A Passion for Activism: Summer Allison ’23 Makes a Difference on Campus as an FLI Guide, Public Health Advocate

As a high school senior in Texas, Summer Allison ’23 produced a paper for her dual credit English course that would have an enormous effect on her future.

“I wrote about the benefits of women’s colleges and how they foster leadership in women,” she says. “Since that paper, I always wanted to come to a women’s college because I thought it would be the best option for myself, particularly because I’m first generation, low income. I thought that the best option for me would be having the ability to create leadership within myself. I also thought Virginia would be a nice change of pace from Texas, and maybe Hollins would be right up my alley.”

As fate would have it, Hollins was launching a new program called FLI, designed to serve first-generation, limited-income students. Allison was invited to be part of FLI’s first cohort during her first year.

“I think the attributes that attracted me to FLI was that I knew I wouldn’t have my mother to depend on here. Also, I grew up in a small town where you go to school with the same people you’ve always known. I wouldn’t have that here and there was no one for me to fall back on. I knew I had to establish relationships early on, and if there is one characteristic of myself where I wanted to belong, it’s definitely first generation and low income.”

FLI is led by sophomore, junior, and senior mentors who work closely with students during pre-orientation and throughout the academic year to enable them to build relationships, connect with valuable resources, and learn important tips for success. Drawing upon their own first-hand experiences, the guides had a profound impact on Allison. “They relied on what they personally knew about campus to give us knowledge rather than something that was just cut-and-dried like, ‘This is what our training says to tell you.’ It was very insightful and really cool.”

For Allison, having those connections throughout her first year made a major difference in her adjustment to college life. “I knew I always had at least one person that I could ask questions without feeling like an idiot, feeling like I don’t belong, or feeling like I should already know that answer. That was big, being able to communicate with a person like me enough to understand my perspective and not make me feel as though I were an outsider.”

When Allison made the transition to FLI Guide her sophomore year, she was able to draw upon more than just her first-year Hollins experience to help new students. For a number of years, Allison has been supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which is devoted “to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need.” She applied to the organization’s Young Scholars Program when she became eligible at age 12, and subsequently was accepted into the Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program, which will enable her to graduate from Hollins debt-free. (Read more about the Cooke Foundation’s impact on Allison.)

“I thought there were aspects of what I knew from being in the Cooke Foundation and working my way to be able to go to college in the first place that I could add to the FLI program,” she explains. “I never wanted my position to just be ‘guide.’ I genuinely wanted to be friends with the students. It’s about being nurturing as much as it is understanding what I have from training and being able to apply it.”

When FLI students first arrive on campus, Allison focuses significant effort on helping them make the switch from the high school to the college environment. “They don’t always understand that within the university, it’s actually a little town, a community. They don’t know the layout of the campus and they have no idea about the offices and services that are most beneficial to them. They don’t know how to look for those things, but I also don’t think they were given the skills necessary to even think to look for those things. The way that you depend on your parents when you’re not in college, transitioning to a college where you may be miles away from your parents is incredibly daunting.”

So, Allison gives her students a crash course in learning the Hollins campus, inside and out. “I tell them, ‘I’m going to take you to the library, the IT department, Health and Counseling Center, and Career Center. I’m going to show you where the business office, registrar, and financial aid are located.’ I’m always here to help, but this is what they are going to need in their own arsenal to navigate college life.”

Allison is double majoring in sociology and public health, and has helped establish a public health club at Hollins. “We want to provide practical knowledge such as how to have safe sex or how to apply for health insurance, especially if you’re from out of state and you might need something like Medicaid. We also want to inform students about policies that are being enacted, how those affect them directly, and why it’s in their best interest to vote for people who would create the most beneficial policies for us particularly as a student body.”

With the Cooke Foundation’s continued financial support, Allison plans to attend graduate school after Hollins and is considering careers in environmental law (“Climate change is having a big impact on public health.”) and public policy analysis.

Allison’s passion for activism, particularly on one’s own behalf, is something she seeks to instill in FLI students. “If you’re absolutely itching to go to college, you’ve got to take that into your own hands. You cannot wish, hope, or pray that someone else will do it for you. You have to represent yourself as a first-generation, low-income student who is worthy to go to college. Advocate for yourself. Find a network of people that is willing to help you realize that dream.”

