“We’re thrilled to partner with these institutions and promote racial equity and healing on their campuses, in their communities, and through the fast-growing network of TRHT Campus Centers,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella.
Launched in 2017, the TRHT Campus Centers initiative consists of a dynamic and diverse network of host institutions, including community colleges, liberal arts colleges, HBCUs, minority-serving institutions, faith-based institutions, and large research universities. The new centers bring the total number of TRHT Campus Centers to 71, continuing momentum toward AAC&U’s goal of establishing at least 150 self-sustaining, community-integrated TRHT Campus Centers at higher education institutions nationwide.
“As the network of TRHT Campus Centers expands, we remain humbled and dedicated to achieving our shared goals with our institutional partners. Doing the work of truth, racial healing, and transformation has been, and continues to be, a great challenge and a privilege,” said Tia McNair, AAC&U vice president for diversity, equity, and student success and executive director for the TRHT Campus Centers.
TRHT Campus Centers play a vital role in the national TRHT effort to address historical and contemporary effects of racism by building sustainable capacity to promote deep, transformational change. With the shared goal of preparing the next generation of leaders and thinkers to build equitable and just communities by dismantling the false belief in a hierarchy of human value, each campus center uses the TRHT framework to implement its own visionary action plan for creating new narratives about race in their communities and promoting racial healing and relationship building through campus-community engagement.
In the introduction to their book Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Heritage: Rights, Debates, Challenges (Brill, 2017), editors Alexandra Xanthaki, Sanna Valkonen, Leena Heinämäki, and Piia Nuorgam noted that “Indigenous rights to heritage have not been at the centre of academic scholarship until quite recently. It became clear that more work needs to be done on this topic, more stones to be uncovered, and more discussion to be had.”
Javeria Piracha ’25 has contributed to the growing study of this issue by conducting research under Assistant Professor of Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske during the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program this past summer. Alongside Breske and fellow student researcher Makda Kalayu, the applied economics major analyzed the interaction between Indigenous peoples and those owning their cultural property, and that research recently earned her a speaking opportunity at a regional International Studies Association academic conference.
Piracha became interested in cultural heritage when she took Breske’s Introduction to International Studies course in the fall of 2021. “That was the first course I took in international studies and I really enjoyed it,” she said. She’s now considering declaring a second major in the subject. “During the course we visited the [Eleanor D.] Wilson Museum at Hollins. We viewed these stone carvings that had been donated to their collection many years ago, and about which they knew very little.”
According to Wilson Museum Director Jenine Culligan, the objects were made by the Taíno people, an Indigenous group in the Caribbean. “We know these carvings are found in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and parts of Mexico, and they’re associated with crops or other plants,” she explained. “Unfortunately, we have no provenance (history of ownership documentation) for these objects, and we haven’t yet been able to identify their country of origin.”
The mystery surrounding the carvings intrigued Breske, who was first introduced to the objects in fall 2018 by Culligan and decided to pursue this research first with her Spring Term 2022 Cultural Property, Museums, and Rights class and then with the two students in the summer of 2022. Piracha’s turned part of this research project into her conference paper, “Economic Impact of Museum Industries: A Study of Provenance and Authenticity of Taíno Zemi Objects.”
“This project is a case study of Taíno sacred stone figurines, known as zemí figures, that are held by institutions and in private collections,” Piracha said. “It makes use of items from the Wilson Museum as well as other items that have either been sold at private auctions or are in the collections of American museums. The project focuses on the ethical obligations we have to return objects to their rightful places because of their heritage value; the diversity, equity, and inclusion claims museums make in the United States; and the reasons it is morally required for cultural objects to be returned after the 1970 UNESCO Convention,” which advocated for ending the illicit trafficking of cultural property. “Looking to the future, this project also explores the various ways repatriation could help the economies of countries in the Caribbean.”
Piracha submitted the project to the International Studies Association (ISA) South regional conference for its 2022 annual conference this fall in St. Augustine, Florida. Established in 1959, the ISA is one of the oldest interdisciplinary associations dedicated to understanding international, transnational, and global affairs. It features more than 7,000 members from around the world, including academics, practitioners, policy experts, private sector workers, and independent researchers.
Breske has encouraged SURF research students to submit abstracts to the ISA regional conferences for the past two years so that they can gain the experience of speaking to academics and professionals in the field. Piracha was invited to deliver her first academic conference presentation at ISA-South. “The people who presented with me and who were in the audience were all professors and all at the Ph.D. level, so I was surprised I got a chance to present,” she said. “They asked excellent questions.”
Another research project related to cultural heritage that Piracha has undertaken and submitted to the ISA-Northeast 2022 Annual Conference in Baltimore, held November 4 and 5, was “A Sense of Belonging: An Analysis of the Afghan Refugee Population in the United States and Ways Their Cultural Identity is Being Kept Alive.”
