Searching for Waymarkers

LeeRay Costa is professor and director of gender and women’s studies, and director of faculty development, at Hollins University.

 

My last day on the Hollins campus this semester was March 15. I went to my office to gather my books, files, course materials, and supplies with the hope that this new arrangement of working from home and teaching remotely would be temporary. It is hard to believe that seven weeks have now passed and that we have begun our last week of spring classes. On the one hand I am admittedly relieved that what sometimes feels like the terrible, horrible, awful, no-good spring semester is finally coming to an end. On the other hand, I deeply miss my Hollins students and colleagues. And while I have secretly come to loathe the #Zoomlife and its inability to capture the joyful energy of being physically together, I cherish every moment I get to see you and talk with you, even on a screen. Unlike most of our students, I have the freedom and ability to return to campus, but I have avoided doing so because I can’t bear the thought of being there without all of you. This separation weighs heavily upon my heart and there have been days during this quarantine when I have felt unmoored and lost. I imagine you may have felt that way too.

This feeling of being lost conjures my experience of being a pilgrim. Five years ago during my sabbatical, I embarked on a pilgrimage. Over the span of 33 days I walked 400 miles from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago, Spain on the Way of St. James, also known as the Camino de Santiago. I walked for many reasons: personal, professional, physical, and spiritual, and imagined myself following in the footsteps of my Portuguese ancestors.

My journey was a decade in the making and, as an obsessively detailed planner, I had prepared for months before embarking on it. Nevertheless there were days when I found myself off track and distressed. The truth is, even when we think we know the path and have a map to give us direction, we may unexpectedly find ourselves lost along the way. This lostness can be disorienting and even scary. And it can simultaneously offer up profound life lessons: crystalizing for us our strengths and sense of purpose, and illuminating for us what we cherish most.

The Camino de Santiago is indicated by a series of waymarkers, usually yellow arrows or golden scallop shells. These are maintained by volunteers of local pilgrim associations, and offered as an act of kindness and support for those making the journey. As I walked, those waymarkers provided me with a sense of confidence and reassurance. I smiled and whispered my gratitude each time I discovered one.

More often than not camino waymarkers are easily visible, though sometimes they are hidden, and occasionally they are present yet terribly confusing. I will never forget a particular section of the camino near Porriño. Apparently, members of the community surrounding this area were arguing over the route. Some wanted it to flow directly through the very industrial and concrete center, so that they could benefit economically from the pilgrims who were likely to stop and buy food and supplies. Others wanted to divert pilgrims to a path through the woods, to preserve the reflective nature of their journey and to physically prevent them from walking on dangerously trafficked roads. What resulted were a series of competing waymarkers that had been repeatedly covered over, with new arrows spray painted in their place. Each morning individuals from opposing sides would set out to conceal the marks of their rivals. For unsuspecting pilgrims like me this resulted in confusion about the way forward and dread that I might make a wrong turn and lose my way.

There have been days during the quarantine when I have felt transported to that moment of fear, confusion, and anger over a situation I did not create but must figure out how to handle. Like many of you, I have stumbled my way through new modes of teaching, learning, working, communicating, and sharing space and resources with folks whom I love dearly but that occasionally get on my nerves. I have had to make hard choices about what and whom to prioritize and how to get the necessary tasks of everyday living accomplished while struggling with a lack of motivation and tearfully mourning the many losses I have experienced and continue to witness all around me. I have felt the despair of not knowing what lies ahead, and longed for the unambiguous waymarkers that remind me that everything is going to be alright.

My pilgrim experience also reminds me that sometimes those clear and reassuring waymarkers are actually right in front of me but I remain unable to recognize them. This may be because I am distracted and have let my attention wander, or because I am so lost in the story unfolding in my own mind that I have ignored the signs all around me telling me and showing me something quite different. As I have revisited these lessons and brought them to bear on the current moment, I have realized that at least some of this feeling of being unmoored and lost is tied to the experience of being dis-placed: dis-placed from our beautiful Hollins campus, our beloved Hollins community, and our treasured rituals that create a sense of certainty, connection, and shared purpose.

And yet, even in this displacement, our waymarkers remain. Because whether you recognize it or not, each one of us – students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni – is a yellow arrow, a golden camino shell, for someone else in our community. Individually and collectively, we provide direction, reassurance, a sense of calm, and support for one another, no matter where we happen to be currently residing. Perhaps this is something our alumni know best, scattered as they are across the globe but forever knitted into the Hollins experience.