Allison encourages other Hollins students to join FLI and argues the program should not be stigmatizing. “Changing the name ‘first generation, low income’ would be concealing our identity in a way that harms us more than it benefits us. I don’t think participating in a program that is meant to help you and only you in your particular circumstances is a bad thing. What we do is so integral to first-year students.”

In light of the fact that she had to overcome so many obstacles to attend Hollins, Allison says she chooses to view FLI “as a symbol of pride. I think other people should do the same.”




New Scholarship Program Fully Covers Tuition Costs for Young Women Locally with Financial Need

Hollins University is launching a new scholarship initiative that prioritizes lifting the burden of private college tuition for students with financial need.

Designed for students living in the greater Roanoke Valley region, the Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) scholar program specifically supports young women who wish to pursue a college degree at Hollins with zero tuition debt.

“HOPE makes a college education affordable for young women regardless of their ability to pay, and supports them in taking the next step toward achieving their academic and professional goals,” said Ashley Browning, vice president for enrollment management at Hollins.

Under HOPE, any young woman admitted to Hollins for the fall of 2022 who resides within 40 miles of campus is invited to apply. Students whose families have a household adjusted gross income of $50,000 or less will receive priority when HOPE funds are awarded.

“The cost of tuition is fully covered for HOPE scholars for all four years, including any year-over-year tuition increases, through a blend of academic merit scholarship, need-based federal and institutional aid, and the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant,” Browning explained. “HOPE scholars who live on campus may choose to apply federal loans to the cost of room and board.”

The HOPE scholar program is intended to enhance the already vibrant community of Hollins students from the local area. “Nearly 12% of our student body hails from the greater Roanoke Valley,” Browning said. “Roughly two-thirds of those students commute and one-third are in residence.”

Browning emphasized that a local student whose family’s household adjusted gross income exceeds $50,000 can still qualify for generous financial assistance at Hollins. “We award over $29 million annually in scholarships and financial aid above and beyond the HOPE program. All first-year, full-time students admitted to Hollins are guaranteed $24,000 annually in academic merit scholarships. And, local students benefit from many types of financial support beyond HOPE, including endowed scholarships specifically for students hailing from our home region.”

Candidates wishing to receive first-round consideration for HOPE funds beginning in fall 2022 should submit a completed application for admission and scholarship application by January 1, 2022. “Submissions received after that date will be reviewed as funds are available,” Browning added.

Hollins Receives CIC Grant to Support “Partners in Purpose” Project

Hollins University is welcoming a $10,000 Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) Professional Development Award for activities that strengthen vocational exploration programming for students.

Supported by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), the grant will bolster the establishment at Hollins of Partners in Purpose (PIP), a project intended to build effective strategies for advising and mentoring undergraduate students.

“PIP will provide invaluable opportunities for Hollins faculty, staff, and alumnae/i to think deeply and collectively about the role of vocation and purpose as it relates to undergraduate education,” says Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “Our goal is to prepare campus leadership to do the meaningful work of discernment and life purpose.”

PIP is made up of three components:

  • A faculty/staff development initiative will launch in September and continue through May 2022. The series of monthly workshops will be facilitated by Rev. Catina Martin, university chaplain, and LeeRay Costa, director of faculty development and professor of anthropology and gender & women’s studies, and will include guest speakers, a curriculum on vocation and purpose, and contemplative activities. The workshops will emphasize the unique college and life experiences of underrepresented, disadvantaged, or marginalized students, and provide a space for faculty/staff to read, learn, and reflect together. Quarterly workshops led by professional development speakers will be recorded to create a library of vocational learning for faculty, staff, and alumnae/i mentors.
  • Alumnae/i mentoring workshops will begin in Spring Term 2022. This series will draw from the work of Hollins’ Center for Career Development and Life Design, as well as from a tested mentoring model used for students participating in the university’s Batten Leadership Institute.
  • PIP’s experiential component, which is not funded by the grant, will involve the development and implementation of a new vocation-based program in which Hollins faculty/staff and alumnae/i mentors work closely with a cohort of 12 Fellows made up of students representing first-generation, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and low-income populations. Starting in the 2022-23 academic year, campus leaders will conduct monthly sessions that focus on vocation and life calling, meaning, and purpose. This pilot program will expand to future generations of Hollins students after the grant project is completed.