“It’s an overview and analysis of the Afghan refugee population in the United States and how cultural heritage can help them create a sense of belonging and help in their integration in the host society,” Piracha said. “A refugee often chooses to flee from their home country in hope for a better chance at life. However, they do wish to maintain aspects of their cultural identity.”
“A Sense of Belonging” addresses the underrepresentation of refugee communities in cultural heritage discussions and the different ways their heritage can be preserved. In her research, Piracha explores methods for keeping cultural heritage alive such as preserving oral history, promoting cultural participation, and understanding the significance certain objects carry of memory and ancestral affirmation.
“My case study revolves around refugees from Afghanistan who fled to the United States between 1979 and 1992. The study also examines how the Afghans maintained the production of culture after their arrival in the United States, the difficulties they encountered, and the length of time it took to build a community in the United States.”
The ISA conference presentations, for which she received travel funding from Hollins’ Warren W. Hobbie Ethics and Service Endowment, are part of what is shaping up to be a busy but rewarding academic year for Piracha. She will spend the 2023 Spring Term in London, where she will take economics courses and complete an internship in public policy (she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field after graduating from Hollins). It will be her second study abroad experience as a Hollins undergraduate, the first occurring during the 2021 January Short Term when she traveled to France.
“Learning about different cultures, getting to experience various traditions first-hand, and understanding the perspectives a country has to offer have always excited me.” Piracha explained. “As an international student, I have developed a knack for wanting to assimilate different cultural experiences in my own identity to better equip myself to become an intentional, globally aware citizen. Thus, studying abroad in France was the perfect opportunity for me to embark on these cultural journeys. By knowing more about the educational and cultural aspects of other countries, I can use them to shape my future and the communities I want to serve.”
After completing her spring term in London, she will return to the U.S. next summer for an internship with a marketing company in Orlando.
Ultimately, Piracha hopes to work in economics analyzing data that include economic indicators. “My own country, Pakistan, has a declining economy and lately has had a number of internal displacements as a result of the climate issue. With a degree in public policy, I will be able to do research for Pakistan and predict emerging trends that will aid in developing long-term objectives for those who have been internally displaced.”
Piracha will also draw upon her experience working with various nonprofit organizations. “Previously, in Islamabad, I founded and led an organization that focused on destigmatizing taboo topics such as period poverty that affect low-income women in Pakistan.”
What Liberal Education Looks Like focuses on restoring public confidence in liberal education and inclusive excellence and refuting claims that higher education in general, and liberal education in particular, are irrelevant. It’s also a collective call to action to uphold the considerable potential of colleges and universities.
“This work is urgent,” said Lynn Pasquerella, AAC&U president. “Talk of higher education as a public good and of investing in society through education has been replaced by talk of return on investment – tuition in exchange for jobs. Skeptics deride the arts and humanities as elitist, and we need to be vigilant in rebutting those charges and recognizing them for what they are: Collusion in the growth of an intellectual oligarchy, in which only the richest and most prestigious institutions preserve access to the liberal arts traditions.”
Pasquerella recently shared her passion for “the public purpose of higher education” with Hollins faculty, staff, and the Board of Trustees as the university embarks on creating a new five-year strategic plan. “I’ve been committed to promoting access to excellence in higher education regardless of socioeconomic background, to championing the centrality of liberal education, and to defending political scientist Benjamin Barber’s notion of colleges and universities as civic missions where we not only educate people to be free, but we free them to be educable, thus serving as a visible force in the lives of those who have been most marginalized in our society.”
Those who claim a liberal education and preparation for work, citizenship, and life are mutually exclusive are creating “a false dichotomy,” Pasquerella said. “We need to highlight the fact that in a global knowledge economy, demand for graduates with a liberal education is growing.”
Pasquerella cited the AAC&U’s 2020 research, How College Contributes to Workforce Success: What Matters Most, in which nearly 500 executives and hiring managers were surveyed. The study found that confidence in higher education and the value of a degree remains fairly strong: Sixty-seven percent of employers have a good deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education (compared to 63% in 2018), and almost nine in 10 (87%) believe that a college degree or credential is definitely or probably worth the time and financial investments.
“Perhaps most importantly, employers regard liberal education as providing the knowledge and skills for long-term career success in the 21st century,” Pasquerella noted. “Nine in 10 employers believe it is important to achieve the learning outcomes that define a contemporary liberal education, and they urge new efforts to help students acquire those. At least half of employers think it’s very important for college students to possess a range of mindsets and aptitudes to be successful, including a solid work ethic, ability to take initiative, self-confidence, persistence, self-awareness, empathy, and curiosity for lifelong learning.”
Pasquerella added that AAC&U’s research showed active and applied educational experiences can have a positive impact on students by improving their engagement and deepening their learning, which in turn can positively impact hiring decisions. These include first-year seminars, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative projects, undergraduate research, internships, community-based learning, capstone courses, and engagement with educational mentors in and out of the classroom.
