In January, Jane Higa announced she would retire from Westmont Aug. 31 after serving for 24 years as vice president and dean of students. She went on medical leave when physicians at UCLA Medical Center diagnosed her with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease earlier in March.
“Jane has touched many lives and inspired countless students,” says President Gayle D. Beebe. “With her strong yet graceful leadership and wisdom, Jane has developed a remarkable student life program that enhances both the college’s academic and co-curricular activities. We’re grateful for her legacy, but we will miss her presence and work with us. We will be praying for her as she deals with this difficult disease.”
In June 2011, the Association for Christians in Student Development (ACSD) gave Higa its first Jane Hideko Higa Multicultural Advancement Award. The ACSD Diversity Task Force created the award to recognize individuals doing excellent work in advancing multicultural competency and named it in Higa’s honor.
Higa graduated from Westmont in 1973 and earned a Master of Science degree from USC. In the 1980s, she served for seven years as dean for student affairs and two years as dean of women at Biola University, where she met Mark Sargent, Westmont’s provost. He says Higa is deeply respected throughout Christian higher education as someone who builds bridges between the academic and student life programs.
“She has a unique capacity to draw people into conversation about the essential things, and you leave every conversation with Jane knowing that she cares about you and your hopes and ideas,” Sargent says. “At a time when student life and academic life were drifting into separate professional spheres in Christian higher education, Jane was a persistent voice for the possibilities of partnership. Her vision for that partnership was not simply programmatic: her collaboration was always rooted in a love of ideas, of people, and of possibilities.”
Higa received the ACSD’s prestigious Don L. Boender Award in 1998 and has served on the ACSD executive committee as both vice president and president-elect, spoken at numerous conferences, chaired the planning team for the annual conference and recently served as the chair of the diversity task force. She has been active in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) as former chair of the Commission of Chief Student Development Officers and as a member of the Racial Harmony Commission.
Barry Loy, vice president for student life at Gordon College, has worked with Higa for about 30 years through ACSD and CCCU. He says she often provides wisdom and advice on a multitude of student life topics for her colleagues from other schools. “Her faith is authentic and contagious,” Loy says. “She is a tireless worker for God’s Kingdom, her family, student development and Westmont. She continues to be an inspiration to me. I’ve especially been strengthened in my own faith and work by watching Jane deal with the ups and downs of life. She is a kind and gracious person always willing to listen and put others before herself. Jane’s retirement from the profession is a great loss, but she has and will continue to inspire many others to follow in her footsteps.”
Mary Docter, Westmont professor of modern languages, remembers meeting Higa during her Westmont interview in 1992. “I was initially struck by Jane’s warmth and hospitality, as she welcomed me into her office and into our community with a wide, gracious smile that still seems to accompany her wherever she goes,” Docter says. “As we chatted together, I saw a woman of vision and passion, of wisdom and humility, a woman of deep and abiding faith. Jane inspires me with her passion for the mission of the Christian liberal arts and Westmont College, something she articulates beautifully and personally. It lives in every fiber of her being. I’m inspired by her desire to appreciate all the good we do, yet to always strive to do better, to be better.”
Docter says she recently thought about Jane during a sermon about the fruit of the spirit. “Jane embodies love, joy and peace,” she says. “She is kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. Jane Higa belongs to Christ; she lives by the spirit. She is a blessing to all who know her, and I am grateful for her presence at Westmont and in our lives.”
Kristin Lo, president of the Westmont College Student Association and former multi-cultural representative to the WCSA, has treasured her friendship with Higa. “The best part of my education at Westmont has been the mentorship by my professors in the communication studies department and the building of wonderful relationships through the WCSA with people like Jane Higa.”
Beebe, who will begin a national search to replace Higa in the fall, encourages those who wish to communicate with Jane and her fiancé Jim Mannoia, to please send messages to Tiffany Lobner (firstname.lastname@example.org). The college will soon announce an interim vice president and dean of students.