Dr. Anita Gustafson advocates for the value of a liberal arts education | Women Who Lead

Anita Gustafson sits on a bench
Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson

This Women’s History Month, The Den is celebrating some of Mercer University‘s top leaders — our female deans. Eight of Mercer’s 12 schools and colleges are led by women, and we are highlighting each of these deans on separate days throughout March. Today, we spotlight Dr. Anita Gustafson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Anita Gustafson

How long have you worked at Mercer?
I am in my sixth year as dean, starting in July of 2016. I also hold the rank of professor of history.

What was your career path to become dean?
I earned my Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and I have spent my career working in liberal arts colleges and promoting the importance of the liberal arts. I have also combined teaching and administrative roles throughout my career. I have worked as the director of the Center for Scandinavian Studies (North Park University, Chicago, Illinois) and the director of the Converse College Program for Adult Women (Spartanburg, South Carolina). I joined the history faculty of Presbyterian College (Clinton, South Carolina) in 1997, ultimately reaching the rank of professor of history. I also took on administrative roles at Presbyterian as history department chair, chair of the Senior Faculty Council, dean of Academic Programs, and for two and a half years, interim provost. I left Presbyterian to take on my present role as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Mercer.

What do you enjoy most about being dean?
I love the variety that the job offers. No two days are the same! I also appreciate the opportunity to support faculty members in their varied roles, particularly in their work with our students. Our faculty are, above all else, excellent teachers, and I appreciate their devotion to Mercer students. I also believe I play an important role in advocating for the value of a liberal arts education as it transforms the lives of our students and prepares them for lives of leadership and service after graduation.

What in your academic field are you most passionate about?
I love reading documents from the past and imagining the lives people have lived. Stories from the past provide building blocks for the present. For example, at Mercer, I teaching the course “History of American Women,” where we trace the expanding roles of women in America. It hasn’t always been a straight path of progress, nor is it a finished story. Learning about that path adds an important perspective on women’s and men’s lives today. In addition, I have published a book on the Swedish immigrant community in Chicago (“Swedish Chicago”), and I have written articles on the American tour of the mid-19th century Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind.

What advice would you give to future women leaders?
If a new and more expansive opportunity comes your way, don’t be afraid to take it. Remember that you belong in the room and your voice is important.


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