“One Small Step on that Journey of Transformation”: Hollins Holds Its Inaugural Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day

More than 550 students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, and trustees joined together to explore themes of race and racial justice during Hollins University’s first annual Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice (EDJ) Day on October 23.

Classes were cancelled and administrative offices were closed to foster full engagement in the day’s program, which featured 35 in-person and online sessions presented by members of the university community and invited guest speakers.

“Leading EDJ is the result of an awesome collaboration between folks from across our campus,” Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies and Director of Faculty Development LeeRay Costa said in her opening remarks. “What began as an idea for advancing critical conversations around inclusion, identity, and equity on our campus became today’s event in the span of just 42 days.”

The “social unrest, violence, and an uprising of everyday people from all walks of life in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers” this summer, as well as everyday injustices experienced by Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, Costa noted, were among the catalysts for Leading EDJ Day.

“The call in the nation for social justice was loud and resolute, but it is not new. It was only the most recent iteration of a fierce and aching plea that has been voiced repeatedly by racial and ethnic minorities in North America for hundreds of years.”

Drawing Space Outside VAC
The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum hosted a space for drawing outside the Wetherill Visual Arts Center during Leading EDJ Day.

Costa added that Hollins, like other colleges and universities around the country, reacted to the deaths of Floyd and Taylor and the reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement “with a statement of solidarity and shared anguish over the suffering of our fellow human beings, and a promise to do more. And like so many other institutions, Hollins was called out by some for being generous with our words but repeatedly failing to live those words in ways that have meaningful difference to marginalized and underserved members of our community.” She explained that Hollins still needs to come to terms with its own history of racial injustice, including the use of enslaved people to support the institution and its mission.

“To say that Hollins University was built on the backs of Black and Brown people is not hyperbole, nor is it meant to incite,” Costa said. “It is merely to tell the truth.”

In her welcome, Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton echoed Costa, stating that “during this pandemic and moment of racial reconciliation, we must speak truth.” She cited Costa “for her original vision and bold suggestion” to create Leading EDJ Day, and paid tribute to the committee of campus community members that brought the idea to reality. “Perhaps a different group would have deferred. A different group might have said, ‘Let’s wait until it’s easier. Let’s look away. Let’s not do our part; perhaps someone else will do it for us.’ But this group, this committee for whom I am so very grateful, looked at one another and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ And we did. And we did it because it is hard. We did it, in fact, because time is working against us and the need for justice.

“But most of all, we did it because our students and this institution that we love so dearly needed us to. Because we all deserve more. We all deserve better.”

International Women's Day Video Listening Circle
Students facilitated discussion to create an International Women’s Day video celebrating racial justice.

Hinton also praised the more than 40 Hollins students who planned and presented sessions during the day that “come from a place of care, a desire to belong, a need to be seen and appreciated for their experiences, both good and bad. Our students genuinely believe they can make us better, and we them.”

Makda Kalayu ’23 co-led the presentation, “Caring for Your Neighbors: Promoting Beloved Community,” along with Kiah Patterson ’23 and Tyler Sesker ’22. The session featured an exercise to encourage attendees to identify their own implicit biases, followed by a discussion on identifying and breaking down stereotypes of Black people that impact those biases.

“It was a great space to have these difficult conversations,” Kalayu reflected. “A mix between faculty, staff, and alumnae/i diversified the discussion and encouraged people to talk. And [it] also helped to direct the conversation in a really interesting way. Everyone was super respectful. A lot of [participants] came in with an eagerness to learn about the topic.”

“The New Vanguard: Pushing the Envelope in Revolutionary Discourse,” moderated by Leah Coltrane ’22 and Amy Duncan ’21, explored ways of not only transforming one’s own community, but also the way one interacts with their community and themselves on a daily basis.

“We carry a lot of trauma, and making space to take care of those things is important,” Coltrane told attendees. “If you’re not taking care of your spiritual self while trying to learn, trying to do this work, you will not be successful.”

Tia McNair, Ed.D., vice president in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and executive director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Centers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C., delivered conference’s keynote address, “Truth, Healing, and Transformation: From Equity Talk to Equity Walk.”

The renowned author and speaker considered two crucial questions: How do we prepare the next generation of strategic leaders and thinkers to break down racial hierarchies and dismantle the belief in the hierarchy of human value that fuels social injustice? And, how do we examine our own perceptions of equity, diversity, and inclusion to advance practitioner knowledge for racial justice in higher education?

