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Seven Questions for Elma Lewis Center Director Judy Pryor-Ramirez

In July, Judy Pryor-Ramirez took over as executive director of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research, where she will work to broaden the Center’s scope and work both with local and national organizations and the Emerson community on issues of civic engagement and social justice.

We asked Pryor-Ramirez to tell us a little bit about herself and what’s ahead for the Elma Lewis Center.

What do you see as Emerson’s greatest strength, as it relates to civic engagement?

Emerson’s greatest strength is its people. We have a tremendous resource in student energy, faculty expertise, staff commitment, alumni networks, and our community partners’ wisdom and history in the city. Community engagement work cannot be done without the coordination and collaboration among various stakeholders and our strength is in the richness of our beloved community. When these strengths are combined, great things happen!

Where is/are the College’s biggest untapped opportunity/ies?

In my first month, I have observed one untapped opportunity for the College, and that is to meaningfully connect the life and legacy of Elma Lewis ’43 to the community engagement programs and initiatives of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research and the College. Miss Lewis’s contributions to Boston and the wider world are vast and there are potential connective threads we can deepen through the College’s curriculum, creative projects, and community partnerships.

What are your hopes for the upcoming academic year?

I am excited to continue listening and learning from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and our community partners in the city. My work as executive director of the Elma Lewis Center rests on building relationships with these constituents so we can successfully animate the Center’s work.

I am also excited about my continued inquiry into the life of Elma Lewis, daughter of Boston, arts institution builder, and civil rights activist. As such, I hope that Miss Lewis becomes more than a name around campus and that the Emerson community will come to know and embody her spirit in our future work together.

Biggest surprise since coming to Emerson?

I have found myself surprised at the friendliness, openness, and generosity of folks at Emerson College and in Boston. Coming from the hustle and bustle of New York City, it is refreshing to meet people on campus and in the community who genuinely care about my personal and professional transition and wellbeing.

So far, what’s your favorite spot on campus? Off campus? In the world?

My favorite spot on campus is Walker 10. What can I say? I am biased since the Center is located there. It really is a warm and inviting space when you walk in and I love the pillars coated with chalk where students have taken to writing quotes and data related to social justice issues.

Off campus, I love the Public Garden, the brownstone architecture and political history of the South End, and as a foodie, I love the Union Square Donuts shop in the Boston Public Market!

My favorite spot in the world…that’s a hard one! One of my favorite spots is the Little Red Lighthouse located in Washington Heights, a northern Manhattan neighborhood. It’s a picturesque gem along the Hudson River situated right under the George Washington Bridge.

What do you do when you’re not working?

When I’m not working, I am spending time with my family, scratch cooking for family and friends, exploring the city, taking photos on my smartphone, browsing titles at bookstores, and moving my body to workouts like 21 Day Fix or 22 Minute Hard Corps.

What’s the last book you read and should we read it too?

The last book I read was Open City, a novel by Teju Cole. I am a fan of Cole’s writings as he does not shy away from issues of race, identity, citizenship, and politics. I find his work accessible, brilliant, and important given the state of affairs in our country and the world.

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