Hollins University has announced that commencement exercises for 2021 will take place on Wednesday, May 19, at 1 p.m. at the Berglund Center in downtown Roanoke.
This year’s commencement will honor members of the class of 2021 receiving bachelor’s degrees, as well as graduate students earning advanced degrees in both 2020 and 2021.
Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton stated that, in consultation with the class of 2021, the Berglund Center was selected for this year’s ceremony because it will give graduates the opportunity to invite more guests than what the university would be able to allow at an on-campus location based on COVID-19 social distancing protocols.
“Provided public health limits on gathering size permit it, each graduate will be able to have up to six guests,” she explained. “As in past years, this event will be livestreamed for those unable to attend.”
Undergraduates from the class of 2020, whose commencement was postponed last year due to the pandemic, have elected to have their celebration coincide with Reunion Weekend in June 2022.
“While our goal is to celebrate together in person and with guests as planned, please be aware these plans may change based on guidance from and/or restrictions imposed by the CDC, the Virginia Department of Health, or an executive order by the governor,” Hinton noted. “If a change were to occur, we would notify the community accordingly.”
Reservations for attendees will be required in advance. Additional details about the reservation process as well as other commencement information will be shared with the Hollins University community in the coming weeks.
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.”
As Hollins students rejuvenate from a challenging fall semester and prepare for what will be an equally demanding spring semester by enjoying an extended Winter Break, they will be able to remain engaged and connected, both academic and socially.
Hollins is planning a calendar of online curricular and cocurricular activities and events during what normally is January Short Term (J-Term) that is both entertaining and educational and designed to appeal to a wide array of interests.
Students wishing to focus on keeping healthy in both body and mind can take part in a weekly wellness series as well as virtual yoga and guided meditation classes and “Stress Free Sunday” sessions intended to help oneself thrive during difficult times. The schedule of events will also feature discussions on topics ranging from literature, works of art, and career preparation to trans justice, spirituality and LGBTQIA, Korean culture, implicit bias, and building cultural humility. Students who wish to take a “digital deep dive” can earn a Digital Technology in the Workplace Certificate, while those who want to pursue international learning experiences can register for “Travel Tuesdays” and “World Wednesdays” and also try their hand at global literacy quizzes.
Creativity in the arts will be showcased. Students can crochet and knit; make collages, linocut prints, mobile paper sculptures, zines, and postcards; build their skills in writing with sensory detail, on social justice, and in short forms; virtually explore the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum; and watch via Zoom livestream the annual Hollins – Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works, featuring exciting new plays by Hollins playwrights.
And, there will be lots of fun activities, including virtual “Get to Know Hollins” scavenger hunts, a photo/video contest, a murder mystery party, a virtual tabletop role-playing game, a trivia night, bird watching, and that year-round Hollins favorite, Bingo Night.
On Monday, January 18, a special prerecorded program honoring the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. will be made available for viewing throughout the day, which will feature Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton’s presentation, “Why Goodwill Is Not Enough.” Members of the class of 2024, University Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Catina Martin, Associate Dean of Cultural and Community Engagement Jeri Suarez, and Caitlyn Lewis, graduate assistant in Cultural and Community Engagement, will also participate in the program.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to continue having an impact nationally well into the coming year, Hollins announced in early October that students will not be returning to campus for J-Term this year and residence halls will remain closed. In-person, virtual, and/or hybrid seminars will not be offered during this year’s session, and the J-Term academic requirement for credit has been suspended for the 2020-21 academic year. Virtual internships, independent study projects, and remote theses are the only activities that will be approved for credit this J-Term.
Spring Term classes, which will be taught in-person, online, or through a hybrid mix of those forms of instruction, will begin on February 10, 2021.
The Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works, which each January showcases compelling new plays by students from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, is headed online for 2021.
“Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we will be producing and performing the entire Winter Festival of New Works through the magic of Zoom,” said Ernie Zulia, artistic director and chair of the Hollins theatre department. Along with Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau, he co-leads the Hollins Theatre Institute, which produces the Winter Festival annually in partnership with Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre.
