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As head of Branford College Elizabeth Bradley prepares to leave Yale for Vassar College at the end of this academic year, current and former Branford students reflected on Bradley’s leadership, calling her an “incredible” head of college who was dedicated to the community she oversaw.
Bradley was appointed head of Branford College in 2011, succeeding political science professor Steven Smith, who held the position since 1996. In a Jan. 11 email to members of the Yale community, University President Peter Salovey announced that Bradley will leave Yale in July to serve as the president of Vassar College.
“Bradley is a pillar of the Branford community,” said Justin Schuster ’15, a former Branford student. “One could easily speak to her leadership across so many facets of college life, fostering the community that is Branford College. For me, [Professor] Bradley has meant so much more than being a head of college; she was a role model by the strength and genuineness of her character and her unyielding commitment to her community.”
In addition to her role as Branford head, Bradley, a professor of public health, serves as director of the Grand Strategy Program and faculty director of the Global Health Leadership Institute.
Johnathan Terry ’17, the chief Branford aide for 201, said that despite being an incredibly accomplished member of the community, Bradley manages to remain approachable and has made Branford feel like home.
“From the big things, like inviting students over to talk to [cracking] the occasional joke with the Branford aides sitting around in her living room … I think she’s been fantastic,” Terry said. “For me she has been everything that I would have hoped a head would be.”
Terry added that Bradley has been highly sensitive to students’ concerns.
In particular, Stephen Blum ’74, a Branford resident fellow and the senior director of strategic initiatives at the Association of Yale Alumni, cited Bradley’s efforts to establish the Branford Tea room — a technology-free zone that holds regular gatherings. Blum said that the space — a “wonderful and slightly abstract idea when it was created” -— became incredibly important in fall 2015, when racial protests swept the campus. According to Blum, Bradley opened the tea room to the entire community and was among the very first at Yale to create a space where people could talk openly about their troubles.
In addition to establishing the tea room, Bradley has been praised for her contributions to strengthening the graduate affiliates program at Branford, overseeing the refurbishment of the pottery and art rooms, and leading the college to an undefeated intramural squash season in 2012, according to Salovey’s Jan. 11 email. In fact, Blum said Bradley tries to make the time to play for the Branford intramural squash team, adding that when she does, it is unusual for the team to lose.
“She is a dynamo — she is just full of energy,” Blum said. “You’ll find her in the basement gym at Branford at 10 o’clock at night and often that’s not all she’s doing. While she’s doing her exercise, she’s talking to someone from Grand Strategy. That’s Betsy Bradley.”
Bradley said she was honored to have led Branford, which she called the most beautiful residential college at Yale. Although she knew that taking on the position meant additional responsibilities and less time for research, Bradley said she was eager to be part of building a strong community of undergraduates.
Bradley said has enjoyed learning something new every day during her tenure as head of Branford. She described her students as “infinitely interesting,” adding that they have taught her about contemporary diversity, the importance of listening, the role of leadership and the capacity of community to transform lives.
“The fellows of Branford also have been a delight to work with — their commitment and support has made the job a lot easier than it would have been; I have never felt alone in the challenges that emerge,” Bradley said. “I have also enjoyed my collaborations with our fabulous Dean [Sarah] Insley and the staff at Branford, and my peers on the Council of Heads of College. We have shared some good laughs and also deep sorrows together, and I will not forget them.”
Her fondest memories of the college include throwing a baseball with her son in the Branford courtyard, seeing students playing there or walking to dinner, having James Rothman ’71 — a Branford fellow and professor of biomedical sciences — win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2013 and concocting April fools’ emails.
Insley, the dean of Branford College, said it is has been a privilege to work with Bradley, adding that she is a “passionate community builder and strong leader.”
“Though I will miss her terribly, both as a colleague and as a friend, this is such a great opportunity, both for her and for Vassar College, and the Branford community is so proud that she is taking on this role,” Insley said.