“Our job as educators, as leaders of institutions, is to do the ‘people work’ first,” McNair said. “We have to understand our own mindsets, our own preconceived notions, our own biases, before we can even attempt to transform systems and structures. If we focus on becoming best practitioners that uplift the goals and values of what it means to be diverse and equitable and inclusive, [to be] justice-focused, equity-focused, and anti-racist-focused, then we can do the work to transform our systems and our structures.”

McNair encouraged attendees “to figure out the kind of institution you’re going to be, and stay true to that in all areas as we clarify our actions. To be equity-minded is a mode of thinking exhibited by practitioners who are willing to assess their own racialized assumptions, to acknowledge their lack of knowledge in the history of race and racism, to take responsibility for the success of historically underserved and minoritized student groups, and to not only build their knowledge about race and racism, but also to critically assess racialization in our own practices as educators and administrators.”

Drumming Circle for the Ancestors
A drumming circle on Front Quad enabled participants to encounter self-awareness and ancestral awareness through the vehicle of music.

Costa emphasized that the first Leading EDJ Day “is just one small step on that journey of transformation, to becoming a more equitable and just university, workplace, and in the words of [feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist, and writer] bell hooks, a ‘home place.’ A place where every single one of us feels like we belong. It’s an opportunity for truth-telling, for listening with our defenses down and our hearts and minds open, and for learning new ways of being together across our differences.”

Stressing Hollins’ “unique responsibility to create an environment wherein each person feels and is loved as they are,” Hinton expressed the university’s obligation as a liberal arts institution “to explore, to know, to honor, and to hold with care the experiences of those around us. To engage multiple perspectives that challenge our own. To open and free our minds to engage with ideas, concepts, people, and experiences that challenge us. That forces us to think critically and creatively. That demand we solve the complex problems of the day in conversation with others.

“The liberal arts demand this work of leading equity, diversity and justice. Indeed, today reflects the meaning and purpose of education and our collective responsibility and mutual accountability to all those we encounter.”

 

Top photo: Hollins’ Diversity Monologue Troupe, a team of student leaders who perform monologues to help the university community understand the diverse identities and life experiences of people on campus and to broaden the perspective on various stereotypes commonly reinforced in society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hollins To Hold Inaugural “Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day” October 23

Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton has announced that the university’s first annual “Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day” will take place on Friday, October 23.

The conference will promote learning and engagement around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

“Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day aims to create an intentional and meaningful space for all of us to reflect, learn, and facilitate action toward making Hollins a more equitable and just community,” Hinton explained. “This day will bring together members of our community and prominent local and national figures to learn from one another in various formats, both face-to-face and online.”

Tia McNair
Tia McNair, Ed.D., will be the keynote speaker at Hollins’ first annual Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day.

Hinton noted that given the urgency of current events and movements for justice across the nation, the inaugural event will center on race and racial justice. “This will allow us to explore both the legacy of historical racism at Hollins and how contemporary struggles for racial equity and justice continue to shape our learning spaces and experiences. Future conferences will focus on the many forms of diversity we see reflected in our community, all of which merit our attention.”

Tia McNair, Ed.D., a Roanoke native and renowned author and speaker, will deliver the opening keynote address, “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation: From Equity Talk to Equity Walk.” She is the vice president in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and executive director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Centers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C.

In order to enable students, faculty, and staff to take part in Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day, classes will be cancelled and administrative offices closed on October 23. “We are taking these steps to create not a day off, but a day on, where all campus community members will have the opportunity to participate in the day’s events,” said Hinton.

 

 


President Hinton Joins in Dialogue With Michelle Alexander, Bestselling Author Of “The New Jim Crow”

Acclaimed author, civil rights lawyer and legal advocate Michelle Alexander understands that a lot of change can happen in just 10 years. A decade ago, Alexander had just published her first book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Some critics at the time considered the book’s subject dubious, especially since the nation had just elected its first Black president in Barack Obama. Still, The New Jim Crow would go on to spend almost 250 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list—transforming Alexander’s career as a legal scholar and author—and recently had a 10th-anniversary edition released with a new foreword by Alexander.

On Tuesday, September 22, Alexander “visited” Hollins (via Zoom) as part of the university’s Distinguished Speaker Series. The bestselling author had a virtual sit-down with Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton to discuss the 10th-anniversary edition of her book as well as a host of other issues including racial unrest in the U.S. and social activism both on and off-campus. “We’re grateful to have these timely and robust conversations,” said Hinton in welcoming Alexander to the videoconference, which was live-streamed exclusively to the Hollins community, with over 400 in attendance. “The text remains as relevant and resonant today, perhaps even more so, than when it was released.” (This video features highlights of their dialogue.)

