Growing Hollins’ Interfaith Community Leads Grad to Harvard Divinity School

Nora Williams '17

Since her arrival at Hollins four years ago, Nora Williams ’17 has taken an array of life-changing journeys that have included internships at Elon University and the Rescue Mission of Roanoke and a semester studying abroad in Argentina.

But Williams’ spiritual quest as a Hollins student is perhaps her most enduring voyage, one that this fall will take her to Harvard Divinity School and its master of divinity program.

A double-major in religious studies and Spanish from Denver, Colorado, Williams helped teach an adult art class at the Rescue Mission, a Christian crisis intervention center for men, women, and children, during the January Short Term of her first year. She says the experience “led me to explore ways to be more inclusive when ministering to the needs of others.”

Her interest in interfaith issues was further piqued during the summer of her sophomore year. She spent a month working at Elon University’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life under the tutelage of the Rev. Dr. Jan Fuller, Elon’s university chaplain and former chaplain at Hollins. Williams says she “learned a lot about interfaith, connecting with different resources, working with different communities, and incorporating different religious voices.”

Williams produced two projects at Elon. First, “I created this document of religious monologues. I interviewed at lot of Elon students over the summer and had them talk about their religious experiences, how they have developed in their spirituality, their interactions with other people at the school, and how those interactions affect how they practice their faith.”

Williams brought the concept behind her second project back to Hollins that fall. “I researched and found 54 religious holidays from around the world and created short blurbs about each one, which I printed out and either placed them on tables or hung them up in various public spaces.” She noticed that many religious traditions occurred during the months of November and December, and that inspired her once she returned to Hollins to work with University Chaplain Jenny Call to present the first-ever Winter Light Gathering on campus.

The event was nondenominational and Williams invited people of different faiths “to share their favorite traditions during that time of year. From Hanukkah to Winter Solstice, they all center around this theme of light.”

Call believes Williams is herself “a brilliant light on our campus, although she never seeks the spotlight and instead shies away from attention.  She has a generous heart and spirit, and a deep passion for social justice that motivates her work and care for others.  She delights me with her thoughtfulness and sense of humor and inspires hope about what she and her generation will accomplish.”

Adds Professor of Spanish Alison Ridley, “She is a lovely and kind human being who deserves to be recognized for all the good she does in such a quiet and unassuming way.”

At Hollins’ 175th Commencement Exercises on May 21, Williams was presented with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award. Given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, this award recognizes the senior who has shown by daily living those qualities that display love and helpfulness to other men and women.

Williams will complete her master of divinity in three years. The program includes a semester or a year of field work in the ministry – real-world experience for which Williams feels she has already set the foundation at Hollins. She worked with new students from underrepresented groups as an Early Transition Program mentor, and served with the Diversity Monologue Troupe, a team of student leaders that promotes understanding of the university’s diversity while helping to broaden perspectives on the various stereotypes common in society.

“I feel like that’s also a form of ministry,” Williams explains. “I’m figuring out what the idea of ministry means to me.”