Martin and Costa are developing the PIP curriculum this summer and will share further details with faculty and staff in the coming weeks. “We are focusing on the language surrounding these discussions,” Martin explains. “We want to be attentive to the role of spirituality in exploring vocation and discernment, as well as factors such as gender and sexual identity, class, race, culture, and community identity that shape students’ conceptualization of purpose and vocation. As we prepare campus leaders to think about working effectively and meaningfully with students around vocation and purpose, it is imperative that our approach be as inclusive and diverse as possible.”

NetVUE is a nationwide network of colleges and universities, of which Hollins is a member, formed to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students. In support of this goal, members may request funds for activities that enhance the knowledge, skills, capacity, and expertise of campus leaders.











Hollins Alumnae Share in Winning Innovation in Diversity Award for Black + Abroad Series

A partnership led by five Virginia higher education institutions, including Hollins University, has been honored with the GoAbroad Innovation in Diversity Award for 2021.

The award recognizes strategic efforts to expand international educational opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups.

Jasmine Carter '19
Jasmine Carter ’19

Hollins, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Randolph-Macon College, Bridgewater College, and Shenandoah University were chosen as this year’s award winners for their initiative Black + Abroad. This virtual series, held during the 2020-21 academic year, curated a space for Black students to share their thoughts, questions, and reservations about travel (and study abroad) by engaging in conversation and storytelling with experienced travelers and study abroad alumni of color and education abroad advisors. The series was organized by the education abroad staffs from each of the five schools taking part in the collaboration.

“The mission is to close the gap between being Black and going abroad. Black students hear from their peers, engage in candid conversations, and learn about how to overcome challenges to studying abroad, whether those are financial, practical, or racial,” said Jasmine Carter ’19, who along with fellow Hollins alumnae Nya Monroe-Stephens ’20, Tori Carter ’21, and Saffron Dantzler ’21 participated in Black + Abroad. All volunteered to share their experiences as Black travelers, overseas residents, and study abroad participants.

Nya Monroe-Stephens '20
Nya Monroe-Stephens ’20

Black + Abroad was first launched at VCU as an annual event created by study abroad alumni students of color. It subsequently evolved into this year’s virtual series, which featured six free sessions and welcomed 724 international educational professionals and 258 students. Recordings of the sessions, as well as additional resources for support and guidance, are now available on the Black + Abroad website as a tangible resource for students of color.

“Studying abroad can be a scary prospect for many students, even for those who know they want to travel,” explained Carter. “Black students have their own unique concerns and challenges, which can often be overlooked or misunderstood by advisors, peers, and programs.”

Tori Carter '21
Tori Carter ’21




Carter added that by fostering discussions around “Blackness” and “Black perceptions” abroad, Black + Abroad is ensuring students “feel inspired and gain insight from experienced travelers who had to take the leap to travel for the first time at some point. At the same time, advisors will see the perspectives of Black students in order to better understand their needs and serve them in a more effective and equitable way. The goal is to help students gain answers to the following questions: What resources do Black students need to be successful? How have other Black students overcome barriers to study abroad? And, what do Black students wish they had known before they studied abroad?”

Saffron Dantzler '21
Saffron Dantzler ’21


Black + Abroad was cited during the 11th annual GoAbroad Innovation Awards, which celebrate institutions, organizations, and individuals that are advancing the field of international education. The winners are chosen by the Innovation Awards Academy, a group of international education leaders.

For more information about study abroad and global engagement opportunities at Hollins University, contact Ramona Kirsch, director of international programs at kirschrr@hollins.edu or 540-362-6214.





Hollins Names Nakeshia N. Williams, Ph.D., as the University’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Hollins University has announced the appointment of Nakeshia N. Williams, Ph.D., as vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion (VPDEI). She will ensure Hollins provides an inclusive experience for all of the students and employees the university serves.

Williams comes to Hollins from North Carolina A&T State University, where she was an associate professor in the educator preparation department in the College of Education. During her tenure, she taught diversity courses to undergraduate and graduate students that were grounded in the interaction of equity, access, and achievement as they pertain to the academic, social-emotional, and identity development of P-20 (pre-school through higher education) individuals. She has served as a campus gender and equity faculty leader as well as an advisor to several student organizations.