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 10 years,” replied Alexander. “When I was researching this book, Obama hadn’t been elected president yet. Trayvon Martin hadn’t been killed. I felt desperate to sound an alarm about the crisis of mass incarceration, seeing up close [through my work] the victims of racial profiling and police violence. And now 10 years later, with all of the viral videos of brutal police killings and the uprisings, it feels in many that the whole world hasn’t changed. The [criminal justice] system continues to function in pretty much the same way as it functioned 10 years ago—or 15 years ago—or 30 years ago.”

However, Alexander was quick to add that she did find hope in the creation of new protest movements and increased social activism, in particular movements led by formerly incarcerated and convicted people. “There’s been an explosion of movement-building and organizing and leadership,” said Alexander. “And that’s enormously encouraging to me. Until we hear from the people who’ve been most harmed, transformational change is impossible. And as long as those voices are excluded from decision-making spaces and tables, transformational change is impossible.”

A graduate of Stanford Law and Vanderbilt University, Alexander has received numerous legal awards and fellowships, including a Soros Justice Fellowship, and clerked for legal luminaries such as Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court and Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Though just her debut book, The New Jim Crow has become so influential that it’s even been cited in some judicial decisions as well as read in countless book clubs and college classrooms across the country.

To that point, in advance of the Q&A on Tuesday, Hollins students were given access to free e-editions of the book (there was also a limited number of free hardcopies available). Students and faculty were then invited to meet virtually with Hinton to discuss and propose questions for the interview.

Following up on the book’s popularity on campus, Hinton said that colleges, universities, and, in particular, the liberal arts were good places where students could “rehearse what it means to have courage and have a voice and step up” before engaging politically in the bigger world off-campus.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement that our democracy will not survive without robust liberal arts education,” Alexander replied when asked about the role of the liberal arts in relation to social justice. “That’s one of the main pillars of a successful, thriving, multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-faith democracy. It can help us learn more about our past and present so we can respond to our present moment with wise action and with greater concern and care for our fellow citizens. Without it, we are stuck in patterns of reactivity. We can be misled by demagogues and be inspired to resort to fear-mongering.”

Near the end of the hour-long discussion, Hinton asked The New Jim Crow author about finding courage to speak the truth in the era of Fake News and constant misinformation. “How are we ‘midwives to this next generation?’” Hinton asked, borrowing Alexander’s language, “How are we midwives as we look at the [transformational] change that’s so important?”

Alexander acknowledged the difficulty in answering that question. “It can feel overwhelming at times,” she said. “We’re at a moment where I think our democracy literally hangs in the balance. I think what’s important is for us to pause and think: How can we use our skills and our talents to their highest use for this moment? And how do we educate ourselves about history, our racial history, about the present, about how to do democracy? What’s important is not just being aware and awake, but being willing to act with some courage. Because if we see what’s happening but lack the courage to speak up or step out, we can be as awake as we want to be, but if we act without courage, it’s all for naught.”

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.


President Hinton’s Statement On ICE Guidelines Affecting International Students

Earlier this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced significant changes related to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program that seriously impact the experience and opportunities for international students in colleges and universities across the United States. The Hollins community stands with our international students in opposition to this policy, and supports the Association of American UniversitiesNASPA, and the American Council for Education in speaking out against this policy. We decry the unnecessarily difficult position in which our students, and the more than one million international students nationally, have been placed.

Our decision to reopen the campus and offer a wide array of learning modalities enables Hollins’ international students to continue their education. We are actively supporting our international students and are incredibly grateful to the numerous students, alumnae/i, and faculty who have reached out to us to express their concern for our international students. Our international programs director, Ramona Kirsch, and Jeri Suarez, our associate dean of cultural and community engagement, have been in contact with our students, and we will keep these lines of communication open as we approach the fall term.

As our mission states, “Hollins nurtures civility, integrity, and concern for others, encourages and values diversity and social justice.” In this and every moment, we must continue to live up to our own ideals.

