There’s more to Dr. Susan West, Belmont University’s vice president and chief of staff, than an office in Freeman Hall and a nameplate.
It may be odd or even awkward to some to see professors outside the classroom. Whether it’s in the gym, in the grocery store or at a restaurant, Belmont’s faculty and staff have just as much of a life outside Belmont as anyone else.
“I’m a real person with real emotions,” West said. “I’m really easy to talk to. My favorite outfit is just sweats or some grungy jeans and a shirt. Just run my fingers through my hair and then go. That’s who I am.”
During the day, she’s on a rigorous schedule riddled with meetings, events and people to talk to on Belmont’s campus. While she loves her work and enjoys every bit of it, there’s a part of her that also enjoys trading out the skirt for a pair of sweatpants and just seeing where the day takes her.
“When I’m at work, I’m governed by a schedule,” she said. “Not having an agenda is so freeing to me when I have that time. I don’t want to be anywhere, I don’t even want to make a decision about what I eat. I make decisions all day, Monday through Friday.”
Born in Nashville, West grew up in the area and has been in the South – and Tennessee – for the majority of her life. The only time she lived elsewhere was when she married her husband of 35 years and went to Western Kentucky University to get her master’s degree.
“Then we moved back here, I think in ‘86. We moved back to Nashville and several years later went to Vanderbilt for my doctorate,” she said. “I’m a southern girl.”
That’s not to say she doesn’t travel — it’s one of her favorite things to do. One of her ultimate goals is to visit Napa Valley in California, but a couple places she’s already been stand out to her. Inside the U.S. borders, New York City holds a special place in her memories.
“It resonates with me. The first time I went, to be able to put all of that in perspective was great,” West said.
Abroad, however, it’s a trip from her early days – her trip to Madrid, Spain – that really made an impact on her lifestyle.
“Beautiful, beautiful countryside. I went there very early on in my life – probably before I even started Belmont. I like the siestas in the afternoon – do whatever it is you want to do,” she said. “You can get some type of focus, ‘if I can make it until siesta time.’ And then they come back in, and it’s almost as if they got their second wind.”
The atmosphere in Madrid was something West loved, and she makes sure to use aspects of that in her life back in Nashville – whether through massages, working out or visiting her family.
“I did a lot of cardio for several years, but now I’m into weightlifting. And I really like it. I’ve been weightlifting for about a year and a half, two years,” she said. “I always make sure I take the time to take the pressure off my brain and put it on my body, and vice versa.”
With that kind of mindset, it’s no wonder West loves to be outdoors and enjoy the state parks of Nashville.
“Long Hunters Park, we do some walking there. Cedar Lebanon Park, Fall Creek Falls. We like Percy Warner. Just where you can actually experience God’s natural beauty,” she said. “If it’s a nice weekend where I can get outside, even if it’s cold, I like to go out there.”
West is also extremely fond of her granddaughters, twins who live nearby and make monthly visits to West and her husband. Both of West’s children graduated from Belmont, leaving them with an empty house. Because of that, the twins dictate the schedule when they visit – no questions asked, West said.
“They’re girly girls. They like to do girly girl stuff. And I’m a girly girl, too. I’ll let them have a spa day at home, and we do manis and pedis.” West said.
Most importantly, outside of Belmont, West goes by ‘Grammy.’ She takes the role very seriously.
“I’m a two-time Grammy award winner. I’ve got twin grandbabies,” she said. “I’m thankful I have the time to spend with them and also have the energy for the time they’re there. Now ask me after they leave – it takes us a couple of days to recuperate.”
Even outside of Belmont, helping others holds a deep importance to West. Whether it’s helping through making education more accessible or helping the homeless, West wants the improve the lives of others as much as possible.
“I serve on several boards as it pertains to education and ensuring everyone has the accessibility to a quality education. In my opinion, education is the great equalizer,” she said. “I’m also passionate about helping those who have health concerns or health issues and they’re not able to get the proper health care that they need.”
West holds positions on the St. Thomas Health Board and the Habitat for Humanity Board — both of which remind her it doesn’t take a trip overseas to be of help. She believes the improvements can start right here in Nashville.
“I think I’m going to hopefully make a great impact. Mission trips are great, but we have a mission field right here as well,” West said. “I’m always looking for ways to enhance the lives of individuals. I’ve been blessed, and I believe to whom which is given, much is required.”
West lives her life by knowing the importance of owning your own uniqueness and understanding and appreciating the uniqueness of others. Her own personal experiences led to her embracing her personality — something she wants Belmont students to also understand.
“I like to live in the moment, so I have to be myself. I need to celebrate me. I don’t have to wear a suit every day – you don’t have to compromise your uniqueness to be effective in the position you’ve been blessed with,” West said. “And I always want to remember that.”
Video courtesy of Dr. Susan West. Photo courtesy of Belmont University.