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Dr. Elsa Núñez, the first Latina university president in New England, announces retirement

Elsa M. Núñez, the sixth president of Eastern Connecticut State University, is retiring after 18 years.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Elsa M. Núñez, the sixth president of Eastern Connecticut State University, is retiring after 18 years.

Dr. Elsa Núñez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University, is retiring from her position after 18 years at the university. Dr. Nunez began her presidency in 2006 and will support the university as it transitions to new leadership.

Born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, Dr. Núñez is the first Latina to serve as a university president in New England. She is credited with making the opportunity to attend college more accessible to students of color and those from marginalized backgrounds who may be the first in their family to attend college.

“I was told by my teachers in my Catholic high school that I was not going to get into college. I think they were biased. They just saw me as a poor Puerto Rican girl,” Núñez said. “So they were shocked that I had gotten into every college I applied to.”

Dr. Núñez worked diligently to create a campus environment that supports students from different backgrounds. During her tenure she made it possible for Eastern to have the most faculty of color of any university in Connecticut.

Dr. Núñez said she wanted to make sure her administration reflected the student body, so they could better understand and address the needs of their students.

She recalled the difficult time she had navigating graduate school as a person of color.

“You were on your own,” Núñez said. “People today don’t realize how hard it was for young people in those days to break down barriers and be the first.”

In 2010, Dr. Núñez created University Opportunity Programs through Hartford Public Schools and Quinebaug Valley Community College where students who are first generation, low-income, or undocumented, can attend Quinebaug but live in Eastern dorms and eventually get the chance to transfer there after a semester, depending on their grades.

Dr. Nunez said the program allows students from Hartford a chance to leave their communities and experience going to college.

Under Dr. Núñez’s leadership, the graduation rate among Latinos who received their degrees from a four-year university improved. More than 1,200 students have graduated through the program.

Dr. Núñez accomplished many benchmarks throughout her tenure as president. Eastern recently achieved the highest four-year graduation rate in the history of the university, the college has the highest six-year graduation rate among Connecticut’s state universities and it has been ranked in the top 20 among public regional universities in the North by U.S. News and World Report.

“I remember the first time I uttered to someone, I think I want to be a college teacher. They laughed at me. To them it was ridiculous that a person, a girl of color, would have that aspiration. And in a way, I’m glad I thought beyond my boundaries” she said.

Following her retirement at Eastern, Dr. Núñez will be teaching her books “Pursuing Diversity” and “Hanging Out and Hanging On: From the Projects to the Campus” at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

This story has been updated.

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.