At the same time, Pasquerella said, “Student learning assessments must support student success, with guiderails to keep all students on track rather than hurdles that only some students can clear. Inclusive excellence is not a process that isolates students or promotes competition among them. Rather, it’s a collaborative process that takes aim at educational disparities and patterns or systemic disadvantage. Colleges and universities must demonstrate that our success is inextricably linked to the psychological, social, educational, and economic well-being of those we serve.”
Pasquerella asserted that “a 21st century liberal arts education mandates the acceleration of high-impact opportunities that engage students in solving real-world problems within the context of the workforce. It adopts a holistic approach to evidence-based problem solving that incorporates diverse points of view. The curriculum’s emphasis should be on learning outcomes, knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and integrative and applied learning as necessary for students’ intellectual, civic, personal, and professional development, and for success in a global economy.”
Asking arts and humanities advocates “to step outside of our echo chambers and use whatever modes of engagement are available to connect the work the academy is doing with people’s lives,” Pasquerella endorsed “leveraging popular culture to promote humanistic understanding. We must recognize more expansive forms of literature and art as the key to survival of the humanities. If we continue to relinquish the opportunities that would extend our reach, public discourse will continue to decline, and academicians will continue to lose the chance to engender a true sense of wonder. In fact, if academics rely exclusively on the mechanisms of arcane study to get out our message, scholarly pursuits as anything more than an ossified repository of ancient curiosity will die.”
Pasquerella concluded with a plea to collectively reaffirm how a liberal education sees the world as a set of interdependent yet inequitable systems, expands knowledge of human interactions, privilege, and stratification, and fosters equity and justice locally and globally. She recalled the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington: “We’re now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. This is no time for apathy and complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
King’s lesson “is more critical than ever,” Pasquerella said. “We need to illuminate the transformative power of the arts and humanities. At the same time, we need to recognize that higher education and its graduates must play a leadership role in fulfilling the promise of liberal education, ensuring that all students are positioned to find their best and most authentic selves.”
Hollins is partnering with a national, nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting the emotional health of young adults to build upon the university’s existing student mental health, substance use, and suicide prevention efforts.
Through The Jed Foundation (JED), which for more than 20 years has helped colleges and universities strengthen their support networks and emotional safety nets, Hollins is participating in an initiative called JED Campus Fundamentals. The collaboration, which will take place over 18 months beginning this fall, will guide the university through the development of systems, programs, and policies that prioritize student well-being.
Ethan Fields, director of higher education program outreach and promotion at JED, noted that a “top-down, bottom-up infrastructure, informed by data collection, analysis, and utilization, and a commitment to long-term strategic planning” are the key elements for success. “We all play a part. Student well-being is linked to everybody’s roles and responsibilities, and diverse voices from different stakeholders and students need to be a part of this process.”
The mental health of students, faculty, and staff is a significant concern for higher education leaders, particularly after the impact of more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to national data sources, 41% of U.S. students who were screened for depression last year using a validated tool screened positive, while 34% of students who were screened for anxiety were positive. “We know that other well-being metrics such as basic needs insecurities, which can include struggles with housing, food, or finances, can also affect one’s mental health,” Fields said. “In addition, students are coming to us with lived experiences of trauma, having experienced discrimination based on their identities.”
In conjunction with experts from the fields of adolescent psychology, suicidology, and public health, JED worked with the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center to produce a comprehensive strategy for promoting mental health and lowering suicide risk, based on a model developed by the U.S. Air Force. “Everything Hollins is going to go through over the next 18 months as a JED campus relates back to that approach,” Fields explained. “It starts with helping the campus really look at and evaluate how it can infuse natural, therapeutic life skills development throughout the student experience.”
Together, Fields said, Hollins and JED will consider an array of factors specific to the university, including social connectedness (“Isolation and loneliness are two major risk factors for suicide, and we want to look at how students are connecting with each other as well as with faculty and staff.”); identifying students early on before a crisis occurs (“Helping students understand that it’s okay not to be okay, but there is help all around them on this campus.”); evaluating current services on campus and in the community related to mental and physical health and substance use (“How do we work together as a shared community of care to meet students’ needs?”); and crisis management (“Ensuring that student know where they can get help if they are in an emergency.”).
Fields stressed that equitable implementation is crucial to creating an effective strategic plan. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to recognize that certain populations of students face systemic and structural inequities even accessing mental health services. We’re going to look at all the different populations of Hollins students, understand their unique experiences, and determine how we can center and serve them, especially students of color and LGBTQ+ students, in the strategic planning process.”