Mary Dana Hinton
President
Hollins University

 

 


“All Of Us Must Do The Work. All Of Us Must Begin Now.”: President-Elect Hinton Calls for “Lasting, Meaningful Cultural Change” at Hollins

President-elect Mary Dana Hinton shared the following message with Hollins University students, faculty, and staff on June 19:

 

Dear Hollins Community,

When we were together during my visit in February, none of us could have imagined the events of this moment. We are now planning for the resumption of college in the fall under the constraints of COVID-19, and each of us also has been called to use our voice to actively work towards justice and equity. I am grateful for President Gray’s support and counsel as I have worked with her and university leadership to navigate reopening and our inclusion efforts.

I have spent the past few weeks having difficult and, often, inspiring conversations with my family, with students I have the privilege of serving, and with members of the Hollins community. I have heard the hurt, concern, anger, and disappointment many of us feel. I have also heard the belief in our mission, the desire to do the work of transformational inclusion, the love for Hollins, and the choice to be and do better. It is with a spirit of hopeful action and a deep sense of honor for the Hollins mission and community that I write to you today.

Like all institutions across the United States, we must do the important work of facilitating and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, Hollins University has a special obligation in this moment as it relates to dismantling systemic racism. At Hollins our call must not only be in reaction to recent events, but also to reconcile our institutional past with enslavement; to ensure all of our students – including the voices and concerns of students of color – are heard, seen, and valued, and feel safe on campus today; to create an environment of inclusive excellence that supports rigorous teaching and learning in the liberal arts tradition; and to develop a plan that guides our efforts to be an inclusive community. We must be accountable for equity regardless of what is happening in the world around us.

As a leader, I recognize that in the moment it is easy to react, to send out statements, and to develop plans that sit on a shelf. What we are compelled to do at Hollins University, however, is engage significant cultural change that demands far more from me, and each of us, than merely reacting. As a learning institution, we must grapple with these issues individually and collectively.

As President-elect, I have already learned that we need to reconsider building names and continue to reconcile our institutional history. I have heard students reference feeling at risk on campus and in the classroom. I know that faculty, staff, and administrators must do the work of inclusion education and professional development. The responsibility of explaining why Black lives matter, and what that requires of the community, should not fall disproportionately on community members of color. We need a committed effort to diversify our faculty and staff, and to ensure all community stakeholders have engaged in anti-racist training. I also know these items are just a beginning. The dismantling of systemic injustice also means the building of just, equitable systems. The work must be done with both urgency and deliberate process.

All of us must do the work. All of us must begin now.

I am asking that, as we navigate this critical moment for our world, our country, and our campus, we dig deeper and not only react but commit to substantive, transformative change for the campus. I implore us to look at our culture, programs, policies, and practices to determine how we can transform the institution to ensure we are always working in an equitable and just manner. I am pushing myself, and asking each of you to commit alongside me, to do the transformative work of culture-change and inclusion – which will be long, hard, and uncomfortable. Lasting, meaningful cultural change cannot be done overnight. However, this cultural shift will ensure we stand firmly by our liberal arts mission and our humane values as we put equity and inclusion at the forefront.

To that end, I will be hosting town hall meetings beginning in July for faculty, staff, students, and alumnae. These will be critically important moments as I continue to learn about Hollins’ history, as we acknowledge the challenges of our present, and as we begin to envision a pathway of action towards a shared, aspirational, and inclusive future. Out of these meetings will come deliberate, impactful action, starting now.

Over the next several weeks, in preparation for those town hall meetings, I will be in dialogue with many groups on campus including, but not limited to:

  • Black Student Alliance
  • Descendants of the Hollins community
  • Inclusivity and Diversity Advisory Council (IDAC)
  • SGA Roundtable
  • The Working Group on Slavery and its Contemporary Legacies
  • International students
  • The librarians
  • Jeri Suarez (Cultural and Community Engagement)
  • Dr. Idella Glenn (OID), Dr. LeeRay Costa (Faculty Development)
  • Hollins Alumnae Board leaders

These groups and individuals, as well as others, have been working on issues of diversity and inclusion, and I look forward to learning from and with them as we develop a process for transformation.

Critical to this moment is ensuring we have a public timeline and accountability structure. At this moment I anticipate that we will:

  •  Identify campus concerns and outline the plan of action (summer/fall)
  •  Engage/Implement solutions (fall):
    • In addition to addressing and acting on what is learned during the summer, a guiding vision will be developed and coordinated activity begun
  • Assessment (ongoing)
  • Inclusion audit completed and report to the community (December 2020)

While this timeline is subject to change as this intentionally dynamic process unfolds, I commit to updating the community regularly about our direction, significant learnings, and the action steps we are taking to develop an inclusive culture.