Taking place January 21 – 31, this year’s event is featuring two fully produced plays and two thesis play readings by Hollins playwrights. Each Zoom livestream is free and open to the public, but advanced reservations are encouraged as audience capacity is limited.
The 2021 schedule includes:
Missing Red Girls, written and directed by Max Bidasha
January 21-23, 7:30 p.m.
January 24, 2 p.m.
Based on true stories about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and inspired by activist, storyteller, and mother Jennifer James, the play follows two families on their journeys to find their loved ones who were stolen from them. The families endure racism, many obstacles, and very few resources. Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.
Saturday Fringe Spotlight: The Care Taker, written by Stephanie Goldman and directed by Michelle LoRicco
January 23, 2 p.m.
The complicated relationship of a mother and daughter gets even more complicated in this twisted love story when what is hidden in the closet is forced to come out. A wound that is hidden can never be healed. Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.
Shadow of the Son, written by Kate Leslie and directed by Lauren Brooke Ellis
January 28-30, 7:30 p.m.
January 31, 2 p.m.
Artemis is the goddess of the moon, and her brother, Apollo, is the god of the sun. Expected to live up to the ideals of the immortals, Artemis longs for freedom and the opportunity to chart her own path. But when she builds her own world away from that of her father, has she simply traded one set of impossible expectations for another? Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.
Saturday Fringe Spotlight: The Magic Stick, written by Erica Zephir and directed by Breana Venable
January 30, 2 p.m.
In this memory play, narrator Mary tells the story about returning home to her mother to escape spousal abuse. As she searches for happiness and fulfillment, she encounters many adversaries, and the aura of her husband haunts her. Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.
The number of Hollins students recognized this year is a record for the university.
Model Arab League (MAL) is a project of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that seeks to foster greater understanding of the Arabic-speaking world by U.S. students. NCUSAR also sponsors internships, study trips to the region, international conferences, and networking opportunities, and the organization’s student programs coordinator is a Hollins alumna: Katie Grandelli ’20. Hollins has taken part in MAL conferences since 2015. (The university has also participated in Model United Nations [MUN] conferences since 2000.) John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch teaches the MUN/MAL class and advises the MUN/MAL Club.
ARMAL, normally held on the Hollins campus, was conducted virtually this year. For the first time, the conference included a simulation of the Arab Court of Justice (ACJ), and Hollins is the first host of a regional MAL conference to have an ACJ; students who participated were assisted by Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, a practicing attorney.
Hollins students earning honors at ARMAL this year include:
Lillian Albrecht ’24, who won two awards for her work on the ACJ: Outstanding Justice and Outstanding Advocate.
Salima Driss ’23, Jaiya McMillan ’23, and Susanna Helms ’24, who were recognized with Outstanding Advocate awards.
Acadia Czeizinger ’22, Mollie Davis ’22, Maggie McCroby ’22, and Bianca Vallebrignoni ’23, who received Distinguished Chair awards for leading various conference councils.
In addition, Carly Jo Collins ’21 and Delia O’Grady ’22 served as ARMAL’s Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General, respectively.
Offering both manuscript and “write now” workshops, the Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop (TMWW) at Hollins University is presenting its first-ever Winter Recharge Weekend, Jan. 29-31.
“This is an opportunity to recharge your creativity, reconnect with the Tinker Mountain community of writers, and reframe your work,” said TMWW Director Fred Leebron.
Manuscript workshops, limited to eight participants, enable writers to get feedback on their work and learn what other writers are doing. Write now workshops, limited to ten participants, allow writers to immerse themselves in the craft of writing and generate new work without the pressure of preparing or reading manuscripts.
The Winter Recharge Weekend will be entirely virtual, kicking off with a social session on Friday evening, January 29. Workshops will be held on Saturday and Sunday, January 30 and 31, from 10 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 4 p.m.
“The weekend is just the right amount of time to affirm your writing and reset for the balance of winter and spring,” Leebron explained.
“All Styles/All Forms Fiction Manuscript Workshop” with Leebron, an award-winning novelist and short story writer. He has founded and directed writing programs in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, and has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level for nearly 30 years. He also co-authored a textbook on fiction writing.