This fall, under the leadership of Vice President for Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging Nakeshia Williams, Hollins will form a mental health and well-being team that will spend five months in a thorough assessment of the resources that are currently in place, both on and off campus. In addition to Williams, the team will include the following members:
Darla Schumm (co-lead), associate provost
Sheyonn Baker, executive assistant to the president; secretary, Hollins University Board of Trustees
Gloria Bryant, coordinator, Facilities Management
Megan Canfield, dean of students, Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging
David Carlson, chief, Campus Security
Lisa Dmochowski, director, Health and Counseling Services
Billy Faires, executive director, Marketing and Communications
Ellie Gathings, director, Housing and Residence Life
Amanda Griffin, lead counselor, Health and Counseling Services
Kaiya Jennings, chaplain and director of belonging, Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging
Cathy Koon, manager, Graduate Services
Jaiya McMillan, president, Student Government Association
Autumn Nordstrom, director, Scholarships and Financial Assistance
Zoe Thornhill, manager, Student Activities and Organizations
Jeffrey White, director, Center for Career Development and Life Design
Maliha Zaman, executive director, Institutional Effectiveness; chief data officer
Then, a tool called the Healthy Minds Study will be used to survey students to understand their lived experiences, attitudes, and beliefs related to mental health, substance use, diversity and inclusion, and other issues. “After we collect that information,” Fields said, “we will provide the task force with a report of notable strengths and considerations. That becomes the basis for a consultation visit where we meet and turn feedback and recommendations into a strategic plan with short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. We then assist the campus with implementing that plan.”
While Hollins’ active collaboration with JED will last 18 months, the goal is to develop a strategic plan that will guide the university for four-plus years. “We set it up to become a continuous process,” Fields stated. “Toward the end of our engagement we’ll focus on sustainability. We’ll see where you started, where you are currently, and where you are going to make sure you’re set up for success.”
Fields encouraged the entire Hollins community to “think much more upstream about mental health and well-being. The ultimate goal should be lowering some of those challenges that may lead to suicide ideation. As the strategic plan comes together and the university makes changes in its policies, programs, and procedures, we want to see changes in the students’ attitudes, behaviors, and lived experiences.”
The schools will use the IDEAS grants to create, expand, and/or diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and supported in its implementation by World Learning.
“We are thrilled that Hollins is a 2022 IDEAS grantee, and this was a true team effort between faculty and staff,” said Ramona Kirsch, Hollins University’s director of international programs. “The grant will fund a new program, “Building Capacity in Kenya and Expanding Student Access to Global Experiences,” which will focus on democracy, human rights, and global health from an interdisciplinary and intercultural perspective with our new international partner, Kenyatta University in Nairobi. The grant will also enable us to move strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives forward in our study abroad programming.”
Each IDEAS grant carries a maximum allotment of $35,000 and Hollins was awarded approximately $34,800.
“The U.S. Department of State is committed to supporting U.S. colleges and universities as they continue to rebuild study abroad capacity impacted by the global pandemic,” said Heidi Manley, USA study abroad chief for the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). “That is why ECA is proud to be awarding double the number of IDEAS grants this year so that we can support more institutions as they work to provide important international educational opportunities to their students.”
Manley added that this year’s IDEAS grant recipients “reflect the full diversity of the U.S. higher education system – including community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), rural institutions, and more – and we are committed to working with them to build study abroad programs that are accessible for Americans of all backgrounds and that provide more opportunities for American students to engage with people in more diverse destinations around the world.”
Since 2016, the IDEAS Program has awarded 145 grants to 139 institutions in 48 states and territories to create, expand, and diversify their U.S. study abroad programs in 71 countries across all world regions. In addition to the IDEAS grant competition, the program also offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a series of free virtual and in-person study abroad capacity building activities.
Photo (from left to right): Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner, Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh, Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Isabell Kingori, and Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch comprised the faculty/staff team at Hollins that successfully brought the IDEAS grant application to fruition.
Black Student Alliance President. Student-Athlete. Student Success Leader. Batten Leadership Institute Participant. In making the most of her undergraduate experience at Hollins, Tyler Sesker ’22 has charted her own unique course. And with such a wide range of interests, it’s not surprising that she chose to major in gender and women’s studies (GWS).
“I never felt like I wasn’t being supported in what I wanted to do, and while GWS is a space where social justice work is very important, the department recognizes it happens in different ways for each student,” she explained. “Everybody’s attitude is, ‘Okay, if you want to do something that presses the bubble, let’s try all the things.’ GWS allows you to tailor your talents into how you want to change the world once you graduate.” Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, who is a member of the GWS program faculty, introduced her to the criminal justice system and the idea of practicing law, resulting in Sesker’s pursuit of a pre-law concentration in tandem with her major. “I honestly would not have any of the experiences I had as an undergraduate without the support and guidance Professor Chenette has given me,” she said.
Sesker has felt called to bring a lasting impact to both individuals and communities. She interned during the summer of 2020 with the Democratic Attorneys General Association, where she worked on various campaigns related to policing. That experience piqued her interest in a Signature Internship with the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., which was being offered during the 2021 January Short Term.