Additionally, Williams chairs the diversity, equity, and inclusion special interest group of the North Carolina Association for Colleges of Teacher Educators. She has led numerous diversity and equity initiatives at the local, regional, and state levels, and collaborated with state and local schools, senior faculty, colleagues, and nonprofit organizations to identify and offer solutions to complex issues.

Williams holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in urban education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She received her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and bachelor’s degree in English education from South Carolina State University. A licensed professional counselor for over 12 years, she has also written numerous published articles and book chapters highlighting her research on equity and access in P-20; culturally responsive teaching; academic and global identities of minority students; socioemotional experiences of P-20 students; and teacher preparation programs at minority serving institutions.

“Hollins has endeavored to create a diverse and welcoming community, but we still have work to do to achieve inclusive excellence,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “In her new role as VPDEI, Nakeshia will provide the leadership to ensure we are continuously striving for an improved and more inclusive and equitable campus environment. She will connect with students, faculty, and staff to provide programming and create new opportunities for deep, sustained, and institution-wide inclusive engagement and experiences. We look forward to her leadership in crafting practices and policies that foster belonging and are reflective of our loftiest ideals as expressed in our mission as an inclusive liberal arts community.”

“I am very excited about joining the Hollins campus community,” Williams said. “I look forward to working alongside administration, faculty, staff, and students in cultivating programming and initiatives aimed at improving diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence at Hollins University.”


Te’ya Mitchell ’21 Earns Urban Teachers Fellowship, Will Uphold Their Mission to “Teach for a Just Future”

Throughout her time as a Hollins undergraduate, Te’ya Mitchell ’21 has been guided by a passion for transformative change. She launches a new chapter in that commitment this July when she embarks on a four-year fellowship with Urban Teachers, an inclusive organization whose mission is preparing educators to improve the lives of children in urban schools. Over the past ten years, Urban Teachers has brought more than 1,500 aspiring, culturally competent teachers to three of the nation’s cities with the highest need: Baltimore, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

“You get to work closely with a teacher as well as a whole team of mentors that follows you throughout your four years with the program,” Mitchell, who will teach in D.C., explains. “The goal is not only to help you become a good teacher in the classroom, but also become invested in students’ lives outside the classroom.”

The senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, began her Hollins journey considering three possible majors, ultimately deciding that gender and women’s studies would be the best route to realizing her goal of addressing institutions that disadvantage marginalized people (she is also minoring in English and social justice). “What stands out about gender and women’s studies is it concerns itself with your perspectives, your lived experiences, where you come from, and how all of that shapes your view of the world. The skills I learned in this major – research skills, conversation skills, critical thinking skills – are skills I’ll be able to take with me for the rest of my life. Also, I wanted to study racism and classism and the gender and women’s studies program focuses on these issues.”

“Te’ya is a brilliant and tenacious advocate for educational equity and opportunity,” says Assistant Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies Courtney Chenette. For an assignment in Chenette’s Gender and the Law course last year, Mitchell researched and proposed a future application of the law and theory introduced in the class. “Te’ya wrote of her aspiration to apply to Urban Teachers, noting that ‘education is about people…and they acknowledge that structural racism and inequality have kept generations of urban children from receiving the education they deserve.’”

Mitchell admires Urban Teachers for its willingness to challenge those power structures and its acknowledgment that racism and classism have an impact on education. “Urban Teachers is going into schools and instead of just fitting into the existing system, they are looking at the ways that system can be changed to make it more sustainable and a really empowering place for students. When there’s a teacher who is an authority figure and a student at the bottom, you are just telling stuff to them. Education should be about building connections with students based on their backgrounds, their culture, and their home life, and teach them that way rather than from a perspective of, ‘I’m so far removed from you that we can’t communicate.’”

One example of Urban Teachers’ tangible success in making a difference that Mitchell cites is their efforts to further initiatives that have been put into place over the past five to ten years “to deal with conflict in the classroom in ways that make sure students have methods to calm themselves rather than punishing them with suspensions.”

Mitchell believes there is an even greater sense of urgency to meet students’ needs in light of the impact of  COVID-19. “Even before the pandemic, there was a huge gap in technology. Now, with online learning, a lot of students just don’t have access to computers or the computers they have are broken. The pandemic has definitely created a barrier between class space and home space, and there’s a race gap and a wealth gap involved with that. Since we don’t know at what point we will go back to in-person learning, how do we help students who have things going on at home? How do we work with them instead of punishing them for not having the perfect home space or being the perfect student? They need to be seen as people and not as bad students.”

