A Lasting Legacy: Public Citizenship and Social Responsibility

on January 31 | in President's Essay | by

Hollins’ unwavering dedication to making our society a better place for all sets us apart from other colleges and universities.

By President Pareena Lawrence

Photo of President Pareena LawrenceLast March during their spring break, Meagan Rioux ’18 and three Hollins friends were anticipating taking the trip of a lifetime. They planned to embark on a 12-day hike covering the Cordillera Huayuash in the Andean Mountains, one of the top-10 trekking circuits in the world. Unfortunately, they arrived in Peru to discover a nightmare: Widespread flooding and massive landslides had devastated the country’s northern region and blocked all access to the Huayuash.

A lot of people understandably would have cursed their bad luck and simply booked the first flight back home. Meagan and her friends’ reaction? “We’re here, how can we help out?” she recalled recently. The four students traveled to some of the country’s hardest-hit areas and provided crucial aid to local residents as well as to domesticated animals in harm’s way. For Meagan, a business and economics major, her time in Peru was life changing, and she was only just getting started! In October, she worked with Hollins and Roanoke College students to organize the Hurricane Relief 5K Run-Walk to raise money for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. She now plans to pursue a career in humanitarian work and has applied to join the Peace Corps after she graduates in the spring.

Since becoming Hollins’ 12th president last July, I’ve often been asked what differentiates our students from their counterparts at other institutions. I believe the enduring legacy of the Hollins experience consists of the campus community’s profound sense of what it means to be a citizen, a deep sense of social responsibility, and activism. Meagan Rioux’s story isn’t an isolated one:

  • Alexus Smith ’19 fosters greater awareness of the issues that people with disabilities face. Now she is taking her activism to a statewide level through her appointment to the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities.
  • Grishma Bhattarai ’20, from Nepal, is embracing the role of global citizen. She hopes to enter a doctoral program after graduating from Hollins to “look at the economy and living standards of rural, struggling communities and developing countries from a women’s studies and developmental economics perspective.”
  • A number of Hollins students have actively worked with the Small Cities Institute, an innovative partnership between Hollins, Roanoke College, and Virginia Tech that seeks to be the leader in exploring the issues of sustainability, quality of life, job creation, diversity, and economic development in small urban areas worldwide. Associate Professor of International Studies Jon Bohland played a significant role in creating the institute.

We are committed to preparing the next generation of leaders who will continue the legacy of alumnae like Mildred Persinger ’39, who turns 100 this year, who embarked on a career working for women’s rights and human rights, racial justice, sustainable development, and global disarmament. As an organizer and activist, she served as a member of the National Board of the YWCA and worked with the National Council of Negro Women on the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voter Registration Act. In Mexico in 1975, she headed the organization and management of the NGO forum at the first U.S. World Conference of International Women’s Year. It was the start of the worldwide women’s movement, with issues on the table such as women’s rights and security, the world economy, South African apartheid, and conflict in the Middle East; Mildred continued to work on those same issues in a 30-year career as the world YWCA’s main representative to the United Nations.

I could go on and on. One of my priorities as president is to see that our profound commitment to furthering society as a whole is embraced, reinforced, and widely recognized as a core component of our identity. Every day, many of our students proudly act upon the “We’re here, how can we help out?” philosophy through community outreach and advocacy locally, nationally, and globally. They are building upon, and making a significant contribution to, the important work that our faculty and alumnae regularly perform in the political, philanthropic, journalistic, educational, corporate, and volunteer arenas.

In this issue, you’ll see why Hollins’ record of citizenship and social responsibility sets us apart among our peer institutions of higher learning. Faculty members Anna Baynum,Tiffany Pempek, and Ruth Sanderson are making key contributions to Turn the Page, an initiative promoting early literacy, and Professor LeeRay Costa’s “Girls Rock!” summer camp is empowering girls to follow their musical dreams.

Among the alumnae featured in this issue, Elizabeth Ropp ’99 helped spearhead the effort in her home state of New Hampshire to pass a law permitting recovery and mental health professionals to use acupuncture in treating drug addiction, a breakthrough that could set a trend nationwide. And Susan Chilton Shumate, who attended Hollins from 1986 to 1989, serves as publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which earned the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on West Virginia’s opioid crisis.

I commend these and the countless other Hollins students, alumnae, and faculty who are living a life of consequence and thereby changing the world. In celebrating our accomplishments, let us be even more intentional in identifying the societal challenges that lie ahead and fostering the skills and desire to successfully address them. As an institution and as a community, we have much work still to do.

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