“When I applied, I thought I wanted to do work in housing. But when I interviewed, since my background was in policing, they told me they have a whole committee dedicated toward police work and people who are facing injustices within the justice system. So, I spent that entire internship looking into the law enforcement bill of rights – what states had it and what they were doing with it. I also researched states where defendants had been incarcerated for a long period of time because they couldn’t make bail or they had a ticket or fine they couldn’t afford to pay.” How juveniles fared under those circumstances became of particular concern to Sesker. “What happened if their parents couldn’t pay or simply couldn’t be found? They stayed in the system.”
“I worked with their attorneys on a day-to-day basis, investigating what happened and finding and interviewing witnesses,” Sesker said.
Sesker also discovered that working with cases involving the immediate early release of inmates through a process known as “compassionate release” was especially rewarding. According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates may be eligible for compassionate release in situations where there are “particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances which could not reasonably have been foreseen by the court at the time of sentencing.” These circumstances may include “medical or humanitarian changes in an inmate’s situation.”
“These clients had already been incarcerated for a number of years – 20 years is the minimum for compassionate release,” Sesker said. She would often have to spend considerable time cutting through red tape to simply find eligible inmates, and then conduct lengthy interviews with them once they were located. “It was good though to learn from people what they were like when they were first incarcerated, and who they are now as they prepare for release. Hearing those stories makes it worthwhile in understanding why this person needs to be out.” Sesker also talked to the families of both the defendant and their victims. “It was exciting getting that perspective.”
For Sesker, the insights she gained from that internship are invaluable. “It’s one thing to talk about the prison system in class, but it’s something different to physically be in there. It’s frustrating when you see how the system has failed a client, but once you’ve seen it you know exactly what you want to do to fix it and how you want to do it.” The work was demanding, Sesker noted, “but I never felt like I was tired of it. I’m tired in a good way because I know I’m doing good work and I’m doing this because I’m helping somebody else. At the end of the day, I knew what I was doing is exactly where I wanted to be and what I want to keep doing once I graduate and go on to law school.”
Sesker has also found inspiration from her peers in being an active member and leader of the Black Student Alliance and in playing on the volleyball team during all four years of her undergraduate career. “Coming here and playing for Hollins has been a great experience. The teams are so excited for each other. I live in an apartment with two basketball players, a soccer player, and another volleyball player, and we’re always cheering each other on at games. That’s not what I saw at other schools. What’s so distinct about Hollins’ athletic department is that it’s a family that really cares for each other. I don’t think I would have had that experience anywhere else.”
Working as a Student Success Leader in the first-year seminar “Disabling Ableism” taught by Professor of Religious Studies Darla Schumm showed Sesker that one should always be open to new points of view from a variety of sources. “The course is dedicated to how we live in this ableist world that doesn’t pay attention to the disabled, and it was this mixing pot of learning and experiencing things. I was the SSL for the course, but I also felt like I was a student. There were plenty of days I came in and one of the first-years would tell me something they learned from the readings and I would say, ‘Wow, I never thought about that, teach me what I’m missing.’ They impacted me as much as I impacted them.”
“Working on my senior thesis, I’ve been looking more into public policy and how to affect the things that I’m concerned about. Prison systems, policing, LGBTQ rights, things like that are impacted by public policy. That’s what interested me in the public policy program itself at UVa, and I was drawn by the leadership component it also offers. I don’t think I would be the student I am without the Batten Leadership Institute at Hollins, so to be able to go to program where public policy and leadership intertwine with each other is important. I don’t think it’s enough to just say, ‘I want to create change.’ I also want to be a leader when I’m creating that change.”
Over 400 attendees participated in 37 virtual and in-person sessions united around this year’s theme of “Equity, Accessibility, and Identity.” Session topics ranged from “Broaching: Confronting the Uncomfortable Conversations in Systemic Racism” and “Examining Residential Segregation: Where You Live Determines Your Health and Quality of Life” to “Talking Back to Dad: Developing Pedagogies to Discussing Hard Questions in the Classroom and Community” and “Cultivating Inclusive Friendships: Real Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Starts in Our Social Circles.” Session leaders included current students and faculty as well as alumnae/i and guest activists and experts from the community at large.
In her welcome, President Mary Dana Hinton acknowledged that Leading EDJ would be “an emotional and at times difficult day as we share hard truths and have our beliefs challenged. But in those moments, I hope that you will feel pride that this community shows up for one another. I hope you will feel the love that manifests from our willingness to be vulnerable with each other. I also hope that you will have positive emotion today, because even though the work is hard, it’s hard only because we care so much for one another and this institution. It’s hard because we know we need to and want to do and be better. So, in the panoply of emotions on this day, I hope you will allow yourself to experience being seen and heard, and to also feel gratitude and joy.”
Loretta Ross, a nationally recognized expert on racism and racial justice, women’s rights, and human rights, delivered the conference’s keynote address, “Calling In the Calling Out Culture.” Drawing upon 50 years of activism, Ross stressed the need to “create a culture shift” that consciously and deliberately moves away from “publicly shaming or blaming people for something that you think they have done wrong, for which you think they should be held accountable” to a process where “you extend to people love, respect, forgiveness, and grace. Generally speaking, imposing punishments doesn’t achieve accountability because it first of all makes people not want to accept your right to punish them. Second, rarely do they change their minds from their positions or perspectives.”
