Alexa Hulse ’24 Discovers Her GWS Major and Magazine Internship Are “The Perfect Fit”

When Alexa Hulse ’24 enrolled at Hollins, focusing on gender and women’s studies (GWS) “was not on my radar. I thought I was going to major in English or French or both.” That all changed when she took Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa’s first-year seminar course on distinguished author and social activist bell hooks.

For the first time, Hulse recalls, “I was exposed to feminist theory. I liked what I was learning, so I kept taking GWS classes. It just fit, the way Hollins did.”

Since the beginning of her sophomore year, Hulse has enjoyed another good match: an internship with Lilith, a New York-based Jewish feminist magazine that’s been published quarterly since 1976. Together, her major and her internship have been instrumental in her personal and scholarly growth.

“GWS has been wonderful,” Hulse says, noting that she has taken the majority of her major courses with Costa, who is also her advisor. “Her classes are definitely challenging, but I feel like my brain expands when I’m taking them. The discussions and readings are enriching.”

One of the advantages of her major, Hulse explains, is that “there are so many classes at Hollins that are cross listed with GWS. That means I get to learn from a lot of other disciplines. Right now, I’m taking my first political science class. It’s given me a new perspective on the world. How I see things now is different as a result of the knowledge I’ve gained from these classes.”

Before Fall Term 2021, Hulse began researching internship opportunities and reached out to jGirls+ Magazine, whose readership is Jewish girls and teens. jGirls+ had published several of Hulse’s poems when she was in high school and she had developed strong ties with Elizabeth Mandel, the magazine’s executive director. Unfortunately, there were no openings, but Mandel suggested that Hulse contact Lilith, which was seeking an intern. “I had no idea what Lilith was at the time, but I looked it up and thought, ‘Wow, this seems like the perfect fit for me.’ I interviewed with them, started that fall, and have been there ever since.”

During a period that is now approaching two years, Hulse has conducted interviews and written news and blog posts. She has been encouraged to develop and pitch her own story ideas, and she’s written profiles of Los Angeles-based poet Rhiannon McGavin and Mindy Abovitz Monk, creator of Tom Tom magazine, which focuses on female and gender non-conforming drummers, percussionists, and beat-makers worldwide.

Considering everything she loves about Lilith, Hulse cites the fact that “it’s not only a feminist magazine but also a feminist workplace. They treat me as an equal even though I’m an intern. They’ve been supportive throughout and helped me make the connections that I needed.”

One of those connections was with Evelyn Torton Beck, a founding member of the Jewish lesbian feminist collective Di Vilde Chayes; editor of Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology; a catalyst in developing the women’s studies program at the University of Maryland, College Park; and a longtime Lilith writer. Hulse and Beck engaged in a wide-ranging and enlightening discussion that resulted in a two-part series published in Lilith in late January: In “Looking Back: Jewish Lesbians Connect Across Generations,” Beck answers Hulse’s questions; “Looking Forward: Jewish Lesbians Connect Across Generations” features Beck interviewing Hulse.

“It was a meaningful conversation,” Hulse says. “I wanted to do the interview because there was not a lot of information out there about Evelyn or her work. I discovered the power of learning that history and documenting it so it isn’t lost.”

In addition, Hulse states that she benefited from “connecting with someone who shares both a queer identity and a Jewish identity. It’s hard to find elder people here in either identity category, so I thought it would be cool to share our perspectives with one another. We are separated in age by about 60 years, but we’re navigating the same questions of identity in the same communities and seeing how that has evolved.”

Hulse notes that what she has learned in GWS has contributed to what she has accomplished in her internship, and vice versa. “A lot of what I’m thinking about in my classes, I’m also thinking about in my work. In terms of what I have to offer Lilith, the insights I have from those classes are valuable. Dr. Costa’s Girlhood Studies course informed what I was interested in exploring when I started my internship. And in my Spiritual Activism class, also with Dr. Costa, I wrote about keeping Shabbat over the course of a semester. I interviewed some of my coworkers about their experiences with the Sabbath and intentional rest. My major and my internship mutually support each other.”

