Speak up and be heard
Stirring words from the commencement speech in May by the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale ’75
My sisters, this is your cue, this is your moment in time. There is a world out there that desperately needs you, your gifts, your knowledge, your creativity, and your voice. But be clear: You are about to enter a world where everything that you have learned here at Hollins will be tested. At every turn, you will be expected to prove yourself, because some still find it hard to believe that women are as capable as men. They want to know “what you’re working with,” and I need you to show them. Don’t leave them with any doubt in their minds about who you are.
You found your voice and learned to speak up at Hollins, and you must continue to speak up and be heard, not just for your own survival and success, but for the benefit of all people, especially women, who deserve to live in a world that is equitable and just in every way.
Hale is the founding and senior pastor of the 5,000-member Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia, and considered one of America’s most dynamic pastors.
Photo: Sharon Meador
Last spring, Elizabeth Poliner was promoted to associate professor of English
Elizabeth Poliner has always been a reader and a writer, but she took a circuitous path toward teaching college-level literature and creative writing. One of those diversions was getting a J.D. at the University of Virginia.
“I had always been writing,” she says, “but being a writer in my family was considered ridiculous, to be honest.” There were lawyers in the family, and that made law a more acceptable career choice. An interest in public health further justified getting a law degree. “It was practical, and no one in the family got upset,” she says. “So I did it—only to find that I really wanted to write.”
Working as a lawyer might not have been Poliner’s true calling, but it helped pay her way through American University while she was earning an M.F.A. And the daily writing she did as a lawyer taught her about the importance of discipline to the craft. The only thing she misses about law, after having found a profession that makes her feel “terrific,” is that she “could do the law work, and in the back of my mind I could do the creative writing. I’d come home from work with lots of notes in my pocket.”
Teaching, on the other hand, “is so absorbing that I’m fully engaged. Lots of exciting moments happen all the time, and you can leave the classroom feeling really wonderful when that happens,” she says. Hollins’ single-sex environment was new to Poliner, “but I think it’s good for the students. They’re empowered by it; I think they feel a sense of community that’s very deep. At Hollins, I see tremendous personal acceptance between students that I think is very beautiful.”
The tutorials offered at the graduate level have special appeal to her because she can get to know the students over the course of a year. “I like how much depth we can achieve because of the continuity and the structure of the tutorial,” she says.
Poliner is as dedicated to her own writing as she is to her students’. Her first book, Mutual Life & Casualty, is a novel in stories. In the coming year, two more books will be published: a novel, As Close to Us as Breathing (Little, Brown); and a collection of poems, What You Know in Your Hands (David Robert Books). The title of the latter was taken from one of the poems in the book and refers to the way musicians learn and remember a piece of music. For Poliner, the title also “resonates with the act of writing poetry. It’s a deeper kind of knowledge you have access to.”
Window of time
Jane Goodall brought her message of hope to a large audience at Hollins last April
She may have turned 81 recently, but Jane Goodall still spends 300 days a year traveling the world on a mission to educate people of all ages about Earth’s environmental crises and the many threats to humans and animals alike.
“I’m finding young people who don’t have much hope for the future, who have become apathetic, depressed, and angry. They say, ‘You older generations have compromised our future and there’s nothing we can do about it.’
“Maybe it’s wishful thinking, some biologists will tell you it’s too late to change the way things are going, [and that] we just have to adapt to a world that’s getting worse and worse. But I think there’s a window of time where we can bring about change.”
The noted primatologist and conservationist brought her message of hope to an audience that filled both the Hollins Theatre and duPont Chapel, where her address was simulcast. The event was sponsored by the university’s Distinguished Speakers Fund.
Goodall began her address with captivating stories of growing up in London during World War II and her mother’s invaluable role in “the making of a little scientist: curiosity, deciding to find out for yourself, asking questions, learning patience. A different type of mother might have crushed that. I might not be standing here today. She supported my love of animals throughout my childhood, and she helped me find books about animals because she thought it would help me to learn quicker.”