Ross asserted that advancing human rights “is not a woke competition. It is a movement designed to end oppression. We’re many different people with many different thoughts, but they move in the same direction. That’s a movement. But when many different people think one thought and move in the same direction, that’s a cult. And we are not building a human rights cult.”
In the calling out climate, Ross stated, “people use their knowledge as a weapon against each other because they want to shame somebody for not knowing what they know, whether it’s the latest word that they want to use, or the way that word has become outdated, or whether or not we can remember somebody’s proper gender pronoun. When we weaponize our knowledge, we’re actually demonstrating our own political immaturity.” The result, she added, is that people are discouraged from joining the human rights movement. “It frightens them. They don’t want to speak up for fear that they are going to be the next target if they give voice to an unfinished thought or use the wrong word.”
Ross noted that there are times when calling someone out can be the appropriate action. “The human rights movement uses call outs to hold accountable corporations, countries, and individuals who violate people’s human rights. Sometimes privately getting people to stop their abuses doesn’t work. We have to publicly call them out, because if we don’t, we’ll increase the harm that people experience. The call outs are also very useful for bringing forward those voices that have been historically silenced. Certainly, it works to release that pent-up outrage so that you don’t internalize the anger. You externalize toward the people that are causing the harm.”
Nevertheless, Ross cautioned against the “gotcha” moment “where we unearth mistakes from someone’s past without seeking clarification. This requires seeing people as human beings who make mistakes. We’re not perfect. We’re supposed to make mistakes and then learn from them. When you don’t accept that, you’re devaluing people’s lived experiences as if what you’ve been through is the only truth that matters. This all stems from the concept of toxic perfectionism, where we alienate people with our pursuit of political purity and correctness by assuming there’s only one right way to do something. Or, believing that our job is to take away someone else’s pain by being their advocate – the savior complex. Instead of helping people find their own voices and perspectives, you want to provide it for them.”
Ross shared some simple steps to follow if you yourself are called out. “You can tell the person, number one, thank you. The reason you say thank you is that this person, even if they’re trying to correct you, are gifting you with their time and attention, which are hot commodities right now.
“The second step is to say, ‘I hear you, I appreciate you giving me your perspective, and I’m going to think about it.’ You’ve shown the person that they were heard and respected, but at the same time you have not indicated that you are agreeing with them. You are going to consider it. You maintain your own boundaries and your own dignity.
“Third, flip the script and say, ‘I want to know what’s going on with you, because I care about you the way you care about me. And since I care about you, I want to know why you came at me that way.’ With that, you’ve turned a call out into a call in. You’ve invited them to tell you more.”
Ross concluded her address by reminding the audience that “calling in requires a growth mindset that starts with a self-assessment. You have to analyze how you feel and why you think it’s important to call somebody in or out. If you’re not in a healed enough space for a difficult conversation, you will not be productive. Your own healing should be your number one priority. Calling people in is not an obligation, nor is it a way to paper over the harm that people do. You’re not letting people get away with anything. You’re choosing to use an accountability process that has an increased likelihood of success.”
The 2022 Leading EDJ Conference closed with the Hollins community joining in a virtual gathering for reflections on the day’s experiences, which could then be shared online. One participant wrote, “…lots of interesting information and lots of opportunity to have an impact both locally and beyond,” while another commented, “I have enjoyed this…so much! Each moment and story shared has been so true. I appreciate each voice and feel so inspired.”
What began in the 2020-21 academic year as Leading EDJ Day has evolved into a two-day conference in its second year. This year’s theme is “Equity, Accessibility, Identity.”
“Leading EDJ aims to create an intentional and meaningful space for all of us to reflect, learn, and facilitate action,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “This conference brings 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.”
The 2022 Leading EDJ Conference will kick off on Thursday, February 24, at 7:30 p.m. with Nazera Sadiq Wright‘s presentation, “Digital Gi(rl)s: Mapping Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century.” Wright is an associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky. Her book, Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century (2016), won the 2018 Children’s Literature Association’s Honor Book Award for Outstanding Book of Literary Criticism. During 2017-18, she was in residence at the Library Company of Philadelphia as a National Endowment of the Humanities Fellow and an Andrew W. Mellon Program in African American History Fellow to advance her second book on the influence of libraries in the literary careers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American women writers. “Digital Gi(rl)s” will be livestreamed (Passcode: 111008).
Loretta Ross, an award-winning, nationally recognized expert on racism and racial justice, women’s rights, and human rights, will deliver the conference’s keynote address on Friday, February 25, at 10 a.m. Ross’s work emphasizes the intersectionality of social justice issues and how intersectionality can fuel transformation. She teaches a course on White Supremacy, Human Rights and Calling In the Calling Out Culture as a visiting associate professor at Smith College. She is cofounder of SisterSong, a national organization whose purpose is to build an effective network of individuals and organizations to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities. Her newest book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture, will be released later this year.
