Michael Gettings on Healing Political and Cultural Divisions

haidtThe public is understandably weary of partisan demagoguery.  Virginia’s gubernatorial race was on the national stage this season, and the choice voters faced was framed in the familiar rhetoric of Republican vs. Democrat, Liberal vs. Conservative, Right vs. Left.  The effects of such political divisions are far-reaching, as last month’s congressional gridlock and subsequent government shutdown made all too clear.  The divisions we face aren’t merely political, either.  The so-called “culture wars” pit science against religion, the educated elite against the working class, the 99% against the 1%.  All of these divisions work to make consensus-building increasingly difficult.

Interestingly, one response to this polarization is coming from the field of social psychology.  In the past twenty years, researchers have come to learn quite a lot about how human beings respond to partisan issues.  It turns out that it is exceedingly rare that any of us responds to good reasoning.  Instead, we are primarily social and emotional creatures when it comes to the issues that divide us.  Faced with a tough issue like immigration reform, our positions are almost entirely determined by the thinking of our social ingroup and by how we emotionally respond to the issue.  Reasoned argument plays almost no role in our decision-making.

The renowned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt likens the situation to a rider atop an elephant.  Our rational minds can do little to steer the social and emotional behemoth underneath, and at best reason serves to carry out the aims already decided upon by our emotions.  The situation was described almost three centuries ago by the philosopher David Hume this way:  “Reason is, and ought only to be, slave of the passions.”

This might appear to be a pessimistic conclusion, but Haidt sees a path out.  In his bestselling recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Vintage, 2012), Haidt describes his own research into the moral foundations of our thinking.  Looking at studies conducted over more than a decade and involving hundreds of thousands of test subjects, he and his colleagues have concluded that differences in how we think about moral values are at the heart of our divisions around politics and religion.  They identify five distinct dimensions of moral thinking, and political and cultural divisiveness over just about any issue can be understood in terms of how the various sides in a debate frame the issues in terms of different moral dimensions.

For example, liberals tend to frame almost all issues in terms of one dimension:  care and harm.  This dimension of moral thinking puts right and wrong in terms of our duties to care for others, particularly those who are worse off than ourselves, and frames public policy questions in terms of who might be benefitted or harmed.  To a lesser degree, liberals consider fairness and cheating important to our moral evaluations, and conservatives also think about morality in these terms, as well as about care and harm.  Unlike liberals, however, conservatives also tend to think in terms of loyalty and betrayal, and authority and subversion.  The loyalty/betrayal dimension places high value on positively contributing to one’s in-group and defending that group from outside threats, whereas the authority/subversion dimension considers respect for those in authority an important value.  Likewise, the sanctity/degradation dimension plays a role in the thinking of religious conservatives, in particular.  This dimension considers some bodily actions as “polluting” and places value on cleanliness and purity, especially as defined by religious precepts.

If ideological divides result in part from our different ways of thinking about moral values, where is the path out?  Haidt has some recommendations.  Those in the Roanoke area had a great opportunity to hear Haidt give a free public lecture at Hollins on November 4.  The core of his recommendation is this:  we need to surround ourselves with people who think differently than us, learn to relate to them and understand them.  This changes the elephant’s course, since it allows for connections on a social and emotional level.   Members of Congress should do this, but the lesson applies to each of us, in our daily lives, at work, at home, in our communities.  The goal isn’t consensus and agreement, but respect and understanding.  Whatever the outcome of any election, that will go a long way towards healing our divisions.


Hollins Launches Nation’s First Graduate Degree in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating

bear In the summer of 2014, Hollins University is introducing a graduate degree in children’s book writing and illustrating, the first such program of its kind in the country.

An addition to Hollins’ summer Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) programs in the study and writing of children’s literature, and the university’s Certificate in Children’s Book Illustration, the new M.F.A. will enable students who want to both write and illustrate children’s books to earn a master’s degree with concentrated training in both disciplines.

“This degree represents a marriage of courses offered through the M.F.A. in children’s literature and the illustration courses offered for the Certificate in Children’s Book Illustration,” explained Ruth Sanderson, program co-director. “The program will run concurrently and in collaboration with those courses.”

