When Alexa Hulse ’24 enrolled at Hollins, focusing on gender and women’s studies (GWS) “was not on my radar. I thought I was going to major in English or French or both.” That all changed when she took Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa’s first-year seminar course on distinguished author and social activist bell hooks.
For the first time, Hulse recalls, “I was exposed to feminist theory. I liked what I was learning, so I kept taking GWS classes. It just fit, the way Hollins did.”
Since the beginning of her sophomore year, Hulse has enjoyed another good match: an internship with Lilith, a New York-based Jewish feminist magazine that’s been published quarterly since 1976. Together, her major and her internship have been instrumental in her personal and scholarly growth.
“GWS has been wonderful,” Hulse says, noting that she has taken the majority of her major courses with Costa, who is also her advisor. “Her classes are definitely challenging, but I feel like my brain expands when I’m taking them. The discussions and readings are enriching.”
One of the advantages of her major, Hulse explains, is that “there are so many classes at Hollins that are cross listed with GWS. That means I get to learn from a lot of other disciplines. Right now, I’m taking my first political science class. It’s given me a new perspective on the world. How I see things now is different as a result of the knowledge I’ve gained from these classes.”
Before Fall Term 2021, Hulse began researching internship opportunities and reached out to jGirls+ Magazine, whose readership is Jewish girls and teens. jGirls+ had published several of Hulse’s poems when she was in high school and she had developed strong ties with Elizabeth Mandel, the magazine’s executive director. Unfortunately, there were no openings, but Mandel suggested that Hulse contact Lilith, which was seeking an intern. “I had no idea what Lilith was at the time, but I looked it up and thought, ‘Wow, this seems like the perfect fit for me.’ I interviewed with them, started that fall, and have been there ever since.”
During a period that is now approaching two years, Hulse has conducted interviews and written news and blog posts. She has been encouraged to develop and pitch her own story ideas, and she’s written profiles of Los Angeles-based poet Rhiannon McGavin and Mindy Abovitz Monk, creator of Tom Tom magazine, which focuses on female and gender non-conforming drummers, percussionists, and beat-makers worldwide.
Considering everything she loves about Lilith, Hulse cites the fact that “it’s not only a feminist magazine but also a feminist workplace. They treat me as an equal even though I’m an intern. They’ve been supportive throughout and helped me make the connections that I needed.”
One of those connections was with Evelyn Torton Beck, a founding member of the Jewish lesbian feminist collective Di Vilde Chayes; editor of Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology; a catalyst in developing the women’s studies program at the University of Maryland, College Park; and a longtime Lilith writer. Hulse and Beck engaged in a wide-ranging and enlightening discussion that resulted in a two-part series published in Lilith in late January: In “Looking Back: Jewish Lesbians Connect Across Generations,” Beck answers Hulse’s questions; “Looking Forward: Jewish Lesbians Connect Across Generations” features Beck interviewing Hulse.
“It was a meaningful conversation,” Hulse says. “I wanted to do the interview because there was not a lot of information out there about Evelyn or her work. I discovered the power of learning that history and documenting it so it isn’t lost.”
In addition, Hulse states that she benefited from “connecting with someone who shares both a queer identity and a Jewish identity. It’s hard to find elder people here in either identity category, so I thought it would be cool to share our perspectives with one another. We are separated in age by about 60 years, but we’re navigating the same questions of identity in the same communities and seeing how that has evolved.”
Hulse notes that what she has learned in GWS has contributed to what she has accomplished in her internship, and vice versa. “A lot of what I’m thinking about in my classes, I’m also thinking about in my work. In terms of what I have to offer Lilith, the insights I have from those classes are valuable. Dr. Costa’s Girlhood Studies course informed what I was interested in exploring when I started my internship. And in my Spiritual Activism class, also with Dr. Costa, I wrote about keeping Shabbat over the course of a semester. I interviewed some of my coworkers about their experiences with the Sabbath and intentional rest. My major and my internship mutually support each other.”
Along with her work at Lilith (she is currently in the process of updating the magazine’s digital archives, “a massive project but I enjoy doing it”), Hulse has several goals she’d like to achieve at Hollins before graduating in 2024. One of her biggest aspirations is to revitalize the university’s Jewish Student Alliance.
“Jewish students should have greater community and spaces to be with each other on campus. I also would like to see more resources and support from the institution for Jewish students: more Jewish faculty, more Jewish books in the library, and more Jewish awareness, in whatever form that might be,” she says.
Hulse believes students, faculty, administration, and alumnae/i can further strengthen the work that’s underway to rebuild community in the pandemic’s aftermath. “Students and faculty have really great ideas as to what they want to see for Hollins, but it’s hard for students to do that without faculty support and it’s hard for faculty without student engagement. Bridging that is important.”
Her specific advice to students, whether they are incoming or already at Hollins, is, “Don’t be afraid to make connections. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish here, and I know a lot of that is because I’ve reached out to people. It wouldn’t have happened except for that.”
Hulse plans to continue with her internship at least through the summer and is preparing to begin work on her senior thesis. “I don’t know what it’s going to be, maybe a zine exploring a particular topic, but there’s going to be a photography element. I love working in the dark room so I’m going to find a way to incorporate that.”
After completing her studies at Hollins, Hulse eventually plans to attend graduate school “for gender and women’s studies or to get my master’s degree in Jewish studies through rabbinical school. I know that I want to be a Jewish professional of some sort and I’d like to work in a progressive feminist or queer Jewish community, either a nonprofit, a synagogue, or Jewish school.”
She’s also not ruling out the publication that, throughout a significant part of her undergraduate career, has provided her with a profound, life-changing experience.
“Lilith is truly my dream work environment. I would like to return there someday.”