Even as I learn more about Hollins each day, I continue to hold close what first drew me to this institution and presidency: the mission, values, and integrity of the Hollins University community. What compels me daily, and affirms my desire to partner with each of you, is the vibrant future I know we have ahead of us.

The road we must tread together will not be easy. But as we commemorate Juneteenth this week, it has never been more fitting or more important that we commit ourselves now to working collaboratively, to being vulnerable to and with one another, to learning and leading, and to privileging hope over fear. I have every confidence we will do this work with excellence and become a stronger community because of it.

Levavi Oculos,

President-elect Hinton

 

 

 


Film Major’s LGBT Short Is a YouTube Sensation

A Hollins University student filmmaker is generating impressive online buzz with her unconventional approach to the LGBT movie genre.

Collide, a short film written and directed by Hannah Thompson ’20, has been seen more than 510,000 times since it premiered on YouTube in December 2016.

“I wanted to do something original that I could relate to,” says Thompson, a double-major in film and psychology from Warrenton, Virginia. “A lot of LGBT short films are also geared toward a straight audience by featuring two fem lesbians and portraying sexual situations. They can make more money that way, but it has always made me feel uncomfortable.”

Collide is the story of two young women who dislike one another intensely upon their first meeting in a high school classroom. But when their teacher pairs them on a project that focuses on conquering their individual fears, a friendship blossoms and they ultimately fall in love.

“Coming out is not a main plot point,” Thompson explains. “There’s no tragic story where being gay is their downfall. Their sexuality is never mentioned. It’s just something that happens similar to any straight love story. I wanted people to watch Collide and say, ‘Wow, I’ve had this happen to me.’”

Based on the more than 1,100 comments that have been posted on YouTube since the film’s debut, Collide has clearly touched many. Thompson believes it’s because the story “ends happily. We’re excited for what’s to come, and people understand that the two main characters are going to be together. Often, especially in popular films, it doesn’t happen that way. I wanted something that was easy for people to latch onto, and I’m grateful they did.”

Thompson says she’s been humbled by what people have shared. Feedback has often been along the lines of, “I don’t really see happy lesbian stories. I’m so glad to find something relatable instead of watching a heterosexual romance and hoping I can find something that’s meaningful to me.” Viewers overseas have expressed this common sentiment: “This isn’t legal here, but I’m so glad to see something like this. It makes me feel that maybe one day I can have this life.”

The film has also inspired fan fiction and even prompted Halloween revelers to dress up as the film’s characters. In March, Unite UK: An LGBT+ Blog Uniting the Community Together, interviewed Thompson and members of the film’s cast for a feature story, and last summer, Collide was an official selection as a semi-finalist at Canada’s Our Voices Film Festival.

Thompson’s journey of artistic discovery that ultimately led to filmmaking was by no means pre-determined. She attended art classes and camps from an early age, “but I couldn’t find the thing I was best at. I did theatre, studio art, photography, and I was mediocre at all those things. I never really found what I loved until I took a film class at Hollins.”

Growing up, Thompson was familiar with Hollins because her grandmother is an alumna. In her early teens, at her grandmother’s urging, Thompson attended Hollinsummer, the university’s educational camp for rising ninth through 12th grade girls. “I was scared because it was my first sleepaway camp,” she recalls, “but I loved the campus. It was the first time I’d ever been away from home that I wasn’t homesick. I felt like it was sort of my place.”

That impression still resonated with Thompson when she was applying to colleges a few years later. “Even though I had been at Hollins a lot, I went ahead and did a real campus tour. I remember turning to my mom and saying, ‘This is it.’”

Thompson initially thought she’d major only in psychology, but her artistic drive persisted despite her previous frustrations. Since film was a genre she had not actively pursued previously, she decided to enroll in a video production class her first year. “I was nervous because it was the first film class I had ever taken. I worried, ‘What if this doesn’t go well for me?’ I don’t like not being good at things.”

Fortunately, Thompson quickly found an ally in Amy Gerber-Stroh, associate professor of film and chair of Hollins’ film department. An accomplished filmmaker in her own right, Gerber-Stroh helped Thompson build her confidence and realize film making was the artistic outlet she had been seeking.

“Amy has changed my life in so many different ways. Coming into Hollins, I was afraid I wasn’t going to find the thing I could pour my entire heart into. I felt like I had so much to say and I didn’t know where to put it.”

