serves as director of the Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education.

“In the 80s and 90s, when there was no language for that – when no one was really paying attention — Pat had a vision for how to make a more inclusive NYU.”

Associate Dean Carey at Commencement in Washington Square Park.

Conversations of Color and College Connection are two programs that also bear Carey’s imprimatur. The latter, created in 1996, brought public school students to the NYU campus for a day of college-prep activities.

“Education is the gift of opportunity,” Carey says. “And nothing changes a person as much as a college education. To visit our campus is to understand that you can get here, too; that a college degree is within your reach.”

Carey was also the chief architect of Steinhardt’s Honors Program, which rewards student academic achievement through travel. Under Dean Emerita Mary Brabeck, the program incorporated a global community service component which brought students to such countries as Peru, Senegal, and Mexico to perform community public service.

“Pat has helped to deepen our understanding of how a robust student affairs program is integral to student success and how it plays a key role in educating the whole person,” Brabeck says.

In 2016, Carey, Professor Robbie Cohen, and NYU students met with civil rights leader, John Lewis.

Brabeck remembers the impact Carey made in 2013 when she chose Marcus Rediker’s Amistad: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom for Steinhardt’s New Student Reading. That year was the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the book, discussed in relation to Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College, on display at Steinhardt’s 80WSE gallery, became part of a larger community discussion about history, art, and action.

NYU’s Martin Luther King Jr. scholars outside the National Museum of African American History in Washington, DC.

Carey worked with Debra Szybinski, executive director of NYU’s Faculty Resource Network, to bring the work of Woodruff (1900–1980), a faculty member in art education at the school from 1946-1968, back to Washington Square for a well-deserved retrospective.

With Szybinski, Carey also helped grow NYU’s Faculty Resource Network.

“When the Network was founded in 1985, there were ten colleges in the consortium,” says Szybinski. “Today there are more than 54 participating colleges and universities; 14 of these are historically black institutions. Pat was instrumental in forging many of our partnerships.”

* * *

What the members of the Administrators of Color group want to know is how Dean Carey has navigated her career as a person of color at NYU.

Carey’s staff will tell you that the answer lies in two words: “students first.”  She measures her success by the success of NYU Steinhardt students.

“Our work is to recruit students, to retain them, and to graduate them,” Carey says. “And hopefully we send them off with the feeling they’ve had a wonderful experience here.”

Carey smiles a lot, too, and that is a piece of what makes her successful.

She tells the administrators that she leads with “her attitudes, beliefs, and values,” and she advises that “if you cannot smile, open your arms; find another way to show your warmth.”

She also brings genuine interest and a listening ear to each encounter.

“I believe that every person matters, and that I can learn something new from each person I meet,” Carey says.

Associate Dean Carey leads the procession at the Steinhardt Doctoral Convocation in 2018.

But another piece of what makes Carey a successful leader is that “she helps people – students, faculty, and administrators — accomplish whatever they need to accomplish,” says Richard Kalb, associate dean for students at CAS. He adds, “She does this by sharing who she is, and in doing this, she enriches all of us by her presence and example.”

Carey tells the group that she was taught to “speak up, speak out, and advocate” for herself by her parents, and somewhere in her mind, those ideas and other important experiences shaped her leadership style.

She had her first activist experience as a fourth grader at Kozminski Elementary School in Hyde Park, Chicago when she and another black girl sang the lyrics “Ol’ White Joe” instead of “Ol’ Black Joe,” in music class.  The two followed up their civil disobedience with a letter to their teacher, Miss Ellis, explaining their actions.

The teacher expressed deep regret for making the children uncomfortable and thanked them for helping her recognize the racism inherent in the ballad.

Carey was activist in the civil rights and women’s rights movement and was a founder of the Women’s Studies Commission at NYU.

Carey calls this her first successful “non-violent protest,” and says she knew instinctively to team up with another person to bolster her cause. Through this “early, formative experience,” she also learned the power of organized protest.

And of course, it is legend that Carey met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

She was a graduate student then, and had accompanied her future husband, a student at Union Theological Seminary, to his internship at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The couple lived in the Mennonite commune that abutted King’s home with other civil rights activists.

During that summer, Carey spent her days as a counselor in a day care center, and in the evening, when the day was winding down, she sat with King on his front porch swing and talked.

What did they talk about?

“Nothing earth shattering,” Carey says. “’I may have told him about some of the families I worked with at the day care center. It was just regular chit-chat.”

But King’s vision of “the beloved community,” a place where we come together and live peacefully, are words that live inside her.

It’s a vision that will continue to shape generations of NYU students for years to come.


                                                                            -Debra Weinstein