“The Middle Place Manuscript Workshop for Fiction Writers, Memoirists, and Essayists” with Barbara Jones, an executive editor at Henry Holt & Company, where she edits fiction, memoir, and an idiosyncratic short list of nonfiction. Her writings have been published in Salon, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
“Write Now Workshop: Poetry and Nonfiction” with poetry and nonfiction author James McKean, who has published two books of essays and three books of poems. A winner of the Iowa Poetry Award and the X.J. Kennedy poetry prize from Texas Review Press, McKean’s work has also appeared in The Atlantic, Iowa Review,Gettysburg Review, and the Southern Review.
“Write Now Workshop for Fiction Writers” with Daniel Mueller, author of two collections of short fiction, a winner of the Sewanee Fiction Prize, and a faculty member at the University of New Mexico and in the low-residency M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte. He is currently working on a memoir.
Artists, arts advocates, and arts and cultural organizations are among the nominees for the 2020 Perry F. Kendig Arts and Culture Awards. Co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College, the Kendig Awards recognize exemplary individuals, businesses, and organizations in Virginia’s Blue Ridge that support excellence in the arts.
The Kendig Awards are named for the late Perry F. Kendig, Roanoke College’s seventh president and a supporter of the arts. The Kendig Awards were established in 1985 and presented annually by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge through 2012. Hollins and Roanoke College first partnered the following year to bestow these important honors.
Due to COVID-19 and the restrictions in place, the awards event will not be held this year. The decision was made to protect the participants, community and the students because the event is usually held on campus. The 2020 nominees and winners will be recognized at an awards event in the fall of 2021 where the nominees and winners from 2020 and 2021 will be recognized. That event is not yet scheduled.
Nominees for the 2020 Kendig Awards:
Artemis Journal: Artemis Journal has inspired creativity and fellowship for people of all backgrounds in the region for over 40 years. The Journal serves thousands of people in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and across the globe with its features of up-and-coming artists and writers as well as award-winning artists. Since its origination in 1977, Artemis Journal has been an advocate for social justice and highlights all deserving artists and writers.
Bryan Hancock: Hancock is a musician, poet, actor, slam artist, DJ and band member known as “Harvest Blaque.” His most noteworthy achievement is what he has given the community through his bi-weekly “Soul Sessions,” which are open-mic events that provide an inclusive space for all individuals, particularly from marginalized groups, in the Valley to express themselves freely.
Kerry Hurley: Hurley has influenced the community as a professional musician, producer, songwriter, recording artist, and radio show host and producer. His love of the blues is shared through his “Blues Show” radio program, a staple for 20 years. His own music career includes two popular bands — The Thrillbillyz and The Fat Daddy Band. Hurley opened the Blue 5 restaurant in downtown Roanoke, giving blues music a stage in the heart of the city. Hurley gives back to the community by mentoring young artists.
Robert Nordt Sr.: Nordt is an integral part of the art and culture scene in the region. He personally ensures the prosperity of organizations such as Opera Roanoke, Second Presbyterian Church, Roanoke Valley Choral Society, Roanoke College Choir, and Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. His contributions enable local arts and culture organizations to achieve their goals and remain successful.
Todd Ristau: Ristau is primarily responsible for developing the region’s artistic impact from local entertainment to the national spotlight through his creation of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University. As program director, Ristau provides actors and directors with a high-intensity-low-residency M.F.A. program that helps them sharpen their skills as they learn about innovative ways to expand their artistic capabilities.
Roanoke College Olin Hall Galleries: Olin Hall Galleries provides the greater Roanoke community with a wide breadth of experiences ranging from high-quality gallery shows to hands-on community engagements. Over the past 10 years, the Gallery has grown tremendously due to the passionate and community-oriented work of the Gallery Director Talia Logan. Recent successes include the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef/Roanoke Valley Reef and the Paper Blooms Project.
Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir: The Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir (RVCC) is a well-known, prestigious choir directed under the exemplary leadership of its founder, Kim Davidson. RVCC delivers high-quality concerts both locally and abroad including collaborations with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Opera Roanoke, as well as concerts in distinguished venues such as Orchestra Hall in Chicago, the Mormon Tabernacle, Carnegie Hall, and Canterbury Cathedral.