Along with her work at Lilith (she is currently in the process of updating the magazine’s digital archives, “a massive project but I enjoy doing it”), Hulse has several goals she’d like to achieve at Hollins before graduating in 2024. One of her biggest aspirations is to revitalize the university’s Jewish Student Alliance.

“Jewish students should have greater community and spaces to be with each other on campus. I also would like to see more resources and support from the institution for Jewish students: more Jewish faculty, more Jewish books in the library, and more Jewish awareness, in whatever form that might be,” she says.

Hulse believes students, faculty, administration, and alumnae/i can further strengthen the work that’s underway to rebuild community in the pandemic’s aftermath. “Students and faculty have really great ideas as to what they want to see for Hollins, but it’s hard for students to do that without faculty support and it’s hard for faculty without student engagement. Bridging that is important.”

Her specific advice to students, whether they are incoming or already at Hollins, is, “Don’t be afraid to make connections. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish here, and I know a lot of that is because I’ve reached out to people. It wouldn’t have happened except for that.”

Hulse plans to continue with her internship at least through the summer and is preparing to begin work on her senior thesis. “I don’t know what it’s going to be, maybe a zine exploring a particular topic, but there’s going to be a photography element. I love working in the dark room so I’m going to find a way to incorporate that.”

After completing her studies at Hollins, Hulse eventually plans to attend graduate school “for gender and women’s studies or to get my master’s degree in Jewish studies through rabbinical school. I know that I want to be a Jewish professional of some sort and I’d like to work in a progressive feminist or queer Jewish community, either a nonprofit, a synagogue, or Jewish school.”

She’s also not ruling out the publication that, throughout a significant part of her undergraduate career, has provided her with a profound, life-changing experience.

Lilith is truly my dream work environment. I would like to return there someday.”

University of Tennessee Social Psychologist to Keynote 65th Annual Science Seminar

University of Tennessee Professor of Social Psychology Michael Olson will deliver the keynote address at Hollins University’s 65th Annual Science Seminar in April.

The seminar, which celebrates scientific research and inquiry, showcases the work conducted by Hollins science and mathematics students throughout the current academic year.

On Wednesday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Niederer Auditorium, Wetherill Visual Arts Center, Olson will present “The Science of Bias: Implicit Attitude Formation, Change, and Impact.” His research centers on implicit bias, prejudice reduction, and intergroup relations. More broadly, he applies a dual-process approach to a variety of domains, including prejudice correction, close relationships, sexual aggression, and most recently, suicide.

Olson has served as associate editor of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. He is currently completing a textbook on the psychology of prejudice.

The Science Seminar will spotlight student research posters on Friday, April 14, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the Dana Science Building. The poster session will be held in Dana’s first and second floor hallways.

Hollins Announces Children’s Literature Workshops for Summer 2023

This summer, Hollins University’s graduate programs in children’s literature are offering three one-week intensive workshops for teachers and librarians, aspiring authors and illustrators, and alumnae/i of Hollins’ undergraduate and graduate programs.

“Whether you want to grow your skills as a picture book creator, scholar, or selector, or would like to enhance your ability to write for children, these workshops offer practical guidance through the expertise of accomplished artists and authors,” said Lisa Fraustino, children’s literature graduate programs director.

The three Summer 2023 workshops are listed below. Visit the children’s literature workshops webpage for details on registration, fees, housing, and meals. For further information, contact Cathy Koon, graduate programs manager, at

Picture Book Trends: A Curated Reading Workshop
Elizabeth Dulemba, Instructor
June 12 – 16, 2023

Are you a teacher or librarian overwhelmed by the prospect of picking out the best new picture books for your young readers? Are you a creator who needs to stay on top of today’s picture book marketplace? If so, let this expert guide you on a curated reading journey.

Dulemba, an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, will walk you through the picture book submissions for the annual Margaret Wise Brown Prize and other bestsellers, covering current themes and trends, and pointing out the written and visual tricks that make them popular, successful, and beloved. By the end of the week, you will have a solid grasp of the current picture book landscape to better prepare you to recommend books to others or create them yourself. 

