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‘Fearless’ leader Jennifer Ho working to make systemic change at CU Boulder



Being the first is never easy.

But for Jennifer Ho, it’s something she’s gotten used to and even embraced to achieve her goals and make lasting change.

Ho is the first non-male and non-white person to direct the Center for Humanities and the Arts at the University of Colorado Boulder. She was also the first Asian American hired at her previous position in the English department at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to teach Asian American Studies, which had never been taught there before.

“It’s not unusual for me to walk into a room and oftentimes be the only — fill in the blank — the only woman, the only non-white person, the only Asian person,” Ho said.

She said she took theCHA director role because she wants to make change in combating racism and advocating for the humanities and arts.

“I would like to make change, and in order to make change you have to be able to have influence, which means holding leadership positions,” Ho said.

Colleague Erika Randall said Ho is a fearless leader who holds high standards for herself and others while being deeply caring. Randall said when her mother passed away, Ho was immediately there for her, asking to take a walk and about what food she could bring over.

“That capacity for care is not just part of her politic of making change, it’s who she really is,” Randall said.

Julia Shizuyo Popham, who’s worked with Ho as she pursues her Ph.D. in ethnic studies, also said Ho is extremely caring and treats her like an equal.

“Jennifer is truly one of the best bosses I ever had because she is very direct and has a clear vision and is also incredibly compassionate and generous,” Popham said. “She takes care of people beyond just the workplace and her official responsibilities. I feel like she really cares about me as a person.”

Since beginning her position in 2019, Ho said she’s focused on advocating for arts and humanities to get greater recognition and funding.

“I think my role as the director of the center for arts and humanities, first and foremost, is to promote and support arts and humanities and to be an advocate very loudly in whatever university spaces that I enter into,” Ho said.

Randall said Ho is unafraid to put her voice out there and has attended every leadership meeting possible.

“One of the things that’s been so powerful about Jennifer is she’s been in all the leadership meetings fearlessly speaking up and holding space,” Randall said.

Because of her background and passion in ethnic studies, Ho also takes on projects as the director of the CHA that educate people about racism, specifically against Asian Americans, and encourages conversations surrounding race and racism.

“That’s what being on a university campus means. We shouldn’t be afraid to have conversations about hard topics, and I believe that the arts and humanities are critical to that kind of ‘let’s have a hard conversation’ (mentality),” Ho said.

Paul Sutter, professor of history, was a co-chair on the committee that hired Ho. He said they were looking for someone who can talk about cultural issues and who has a vision for the role.

“She had a really dynamic one, one that I think brought some life to our center,” Sutter said.

Part of that vision for Ho included more programming, building partnerships, supporting faculty scholarship, increasing visibility of the CHA and its work and addressing cultural issues.

By doing so, Ho has become a leader that the campus needed and an inspiration to women, Randall said, including in Randall’s own life.

“Jennifer has really empowered me to trust my gut and my intellect, and as a woman of Asian descent, that is something that’s not emphasized for many of us,” Popham said. “So it has been extremely encouraging and liberating to work with Jennifer.”

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