Smith Mountain Arts Council: The Smith Mountain Arts Council (SMAC) has led the charge for coordinating performing, visual and literary arts in the Smith Mountain Lake area. The SMAC provides opportunities for individuals and groups to participate in and enjoy the arts by sponsoring local artists, hosting events and granting local high schools scholarship aid to graduates who excel in the arts.
Third Street Coffee House: This non-profit listening room has been known as a hidden gem offering intimate performances through open mic nights, opening and featured acts, and guitar pulls. Third Street Coffee House does not charge cover fees making it exceptionally accessible. Instead they offer a “pass-the-hat” donation option for listeners to directly support the artists featured onstage.
Pat Wilhelms: Wilhelms served as the Director of Education and Outreach at Mill Mountain Theatre for many years before starting the Roanoke Children’s Theatre (RCT) in 2008. One of Wilhelm’s top priorities as founder of RCT was to ensure theatre was accessible to every child in the Roanoke area by touring RCT productions to local libraries, community centers and schools.
Dwayne Yancey: Yancey is an award-winning journalist who now serves as the editorial page editor for The Roanoke Times. He is a unique and creative writer and is a passionate advocate for the arts throughout the region. Yancey is a successful playwright and actor as well. He has written a large number of plays and short pieces that have been produced in theaters and institutions across the United States and abroad. In addition to his own playwriting, he is a founder of Roanoke’s branch of No Shame Theatre in association with Mill Mountain Theatre.
“Leading EDJ is the result of an awesome collaboration between folks from across our campus,” Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies and Director of Faculty Development LeeRay Costa said in her opening remarks. “What began as an idea for advancing critical conversations around inclusion, identity, and equity on our campus became today’s event in the span of just 42 days.”
The “social unrest, violence, and an uprising of everyday people from all walks of life in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers” this summer, as well as everyday injustices experienced by Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, Costa noted, were among the catalysts for Leading EDJ Day.
“The call in the nation for social justice was loud and resolute, but it is not new. It was only the most recent iteration of a fierce and aching plea that has been voiced repeatedly by racial and ethnic minorities in North America for hundreds of years.”
Costa added that Hollins, like other colleges and universities around the country, reacted to the deaths of Floyd and Taylor and the reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement “with a statement of solidarity and shared anguish over the suffering of our fellow human beings, and a promise to do more. And like so many other institutions, Hollins was called out by some for being generous with our words but repeatedly failing to live those words in ways that have meaningful difference to marginalized and underserved members of our community.” She explained that Hollins still needs to come to terms with its own history of racial injustice, including the use of enslaved people to support the institution and its mission.
“To say that Hollins University was built on the backs of Black and Brown people is not hyperbole, nor is it meant to incite,” Costa said. “It is merely to tell the truth.”
In her welcome, Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton echoed Costa, stating that “during this pandemic and moment of racial reconciliation, we must speak truth.” She cited Costa “for her original vision and bold suggestion” to create Leading EDJ Day, and paid tribute to the committee of campus community members that brought the idea to reality. “Perhaps a different group would have deferred. A different group might have said, ‘Let’s wait until it’s easier. Let’s look away. Let’s not do our part; perhaps someone else will do it for us.’ But this group, this committee for whom I am so very grateful, looked at one another and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ And we did. And we did it because it is hard. We did it, in fact, because time is working against us and the need for justice.
“But most of all, we did it because our students and this institution that we love so dearly needed us to. Because we all deserve more. We all deserve better.”
Hinton also praised the more than 40 Hollins students who planned and presented sessions during the day that “come from a place of care, a desire to belong, a need to be seen and appreciated for their experiences, both good and bad. Our students genuinely believe they can make us better, and we them.”
Makda Kalayu ’23 co-led the presentation, “Caring for Your Neighbors: Promoting Beloved Community,” along with Kiah Patterson ’23 and Tyler Sesker ’22. The session featured an exercise to encourage attendees to identify their own implicit biases, followed by a discussion on identifying and breaking down stereotypes of Black people that impact those biases.
“It was a great space to have these difficult conversations,” Kalayu reflected. “A mix between faculty, staff, and alumnae/i diversified the discussion and encouraged people to talk. And [it] also helped to direct the conversation in a really interesting way. Everyone was super respectful. A lot of [participants] came in with an eagerness to learn about the topic.”