Writing Intensive: The Path to Publication
Erin Clyburn, Instructor
June 26 – 30. 2023

You’ve spent months (or even years!) writing and editing your novel, workshopping and rereading and editing again, and you are ready to seek traditional publication. Literary agent Erin Clyburn will cover the steps to take your work from manuscript to book: crafting a query letter, learning what comp titles are, researching agents to query, writing a synopsis, making sure your first page shines, learning about the market, seeing what your agent relationship might look like, and working on your platform (and knowing if you need one at all).

This intensive is intended for authors of novel-length works (chapter books, middle grade, and young adult) who have completed or near-completed manuscripts and are preparing to seek traditional publication. The goal is to finish the week with a polished query package and an understanding of how to seek out the right agent for your work.

Writing for Children Intensive: “Writing is Rewriting”
Dhonielle Clayton, Instructor
July 10 – July 14, 2023

Finished a first draft? Or have a solid chunk of a novel? Now what? The best writers are really revisers. Join this intensive to find the right ingredients to transform your rough pages into a compelling book for young people. Writing demands complex characters, high stakes, a layered world, and research.

Leading this workshop is Dhonielle Clayton, a New York Times bestselling author of The Marvellerverse series, The Belles series, and Shattered Midnight; and coauthor of Blackout, Whiteout, The Rumor Game, and the Tiny Pretty Things duology, a Netflix original series. The emphasis will be on the building blocks of craft: the one-line pitch, voice and character, worldbuilding, plot and pace, and revision. Participants will exchange up to 50-75 pages of work with the instructor and other writers in the class. In addition to morning sessions, there will be two optional afternoon sessions about behind-the-scenes deep dives on: publishing, including query letters, editorial letters, and the phases of a manuscript from draft to published.


“I Want Love to Come from My Work”: Erin Masarjian ’25 Realizes Her Artistic Vision with Personal Passion, Faculty Mentors – and Some Glitter

She admits that including it in her creative arsenal might be “a bit taboo,” but Erin Masarjian ’25 has no qualms about occasionally harnessing the power of glitter to accentuate her art.

“The pop that it can provide is really fun,” the studio art major explains. “That’s what I think glitter does. When you’re in a dark room or place, you can still have a little bit of light.”

“The Healing Power of Hope” is one of two major exhibitions underway in the Roanoke area that feature Masarjian’s work.

Masarjian’s use of glitter in her work underscores her eagerness to, as she says, “break all the rules,” and her approach is beginning to garner attention. Roanoke’s Art on 1st, which showcases emerging and aspiring artists, is featuring two of her pieces in its Pop Art Exhibition, which continues through March 11. Three more of her works can be seen in “The Healing Power of Hope,” a multimedia exhibit presented through May 8 by the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and the William King Museum of Art.

“I just put my entire heart into it. Whatever comes out is what comes out,” she says of her artistic philosophy. “Good, bad, ugly, strange…I just go with it.”

Art has played an essential role in Masarjian’s life since she was a kindergartener in Florida. “I remember the teachers showing us how to draw smiley faces with two dots and a smile, and I said, ‘No, there are eyelashes, eyebrows, nostrils – it’s more than that!’ Then, I created something in elementary school that was subsequently displayed. That was the first time I felt recognized.”

Masarjian was further encouraged by her family. “They supported me a thousand percent. My grandpa would say, ‘I want you to work at Disney, I want you to be an animator,’ and I was always doing artsy things with my aunts. There was this daily reminder, ‘You can do this.’”

About ten years ago, Masarjian decided to fully focus on her art. By that time, she was living in Roanoke and employed at a dental office. “Luckily, they were very helpful and worked with me. I was able to enroll at Virginia Western Community College.”

Masarjian’s artistic approach: “I just put my entire heart into it. Whatever comes out is what comes out.”

She studied at Virginia Western under Sue Steele Thomas, a world-renowned watercolorist and one of the top automotive painters in the world. For Masarjian, the experience infused her passion for art with the influence of a good mentor. “She is a true master. I took in a lot when I was working with her and I give her a lot of credit for the technique that I learned.”