Sanderson, who has illustrated more than 80 published children’s books since 1975, added that students will be required to complete 60 credits over a period of four to five summers.

“The programs offer a uniquely diverse community including faculty drawn from the ranks of leading writers, artists and scholars from the field of children’s literature,” she said. “Visits from a nationally known writer-in-residence and an exceptional array of speakers are featured, and there will also be an opportunity to take part in the annual student-organized Francelia Butler Conference on Children’s Literature.”

In their final semester, students will receive a review of their portfolio and personal feedback from an art director in a major New York publishing house.

“Hollins is the first school to establish this much-needed degree for people who want to both write and illustrate children’s books,” Sanderson noted.

The inaugural summer term for the M.F.A. in children’s book writing and illustrating will be held at Hollins starting June 23 and continuing through August 1, 2014. For more information, visit http://www.hollins.edu/grad/cbw/.

(Image above by Ashley Wolff, faculty member)


Hollins Students to Debate “Ethics and Health Care” at VFIC Ethics Bowl

vficFour Hollins University students are participating in The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges’ (VFIC) 15th annual statewide collegiate Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl, February 9-10, at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.

Hollins will compete head-to-head against other student teams from Virginia’s independent colleges and universities, debating a variety of case studies highlighting ethical dilemmas.The team’s faculty coordinator is Associate Professor of Philosophy James Downey.

Many notable personalities from business, law, education, finance, journalism, and other fields will listen to team presentations and offer reactions.

The Ethics Bowl will commence with an opening session on Sunday, Feburary 9, at 2:30 p.m. at Randolph-Macon College’s Blackwell Auditorium, with the first matches scheduled for for 3:30 p.m. in the Brock Commons and Estes Dining Hall. On Monday, February 10, rounds three and four will begin at 8:30 a.m. The final round of competition will take place at 11 a.m. in Blackwell Auditorium. Admission to the match sessions is free and open to the public. The winning team will be announced at 12:15 p.m. on Monday.

Founded in 1952, the VFIC is a nonprofit fundraising partnership supporting the programs and students of 15 leading independent colleges and universities in the commonwealth. In addition to Hollins, VFIC members include Bridgewater College, Emory & Henry College, Hampden-Sydney College, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin College, Marymount University, Randolph College, Randolph-Macon College, Roanoke College, Shenandoah University, Sweet Briar College, University of Richmond, Virginia Wesleyan College, and Washington and Lee University.


Hollins Captures Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl Title

vficA student team from Hollins University has won the 15th annual statewide collegiate Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl, held February 9-10 at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.

The event is sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).

Hollins competed head-to-head against other student teams from Virginia’s independent colleges and universities, debating a variety of case studies highlighting ethical dilemmas. The theme of this year’s event was “Ethics and Health Care.” Many notable personalities from business, law, education, finance, journalism, and other fields listened to team presentations and offered reactions.

Team members from Hollins included Morgan Blalock ’16,  Madchen Specht ’16, and Rory Keeley ’17. Associate Professor of Philosophy James Downey served as faculty coordinator.

Hollins first won three of its four Commonwealth Division matches, beating Washington and Lee University, Sweet Briar College, and Lynchburg College (the team’s lone loss was to Randolph College). Hollins and Sweet Briar shared 3-1 records to lead their division, but Hollins was awarded the tie-breaker for the division title as a result of defeating Sweet Briar head-to-head.

In the Ethics Bowl final, Hollins earned victory against Cardinal Division winner Bridgewater College. “Our team chose to defend a more difficult position that was probably not the one most people would agree with,” said Downey, “but they did a great  job of arguing that view and their presentation was sharp. The  judges clearly saw that.”

He added, “None of our team members had been to the Ethics Bowl before, and none were juniors or seniors. I am very proud of our Bowlers.”

