Barrett Honors College Ladies' Tea brings students, leaders together

The wide expanse of jade green lawn known as the Great Court in the center of Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University’s Tempe complex was transformed into a beautiful garden with pops of pink and white flowers for the seventh annual Barrett Ladies’ Tea March 3.

The event, held under a cloudless, sunny blue sky, drew dozens of students dressed in their best for the occasion, which included tea, sandwiches and pastries.

The Barrett Ladies’ Tea, held during International Women’s Month, brings honors college women together for networking, community building and an opportunity to hear from ASU women leaders.

This year’s event was the first for Barrett Honors College Dean Tara Williams, who last August became the first woman to serve as dean in the honors college’s 35-year history.

Williams, who was the keynote speaker for the event that carried the theme of “a new chapter,” told students about the experiences that brought her to ASU and what’s next for the honors college.

“The theme of 'a new chapter' is very fitting for me. First, as an avid reader and a former English professor, I appreciate a good book metaphor! But also because joining Barrett meant starting a new chapter in my own life,” she said.

Williams recounted her journey from an undergraduate English major to a university faculty member who mentored honors students, to associate dean at Oregon State University, to a dean at the University of Alabama.

“I was interested in trying something new — turning the page, or starting a new chapter — and working with more faculty, staff and students on the honors experience,” she said.

“When I was a student, I didn’t have any idea what a dean did or who the dean of my college was — but as a faculty member, I’d seen the roles that deans played in funding meaningful programs, supporting faculty innovations and setting strategic directions for the future,” she said.

She was serving as dean at University of Alabama’s Honors College when she was asked to apply for the position as Barrett Honors College dean.

“I knew this was a special opportunity in a special place. I knew that Barrett was offering a strong residential honors experience, wraparound student support, signature honors courses and seminars, and an impressive array of opportunities to help students develop academically, personally and professionally,” Williams said.

“I was especially excited to come to ASU because of its charter and focus on whom we include rather than whom we exclude, and the ways in which Barrett is uniquely positioned to think about an honors experience that is both excellent and accessible, reaching as many students as possible,” she added.

Williams said that Barrett Honors College has a strong foundation on which to build and she’s seeking ideas in that regard.  

“How can we increase the sense of belonging among all members of the Barrett community? How can we make sure that finances aren’t an obstacle for any student who wants to participate in the honors experience? How can we prepare all of you for your own next chapters as leaders and problem-solvers, and agents of positive change in a world that is increasingly complex and globalized?” she said.

In an effort to answer these and other questions, Williams commissioned the ASU University Design Institute, in collaboration with a Barrett Co-Design Council representing students, staff and faculty, to conduct the Barrett Honors College Listening Tour 2022. The listening tour was a series of 90-minute workshops held last November and December in which students, faculty and staff were encouraged to share their perspectives on the pressing issues that Barrett Honors College is encountering and contribute ideas for the future of the college.

Information from the Listening Tour has been compiled into a report that will inform how Barrett Honors College transforms and grows.

Williams encouraged students to meet with her to discuss any ideas they may have.

“I hope that your Barrett experience has been a rich and interesting and helpful influence on your narrative, just as it is becoming part of mine. And I hope that you’ll lend your influence and your voice to the story that we are crafting together as we write the next chapter of our college,” she said.

Nicole Greason