When she felt she had absorbed as much as she possibly could at Virginia Western, Masarjian set her sights on completing the next step in her artistic journey at Hollins University. Hollins, she says, had attracted her with its beautiful campus. It became familiar to her through numerous public events she attended prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a dream, really,” she recalls. “When I was younger, I thought, ‘Maybe one day I’ll come here.’” Her wish came to fruition last year when she was accepted at Hollins through the university’s Horizon program.  “I’m still in shock sometimes. I’m so happy about it.”

Even though she is only in her second semester, Masarjian believes coming to Hollins is “already helping me to grow as an artist. I can see and feel the difference in my work. I took a printmaking class last semester, something I hadn’t really had any experience with before, and this semester I’m taking a painting class and a drawing class. Through experimentation and trying different things, I’m expanding my practice and informing my work in new ways.”

Masarjian praises the art department, not only for its physical resources (“the studios are gorgeous and the materials available for artists are wonderful”) but also for the professors who have built upon the foundation she cherished at Virginia Western. “Everyone is super nice, super helpful and knowledgeable, and the faculty promote an atmosphere where you’re comfortable talking about art, artists, and technique. It’s refreshing to be in that kind of environment.”

Masarjian on glitter: “The pop that it can provide is really fun.”

The mentoring that faculty have provided is also appreciated. “My inspiration comes from everywhere and I do a lot of work with found materials (organic or manufactured objects that an artist may favor for their inherent creative value). Sometimes when I see these materials, I’m struck by an idea and that idea stays with me until I get it out. I always have ten million ideas that I want to do, and my professors help me find the focus I need to complete the work.”

The two Masarjian pieces that are on display at Art on 1st are both found canvases. The main piece features mixed media with three separate canvases framed together. It is abstract, colorful, and vibrant. Of the three works she has featured in “The Healing Power of Hope,” two came out of her printmaking class last semester. She considers one of those, “Composition Joy,” to be among her favorite pieces. And yes, glitter figures prominently in both the mixed media work and in “Composition Joy.”

“The sparkles are bits of possibility. It’s another tomorrow even if you don’t know what it will bring. When I look at ‘Composition Joy,’ it brings me joy and it brings me hope. The colors are soothing.”

“I always have ten million ideas that I want to do, and my professors help me find the focus I need to complete the work,” Masarjian says.

Masarjian is especially proud of two other venues where her art has been showcased. At a Virginia Western student show, she was thrilled when someone purchased one of her works. “I don’t even know who the person was,” she says, but it was deeply gratifying to her that someone “found meaning in my piece.” Recently, she received her first magazine exposure when Oyster River Pages included a work she submitted.

One of Masarjian’s most ambitious projects to date is currently in progress. When finished, “The Shark Wall” will feature 40 individual paintings of sharks (she’s completed 17 thus far) that she hopes will eventually find a home at an aquarium, science museum, or conservatory somewhere in the world.

The wall is intended to highlight “the vulnerability of sharks, but in a way it’s also a reflection of me having grown up on the Florida coast. So, I see it having a dual purpose: first, to raise awareness about the environment, climate change, and our oceans – this is our world, we’re all here together, let’s take care of it. And second, the wall is a statement of who I am as an artist.”

After Hollins, Masarjian is looking to pursue artist residency opportunities throughout the country. “Truly, my passion is in creating. This is how I live and breathe. I want to be a positive force. I want love to come from my work.”

She adds, “A lot of this is part of Hollins’ doing, and working in the art department someday would be a lovely goal as well. It’s just so welcoming and I enjoy it so much.”





Hollins Student to be Recognized at Preeminent Cardiovascular Conference

Charvi Gangwani ’24 has been invited to attend the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together with the World Congress of Cardiology (ACC.23/WCC), which takes place March 4 – 6 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The biology major will meet scientists from around the world, attend cardiovascular research and educational sessions, and explore the Expo Hall to learn about the latest cardiovascular treatments.

The conference is the culmination of Gangwani’s year-long participation in the ACC Young Scholars Program, which aims to provide promising young students with an introduction to the field of cardiology and strengthen the pipeline of talent for the future. High school and college students from across the United States are selected to get hands-on experience and mentorship in clinical cardiology and cardiovascular research, including the opportunity to participate in their mentor’s research projects and gain professional skills.

