Pierson Head of College Stephen Davis to step down after 10 years
The Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies will step down from his role as the head of Pierson College in the coming spring after a decade-long tenure in the position.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Stephen Davis GRD ’98 announced to the Pierson College community that he would be stepping down as Head of College at the end of this semester. His decision comes at the end of his second five-year term as head.
In his email to Piersonites, Davis described his current position as “the most fulfilling experience of my professional career.” He looked back on the past decade’s Infernos, Silent Study Breaks and Friday Night Game Nights — one of which lasted until 3:30 am — as “labors of love.”
“We have made a concerted effort to make the house we live in … a home-away-from-home for everyone in the college,” Davis told the News.
Davis and his wife, Jenny Davis — the director of supervised ministries at the Divinity School — currently reside in the Leitner House with their dogs, Josie and Cairo.
He wrote of the “amazing” Pierson fellows and students he has grown to love, and the “myriad of everyday encounters that were transformed into something truly extraordinary” because of them.
Piersonite Frances Keohane ’25 described Davis, who she affectionately referred to as “Dr. D,” as a beloved and involved Head of College. She mentioned the couple’s dogs welcoming her back to Pierson after a long day of classes, Jenny’s fresh-baked cookies and looking forward to Davis’s weekly Pierson emails.
Davis told the News that he set three main priorities when he became head: the promotion of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; the promotion of partnerships in the arts; and the deepening of the college’s relationship with the wider community of New Haven.
As his term continued, Davis found a new goal to set his sights on: environmental sustainability on campus. Under his lead, Pierson began a Carbon Charge Pilot Program that the University adapted into a larger initiative later on.
“It is safe to say that Dr. Davis has sought to shape Pierson into a caring, inclusive community,” wrote Burgwell J. Howard, associate vice president of student life and dean of student engagement.
He mentioned Dr. Davis’s eschewing of the title “Master” in favor of “Head” of College. In fact, Davis was chair of the Council of Heads of College when this change took place, and he led the charge for it via public advocacy. The change was made for all colleges in 2016.
Davis also mentioned an ongoing effort to partner more closely with cultural centers on campus. He additionally spearheaded a close partnership with New Haven Promise, a scholarship and support group for New Haven’s public school students.
Beyond his engagement with the broader Yale community, Davis remained attentive to the internal dynamics of Pierson throughout his time as head.
“He and Associate HOC Jennifer Davis ably led Pierson through a very difficult time period, featuring global pandemics and tumultuous politics,” wrote Miraj Desai, an assistant professor at the School of Medicine and a Pierson Fellow. “Their steadfast leadership and support helped so many to endure and thrive in the face of both.”
Desai noted that he always felt welcomed by the Davises, and that he had cherished his time with them at Pierson.
Tanya Wiedeking, the assistant director for the Planetary Solution’s Project in the Provost’s Office and Pierson fellow, said of Davis, “Creating community is his superpower!” She recalled him caring for the college with attention and kindness.
Though Davis appreciates that his tenure at Pierson has come to a natural end, he leaves it with sincere fondness.
“What we will miss most about Pierson is the people, and the opportunity to co-create an ethos of hospitality and welcome, in which every single member of the community—students, staff, and fellows alike—is recognized and honored as a person of inestimable worth,” he wrote to the News. “For us, that is what has inspired the most joy, and that is what we’ll undoubtedly miss most after our work is concluded here.”
Davis signs his emails with a lowercase “peace, Dr. D,” and when asked about important coworkers and collaborators during his time as head, provided no less than 18 names.