Following the keynote address, Leading EDJ will feature more than 30 morning and afternoon sessions for the campus community created by students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i as well as outside guests from the Roanoke and higher education communities.
During the first Leading EDJ Day in October 2020, more than 550 students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, and trustees joined together to explore themes of race and racial justice. The inaugural event allowed the extended campus community to explore both the legacy of historical racism at Hollins and how contemporary struggles for racial equity and justice continue to shape learning spaces and experiences.
The Rev. Dr. Chelsea Brooke Yarborough believes that any celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. is not complete without recognizing the women who were essential in creating his legacy.
An assistant professor of liturgical studies and Styberg Teaching Fellow at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Yarborough shared her hope of expanding the King narrative in her webinar, “Activism and the Women Who Made King,” presented as part of Hollins University’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Without the existence of Black women, Martin Luther King Jr. just wasn’t,” Yarborough said. “That doesn’t take away from him but adds to the robustness of his legacy.”
Yarborough described the voices that surrounded King as “an ecosystem of activism. To study an ecosystem is to study the relationships of interacting organisms in any given community. Interdependence is the deepest gift of creation, the true mark of flourishing.”
She continued, “When we talk about the civil rights movement, too often other issues of intersectionality are left out of the conversation. I am struck by how often I hear [King] taught as an individual with a movement behind him, and not an entity within an ecosystem of other important parts.”
Yarborough centered on the contributions of “just a few of the Black women whose lives made King’s legacy possible.”
“The Invisible Labor of Intimacy”
King’s wife, Coretta Scott King; his mother, Alberta Williams King; and his two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice King, were the civil rights leader’s “invisible labor of intimacy,” said Yarborough. “They are often the ones who take up the cost of the call in ways that aren’t written or archived. Their lives are critical to think about when we unpack the ecosystem of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activism.”
Yarborough cited The King Center’s description of Coretta Scott King: “From the earliest days, she balanced mothering and movement work, speaking before church, civic, college, fraternal, and peace groups.”
“For Coretta Scott King,” Yarborough said, “mothering was a part of the movement because she was raising Black children as she was speaking in these spaces about the necessities of justice and equity. The movement was also part of her mothering. She was speaking toward a world that her children would be better off in than the one they were currently experiencing.”
Coretta Scott King saw herself as her husband’s partner in the movement. She “spoke of the ways that for her, their partnership with its imperfections was put together by God and that she chose this life as part of her own sense of calling and legacy in this world. Martin Luther King Jr. was intentionally put forth as the face of the civil rights movement. Someone had to carry it. She knew that support, care, compassion, and presence would be critical, to be the voice of reason when no one else was around that said, ‘You can keep going.’”
After she wed Martin Luther King Sr., Alberta Williams King was forced to quit her job as a educator because Georgia law at the time prohibited married women from teaching. “So,” Yarborough explained, “she found other ways to participate in education through her activist work,” which included membership in Atlanta’s NAACP chapter. “Her grandson, Martin Luther King III, said, ‘Her greatest task was developing her own children. She explained the vestiges of racism, insisting that they must make this world a better place.’”
Martin Luther King Jr. and his mother were very close, Yarborough stated, “and his upbringing was foundational to who he was and what he became. We can’t forget the woman who actually gave Martin life.”
In his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice, were “the women whose lives Martin Luther King Jr. helped to shape in this world,” Yarborough said. “As I consider where Yolanda and Bernice, ages 12 and five, respectively, were with their dad when he was assassinated, I thought about the particularities of Black girls and how too often we forget that there are differences developmentally between Black girls and Black women. For some of us, we might be a little too quick to say the movement is more important than an individual family unit. But, I do think that it is important for us to consider what that sacrifice might be like for a child.”
“Complementary Oppositions that Create Opportunity”
Fannie Lou Hamer became active in the civil rights movement in 1962 and established herself as someone, according to Yarborough, who “was fighting for those that sometimes even the movement itself forgot.” Hamer was “a critical conversation partner [for King] because she made sure that class and education were part of the rights they talked about. Her affinity was to the call, not to King.”
To Yarborough, Hamer represented the importance of a “complementary opposition in an ecosystem, an opposition that creates opportunity. Sometimes you need a voice that says, ‘Y’all are doing a good thing, and yet there’s still more to do.’”
“‘Tell Them About the Dream, Martin’”
The address for which Martin Luther King Jr. is best known is his “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered before more than a quarter of a million people during the March on Washington in 1963. Yarborough highlighted the two Black women who played pivotal roles in transforming that address into what Brittanica.com calls “one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement and one of the most iconic speeches in American history.”
