The Columns

Q&A with Helen Hughes Sanders ’04 Trustee Helen Hughes Sanders ’04 discusses the importance of women in leadership positions and what she hopes to accomplish as a member of the Board

— by on July 4th, 2017

Helen Sanders

Q: You joined the Board of Trustees in May and are one of only a few female members. What does it mean to you to be a woman in a leadership role at W&L?
It is an honor and privilege to serve W&L in this capacity. With the appointment comes a lot of responsibility, especially because Washington and Lee has a relatively short history of female students and thus a relatively short history of women serving the University in leadership roles. I am excited and humbled to not only serve on the Board, but also leverage the diversity that my serving on the Board brings to strive to make the school I love even stronger.

Q: As a Board member, what do you hope to accomplish? Which committee(s) will you be working with, and what excites you most about the work ahead?
I serve on the Capital Projects and the Undergraduate Academics and Admissions committees. It is a very exciting time to serve on the Capital Projects Committee with the Colonnade renovations complete and the University gearing up for the indoor athletic facilities project which, when completed, will serve as a another great asset for W&L and its students. President Dudley has recently initiated a strategic plan, an important undertaking that will lead and guide us for years to come. This will be a crucial document for our future.

There will be many challenges and difficult conversations to be had, especially surrounding the topic of our history. But, in my opinion, these conversations will make us stronger and reaffirm our leadership within a nation that is struggling to find peace in today’s world.

My personal hopes as a Board member are to live out W&L’s mission statement in all that I undertake on the Board and to make sure we — as a Board — never lose sight of the real reason we hold these appointments.

Q: What are your views on the role of women as leaders?
Women exist, and have existed, as leaders in many important functions in our communities, including schools, churches and community organizations. Yet, we still need more women in key leadership positions in business, the government and on boards. We need to engage those from many perspectives and backgrounds to better solve the complex issues we face. Diversity of perspectives enriches dialogue, builds empathy, and leads to better, more just decisions. Women leaders are an important resource for diversifying perspectives.

Q: As the first undergraduate woman to serve as EC president, what would you say to encourage women at W&L today to get involved in student government?
There are many unique opportunities at W&L, but the self-run student government was such an amazing gift that I didn’t even realize at the time. It really prepared me for life in the working world post-graduation. It taught me many lessons that I feel shaped my professional career, and even how I’m raising my three daughters.

I encourage women to get involved in anything at W&L. Take advantage of all of the enriching programs W&L offers. You will never be able to experience college again, and being at W&L is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Q: You have supported W&L generously over the years, including being a member of The President’s Society, which recognizes leadership giving to the Annual Fund. Can you share your reasons for supporting W&L? What is most meaningful to you regarding the positive impact you are making?
W&L taught me so much — academically, personally, and professionally. It set me up for success. Everyone on campus genuinely cared, from the administration and professors to security staff and the grounds crew. What a gift and blessing it was, those four years we spent on campus. So much so that my husband, Ansel, and I want to pass it on to future generations. And one of the ways to ensure W&L stays the special place we remember is to support it financially. There are other ways to show your support if financial donations are not feasible; you can volunteer with your local alumni chapter, attend special events on campus, or spread your love of W&L to potential students, just to name a few.

Q: What would you like to emphasize to fellow W&L alumni and friends when it comes to giving to the University?
All gifts matter — big or small. Stay involved, visit campus, reconnect with past professors and friends. There is that warm feeling we all get when we walk along the Colonnade. Let’s ensure we pass it on.