With guidance from Gerber-Stroh and other faculty as well as the support of her fellow film students, Thompson says she “has a home in the film department. It’s this place where I can be myself and share my art. Sometimes you have to do that when your work is incomplete and therefore at its most vulnerable, but I’ve learned that’s okay because students and mentors are always there to help, especially when you’re flustered and your ideas aren’t working out.”

Thompson now has four films available online. Another short, August and the Rain Boots (2017), is similar to Collide in that it tells the story of a friendship that grows into a romantic relationship and ends on a celebratory note. The film boasts more than 192,000 YouTube views and was recently selected to appear at the Oregon Cinema Arts Film Festival.

“Hannah has become such a superstar through our film program,” Gerber-Stroh says. “It’s remarkable how often she gets requests from advertisers, actors, and others from the film industry asking for a chance to work with her. She epitomizes this new era of how students make films and videos and how they show their work.”

Thompson plans to go to Los Angeles after graduating from Hollins. “I want to be a director for the rest of my life, telling my stories and working with amazing people.”

 

Photo caption: Hannah Thompson ’20 shoots a scene for her 2017 short film, August and the Rain Boots. 


GWS Major to Help Further Awareness, Deliver Resources to Stop Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a worldwide health problem whose prevalence is staggering. The American Psychological Association notes that in the United States alone:

  • More than one in three women and more than one in four men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Seventy-four percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner (spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend). Of these, 96 percent were women killed by their intimate partners.
  • One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  • IPV is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy.
  • The percentage of women who consider their mental health to be poor is almost three times higher among women with a history of violence than among those without.
  • Women with disabilities have a 40 percent greater risk of IPV, especially severe violence, than women without disabilities.

Compounding the crisis, IPV is “underreported, underrecognized, and underaddressed” by healthcare professionals, according to a 2016 article in American Family Physician.

However, one organization has been a catalyst for growing awareness of IPV and providing resources to those who experience it, particularly young people who have suffered from dating abuse and domestic violence. For the past 15 years, Day One has delivered crucial education and services to the youth of New York City. To date, the non-profit has educated more than 75,000 young people on ways to “identify and maintain healthy relationships, obtain legal protection when necessary, and assist others experiencing abuse.”

During January Short Term this year, Whitney McWilliams ’18, a gender and women’s studies (GWS) major and social justice minor who graduated in May, interned with Day One. “More than anything I think the internship showed me the bridge between theory and practice.”

McWilliams was responsible for planning and facilitating the You(th) Already Know! Conference for New York City Youth and Adult Allies. “We gathered to explore themes of healthy relationships, self-defense, self-care, and race/class/gender issues that intersect with the violence of intimate relationships,” she explains. Day One was so impressed with her work that they have invited her to return to the organization this summer.

For McWilliams, working with Day One gave her the chance to draw upon what she had learned as a GWS major.

“GWS changed my outlook on life. It made me critical and challenging. It made me aware of my suffering that in turn made me angry. With that awareness there was fire, but that fire energized me in a way that healed me from the burn-out that was essential to my journey. That energy showed me the healing potential for love and compassion. It showed me the potential for our worlds and for our sociopolitical transcendence – a movement for peace and against suffering. It also showed me my personal potential for growth and that I am the embodiment of all that I have learned.”

Another pivotal moment during McWilliams’ career at Hollins was her pioneering work in helping launch the Hollins Heritage Committee, a group of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to promoting campus-wide dialogue on issues of collective memory, diversity, and reconciliation. “The committee is tasked with bringing the popular history of Hollins to the forefront. It is to decolonize knowledge and bring to the people the truths of Hollins’ history, most specifically Hollins’ relationship to slavery and race relations on campus. Theirs is a voice that is needed for those who have been silenced by the institution.

“I will be checking in to make sure the committee moves to incorporate the voices of staff and employees as they point to class exploitation, as well as trans and non-binary voices as they speak to Hollins’ investment in gender hierarchy, and the voices of natives as Hollins occupies sacred land.”


Hollins Hosts Universities Studying Slavery Spring Meeting

To further explore the historical role of slavery at their institutions, Hollins welcomed representatives from colleges and universities around the country for the spring meeting of Universities Studying Slavery (USS), April 12 – 14.

Hollins, one of nearly 40 USS member schools, hosted the semi-annual meeting to discuss strategies, collaborate on research, and learn from one another.

