HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) – Firsts come naturally to Rust College President Ivy R. Taylor.
The Queens, New York, native is not only the ﬁrst female president of the historically Black liberal arts college, during her time in politics she became San Antonio’s ﬁrst Black mayor and second female mayor.
“I just feel blessed to have the opportunity to serve and also to inspire young women that they can be and do whatever they aspire to be and do,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s journey from politician to college president was years in the making. Her parents had roots in the South, moving north in the 1960s for better opportunities. Growing up in New York, Taylor didn’t know any historically Black colleges and universities besides the ﬁctional ones she would see on TV. She attended Yale University, working a few dead-end corporate jobs in Queens after graduation.
It was only after returning to school, this time to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when Taylor discovered her new focus: urban planning, with a particular focus on affordable housing.
TAYLOR TO TEXAS
She met her husband Rodney in San Antonio during a summer job, and later moved to there to start her career, working as a city employee. She would go on to serve as vice president of Merced Housing Texas, an affordable housing agency; work for the San Antonio Planning Commission and then as a commissioner for the San Antonio Urban Renewal Agency. She also worked six years at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a lecturer in Public Administration.
“I was kind of frustrated at the lack of commitment to the inner city and lack of innovation in creating programming or using resources to help those that need it most,” Taylor said.
Some community members suggested she run for city council. While she was ﬁrst uncertain about ﬁtting “into a political mold,” Taylor said the more she considered it, the more she thought it was a great opportunity. In 2009, she ran for city council for the ﬁrst time, eking out a razor thin, 54vote win in a runoff.
Taylor deﬁnes her time as councilwoman as one where she spearheaded revitalization efforts that led to an investment of more than $50 million in grants to the Eastside and other projects that continue even now.
MAYOR TO RUST
When Julian Castro resigned as mayor to serve as the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 2014, the San Antonio City Council appointed Taylor as interim mayor for a year, making her the ﬁrst African American to serve as San Antonio’s mayor and San Antonio’s second female mayor since Lila Cockrell.
She won election to a full two-year term in 2015. Taylor listed her mayoral accomplishments as creating a comprehensive plan for the city, successfully negotiating a new contract with the police union and approval of the Vista Ridge water pipeline. For Taylor, being mayor was challenging because of the vast scope of the job.
“From the logistical standpoint of me understanding the processes and how city government ran, that part was easy; the hard part was just suddenly, I had to be everywhere,” Taylor said. “As mayor, you’re responsible to the entire city, and basically you know that you’re never going to make everyone happy, and so it’s a process of coming to that realization.”
As mayor, she also joined the Board of Trustees of an HBCU in Texas, which sparked a focus and passion on HBCUs. After losing re-election in 2017, she took it as a sign to pursue her newly discovered passion further. At 48, she decided to pursue a doctorate in higher education management at the University of Pennsylvania, making her focus on HBCUs.
After graduating in 2020, she learned of the opportunity to serve as president of Rust College. A self-identiﬁed history buff, Taylor was fascinated by Rust College’s history as one of the early HBCUs in the country, so she applied and was selected for the position.
“As someone who feels blessed and wants to have the opportunity to give back, I really saw working at an HBCU as a platform that would allow me to assist more people,” Taylor said.
IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT
She’s grateful to her husband and daughter, Morgan, for making the transition possible. While COVID-19 has kept her from the full presidential experience, Taylor is excited for the opportunity to engage with the community and show the place Rust College holds in Holly Springs and the Memphis area.
“Because we’re in a small community and this is kind of an anchor institution, I hope to also make an impact on Holly Springs and how people view this community, that it would be a desirable place to live and to visit. And I think through making improvements at Rust and also partnering with leadership here in Holly Springs, that we can achieve that together,” Taylor said. Taylor wants to celebrate the legacy Rust College has. While one of their most famous attendees is Ida B. WellsBarnett, a prominent investigative journalist and early civil rights leader who in 2020 posthumously received a Pulitzer Prize special citation for her reporting on lynchings, Rust College also has created many teachers, preachers and community leaders, Taylor said.
Training teachers was especially important in the early years post-Civil War, as those teachers could then go into other communities and enlighten others. It’s a history Taylor believes Rust College should return to support Black and brown students in public schools.
The current focus is keeping everyone safe while providing as normal of an experience as they can and starting a strategic planning progress.
“More than anything, (I’m) just looking forward to continuing to provide the launching platform for the young people that come through here with stars in their eyes thinking about their future,” Taylor said.