Urban Teachers is highly selective and acceptance involves a rigorous application procedure that requires essay writing, personal recommendations, and a lengthy interview process that includes an all-day session with teaching, group exercises, and individual interviews. Not only are prospective fellows seeking to work with the organization itself, they are also applying simultaneously to the master’s program in education at Johns Hopkins University. Fellows complete their master’s degrees during their first two years with Urban Teachers.

“I’m very excited about that,” Mitchell says, noting that she will pursue certificates in special education and in teaching English as a second language at JHU. After finishing her fellowship with Urban Teachers, she says her next stop will be law school to prepare for a career in either education law or family and children’s law.

Mitchell sees tremendous potential for how her studies at Hollins will intersect with the goals of Urban Teachers. “I think there are lot of overlaps between Urban Teachers and the gender and women’s studies program,” she explains. “Communication and a lot of other skills I have learned are directly transferable – they don’t have to be translated to fit into education because they are a natural part of education. At the same time, having a better understanding of power and privilege in this country will make me a better teacher and advocate for my students.”





English and Creative Writing Professor’s Artistic Journey Brings “Voices Into Dialogue”

When Professor of English and Creative Writing T.J. Anderson III is asked how long he spent writing his newest book, he says he always answers, “It took me 62 years.”

Of course, he’s joking. But as Anderson further explains, a profound truth lies in that reply. “First, I had to acquire language. I next had to acquire an aural sensibility because music is very much a part of my aesthetic. Then of course, I had to read a lot of books and a lot of poetry to get to this point.”

The latest literary stop on what Anderson describes as his life’s “artistic journey, a journey that is rooted in African-American culture and American culture” is Devonte Travels the Sorry Route, a collection of poems published in 2019 by Omnidawn Publishing. The work is his fourth volume of poetry following Cairo Workbook (Willow Books, 2014), River to Cross (The Backwaters Press, 2009), and the chapbook At Last Round Up (lift books, 1996). He is also the author of Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry (University of Arkansas Press, 2004) and the spoken word CD, Blood Octave (Flat Five Recordings, 2006).

“I think the work that I write is me, and it’s also not me and it’s community,” Anderson said. “One of the things that I think is true, which is a way of thinking about the afterlife of slavery in regard to how we inhabit this historical time, is the sense of temporal engagement where the past, the present, and the future are not discreet and cut off from one another. Rather, we live in simultaneity of that entanglement. That’s my challenge as a writer: How does one narrate that? How do I bring those voices into dialogue?”

When describing his aesthetic, Anderson cites two core components. He employs fragmentation and compares it to making “a quilt where I’m constantly gathering various kinds of materials, different kinds of fabrics, some silk, some rough cotton, and stitching these things together so that these fragments are in conversation. There’s the use of space in my work, too, where there are things that can’t be said or I haven’t found the words for these things.”

Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is presented in four parts, and Anderson has also developed a process for making those divisions that aligns with his perception of the poem as a musical score. “I’ll print out all of my poems and go into a large room and lay every piece of paper on the floor. Then, I’ll walk around and read them. I’ll see what fits, what’s developing in terms of a narrative and musicality. First and foremost, it’s music. I’m orchestrating things in terms of how I hear them sounding and putting them into a particular order. They’re kind of musical sections.”

Anderson’s inspiration to begin writing the poems that would ultimately become Devonte Travels the Sorry Route stemmed from seeing a painting byDevonte Travels the Sorry Route Irish-American artist Brian Counihan called “The Sorry Route.” He was intrigued by the work’s two dominant figures – one man in a tri-cornered hat and another who appeared to be in shackles – and the way the painting evoked colonialism.

“All of a sudden I started writing these poems that came to me that embodied this voice of a character who called himself ‘Dickerson,’” Anderson recalled. “After I drafted a few of my Dickerson poems, I started sending them out to magazines and some were getting accepted, which was really pleasing. I began to see that somehow I was working on a series.”