These waymarkers, embodied in the members of the Hollins community, inspire me and remind me that no matter how isolated or lost I may feel, I am not alone. Through our relationships, our shared experiences, and our mutual care for one another we form a network of connection and hope that transcends both time and place, and that can anchor and fortify us in these unpredictable times. As we continue through the end of the term, into summer and beyond, I encourage you to look for the yellow arrows and golden scallop shells that surround you, to delight in their shine, and to give thanks for their presence on our collective journey.

 


Looking to Safely Spend Time Outdoors? Hollins Faculty Offer Some Helpful Ideas

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more and more people are heading outside as a way to stay healthy and ward off cabin fever. However, the dramatic rise in the popularity of outdoor activities has made social distancing, a key component of protecting oneself and others from the coronavirus, increasingly difficult.

To help maximize the benefits of spending time outdoors while safeguarding against the spread of COVID-19, Hollins Outdoor Program Director Jon Guy Owens and Professor of Anthropology and Gender & Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa recommend these tips for social distancing on trails and greenways. Included are links to finding trails close to home that are not heavily used, and practicing the art of “forest bathing,” a way of connecting with the natural world.


Major Scientific Journal Publishes Hollins Professor’s Study of Reducing Tick-Borne Diseases

The world’s 11th-most cited scientific journal is highlighting findings by a Hollins faculty member that controlled burning could be an effective tool in battling tick-borne pathogens.

Scientific Reports, an open-access publication featuring original research from across all areas of the natural and clinical sciences, has published “Frequent Prescribed Fires Can Reduce Risk of Tick-borne Diseases,” whose lead author is Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Elizabeth Gleim.

A previous two-year study by Gleim and her fellow researchers determined that tick populations were substantially lowered where long-term prescribed fires, “an especially common and necessary land management practice in fire-dependent ecosystems such as open pine forests, grasslands, and fire-maintained wetlands,” were employed.

“In the current study,” Gleim’s report states, “these ticks were tested for pathogens to more directly investigate the impacts of long-term prescribed burning on human disease risk….The incidence of these tick-borne diseases has increased in the past several decades and several new pathogens have emerged….Thus, the need to find cost-effective, practical approaches to reducing tick-borne disease risk is more important than ever.

“To follow up on our finding that long-term prescribed fire significantly reduced tick abundance,” the report continues, “the current study tested the ticks collected in that previous study for common tick-borne pathogens to investigate how prescribed fire may affect pathogen dynamics.”

Gleim and her team performed the first-ever major survey of tick-borne pathogens in southwestern Georgia and northwestern Florida. The results offer “exciting implications for public health as it appears that prescribed fire, when performed on a regular basis, significantly reduces encounter rates with ticks infected with pathogenic bacteria.” Reductions in tick populations were sustained rather than temporary “through regular, long-term prescribed fires [that] resulted in a drier microclimate at ground-level….”

While the results of the study are encouraging, Gleim concludes with a couple of caveats. “Because all of our burned sites had been burned on a regular basis for a minimum of ten years, further research needs to occur to determine how long regular burns would have to occur in order to achieve the results observed in this study. Additionally, the particular habitat and microclimatic conditions that are required for the results observed in this study seem to imply that the ability of fire to reduce tick populations and disease risk may vary depending on ecosystem-type and the management objectives of the prescribed fire.

“Thus, similar studies need to be conducted in different ecosystems and regions of the country to determine whether long-term prescribed burning could have effects similar to those observed in the current study on different pathogens and/or within different ecosystems.”

Scientific Reports received more than 300,000 citations in 2018 and garners widespread attention in policy documents and the media. It is part of Nature Research, a family of journals that includes Nature, the leading international weekly journal of science first published in 1869.

 

 


Political Science Professor Sees Oman’s Significance to U.S. Foreign Policy During Middle East Fact-Finding Trip

Hollins University Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch recently traveled with seven other American academics to the Middle East nation of Oman as part of a trip sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR).

Lynch, who was selected as an Oman Alwaleed Fellow by NCUSAR in July, journeyed to the Omani cities of Muscat, Nizwa, and Salalah, August 13 – 23.

Lynch said the trip highlighted the importance of Oman to U.S. foreign policy, especially in the wake of the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. “The first contacts between the Obama Administration and the government of Iran occurred because the Omani government was able to talk to both sides and get them together,” Lynch said. “This is a part of the story that the U.S. media is not telling.”