“The Young Scholars Program has solidified my interest in pursuing a career in cardiology,” she explained. “I was able to learn first-hand from mentors and ACC Fellows, and by attending bi-weekly educational webinars on heart diseases and heart health.”

“The ACC Young Scholars Program recognizes the best and brightest students from across the country and helps the next generation of cardiologists find and nurture their passion for science, research, and helping patients,” said ACC President Edward T.A. Fry, M.D., F.A.C.C. “I’m honored to congratulate the 2022 cohort on a successful year of cardiovascular research and mentorship.”

The ACC is the global leader in transforming cardiovascular care and improving heart health for all. As the preeminent source of professional medical education for the entire cardiovascular care team since 1949, ACC credentials cardiovascular professionals in over 140 countries who meet stringent qualifications and leads in the formation of health policy, standards, and guidelines.

Sulzer to Serve As Hollins’ Artist-in-Residence This Spring

Andrea Sulzer, whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, has been named Frances Niederer Artist-in-Residence at Hollins University for 2023.

Each year, Hollins’ artist-in-residence program brings to campus a nationally recognized artist who produces work and teaches a special seminar. The program honors Niederer, a beloved art historian who taught for many years at Hollins.

Sulzer draws, prints, paints, and mixes these disciplines in an intuitive and free-associative process. Her daily practice reflects a constant pull between building a foundation and dismantling it, always trying to get closer to the underlying impulse for making things.

Her work often lives on the edge between object and image, statement and question, figure and abstraction. She is interested in landscape as both setting and character, and as an archive of human experience. In much of her work, forms shift, dissolve, and reorganize themselves like the fluid and unstable nature of memory. How a singular solution is shaken out of limitless possibilities and the role that chance plays in keeping this process open is also an abiding interest. At the heart of her practice is the deep belief in the need for wonder and discovery.

Sulzer’s multidisciplinary background includes a Bachelor of Arts in French from New York University and a Master of Arts from Columbia University’s Teachers College. She then completed a Master of Science in forest biology at the University of Maine and became a laboratory instructor at Bowdoin College. Fusing her interest in the natural sciences and art, she illustrated a number of books in marine and conservation biology. In 1998, she left Bowdoin College to pursue her art practice.

In 2004 Sulzer received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and the Maine Arts Commission, and has held residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Ucross Foundation, and Surf Point Residency, among others.

Sulzer has exhibited in New York, Colorado, Maine, London, Glasgow, and Munich, and has had solo museum exhibitions at the Portland Museum of Art, Bowdoin College, and University of Maine Museum of Art. She also has recently completed a number of large-scale public art projects for Maine schools through the Maine Percent for Art program.

Her work is included in numerous collections: Portland Museum of Art, Bates College Museum of Art, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Colby College Museum of Art, The University of Maine Museum of Art, Fidelity Corporation, Syzygy, and numerous private collections in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany.

Sulzer lives in Maine and teaches part-time at the University of Southern Maine.


First-Year Students Attend Virginia Law Audit Project Announcement

Hollins University students Elizabeth Barker ’26 and Jay Garcia ’26 visited the State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, for the launch of the Virginia Law Audit Project (VLAP) by the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

VLAP is a crowd-sourced, nonpartisan, statewide initiative in which state statutes, administrative code, and the Virginia Constitution are reviewed. The mission is to identify all forms of discrimination (racial, gender, age, religious, disability, housing, employment, etc.) and propose legislative amendments to further equity in the language and substance of the law. This spring, Virginia’s NOW chapter will partner with students, law schools, nonprofits, and law firms across the commonwealth to develop and recommend these statutory updates.

Assistant Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies Courtney Chenette, who is part of VLAP’s development and legal research coordinating team, is teaching courses this spring at Hollins that will collaboratively support the project.

“I’m committed to equipping our students to make immediate contributions to law and government,” she explained. “VLAP is an experiential learning opportunity for students to apply their legal research skills beyond the classroom as scholars, practitioners, and changemakers.”