Two books in particular had a profound impact on Goodall: Doctor Dolittle (“The first book I actually owned. I still have it. I pretended to my friends that I could actually understand the birds, the cats, the dogs. I interpreted their sounds.”) and Tarzan of the Apes, which “began my dream. I would grow up, go to Africa, live with animals, and write books about them. Everybody laughed at me – I was just a girl. Those careers, those adventures, were for boys. But my mother supported this dream. What she said to me is what I say to young people around the world, whether they are rich or poor, whichever country they live in: If you have a dream, she said, you must be prepared to work very hard. You must take advantage of opportunity. You must never give up.”
When she was 23, Goodall’s dream began coming to fruition. She got a job in Nairobi, Kenya, and subsequently met famed anthropologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey. She impressed Leakey with her extensive knowledge of animals in Africa and convinced him she was the person he was seeking to live with and study the chimpanzee in what is now Tanzania. He secured funding to support six months of research, but as Goodall explained, there was another obstacle to overcome.
“Tanzania was still part of the British Empire, and British authorities were not prepared to give permission to this young girl to go out into this potentially dangerous forest with potentially dangerous animals. Nobody really knew anything about chimpanzees except they’re much stronger than us. Leakey never gave up and in the end the authorities said, ‘She can come, but she has to have a companion.’ Who came with me? That same amazing mother.”
At that time, it was widely thought that only humans made and used tools. Goodall’s observation that chimpanzees were also proficient with tools caught the attention of the National Geographic Society, which offered to continue funding her research. This set the stage for decades of groundbreaking work in studying chimpanzees’ complex social structure, research that earned her worldwide acclaim.
Goodall said she became an environmental activist after attending a conference in Chicago in the mid-80s with other chimpanzee researchers. “We had a session on conservation, which was shocking. All across Africa, chimpanzees were losing their habitats, their numbers were plummeting, forests were being destroyed. Since October 1986 I haven’t been more than three weeks consecutively in any one place.” She dedicated herself to “learning more and more about all these terrifying things we are doing to the planet.”
Goodall offered five reasons why she still believes these challenges can be addressed: her Roots & Shoots conservation program for young people, now in 113 countries; the ingenuity of the human brain; nature’s resilience; the power of social media; and the “indomitable human spirit.”
Photo by Olivia Body ’08
Providing access to hidden gems
Cloud-based archives to benefit member institutions
Hollins is one of 42 member colleges and universities of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) in the Consortium on Digital Resources for Teaching and Research. Through Shared Shelf, a cloud-based uniform digital platform, members will be able to increase their capacities to store, preserve, and catalog collections of digital images, documents, audio and video files, and other types of materials, while streamlining administrative capabilities.
Hollins’ first project will be for University Librarian Luke Vilelle and Professor of Classical Studies Christina Salowey to curate collections of images from her archives. These images include such rarely photographed objects as the Hellenistic painted grave stelai and engraved details from the site of Demetrias-Pagasal.
Consortium members will be able to improve teaching and learning and enhance faculty and student/faculty research—on their own campuses and more globally—by making lesser-known or hidden collections searchable and accessible.
R.H.W. Dillard, professor of English, was honored by the Fellowship of Southern Writers with the Louis D. Rubin Jr. Award for his service as a literary mentor to students and colleagues. Dillard is the first recipient of the award, presented to him by Jill McCorkle M.A. ’81 at the April 2015 Celebration of Southern Literature in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Dillard was on a panel called “Poems and Their Backstories” with Rita Dove, Andrew Hudgins, and Maurice Manning.
In May, Kristin Bell ’14 painted images of local flora and fauna on the walls of the second-floor wing of Dana that houses environmental studies and biology. An environmental studies major, with a minor in studio art, Bell is entering California State University–Monterey Bay’s graduate program in scientific illustration this fall.
Darla Schumm was promoted last spring to professor of religion. Her current research focuses on intersections between religious studies and disability studies. She has written several articles and coedited three volumes on the topic of religion and disability.
Take Hollins’ new online tour and share it with prospective students and on social media: www.hollins.edu/campustour.
For the Record
Spring 2015 magazine cover: Thanks to Mary-Elizabeth Debicki ’57 for her help identifying her classmates who were waving goodbye as they prepared to sail the Atlantic. From top, Joan “Joanie” Heppiner Sharpe, Rosemary “Rosie” Camp Lizars, Martha “Marti” White Wiese, and Mary Stoll Cross.