Sarah Lawrence College mourns the loss of Regina Arnold, associate dean of studies and longtime sociology faculty member, who died on Thursday, February 16.
Arnold came to Sarah Lawrence as a sociology faculty member in 1979, and became acting dean of student affairs in 2000 and associate dean of studies in 2001. Her research and teaching focused on the intersections of race, class and gender in contemporary American society, and particularly on how these issues play out within the criminal justice system.
"A staunch advocate of experiential learning, Dr. Arnold was noted for her ability to engage students in dialogue and to help them to design meaningful research projects," said Barbara Kaplan, dean of the College and Arnold’s colleague for nearly three decades. "She inspired and advanced the College’s program of field work and service learning."
Arnold believed strongly in the value of community service, both as a social responsibility and as a means to get a deeper understanding of the world. Her efforts to forge connections between Sarah Lawrence and the local community made a lasting impact on the College. As the inaugural holder of the Sara Yates Exley Chair in Teaching Excellence at SLC, Arnold helped found the College’s service learning program, in which students combine community service with classroom studies, in 1996.
Her sociology class, “Crimes and Deviance: Theory and Reality,” was the first service learning course at the school. In addition to their coursework, students earned credit for working in local jails, with the department of probation, and with social workers in family court.
It’s one thing to read all the theories. It’s another to work in the jails… and see how things really work,” Arnold once said of the program.
Along with faculty members Myra Goldberg and Kathleen Hill, Arnold also founded the Right to Write program in 1994. Through this collaboration with the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla, students from Sarah Lawrence lead writing workshops with inmates, using the same intimate, round-table discussion style for which the College is known. Arnold also organized “Conversations among Women,” a popular discussion series at the jail, in which SLC faculty led discussions on various academic topics.
Arnold first became interested in the criminal justice system as a graduate student in the 1970s, when she worked at the Coalition of Concerned Black Americans on a study about the experience of African American and Latino judges in New York City. She went on to volunteer and work at a women’s prison in East Elmhurst, N.Y., where she conducted workshops and discussion groups with the inmates. On one occasion, she arranged for James Baldwin to come speak to the inmates. Arnold used her experiences in the prison as the basis of her dissertation on the self-esteem of incarcerated women of color.
Arnold grew up in Philadelphia and in South Carolina. She received her B.S. from Drexel University and her Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr. She taught at Hofstra University before coming to Sarah Lawrence in 1979. In 1993 she received a Teaching Excellence Award from the Independent College Fund of New York for her resourcefulness and leadership as an educator. She was awarded Drexel University’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to the Community in 1996.
Sarah Lawrence College announced just this month that a scholarship endowment gift of $1 million had been made in Regina Arnold’s honor. The funds will create full scholarships for two students enrolled in the College’s Art of Teaching master’s program.
"Regina was a deeply loved and admired member of the College community," Kaplan said. “The integrity and strength that characterized her life continued to define her even as she approached her death."