“The New Vanguard: Pushing the Envelope in Revolutionary Discourse,” moderated by Leah Coltrane ’22 and Amy Duncan ’21, explored ways of not only transforming one’s own community, but also the way one interacts with their community and themselves on a daily basis.
“We carry a lot of trauma, and making space to take care of those things is important,” Coltrane told attendees. “If you’re not taking care of your spiritual self while trying to learn, trying to do this work, you will not be successful.”
Tia McNair, Ed.D., vice president in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and executive director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Centers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C., delivered conference’s keynote address, “Truth, Healing, and Transformation: From Equity Talk to Equity Walk.”
The renowned author and speaker considered two crucial questions: How do we prepare the next generation of strategic leaders and thinkers to break down racial hierarchies and dismantle the belief in the hierarchy of human value that fuels social injustice? And, how do we examine our own perceptions of equity, diversity, and inclusion to advance practitioner knowledge for racial justice in higher education?
“Our job as educators, as leaders of institutions, is to do the ‘people work’ first,” McNair said. “We have to understand our own mindsets, our own preconceived notions, our own biases, before we can even attempt to transform systems and structures. If we focus on becoming best practitioners that uplift the goals and values of what it means to be diverse and equitable and inclusive, [to be] justice-focused, equity-focused, and anti-racist-focused, then we can do the work to transform our systems and our structures.”
McNair encouraged attendees “to figure out the kind of institution you’re going to be, and stay true to that in all areas as we clarify our actions. To be equity-minded is a mode of thinking exhibited by practitioners who are willing to assess their own racialized assumptions, to acknowledge their lack of knowledge in the history of race and racism, to take responsibility for the success of historically underserved and minoritized student groups, and to not only build their knowledge about race and racism, but also to critically assess racialization in our own practices as educators and administrators.”
Costa emphasized that the first Leading EDJ Day “is just one small step on that journey of transformation, to becoming a more equitable and just university, workplace, and in the words of [feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist, and writer] bell hooks, a ‘home place.’ A place where every single one of us feels like we belong. It’s an opportunity for truth-telling, for listening with our defenses down and our hearts and minds open, and for learning new ways of being together across our differences.”
Stressing Hollins’ “unique responsibility to create an environment wherein each person feels and is loved as they are,” Hinton expressed the university’s obligation as a liberal arts institution “to explore, to know, to honor, and to hold with care the experiences of those around us. To engage multiple perspectives that challenge our own. To open and free our minds to engage with ideas, concepts, people, and experiences that challenge us. That forces us to think critically and creatively. That demand we solve the complex problems of the day in conversation with others.
“The liberal arts demand this work of leading equity, diversity and justice. Indeed, today reflects the meaning and purpose of education and our collective responsibility and mutual accountability to all those we encounter.”
Top photo: Hollins’ Diversity Monologue Troupe, a team of student leaders who perform monologues to help the university community understand the diverse identities and life experiences of people on campus and to broaden the perspective on various stereotypes commonly reinforced in society.
Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton has announced that the university’s first annual “Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day” will take place on Friday, October 23.
The conference will promote learning and engagement around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.
“Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day aims to create an intentional and meaningful space for all of us to reflect, learn, and facilitate action toward making Hollins a more equitable and just community,” Hinton explained. “This day will bring together members of our community and prominent local and national figures to learn from one another in various formats, both face-to-face and online.”
Hinton noted that given the urgency of current events and movements for justice across the nation, the inaugural event will center on race and racial justice. “This will allow us to explore both the legacy of historical racism at Hollins and how contemporary struggles for racial equity and justice continue to shape our learning spaces and experiences. Future conferences will focus on the many forms of diversity we see reflected in our community, all of which merit our attention.”
Tia McNair, Ed.D., a Roanoke native and renowned author and speaker, will deliver the opening keynote address, “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation: From Equity Talk to Equity Walk.” She is the vice president in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and executive director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Centers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C.