“I think all of us involved in making this conference possible know it was the right decision for our campus to host this event as it has been our goal from the beginning to be at the forefront of the Universities Studying Slavery movement,” said Jon Bohland, associate professor of international studies and chair of the Hollins Heritage Committee, which promotes campus-wide dialogue on issues of collective memory, diversity, and reconciliation. He paid tribute to the student activists who served as the catalyst for the committee’s creation and have subsequently undertaken a number of projects to further its mission. “It was students that demanded that our university openly acknowledge our past connections to enslavement and begin to find ways to reconcile that history. It is as a result of [their] direct action that hard questions are being asked, long-lost names are being found, classes are being taught, conferences are being held, and we can begin to honor these previously unacknowledged founders and supporters of the university.”

“Reckoning with these issues is no easy task,” Hollins President Pareena Lawrence added at the spring meeting’s opening event on Thursday, April 12. “But if we are to grow and evolve as institutions of higher learning, we cannot ignore or hide from our past. Indeed, at the very least we owe the enslaved who built and labored for our colleges and universities the fundamental decency of recognition and gratefulness. And in their memories, we must use that knowledge and understanding to promote diversity and inclusivity.

“We cannot even come close to repaying our debt or making amends,” she continued, “but through our discussions and research, we can take vital steps to ensure we undertake what social scientists call ‘historical justice.’ Current and future generations will closely examine how we respond to our responsibilities to bring historical justice to the enslaved and honor their unrecorded and unrecognized contributions to our colleges and universities.”

USS organizes multi-institutional cooperation as part of an effort to facilitate mutual support in the pursuit of common goals. It also allows participating institutions to work together as they address both historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality in higher education and in campus communities as well as the complicated legacies of slavery in modern American society.

“While it is impossible to completely repair the damage and impact of enslavement, we have a responsibility in society, especially in higher education, to fully examine our history and put energies toward addressing the impact of the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery,”  Idella Glenn, Hollins’ special advisor on inclusivity and diversity, told the opening session audience. “What does this mean to our universities? How does this remembering and repair manifest?”

Glenn said that Hollins had “literally and figuratively dug into our past…to uncover the untold history of Hollins University. Indeed, some of the things dug up are not easy to look at, and may even cause pain and discomfort, but we must deal with the pain and discomfort if we are to heal and move forward. I especially applaud the courage of our students, faculty, and staff who have earnestly taken on this difficult work.”

Glenn noted that the investigations and conversations at Hollins are helping to inform the breadth and scope of memorialization, which includes but is not limited to interactive education on campus (information kiosks, walking tours guided by downloadable apps, and student creation of a mass mural) and community outreach in the Roanoke Valley (lecture series, scholarships, and grant-funded programs that impact the lives of young people).

“I have come to the knowledge that this work of digging into our past and reconciling our history is foundational to authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion work,” Glenn said.

Among the highlights of the USS spring meeting at Hollins were sessions devoted to strengthening historically black colleges and universities; collective wisdom workshops for small colleges and liberal arts universities as well as research universities; and discussions among traditionally Baptist colleges and universities focused on developing common research agendas and collaborative practices.


Student Brings Advocacy to Va. Board for People with Disabilities

For some time, Alexus Smith ’19 has sought to foster greater awareness of the issues that people with disabilities face. Now, she will be taking her interest in activism to a statewide level, thanks to her appointment by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities (VBPD).

 

Smith will serve a four-year term and will be eligible for reappointment.

“The board works for the benefit of individuals with DD (developmental disabilities) and their families to identify needs and help develop policies, programs, and services that will meet these needs in a manner that respects dignity and independence,” says VBPD Executive Director Heidi Lawyer. “A key aspect of our work is to advise the Governor, legislators, and government agencies on public policy issues as well as on how to develop programs and services for people with DD that will eliminate barriers to full inclusion in all facets of community life.”

Alexus Smith '19
“Advocacy is vital to disability culture and my life as a disabled woman.” – Alexus Smith ’19

“Advocacy is vital to disability culture and my life as a disabled woman,” says Smith, an English major from South Boston, Virginia. “The rights of my people will always be one of my many passions along with my love for English and literature. I hope I can use my degree and skills as part of my advocacy work.”

Smith’s journey to VBPD membership began in 2013. “I was a student in the Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), a board-sponsored training program that focuses on post-high school transition, self-advocacy, goal setting, self-acceptance, and job-related skills such as resume writing,” she explains. As a YLF alumna, she was invited to apply this year for one of the openings on the board. Her application and others were reviewed by the director of the VBPD. Recommendations were then made to the Governor, who has the final say on appointments.