Anderson learned that Omnidawn, which specializes in innovative and experimental writing and is one of the author’s favorite publishers, was sponsoring an Open Book Poetry Contest where anyone who has already published a book can submit an entry. He put the series of poems into a manuscript, changed the main character’s name from “Dickerson” to “Devonte,” and Devonte Travels the Sorry Route was created. To Anderson’s surprise, the manuscript was named a contest finalist.

“The publisher called to congratulate me and as I talked to him I realized that I had only 20 poems of mid-size length in the series. Now, that will get you what is called a chapbook, usually a small printing of poems that runs about 40 to 50 pages and has just a limited dissemination. So, I really tried to expand it by writing more poems and opening up more space.”

Why did Anderson change the name of his poems’ key figure? “‘Dickerson’ has a kind of harshness to it, so one point I was going to call the character ‘Dante’ as an allusion to The Inferno, but I decided not to do that. I chose ‘Devonte’ because it alluded to ‘Dante’ but it also was a distinctly African-American name and certainly sounded more poetic than ‘Dickerson.’ At the same time, I realized there was a young man by that name who was a victim of police violence.”

In the series, Anderson says his title character “traverses time. His sense of identity is constantly being cut by historical events, so much so that there becomes no discernable separation of past and present. I’m responding to the painting and shifts of identity within the African-American cultural and historical narrative. Devonte inhabits multiple dimensions, and in several poems, he encounters history on both a macro and micro level that doesn’t solely apply to dates and images. How do we deal with the ghost of history? Devonte resists and straddles all those attempts of containment by society.”

At its core, Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is the story of an artist for whom jazz is a profound force. “It is a spiritual connection that goes beyond consumptive entertainment and appreciation,” Anderson explained. “The idea of music – tonal sounds, tonal vibrations – and  what it does to the body, and how it can affect one’s ability to be in multiple places at multiple times, that’s of interest to me.”

The book’s second pivotal character, “more of an idea than an actual person,” is “Isabella.” “I see her as a representation of colonialism and its exploitation of the land that some people see as feminine. But Isabella is being used. She becomes a participant in White supremacist domination. It’s a gendered idea that’s problematic and I hope readers see that.”

Still, Anderson is comfortable with readers approaching his work differently from his own interpretation of it and even missing the allusions he makes. He recalls his own study years ago of the influential American poet Charles Olson and his seminal work Maximus Poems, a long serial poem that encompasses more than one thousand pages. “I read that entire book, I also read the criticism, I also read the biographies on him, and I didn’t understand everything. But later on, the more you allow things to ruminate and to simmer, I began to gain more of an understanding of his work. I think that’s the way I’ve always approached literature and particularly difficult literature. I don’t necessarily feel the need to ‘get’ something at first reading, that it’s important to go back and sit with something, and maybe 20 years from now you might say, ‘Oh, that’s what that line meant. Okay, I get it now.’ And that’s fine. The process for me, the process of literature, is an organic process.”

Watch Anderson’s presentation, Devonte Travels the Sorry Route: The Making of a Manuscript, part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.







Hollins Sociologist Explores How Black Mothers Talk to Their Children About Race

“I’m scared for you. I love you. I’m going to teach you how to be a gentleman. I’m going to teach you how not to be a statistic. I’m going to teach you the skills I know to make you successful in this world. The world already has three fingers against you: You’re supposed to already be in jail, you’re supposed to be a dad, and you’re supposed to be a deadbeat and not take care of your kids. I don’t want that for you. I want you to be able to go to college. I want you to succeed. I want you to have a family, I want you to love people, I want you to be able to show love, I want you to be able to cry. I want you to enjoy this world, but this world will never enjoy you because they are scared of you.”

Tamara, a 26-year-old mother of one son, was among the low-income Black single mothers who shared their hopes and concerns for their children with Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner as part of her dissertation, “#BlackMamasMatter: The Significance of Motherhood and Mothering for Low-Income Black Single Mothers.”

“It’s important that we talk about what it means to be Black in the United States and how that impacts Black mothers and Black motherhood,” Turner said. “For Tamara, the fear that her son would be stereotyped, criminalized, and/or become a target of racist state or vigilante violence manifested itself in this diary entry before her son was even born. This passage illustrates the significance race, class, and gender play in shaping the anxieties of low-income Black single mothers. Tamara recognizes that she will have to work hard to protect her son from the racialized class and gender discrimination that he will likely face for a lifetime.”