One of the first women ordained by the American Baptist Association, Prathia Hall was, in Yarborough’s words, “a preacher among preachers, a speaker among speakers.” King was in the audience when Hall delivered a prayer that referenced a dream. The prayer had a tremendous impact on King, and he remembered the dream motif when he and his colleagues were writing the March on Washington address. “Hall is so critical to this ecosystem because it reminds us that a moment in someone’s presence and in their circle can create a legacy that lasts a lifetime,” Yarborough said.
Among King’s closest friends was the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. “King would call her when he was in particular need of encouragement. It was said her voice carried a balm that would soothe his soul,” Yarborough said.
The March on Washington took place on a hot August day, and as King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, Yarborough recalled that “people were starting to leave. He was losing folks even though his content was good. His friend on the platform [Jackson] witnessed what was happening but knew that no heat was going to stop this moment from what it needed to be. Standing behind him, Mahalia Jackson exclaimed, ‘Tell them about the dream, Martin.’ Moving from a speech to a sermon, and moving from what was prepared to purposeful flow and proclamation, King found his rhythm. Using the ‘I have a dream’ repetition, inspired by Prathia Hall but ignited by Mahalia Jackson in real time, this [address] becomes what we know today.”
“Do the Work that Ignites You”
Moving forward from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day remembrance, Yarborough encouraged “thinking about the spaces and roles you can serve. Whether you find yourself at the face of a movement or somewhere else, your role is important. We can’t detangle the inherent interdependence of all of us. We all have a role, even if it’s not seen as the role.
“I invite you with hope, with love, with possibility, with joy, with all that is within you to step fully into yourself and do the work that ignites you, that centers justice and the wellness of those not often given the luxury. And as you do, don’t forget to take a look around at the ecosystem that is helping to make you.”
In October, Hollins University announced a new scholarship opportunity specifically developed for young women in the Roanoke Valley region hoping to earn a college education.
Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) is a scholarship program that offers a pathway forward for these young women. It’s the chance to turn the hope of a college degree into reality, with scholarship recipients being granted the ability to attend Hollins full-time for four years — tuition free.
The HOPE scholarship program is intentionally named.
Hope is a powerful and motivating force in our individual lives and in our communities. For each and every life’s journey, there is first a sliver of hope for what’s to come. Hope for who we want to be and a hope for how we want to become our future selves.
In our “What Hope Means” series, we’re highlighting conversations with individuals from our Hollins community who discuss what hope personally means to them. We’re also spotlighting the powerful impact that this scholarship will have on the ambitious young women in the Roanoke Valley who are striving to better themselves through their education.
What ‘HOPE’ Means to Mary Dana Hinton, Ph.D., President of Hollins University
Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton’s journey as a leader in higher education began with her own hope for a brighter future.
Growing up in rural North Carolina in a low-income household, Hinton’s ambition was to attend college. Achieving this goal would place her in the first generation of her family to do so.
“College was always a dream of mine, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I would bring that dream to reality,” she said. “I know what it feels like to hope and to wonder if an education is even possible.”
For Hinton, it was the generosity of both individuals and her community that helped her attend college. Having that support to ensure her hopes and dreams were realized has been the driving motivation for her career ever since.
“My single goal in this life is to strive toward ensuring that no other young woman has to worry about how she will overcome the barriers to earning her education. If she hopes to get an education to uplift herself, her family, and her community, I want to help make that possible.”
Hinton’s Hope for HOPE
Through her first-hand experiences, Hinton understands the critical importance of creating systems and processes that enable a young person who wants to achieve a college education the opportunity to do so.
She has built a career as an active and respected proponent of the liberal arts and inclusivity, and her leadership efforts reflect her deep and abiding commitment to educational equity, particularly supporting young women who may not be able to envision a pathway from high school to college.
“My hope is that this scholarship program will allow any young woman in the Roanoke Valley Region the opportunity to chase her dreams, to fulfill her grandest aspirations and to enable us here at Hollins University to help her envision, leverage, and grow into her fullest potential,” Hinton said.
“That was missing for me as a young adult, and so it is my privilege, my honor, and my responsibility to create these opportunities for others,” she added.
The Power of HOPE
Funded by the generosity of Hollins alumnae, friends, and donors, the Hollins Opportunity Promise through Education program is designed to remove some of the financial worry and burden for local families who seek to pursue an education for their daughters.
Hollins’ HOPE scholarship is a direct means for turning hope into action. The scholarship creates an opportunity for young women and their families to identify a pathway forward in achieving their dreams of attending college.
For Hinton, the effect of one educational experience is not limited to the young woman earning it. The actual impact is much more widespread.
“When an individual has the opportunity to receive or achieve an education, they then have the responsibility to help lift up their communities and all those around them,” she said. “Our HOPE scholarship will certainly give hope to the young women who receive it, but our expectation is that they will then become conveyors and conduits of hope in our local community.”
To learn more about Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education scholarship, visit hope.hollins.edu.