Alumni Profile • Terri Harris Reed '89
Mother's advice follows Princeton administrator

Terri Harris Reed (photo: Office of Communications, Princeton University)Growing up in a single-parent home in the inner city of Philadelphia, Terri Harris Reed ’89 and her four sisters were expected to do well in school. “Although our mother hadn’t gone to college, she made sure we took advantage of every academic opportunity that came our way, whether we thought it was a good idea or not,” Reed remembered. “We didn’t always understand it, but her message was loud and clear — education matters.”

Reed now has a personal and professional understanding of the value of education; she moved directly from being a college student into college administration, and in August she was named associate provost for institutional equity at Princeton University.

“For me, education was a way out, a leg up,” Reed said. “So it has been especially rewarding that increasing access to higher education, often for people who may not even know what questions to ask to gain access, has been a central part of my career.”

Reed counts herself as one of those who didn’t know what questions to ask. At a national college fair in Philadelphia, Reed was introduced to Calvin by admissions officer Nancy Westra. Throughout the admissions process, she hadn’t thought to ask what percentage of the Calvin student body was African American. Arriving on campus, she was shocked to find so few minority students.

When the weight of white Reformed assumptions got to be too much, Reed blew off steam in the office of then–admissions director Pete Harkema. “He’d let me vent, and then he’d say, ‘You want to go home for dinner?’ During one of our many conversations about my take on Calvin’s problems, Pete challenged me to join his staff.”

Thus Reed became Calvin’s first minority admissions counselor, working part time while still a student, then, after her senior year, full time. She was part of the team that initiated Entrada, Calvin’s summer academic program for minority high schoolers. While recruiting for Calvin, Reed made plain the questions — especially questions about identity — that minority kids needed to ask before considering the school.

Her work got noticed. Oberlin College hired her to coordinate its minority recruitment efforts, as did the Office of Graduate Affairs and the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Soon after earning a master’s degree at Harvard, she moved, in 1995, to the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs.

Reed admits she has done little to plan or pursue the paths her career has taken, attributing her success, instead, to God’s hand on her life: “In some areas I may not have a lot of faith, but in my professional life I’ve seen God open doors, even when I didn’t think it was time for a move.”

The door to Princeton is the latest case in point. As Princeton’s affirmative action officer, she’s tasked with overseeing the implementation of the school’s equal opportunity policy and its commitment to diversity.

Though her passion to live out — and make it possible for others like her to live out — her mother’s message is still intense, Reed said she no longer gets too frustrated at how slowly institutions change. “I realize incremental changes do make a difference. Some plant; others water. I may not ever see the oak tree. But that’s OK. It’s not about me.”