Founded in 1952, the VFIC is a nonprofit fundraising partnership supporting the programs and students of 15 leading independent colleges and universities in the commonwealth. In addition to Hollins, VFIC members include Bridgewater College, Emory & Henry College, Hampden-Sydney College, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin College, Marymount University, Randolph College, Randolph-Macon College, Roanoke College, Shenandoah University, Sweet Briar College, University of Richmond, Virginia Wesleyan College, and Washington and Lee University.


French Embassy, The George Washington University Welcome Hollins to The Lafayette Debates

lafayetteTwo Hollins students were among ”the best and brightest student debaters”  at The Lafayette Debates, sponsored by the Embassy of France and The George Washington University, April 12 – 13 in Washington, D.C.

According to the event’s website, the debate tournament offers “an opportunity to engage with prominent international relations scholars and professionals on issues of political, social and cultural significance to citizens of not only the French Republic and the United States, but also the world.”

Hollins’ invitation to compete came on the heels of the university’s debate team winning the 15th annual statewide collegiate Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl, held in February at Randolph-Macon College.

“The executive who organizes The Lafayette Debates witnessed Hollins’ victory and was very impressed,” said Associate Professor of Philosophy James Downey, who serves as the team’s faculty coordinator.

Madchen Specht ’16 and Rory Keeley ’17  represented Hollins at the event, which focuses on addressing issues of great importance to both the United States and France as a way to encourage discourse and interaction between the two nations. The featured topic at this year’s debates was the impact of globalization on culture and cultural industries. Specifically, the objectives of the international agreement on cultural preservation, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, were researched and debated by college and university students from both countries.

Hollins faced the United States Military Academy in the first round, and then defeated Hampden-Sydney College in the “Rivals Round” that pitted rival schools against one another (other matches in the round included Harvard-Yale and Army-Navy).  In subsequent rounds, Hollins took on Wake Forest and NYU.

Downey, Specht, and Keeley attended a reception hosted by the French Embassy on Saturday evening, April 12. “The Honorable Monsieur Francois Delatttre, France’s ambassador to the United States, spoke elegantly about  the history of France-U.S. relations,” Downey said. He added that Hollins will receive a letter of commendation from the French Embassy for participating in this year’s event.

”It was a wonderful experience for Hollins, and we are hoping it will turn into a permanent invitation to each year’s Lafayette Debates.”

The Lafayette Debates website states that “now, more than ever, a vigorous and respectful transatlantic dialogue is of the utmost importance not only to the citizens of the French Republic and the United States, but also the world.” The event traces its roots back to 1822, when The George Washington University debate team was founded as “The Enosinian Society.” Two years later, General Lafayette of France was received by the society, and George Washington Lafayette, his son, took part in a debate with society members. The Lafayettes were subsequently installed as honorary members and a bust of General Lafayette was placed in Enosinian Hall. To commemorate the occasion, a series called The Lafayette Debates was held. The event was recently revived by the French Embassy and The George Washington University.


New Honors Program Fosters Teamwork, Initiative

honorsTalented and motivated first- and second-year students at Hollins University who want to work extensively on interdisciplinary and collaborative projects of their own design now have that opportunity through the school’s new honors program, which launches in Fall Term 2014.

“We are thrilled to offer this program to our current and prospective students,” said Hollins President Nancy Gray. “It gives them the chance to explore special topics of interest through original work and encourages them to apply critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills beyond other curricular opportunities at Hollins.”

The honors program consists of a four-semester sequence of two-credit interdisciplinary seminars in which students join a small group of fellow scholars. First-year students work closely with two faculty members to identify engaging group projects and then plan, execute, communicate, and present results from those initiatives.

During their second year, students focus on individual projects while continuing to actively partner with faculty.

“I’m really looking forward to participating in the start of this program,” said Professor of Art Robert Sulkin, who co-directs the program with Associate Professor of Classical Studies Tina Salowey. “The opportunity to work with talented students and a valued colleague is the primary attraction and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to design seminars that extend beyond traditional academic boundaries.”

“The timing is perfect for the introduction of this innovative honors program at Hollins,” added Salowey. “Experiential learning, student-driven research, and academic collaboration have long been a part of Hollins’ Short Term and First-Year Seminar programs. It will be a pleasure working with my art colleague to offer these experiences to a group of motivated students early in their Hollins careers with a focus on developing big ideas that will make a difference.”


Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop/Online Introduces New Eight-Week Session

tinkermtnHollins University’s Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop/Online (TMWW/O) is returning this fall with three new eight-week workshops to help writers of all abilities grow their craft through online learning.

TMWW/O’s Fall 2014 session takes place September 29 – November 22. It features noncredit workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction that are designed for writers eager to produce new work on a flexible schedule. The workshops are taught by published professionals who are all graduates of Hollins’ nationally recognized creative writing program.

Program Director Luke Johnson is excited about the changes TMWW/O is introducing with the fall session and their benefit to enrollees.

“We’ve reduced the duration of the workshops from ten weeks to eight based on feedback we received from our community of writers,” he explains. “We’ve also reduced the cost of the workshops from $750 to $500.”

Johnson adds that the workshops have been restructured to further enable participants to enjoy “lively conversation and immediate feedback.” He notes that enrollment for each workshop will continue to be limited to 15 students to ensure students can fully engage with faculty and fellow writers.

TMWW/O will offer the following workshops this fall:

  • Making Poems. Writing new poems is the goal of this workshop taught by Will Schutt, winner of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets award. It will include formal writing exercises. Students will have ample opportunity to share and discuss their writing with their peers, and address questions of craft with the instructor. Participants will also read and consider works by contemporary American poets.
  • Writing Your Life: Creative Nonfiction. Students will read the writing of acclaimed creative nonfiction writers such as Annie Dillard and produce their own personal narratives. Participants will discover their own writing and each other’s while fostering a community centered on careful observation, critical encouragement, and crafting compelling stories. This workshop is taught by Luke Johnson, TMWW/O program director and author of the 2011 poetry collection, After the Ark.
  • Forays in Storytelling: Elements of Short Fiction. Part reading, part writing, and all investigation, this workshop will explore what makes a good story. Led by Michael Overa, who has taught writing throughout the Seattle area and whose work has appeared in the Portland Review, Quiet, Pindeldyboz and the Denver Syntax, among others, Forays in Storytelling will challenge students to write and discuss original short fiction beyond their self-imposed boundaries.

“By connecting writers across the country,” Johnson says, “we hope to allow the writing and sharing of creative work to continue well after each session has ended. With an emphasis on voice, form, and metaphor, our goal is to help you become a better writer.”

The deadline for registering for the TMWW/O Fall 2014 session is September 22.


Hollins Joins Federal TEACH Grant Program

classroomBeginning with the 2014-15 academic year, Hollins University students who aspire to a teaching career will be eligible for up to $4,000 in grant funding each year.

Hollins is participating in the Federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program, established in 2007 by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act to provide financial assistance to those interested in working as educators in schools with students from low-income households.

The TEACH Grant is non-need based and available to Hollins students who are enrolled full-time or part-time in the university’s Master of Arts in teaching (M.A.T.) program. In exchange for receiving a TEACH Grant, M.A.T. students must agree to teach full-time in a high-need field such as mathematics, science, bilingual education, special education, foreign languages, or reading. They must spend at least four years at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves underprivileged students, and must do so within eight years of completing their program of study. If the service obligation is not met, TEACH Grant funds convert to a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Student Loan that must be repaid.

“Hollins University already offers an institutional grant for those in our M.A.T. program during their student teaching semester worth the equivalent of 12 credit hours,” explained Mary Jean Sullivan, director of the office of scholarships and financial assistance at Hollins. “ By adding the Federal TEACH Grant program, Hollins can offer additional assistance to our future teachers.”

Students accepted into the M.A.T. program should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)  and notify the office of scholarships and financial assistance of their interest in the award. Grant recipients must maintain a 3.25 grade point average as well as complete online entrance counseling and an Agreement to Serve form each year before grant funds are allocated.

For more information about the Federal TEACH Grant at Hollins, visit this webpage.


