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A New Role

It’s been a good year for Vivian Taylor. Her appointment as vice president of community development and chief of staff in President Debora L. Spar’s office marks an expanded area of outreach for a woman, who for the past 16 years as associate dean of studies, has helped to foster excellence and inspire Barnard sophomores who relied on her warm and thoughtful counsel. On a personal level, the year also brought the birth of her first grandchild, Maurice Timothy Brown, son of her older daughter, Avanti. Happily, Taylor gets to babysit on Monday nights when the young mother attends class in pursuit of her master’s in business administration.

Her new role at Barnard calls for Taylor to broaden her purview to the entire College and the community beyond. She’s actively involved in preparations for the opening of the Diana Center early in 2010. She also spearheads the special-events task force, charged with organizing and examining the myriad events scheduled by the various College departments. A representative for President Spar’s office, she recently attended a Weekend Jam in Washington, D.C., along with 300 black, Latino, and Asian alumni from Barnard and Columbia; among the activities was a reception for Attorney General Eric Holder (CC ’73, Law ’76). Taylor represents Barnard as a member of the Morningside Area Alliance, a community-building group that includes several of the area’s major educational institutions.

Taylor began to develop counseling and outreach skills as the oldest of six children. A graduate of Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass Senior High School—the alma mater of Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall and Barnard English Professor Quandra Prettyman—she credits an English teacher with steering her toward college. At the University of Pittsburgh, she majored in communications and African theatre and earned a master’s in education in counseling. During her university years, she met Timothy Taylor, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon.

The couple married in 1974, and moved to New York, where she obtained a position at Lehman College in the teacher education program. Positions followed at Fairleigh Dickinson University, then at Columbia where she was director of the talent-search component of the Double Discovery Program. There was time off to give birth to Avanti, and be a stay-at-home mom, but Taylor was restless and returned to work for a foster-care agency and as an educational consultant for the Children’s Aid Society. She subsequently gave birth to a second daughter, Dara, now a student at Fordham.

Barnard recruited Taylor in 1984 for the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP); three years later she was assistant dean of student affairs. Involved with multicultural programs, she helped to launch the Committee on Race, Religion, Identity, and Ethnicity (CORRIE). Dean Dorothy Denburg ’70 then asked her to become a class dean, which she agreed to do with one qualification: She wanted to work with sophomores.

Why? Says Taylor, it’s a difficult year of transition for most students. Second-years are supposed to be acclimated to campus life, but they face tremendous pressures: declaring a major, looking for an internship, or considering study abroad. Personal issues abound, such as less close ties to home and old friends, uncertainty about future directions, and challenges to values and expectations. As a testament to her generosity with her time, advice, and concern, Taylor remains a wise, comforting presence for many of the students she guided. But whether dispensing counsel to sophomores, spearheading a multicultural initiative, or ebulliently “working a room” on Barnard’s behalf, Taylor says, “It all comes back to the students; all this is meant to benefit them and help them to be the best they can be.”

-Annette Kahn, photograph by Asiya Khaki '09