Recent statistics demonstrate why those fears are present for all Black mothers. A database established by The Washington Post to track fatal police shootings since 2015 shows that Black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. The journal Pediatrics reported in 2020 that Black children, especially those between the ages of 12 and 17, were six times more likely to be shot to death by police than White children.

Turner also cites the disproportionate rates at which Black children are punished in schools. “Scholars call the phenomenon the ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline.’ Black students represent 31% of school-related arrests. They are three times more likely than White students to be suspended or expelled, and then three times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system in the year following. Later in life they are more likely to enter the criminal justice system. All of this shows us that Black children are not seen in the same way as White children. Black children are presumed to be bad or criminals at a very young age. Black mothers of all social classes grapple with how to protect their children from discrimination.”

In her research, Turner sought to learn more about how low-income Black single mothers talk to their children about race. “Racial socialization is a significant component of Black parenthood. Primarily, Black mothers are doing this work and these conversations begin with their children at a very young age. It’s not only talking with them about how to interact with police, it’s also teaching them how to interact with educators and other authority figures in the hope that their children will not be subject to racist stereotypes and/or violence.”

Turner also addressed what she sees as a deficit in Black parenting studies. “So much of the previous research on the racial socialization practices of Black mothers has focused on middle-class mothers, and I wondered, ‘What’s the difference here with low-income moms, and why isn’t there more focus on them?’”

Turner set out to build upon that previous scholarship. The literature shows that class status doesn’t insulate middle-class Black families from racism. They worry that their children, particularly their sons, will be mistreated by their White teachers and targeted in their predominantly White neighborhoods. These families also face racist stereotypes that associate Blackness with poverty. However, middle-class families are still able to draw upon their status to avoid discrimination.

“[University of Maryland sociologist] Dawn Marie Dow found that these mothers engage in what she calls ‘experience management,’” Turner said. “They encourage their sons to develop skills in athletics and the performing arts that will allow them to traverse racialized class and gender boundaries. They expose them to aspects of Black history, culture, and Black male role models that affirm positive messages regarding Black masculinity. They also pursue ‘environment management,’ in which they scrutinize their sons’ everyday social environment to eliminate discriminatory sources, and enact ‘image and emotion management,’ which involves helping their sons contain their anger, frustration, and excitement, and monitor their dress and appearance.”

Turner argues that these practices fall under the umbrella of “‘respectability politics,’ which essentially is an attempt to counter negative stereotypes of Black people as poor, lazy, and uneducated, emphasizing middle class values of hard work, education, dressing tidily, using proper English, and respecting authority figures.” Respectability politics has its roots in the early 20th century and the Black church. “The idea was, if we could try to dismantle those stereotypes about Black people, and achieve a proximity to Whiteness, we can avoid racial discrimination.”

According to Turner, previous studies of low-income Black single mothers haven’t necessarily examined their parenting concerns, but looked primarily at problems these women experience,  how they view and navigate motherhood generally, and/or the resources upon which they draw. “So, I really wanted to focus on mothering from the perspective of low-income Black single mothers and what it means to them to be a mother. I also wanted to study their parenting practices. I illustrate the work they do every day to negotiate their specific challenges to teach their children about issues they deem important.”

Turner interviewed 21 mothers from Central and Southwest Virginia in 2017 who participate in, or had previously taken part in, Social Services benefit programs. These mothers often face increased scrutiny and are stigmatized for seeking out food stamps and other social welfare services.

“The findings of my research suggest that the practices of low-income Black single mothers are heavily informed by social class,” Turner said. “As in previous studies, the mothers in my research often invoke respectability politics when racially socializing their children. Specifically, as previous research on Black motherhood demonstrates, the mothers in my study fear for their children’s safety, especially their sons, and they often discussed encouraging their children to behave in certain ways in an effort to prevent them from facing discrimination on the basis of their race, class, and gender. Unlike middle-class mothers, however, low-income Black single mothers are unable to assert their class status to avoid racism and discrimination. For these mothers, their employment of respectability politics seems to be more about helping their children surpass their current class status in order to achieve a level of respectability that may help them avoid becoming targets of racism, specifically racist state violence, and also to help them ultimately have a better life than what they currently have.”