Smith wants to achieve a number of goals during her board membership. “I hope to gain a better understanding of disability policy so that I can advocate more effectively for the needs of people like myself. There are many factors that make up the lifestyles, access to resources, and emotional well-being of people with disabilities, and I want to address this issue.”

Smith adds that she plans to draw upon her experiences as a student, mentor, awareness event planner, and writer to introduce new ideas to the board. “Compassion, openness, a strong voice, and attention to detail are at the core of my leadership style and I am excited to bring those attributes forward to benefit the board’s mission.”


Sophomore from Nepal Helps New International Students Feel at Home

Traveling thousands of miles away from home to a country you’ve never visited and attending a college you’ve never seen except online would be a daunting task for anyone. Yet that was the challenge that Grishma Bhattarai ’20 boldly accepted when she made the trek from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Hollins a little over a year ago.

“No matter how confident I looked, at the end of the day I was a little scared,” Bhattarai admits, looking back. But today, the economics and mathematics double major is thriving, both in and out of the classroom, and despite a demanding schedule, one of her highest priorities is assisting other international students after they start their education at Hollins.

“When I came to Hollins, I immediately met people who knew my name and who had taken the time to learn about me, my interests, and my likes and dislikes before I had even arrived,” Bhattarai recalls. “They created a space of comfort for me. I felt I needed to do the same for other international students when they came to campus. I wanted to become their friend and confidant so that I could help them during their first year’s journey at Hollins.”

Bhattarai is a peer mentor with Hollins’ International Student Orientation Program (ISOP), which prepares students from abroad for living and studying at the university. “For international students it can be difficult because they are coming from so many different cultures. Breaking the ice with them at the very beginning is important to get to know more about them and where they’re from. We talk to them about culture shock and help them become familiar with what will be new to them in America.”

What students should expect both academically and on a personal level at Hollins is the second focus of Bhattarai and other peer mentors. “One the biggest objectives of being a peer mentor is sharing your experience as a first-year student. I talk with new students about what they can do to succeed academically and I’m also open about the mistakes that I made so that they can avoid them.”

ISOP isn’t limited to just a few days at the outset of the new academic session. Peer mentors remain dedicated to new international students throughout their entire first year. “During the fall and spring, we get together for weekly dinners and talk about the classes they are taking, something new they are experiencing, or some concern they are having so that we can tackle the problem together,” Bhattarai explains. “ISOP, especially for Hollins, is a way to build a family within the campus community. There’s this safe space where students can express their anxieties and we can help them.”

Bhattarai believes the best advice she can give to an international student who is considering coming to America to continue their education is to “be open minded, be open to new experiences, and be open to meeting new people. The undergraduate experience is going to be really different from what you had in high school, especially considering the fact you’re also going to be immersed in a completely different culture.”

That attitude served Bhattarai well. Even though before coming to Hollins she had spent her entire educational life studying in an all-girls’ convent school and knew she wanted to attend a women’s college, she says she was pleasantly surprised at the atmosphere Hollins offered.

“Nepal’s education system does not allow you to try new subjects. But Hollins is this amazing liberal arts college where you can study different subjects before you have to actually choose your major. I never thought I’d be taking a dance history class and learning about Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan. I never thought I would study calculus and apply it in my daily life.

“Hollins is a place where there are no boundaries. You can do whatever you want to do.”

In addition to her work as an ISOP peer mentor, Bhattarai is vice chair of Hollins’ academic policy board and serves on the university’s Honor Court. She provides campus tours for prospective students and in June was part of the staff for Reunion 2017. She’s participating in the Honors Seminar Program and is presently investigating internship and research opportunities for next summer, including one offered at MIT.

“I want to pursue a Ph.D. in economics and Hollins has been shaping me for that,” Bhattarai says. “I’m planning to do study abroad in Italy during my junior year and that’s going to enrich my experience as a global citizen.” In her doctorate work, she intends to “look at the economy and living standards of rural, struggling communities and developing countries from a women’s studies and developmental economics perspective.”

Another factor that was impactful for Bhattarai during her first year at Hollins was the inspiration she received from President Nancy Gray, who retired this summer. Now, because of her international background, new president Pareena Lawrence is providing Bhattarai’s sophomore year with a singular resonance.

“Seeing a president who is similar to you in so many ways, it gives you a special drive to do better. Having a woman of color in the biggest position on campus, someone I can look up to in a genuine manner, it makes me feel that maybe someday I can reach that position, too. I’m so thankful for that. That’s something Hollins is giving me this year.”