Golfers Named All-American Scholars

golf_honorsHollins golf team members Elizabeth Cheng ’14 and Shannon Ciccarello ’17 have been named All-American Scholars for 2013-14 by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA).

A total of 664 women’s collegiate golfers from Divisions I, II, and III were recognized with this prestigious honor. The WGCA’s criteria for selection to the All-American Scholar Team are some of the most stringent in all of college athletics: The minimum cumulative GPA is 3.50.

The complete list of this year’s honorees can be found here.


Class of 2014 Told “Kindness Transcends All Things” at 172nd Commencement

commencement2014What’s the key to fulfillment in life? According to Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Hollins class of 1984 and leader of a company that represents some of the most creative minds in the entertainment industry, it isn’t just ambition or hard work.

“Remember to be kind. Treat people the way you would want to be treated,” the owner and CEO of The Gotham Group encouraged graduates during Hollins’ 172nd Commencement Exercises on May 25. “It costs nothing, but it pays enormous dividends.”

Hollins conferred 123 bachelor’s degrees and 69 master’s degrees during the ceremony, which took place on the university’s historic Front Quadrangle.

Goldsmith-Vein, this year’s guest speaker, is widely considered to be one of the most powerful women in Hollywood. She was the first talent manager ever featured on the cover of the “Power 100” special issue of The Hollywood Reporter in 2006, and is the only woman to own her own entertainment management company completely. In addition to boasting a client list that includes 500 top directors, writers, producers, authors, illustrators, and publishers, The Gotham Group produces a host of live-action and animated movies and television.

“The great journey you’re about to embark upon will be about exploring questions and finding your own answers to them, and trust me, it’s way better than thinking you have all the answers already,” Goldsmith-Vein told the class of 2014. “Your journey will be different, everyone’s is, but if you have passion for what you do, you’ll enjoy every moment of it.”

While she was composing her commencement address, Goldsmith-Vein recalled, “The thought occurred to me that what I should write about was something that I learned here at Hollins that has been a central precept in my life, something that transcends all things: Kindness.

“The Dalai Lama once said, ‘Be kind whenever possible.’ And then he added, ‘It is always possible.’”

Goldsmith-Vein spoke of how applying that philosophy as a business woman has helped her not only to achieve personally, but also to inspire her employees.

“I have found that a kind word at the right time makes them not only happy in the moment, but more fulfilled, loyal, and in the long run more successful.

“And kindness is what keeps you human through the madness, and keeps the monster of greed out of the war of ambition.”

Following Goldsmith-Vein’s address, Thomas Barron, chair of Hollins’ Board of Trustees, awarded her the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa in recognition of her personal and career accomplishments.

Three graduating seniors were honored during the ceremony for the academic achievements. The First Faculty Award for Academic Excellence, which recognizes the student with the highest academic standing in the class of 2014, was presented to Cecelia Lee Parks. By virtue of having the second highest academic standing in the class, Catherine Marie Hensly and Rebecca Leigh Rowe each received the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence.

The following awards were also presented at this year’s commencement:

  • The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, recognizes members of the campus community who have shown by daily living those qualities that evidence a spirit of love and helpfulness to other men and women. This year’s honorees are senior Natalie Johnson and Jon Guy Owens, director of the Hollins Outdoor Program.
  • The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award, established by the late Mrs. William A. Anderson in memory of her mother, is presented to the senior who has evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during her days at Hollins. Gabrielle Awuma is this year’s recipient.
  • The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, honoring a member of the class of 1911, recognizes a junior or senior who, in addition to being a good student, is pre-eminent in character. Senior Catherine Hensly was presented this year’s award.
  • The Hollins University Teaching Award, supported by an endowment established in 2007 by Mary Bernhardt Wolfe Decker ’58 and her late husband, James DeWitt Becker, honors secondary school teachers who have devoted their lives to preparing students to achieve and excel in a higher education setting. Each year, Hollins seniors are invited to nominate the teachers who inspired them or contributed significantly to their intellectual and personal growth. This year’s winner, nominated by graduating senior Megan Grosholz, is Jessica Cuello, French teacher at Marcellus High School in Marcellus, New York.