Through Her GWS Senior Honors Thesis, Alexa Hulse ’24 Engages In Both Personal and Scholarly Discovery

Through Her GWS Senior Honors Thesis, Alexa Hulse ’24 Engages In Both Personal and Scholarly Discovery

Academics, Internships, Research, Testimonials

June 10, 2024

Through Her GWS Senior Honors Thesis, Alexa Hulse ’24 Engages In Both Personal and Scholarly Discovery Alexa Hulse '24

When her grandfather passed away the summer before her junior year at Hollins, Alexa Hulse ’24 says the profound sense of loss she felt was “one of the biggest things that shaped my college experience.”

For many people, Hulse notes, “college is when they go through some of their first major losses in life, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the end of relationships, or an evolution in who you are. It’s something that’s not talked about, there’s not a lot of guidance, and you don’t really know how to navigate it. That was why it was so important for me to write about it and be vulnerable about my experiences.”

Her experience with grief became the centerpiece of Hulse’s senior honors thesis. In Growing Pains: A Jewish Lesbian Feminist Autoethnography, the gender and women’s studies (GWS) major reflects on the impact that losing her grandfather had on her own personal development, but also focuses on how love and joy can shape the transition from girlhood to adulthood. She then connects those experiences – and what she has learned from them – with Jewish philosophy and feminist theory to foster, as her thesis abstract states, “larger conversations about knowledge, grief, and life transitions happening within Jewish Studies, Girlhood Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies.”

Hulse says she has always seen herself “as a writer first before a scholar in many ways. I felt like it was very natural for me with this project to write about my own experiences and then weave in feminist epistemology. I had the personal narrative down and my advisors kept saying, ‘pull in the theory, pull in the theory.’ But I think it was meaningful to do it in that way to connect it to these larger discussions.”

Alexa Hulse ’24 (right) with Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa, who was one of Hulse’s thesis readers.

A key component of what Hulse describes in her thesis abstract as her “emergent epistemological understanding” is a series of conversations. “I did six different interviews. Three of them were with friends around my age who share my experience of being a queer Jewish person. One was my best friend whom I’ve known since I was nine years old. I also talked to one of my coworkers at Lilith (a New York-based Jewish feminist magazine where Hulse interned from 2021 to 2023) and the editor-in-chief at New Voices, a Jewish magazine for college students. I also did three other intergenerational interviews with both of my thesis readers (Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa, and Sandra Russell, who was a visiting professor at Hollins during the 2021-22 academic year) as well as Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton.”

Hulse adds that interviewing is “what I love doing the most as a writer. I absolutely learn about myself and my experience from other people.” Her return to creative writing on this project made her realize “how much I love it and how healing it is for me. I had kind of stepped away from that the past few years. I was writing for this project but also for myself, and it reaffirmed for me that I am a writer.”

Even though her thesis is “technically done,” Hulse says she wants to keep working on the project. “I would like at some point to adapt it into a zine,” she explains. “Something that is very important to me, and why I chose creative writing, is that I want my work to be accessible to people. If it can be understood only by other academics, it can’t have much effect or impact. I really want to do something that people can relate to. Even someone who doesn’t have a feminist understanding can read it and learn something about themselves or reflect on their own experiences.”

That sense of openness and approachability informed an initiative that Hulse says is “what I’m most proud of” among all her achievements at Hollins. During her junior year she began organizing unofficial Jewish events on campus as a precursor to formally establishing a Jewish Student Alliance (JSA) organization on campus.

“Obviously there have been Jewish students involved with the office of the university chaplain and spiritual and religious life at Hollins, but an official JSA never existed as far as I am aware. I felt like we needed more formal recognition and a space on campus that visibly provided a place where everyone belongs. Other students supported me in making it possible, and I’ve had alumnae reach out to me as well.”

Hulse says she saw starting the JSA as “an important responsibility, especially because I didn’t really connect with my Jewish identity until coming to college. I wanted a Jewish community in which I could participate and learn. I didn’t have a ton of formal leadership experience, so it tested me in a lot of ways. I started seeing myself as a Jewish person and a Jewish leader at the same time, and because of that I’m able to encourage other students in the organization who may be hesitant in assuming a leadership position that they can do it.”

As an alumna, Hulse is hopeful that “I can continue engaging with Hollins and supporting Jewish students on campus. I’ve even thought about creating a Jewish alumnae/i network.”

In a March 2023 interview, Hulse talked about her internship with Lilith, where she has done everything from writing news articles and blog posts to updating the magazine’s digital archives. She described Lilith as “truly my dream work environment,” and starting in July she will transition from intern to part-time employee.

“I’m really honored that they made some space for me,” she says. Hulse is particularly interested in growing Lilith’s social media presence and gaining exposure to “a different side of the magazine I haven’t seen before” by attending more editorial meetings.

“I love working in media and I hope to do that for the next few years and see how that feels,” she says. Eventually, she wants to go to graduate school to possibly pursue a master’s degree in Jewish studies and then complete a doctorate in GWS. Rabbinical school is another option she’s considering.

“Rabbinical school combines a lot of the things I love such as spirituality, mentorship, and community building,” she explains, “skills that I first started developing at Hollins.”