Hollins commemorated Founder’s Day and the university’s 175th anniversary by paying tribute to all who played a crucial role in its history during Hollins Day: Celebrating 175 Years, a special event held February 23 in the Hollins Theatre.
“We honor our founder, Charles Lewis Cocke, who devoted his life to ‘the higher education of women in the South’ during an era when many women were denied the opportunity to earn a college degree,” President Nancy Gray stated in her opening remarks. “We also honor all others who were important in our institutional history. Hollins was founded during a time in American history when slavery existed, especially in the South. Men and women worked at Hollins before and during the Civil War as enslaved people. None of us are proud of that aspect of our history, which runs contrary to our fundamental belief in freedom for all.
“We remain grateful to members of what was known at the time as the Oldfields Community, who, along with our founder, helped us become the institution we are today.”
The event culminated months of planning by the Hollins Heritage Committee, a group of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to promoting campus-wide dialogue on issues of collective memory, diversity, and reconciliation.
“This may never have happened without the activism and energy of our amazing student body here at Hollins,” Associate Professor and Director of International Studies and Heritage Committee Chair Jon Bohland told the convocation audience. “Like many institutions, Hollins University now engages with the ghosts of its past as we endeavor to tell our collective 175-year story in its entirety, celebrating our many triumphs while openly acknowledging our faults and our misdeeds.
“It is because of student activism that our campus is now beginning a very public and transparent engagement with our past, even when it is painful. I want to personally thank the students for your work in jump-starting this process here at Hollins and congratulate you for joining the students from universities across the country engaged in similar campaigns.”
Bohland announced that Hollins has recently become part of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, a group of 25 North American colleges and universities that meets twice a year “to share best practices and to draw strength from our collective efforts.”
The Hollins Heritage Committee’s work is ongoing, and alumnae who have research or other information about Hollins during the Civil War era are invited to contact Associate Professor of International Studies and Committee Chair Jon Bohland (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Special Collections and Government Information Librarian Beth Harris (email@example.com).
Other highlights of the 175th anniversary celebration included:
- Voices from Our Past, featuring current students, faculty, and staff reading first-person accounts of members of the campus community from throughout the school’s history, including an African-American who was enslaved at Hollins.
- The 175, a video produced by the Hollins dance department featuring 175 members of the campus community performing their own singular movements.
- Songs of Hollins: Past and Present, performed by the Hollins University Choirs.
In addition, Gray and Vice President for Academic Affairs Trish Hammer announced the following awards:
- The Roberta A. Stewart Service Award was presented to Professor of Art Robert Sulkin. The award is granted annually to a member of the community, employed by the university, whose service most closely reflects the extraordinary standards set by Stewart during 40 years at Hollins. Recipients demonstrate long-term service; loyalty to the university and commitment to its principles; effectiveness; friendly, cooperative acceptance of responsibilities; genuine wisdom; and deep caring for students and colleagues.
- Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Poliner received this year’s Herta T. Freitag Faculty Legacy Award. First presented in 2000, the award is given to a member of the faculty whose recent scholarly and creative accomplishments reflect the academic standards set by Freitag, who served as professor of mathematics at Hollins from 1948 to 1971. Poliner’s novel, As Close to Us as Breathing, was among Amazon.com’s Top 100 Editors’ Picks for 2016. The story of a close-knit Jewish family that strives to cope following a tragedy is “vivid, complex, and beautifully written,” said Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World. “[It] brims with characters who leave an indelible impression on the mind and heart. Elizabeth Poliner is a wonderful talent and she should be read widely, and again and again.”
- The annual Hollins University Teaching Award was given to Cleo Mack, a teacher at Middlesex County School in New Jersey. The award celebrates a member of the teaching profession who has dedicated his or her time and talent to preparing the nominating student for an outstanding liberal arts education. Mack was nominated by Lianna King ’17. The award is endowed by Mary Bernhardt Wolfe Decker ’58.
Special guests included members of the Cocke family, descendants of those who worked as enslaved people on the campus during Hollins’ early years, and members of the Hollins University Board of Trustees.
Following the convocation, Hollins’ senior class continued its tradition of processing to the Cocke family cemetery to place wreaths on the family’s graves. This year, for the first time, the seniors also placed a wreath outside Wyndham Robertson Library to honor the contributions of enslaved men and women.
Photo: Members of Hollins’ class of 2017 place wreaths at the Cocke family cemetery and Wyndham Robertson Library.
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