The participants in Turner’s study echo similar concerns as those expressed in previous research indicating “that in a lot of ways, race may trump class, at least in some cases, when it comes to the experiences of Black mothers. That is, it appears that Black mothers of all social classes are united in their anxieties about raising Black children in a racist society. Nevertheless, low-income Black single mothers do not have access to the same social, political, and economic resources as middle-class mothers to help them protect their children from racism.”

Turner believes that this study “enhances our understanding of racial socialization by illuminating how race, class, and gender are interconnected in influencing low-income Black single mothers.” She is currently working in collaboration with a Hollins student on a paper that spotlights the racial socialization of Black girls.

“Racial socialization practices look very different when we’re talking about sons and daughters. Typically when socializing boys, Black families tend to emphasize racial barriers. But, when talking to their daughters, Black parents tend to instill messages of racial pride and self-esteem to combat the negative messages that Black girls and women are less feminine and less beautiful than White girls and women. They face disproportionate threats of becoming victims of domestic or intimate partner violence, and threats of sexual assault at the hands of police officers. I’m interested in the role that racial gendered socialization can play in helping Black girls avoid or deal with these threats, and how Black mothers are talking to them.”

Watch Turner’s presentation, “To Be Black and a Mother: The Significance of Black Mothers’ Racial Socialization Practices,” part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.





Hollins Celebrates The Life And Legacy Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, members of the Hollins University community are paying tribute to the civil rights leader with two special video presentations.

“Imagining Peace” reflects King’s commitment to justice and equality through the voices of representatives from the class of 2024, including Keniyah Bullock, Kardera Page, Zoe Raba, Hannah Sandy, and Dymond Williams. Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton; Cultural and Community Engagement Graduate Assistant Caitlyn Lewis ’17, M.A.L.S. ’21; University Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Catina Martin; and Associate Dean of Cultural and Community Engagement Jeri Suarez are also featured.

In “Deeper Understanding for People of Good Will,” President Hinton honors King’s work by sharing “my thoughts on why we as a community at Hollins University have to move beyond good will in order to become a truly inclusive institution.”



Hollins Joins in Partnership to Advance Racial Equity in Higher Education

Hollins University is among the inaugural 55 liberal arts colleges and universities from across the country that have formed a new alliance to champion diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA) will, as reported by Inside Higher Ed, “collaborate on antiracism work, campus climate research, and virtual programming for administrators, faculty, and staff members on how to better serve students of color and address systemic racism.”

The creation of LACRELA was informed by the establishment of a racial equity leadership organization for California’s community colleges by the University of Southern California (USC) Race and Equity Center.

“Having Hollins be an inaugural member of LACRELA signals our proactive and ongoing commitment to ensuring we are at the forefront of inclusion work in higher education,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “We are pleased to be in the company of these other leading liberal arts institutions in our shared pursuit of equity and justice.”

The USC Race and Equity Center will be offering LACRELA members a variety of resources:

  • Beginning in January 2021, a “Racial Equity eConvening Series” featuring a dozen live professional learning experiences will be held throughout the year, each covering a particular aspect of racial equity. The sessions will be presented by highly respected leaders of national higher education organizations; tenured professors who study race relations and people of color; chief diversity officers and other experienced administrators; and specialists from the Center.
  • A repository of resources and tools featuring downloadable equity-related rubics, readings, case studies, videos, slide decks, and conversation scripts will be made available online. Every employee across all levels at each LACRELA member college will have access to the virtual resources portal, which will launch in late spring 2021.
  • A trio of campus climate surveys will be conducted on a three-year rotational basis. The Center’s National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates (NACCC) will be administered in the first year. The NACCC measures belonging and inclusion, the frequency and depth of cross-racial interactions, students’ appraisals of institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion, and other related topics. The Center is developing a pair of workplace climate surveys for Alliance member colleges, one for faculty and the other for staff at all levels, that will be undertaken in years two and three, respectively.

In addition, presidents of LACRELA member colleges will meet quarterly to share strategies, seek advice, and identify ways to leverage the Alliance for collective impact on racial equity in higher education. The presidents will also occasionally come together to craft rapid responses to urgent racial issues confronting the nation.

Virginia liberal arts colleges and universities that have joined Hollins as LACRELA members include Randolph College, the University of Richmond, and Washington and Lee University.