In order to enable students, faculty, and staff to take part in Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice Day, classes will be cancelled and administrative offices closed on October 23. “We are taking these steps to create not a day off, but a day on, where all campus community members will have the opportunity to participate in the day’s events,” said Hinton.
Acclaimed author, civil rights lawyer and legal advocate Michelle Alexander understands that a lot of change can happen in just 10 years. A decade ago, Alexander had just published her first book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Some critics at the time considered the book’s subject dubious, especially since the nation had just elected its first Black president in Barack Obama. Still, The New Jim Crow would go on to spend almost 250 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list—transforming Alexander’s career as a legal scholar and author—and recently had a 10th-anniversary edition released with a new foreword by Alexander.
On Tuesday, September 22, Alexander “visited” Hollins (via Zoom) as part of the university’s Distinguished Speaker Series. The bestselling author had a virtual sit-down with Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton to discuss the 10th-anniversary edition of her book as well as a host of other issues including racial unrest in the U.S. and social activism both on and off-campus. “We’re grateful to have these timely and robust conversations,” said Hinton in welcoming Alexander to the videoconference, which was live-streamed exclusively to the Hollins community, with over 400 in attendance. “The text remains as relevant and resonant today, perhaps even more so, than when it was released.” (This video features highlights of their dialogue.)
“It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 10 years,” replied Alexander. “When I was researching this book, Obama hadn’t been elected president yet. Trayvon Martin hadn’t been killed. I felt desperate to sound an alarm about the crisis of mass incarceration, seeing up close [through my work] the victims of racial profiling and police violence. And now 10 years later, with all of the viral videos of brutal police killings and the uprisings, it feels in many that the whole world hasn’t changed. The [criminal justice] system continues to function in pretty much the same way as it functioned 10 years ago—or 15 years ago—or 30 years ago.”
However, Alexander was quick to add that she did find hope in the creation of new protest movements and increased social activism, in particular movements led by formerly incarcerated and convicted people. “There’s been an explosion of movement-building and organizing and leadership,” said Alexander. “And that’s enormously encouraging to me. Until we hear from the people who’ve been most harmed, transformational change is impossible. And as long as those voices are excluded from decision-making spaces and tables, transformational change is impossible.”
A graduate of Stanford Law and Vanderbilt University, Alexander has received numerous legal awards and fellowships, including a Soros Justice Fellowship, and clerked for legal luminaries such as Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court and Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Though just her debut book, The New Jim Crow has become so influential that it’s even been cited in some judicial decisions as well as read in countless book clubs and college classrooms across the country.
To that point, in advance of the Q&A on Tuesday, Hollins students were given access to free e-editions of the book (there was also a limited number of free hardcopies available). Students and faculty were then invited to meet virtually with Hinton to discuss and propose questions for the interview.
Following up on the book’s popularity on campus, Hinton said that colleges, universities, and, in particular, the liberal arts were good places where students could “rehearse what it means to have courage and have a voice and step up” before engaging politically in the bigger world off-campus.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement that our democracy will not survive without robust liberal arts education,” Alexander replied when asked about the role of the liberal arts in relation to social justice. “That’s one of the main pillars of a successful, thriving, multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-faith democracy. It can help us learn more about our past and present so we can respond to our present moment with wise action and with greater concern and care for our fellow citizens. Without it, we are stuck in patterns of reactivity. We can be misled by demagogues and be inspired to resort to fear-mongering.”
Near the end of the hour-long discussion, Hinton asked The New Jim Crow author about finding courage to speak the truth in the era of Fake News and constant misinformation. “How are we ‘midwives to this next generation?’” Hinton asked, borrowing Alexander’s language, “How are we midwives as we look at the [transformational] change that’s so important?”
Alexander acknowledged the difficulty in answering that question. “It can feel overwhelming at times,” she said. “We’re at a moment where I think our democracy literally hangs in the balance. I think what’s important is for us to pause and think: How can we use our skills and our talents to their highest use for this moment? And how do we educate ourselves about history, our racial history, about the present, about how to do democracy? What’s important is not just being aware and awake, but being willing to act with some courage. Because if we see what’s happening but lack the courage to speak up or step out, we can be as awake as we want to be, but if we act without courage, it’s all for naught.”
Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.