Barker and Garcia were both in the Fall Term 2022 first-year seminar and January 2023 Short Term course “Trial and Error,” which Chenette teaches in conjunction with Roanoke City Circuit Court Judge David Carson. The class introduces students to substantive areas of law and the procedures of trial advocacy and includes sessions at the Roanoke City Courthouse.

This spring, Chenette’s classes and pre-law and advocacy students will review code sections based on NOW’s research criteria.

“I’m very excited to offer the opportunity for Hollins students to use their academic research skills to modernize the commonwealth’s laws and advance gender equity,” she said.

In addition to Hollins, the University of Virginia School of Law; George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, Gender and Policy Center; the League of Women Voters; and the American Association of University Women are among the institutions and organizations to date that are championing VLAP.


Photo caption: (Left to right) Jay Garcia ’26; Lisa Sales, president of the Virginia Chapter of NOW; and Elizabeth Barker ’26.

Hollins Welcomes Pulitzer Prize Winner Anne Boyer As This Year’s Writer-in-Residence

Poet and essayist Anne Boyer, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, is Hollins University’s Louis D. Rubin Jr. Writer-in-Residence for 2023.

Each spring, Hollins hosts a distinguished writer-in-residence who works with graduate and selected undergraduate students. The residency is named for the founder of the university’s renowned creative writing program.

Boyer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her memoir The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care. At age 41, she was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness.

Harper’s Magazine said The Undying “is honed to a precision that feels hard-won. The politics of illness – how the profit motive determines life and damage and death; how victim blaming is enshrined; how social norms can disable and kill – have rarely been limned with such clarity and grace,” while the Los Angeles Review of Books described Boyer’s writing as “precise and comprehensive, intimate and philosophical; its self-awareness is so rigorous it feels almost extravagant. It’s hard to imagine how she made this book, so near to the agony it documents.” Publisher’s Weekly noted that “Boyer’s gorgeous language elevates this artful, piercing narrative well above the average medical memoir.”

Boyer received Yale University’s Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize in 2020 and was the 2018-19 Judith Wilson Poetry Fellow at Cambridge University. She was the inaugural winner of the 2018 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry and that same year was presented the Whitting Award in nonfiction/poetry. Her other books include A Handbook of Disappointed Fate and Garments Against Women, which won the 2016 Community of Literary Magazine and Presses (CLMP) Firecracker Award.

In addition to serving as Hollins’ writer-in-residence this spring, Boyer is The New York Times Magazine‘s poetry editor for 2023.

Hollins’ writer-in-residence program began in 1961. To support the initiative, an endowed fund honoring Wyndham Robertson ’58 was established in 1994. The program was then named in tribute to Rubin in 2000. Previous writers-in-residence include William Golding (1962); Flannery O’Connor, Robert Penn Warren, and Eudora Welty (1964); Lee Smith ’67 (1976); Richard Adams (1977); Derek Walcott (1980); and Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 (2012).

Hollins Students to Deliberate “Ethics and Digital Media” at VFIC Ethics Bowl

Four Hollins University students will compete head-to-head against other teams from Virginia’s leading independent colleges and universities at the 23rd annual statewide collegiate Ethics Bowl, which takes place January 29-30 at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach. The event is sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).

The teams will deliberate a variety of case studies relating to this year’s Ethics Bowl theme, “Ethics and Digital Media.” Notable individuals from a variety of career fields including business, law, education, finance, journalism, and others will listen to team presentations and offer reactions to the students’ presentations.

Representing Hollins at the Ethics Bowl are Allison Goguen ’24, Jenna Johnston ’25, S. Merritt ’24, and Nupur Sehgal ’23. The team’s faculty coordinators are Associate Professor of Philosophy James Downey and Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Charles Lowney.

The 2023 VFIC Ethics Bowl will begin with an opening session on Sunday, January 29, at 2:45 p.m. in Virginia Wesleyan’s Blocker Auditorium, with the first rounds of competition scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in various rooms in Blocker Hall and Greer Environmental Sciences Center. On Monday, January 30, rounds three and four will begin at 8:45 a.m. The final round will take place at 11:30 a.m. in Brock Theatre, located in the Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center, with the winning team announced at 12:45 p.m. The public is invited to attend the rounds free of charge.