Oman’s foreign policy is based on the principle of “friend to all, enemy to none.” Its leadership has been particularly friendly to the U.S. government. Lynch was told by one U.S. official, “There isn’t much that we ask of the Omanis that they don’t provide.” Lynch added that Oman’s actions were instrumental in all but destroying the threat of piracy from Somalia.

Lynch emphasized that Oman’s friendship is crucial to American consumers: 60 percent of the world’s oil flows through its territorial waters. “Any serious upheaval in Oman could result in the return of $4 or $5 gas in the U.S.,” he explained.

The trip also made it clear to Lynch that this U.S. ally will potentially be in great trouble in the near future. The long-time Sultan is elderly and in ill health. He has no children or brothers and has not named a successor.

At the same time, Oman finds itself in a difficult position in between mortal enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran. A civil war in Yemen threatens Oman’s southern province. While spared the violence and upheaval of the Arab Spring so far, Lynch said Oman’s future is far from clear.

Founded in 1983 and based in Washington, D.C., NCUSAR  is an American non-profit, non-governmental, educational organization dedicated to improving American knowledge and understanding of the Arab world. Hollins will continue its relationship with the organization this fall when the university hosts the Appalachian Region Model Arab League, November 6 – 8.

Photo caption: Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch meets with  H.E. Mohamed Al Hassan, Chief of Minister’s Office, Oman Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Political Science Professor Selected as Oman Alwaleed Fellow

Hollins University Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch has been named an Oman Alwaleed Fellow for 2015-16 by the National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations (NCUSAR).

The fellowship includes a study visit to the Middle Eastern nation of Oman in August.

The fellowship is highly competitive; only eight college professors are selected each year nationwide. After visiting Oman, fellows will spend the year implementing a variety of programs, events, and outreach efforts in their home communities. These programs will permit Alwaleed Fellows to share their knowledge of Oman and familiarize Americans with this strategically important country.

“The nation of Oman lies directly across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, and most oil tankers that enter and exit that waterway do so through Omani territory,” Lynch said. “Given Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the volatility of the world oil market, knowing more about the role of the Gulf States, and Oman in particular, is vitally important.

“Most Omanis are fairly knowledgeable about the United States, but most Americans know almost nothing about Oman. I hope my efforts will address that imbalance.”

Lynch expressed his optimism that his fellowship is the start of an ongoing relationship with NCUSAR’s student programs, which include dozens of Model Arab League conferences around the country. Hollins will host the 2015 Appalachia Regional Model Arab League Conference in November.

“We are proud of Ed’s fellowship, and happy that Model Arab League will be coming to Hollins,” said Hollins President Nancy Gray, noting that Hollins students have been active participants in Model United Nations for years.

Lynch chairs the political science department at Hollins, and is a former Academic Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He has previously traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Chile, Denmark, Israel, and the People’s Republic of China as part of official delegations.


Hollins Professor Has Dialogue with Kurdistan PM, Libyan Ambassador at ASMEA Conference

lynch_kurdistanDr. Edward Lynch, (left),  John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science at Hollins University, met with the leader of Kurdistan and Libya’s Ambassador to the United States during the Fourth Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), held November 3 – 4 in Arlington, Virginia.

Lynch talked with Barham Salih, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, following His Excellency’s remarks at a luncheon on Friday, November 4. “He spoke of the remarkable economic, political and social progress of the region since the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003,” Lynch said. “Foreign investment is flowing into the region, and roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects are being built.”

During his meeting with Salih, Lynch received an invitation to visit Kurdistan.

Lynch queried Ali Suleiman Aujali, Ambassador of Libya to the United States, at the conference’s opening reception.

“He gave a soothing description of what he called ‘the new Libya,’ and told us not to worry about radical Islam, weapons of mass destruction, or links to terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda,” Lynch recalled. “I asked the Ambassador what sort of relationship the ‘new Libya’ would have with the state of Israel. Clearly taken aback by the question, he responded that Libya is a member of the Arab League. The League has stated that if Israel withdraws from the ‘occupied territories,’ its members will consider normal relations. He also called upon ASMEA members to persuade U.S. representatives to put pressure on Israel to bring about the withdrawal.”

Lynch added, “My question caused quite a stir, and I was told it and the Ambassador’s non-committal answer will be featured among the conference highlights on ASMEA’s web page.”

Lynch is an Academic Fellow of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, which is affiliated with ASMEA. He also presented a paper on U.S. relations with Uganda at the conference.