Established in 1952, the VFIC aims to advance the distinctive values and strengths of the 16 colleges across Virginia that make up the consortium. Members include Bridgewater College, Emory & Henry College, Hampden-Sydney College, Hollins University, Mary Baldwin University, Marymount University, Randolph College, Randolph-Macon College, Roanoke College, Shenandoah University, Sweet Briar College, University of Lynchburg, University of Richmond, Virginia Union University, Virginia Wesleyan University, and Washington and Lee University.


In New Essay, Hollins Professor Looks at How 19th-century Novels for Girls Are Relevant Today

When it comes to addressing the challenges and anxieties of modern-day girlhood, Professor of English Julie Pfeiffer believes we are contemplating the wrong question.

“What if instead of asking ‘How do we fix girls?,’” she proposes, “we ask: ‘How do we fix our understanding of adolescence?’”

That’s the focus of Pfeiffer’s new essay in Psyche, a digital magazine that sheds light on the human condition through the insight of experts in psychology, philosophy, and the arts. In “Forget ‘Little Women’: How Did Girls Learn to be Grown Women?”, Pfeiffer explores how Victorian-era novels for adolescent girls might help in finding healthier models of what it means to grow up female.

“A more nuanced understanding of 19th-century girlhood is described in early German books for adolescent girls,” Pfeiffer writes. “For the awkward, uncertain girls in their pages, adolescence does not require withdrawal from connections with adults, or a rejection of the family that supported them through childhood, but new adult mentors and friends who provide instruction and acceptance.”

Pfeiffer cites the Backfisch (a German slang word for a teenage girl) books, such as Clementine Helm’s Gretchen’s Joys and Sorrows (1863). “Backfisch books suggest that the girl does not need to await her future passively….With the help of mentors and peers, these girls can make themselves into women who contribute as wives, mothers, and community members.” Pfeiffer notes that American novels published around the same time “describe girls who leave loving homes to learn to grow up with the help of aunts and teachers and friends.” As they reflected themes found in the Backfisch books, these books were translated and distributed in a German-American exchange.

“What is surprising about these 19th-century girls’ books is that they focus not on the product – a perfect Victorian woman – but on the process and effort that makes the transformation of girl into woman possible,” Pfeiffer says.

The perspective of literature centering on adolescent girls, however, began to shift in the 20th century. “Adolescence is increasingly seen as a time of ‘storm and stress,’” Pfeiffer explains, “and the assumption that teenagers will be alienated from adults gains momentum.” By 2003, a study published by Duke University’s Women’s Initiative was calling attention to “a social environment characterized by what one sophomore called ‘effortless perfection’; the expectation that one would be smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, and that all this would happen without visible effort.”

Nineteenth-century novels for girls, according to Pfeiffer, offer “an antidote to the stress of effortless perfection by naming the ‘creaking of the wheels’ that running a household and managing a body requires. [They] don’t just train them how to become good women, they also acknowledge the hard work this transformation requires.”

She adds, “While many 21st-century adolescent girls are asked to negotiate a system of invisible labour without instruction or any acknowledgement of the difficulty of this task, Backfisch books made visible to the work that becoming a woman in the 19th century required, while assuring girls they would be loved despite their awkwardness and mistakes. These books affirmed the role of a community of peers and mentors in helping girls make the significant transition from girlhood to womanhood.”

Pfeiffer recommends emulating the mentors found in the 19th-century Backfisch books. “We can recognize the hard work of growing up, and allow girls to be tired or to slip up, and normalise messy adolescence. If we see that teenage girls need rest and praise, and care and instruction – not just from their parents, but from a whole community – then maybe we can make growing up a shared project, and relish the transformative potential of adolescence.”

A member of the Hollins faculty since 1997, Pfeiffer has published scholarly articles on the Backfisch books in Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature and Mothers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature: from the Eighteenth Century to Postfeminism. She is also the author of the book Transforming Girls: The Work of Nineteenth-Century Adolescence, published by University Press of Mississippi in 2021.