Ajaya Green ’23 Embraces a Mission to Ensure Legal Justice for Marginalized Communities

“In the American criminal justice system, wealth – not culpability – shapes outcomes,” reports the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). “Many people charged with crimes lack the resources to investigate cases or obtain the help they need, leading to wrongful convictions and excessive sentences, even in capital cases.”

EJI continues, “Racial disparities persist at every level from misdemeanor arrests to executions. The ‘tough on crime’ policies that led to mass incarceration are rooted in the belief that Black and brown people are inherently guilty and dangerous – and that belief still drives excessive sentencing policies today.”

Ajaya Green ’23 is intent on joining the fight to bring racial equity to the criminal justice system. “I believe this system is just so flawed against marginalized groups,” she explains. “I want to become a defense attorney, and knowing how bad the system is stacked up against minorities will help propel me along my journey.”

For Green, embarking on the path to a legal career began during her first year at Hollins. Her original plan to major in chemistry changed when she enrolled in the first-year seminar “Supreme! America’s Highest Court” and also took a special topic course on mental health and social justice. “I thought, ‘What department is this? I enjoy these classes,’” she recalls, and she subsequently decided to instead pursue a major in gender and women’s studies with a minor in social justice. Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner became her advisor and “I tried to take as many of her courses as I could. Her research was very eye-opening to me.” (Turner’s dissertation topic was “#BlackMamasMatter: The Significance of Motherhood and Mothering for Low-Income Black Single Mothers.”)

One of the highlights of Green’s four years at Hollins has been speaking at Roanoke College’s Virginia Conference on Race in both her junior and senior years. Launched in the spring of 2022, the conference features both undergraduate and graduate students from across the commonwealth presenting on topics of race and anti-racism activism.

“The goal is to amplify voices in race studies in our community of critical intellectuals as a way to engage in thoughtful, productive conversations about race,” the conference website notes.

Last year at the conference, Green discussed Hollins’ transgender policy and how she felt it could be improved. “I was nervous about doing it, but luckily my sister came with me. I never think of myself as a good public speaker, but during the Q&A session, everyone had questions for me about the transgender policy and what I thought it should be. That told me I did a good job.”

For 2023, she presented the topic, “The Role of Women in Religion in the Early to Middle Ages.” “A lot of my friends came with me, so I had a good support system.”

Green’s experience with the Virginia Conference on Race inspired her social justice minor capstone project this year. “[Assistant Professor of Political Science] Courtney Chenette asked us to choose a topic that we felt could benefit Hollins after we graduate.” Green says she believes there’s great potential to expand the university’s annual  Leading Equity, Diversity and Justice (Leading EDJ) Conference to a larger audience beyond the Hollins campus. “I wrote a paper and also proposed to [Vice President for Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging] Nakeshia Williams that Hollins should issue a call to action to local colleges similar to what Roanoke College does for the Virginia Conference on Race. It would not only build Hollins’ connection with other universities in the area, but also propel our students’ relationship with other college students.”

Green also cherishes the work she’s done over the past two years as the first BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) support and action chair for Hollins’ Student Government Association Roundtable. “I’ve fulfilled a lot of what I expected myself to do,” she says. In the future, she wants to see a more concentrated effort by the university to engage BIPOC student voices. “Every affinity group should be represented,” especially when it comes to putting words into action regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She cites a cultural cookout that she organized as an example. “I know a particular way of doing a cookout from growing up, but I reached out to other affinity groups to see what they wanted to do. A lot of people cooked and brought food, and it was a large turnout.”

She emphasizes, “Hollins needs to do more activities and events to bring BIPOC students together.”

Green admits she is surprised at how active she has been as an undergraduate. When she arrived at Hollins, her goal was just to “go to class, get a good GPA, make friends, and that’s it. Now, I have been on SGA Roundtable for two years, I’ve spoken at conferences, I built my own internship (working with her cousin’s psychology practice), and I was even on the tennis team at one point.” She definitely feels that she’s grown as a leader and enjoys the responsibilities that come with leadership, “but I don’t like getting credit for it. At my cookout, my friends took over the mic and had everyone thank me. I was just standing there thinking, ‘I don’t know what to do!’”

This fall, Green will pursue a master’s degree in gender and women’s studies with a concentration in sexuality and social justice at Towson University. Then, she hopes to attend the Howard University School of Law. She envisions building a law practice where she can both make a living and help people who want to avoid having an attorney appointed for them, a process that can impede access to justice. “I want to establish a law firm where my fees are reasonable. You can call my practice and I, or someone who works with me, will show up. There have been a lot of instances within my family where they’ve been at the wrong place at the wrong time and were incarcerated for crimes that had nothing to do with them. But we could afford attorneys, and I know the importance of that.”

Ultimately, Green wants to take her commitment to addressing the challenges of marginalized communities in America’s legal system to the highest court in the land. “My end goal is to become a Supreme Court justice.”


What HOPE Means for Hollins University – Admission & Recruitment

“Hollins is a place that’s not just a school for four years, but a place you can call home forever.”
Madeline Aliff, director of admission and recruitment operations at Hollins University

The rising cost of college tuition can be a deterrent for many high school seniors looking to pursue higher education. However, Hollins University’s HOPE scholarship program will help alleviate that burden.

In the fall of 2021, Hollins announced a new scholarship opportunity specifically designed for young women in the Roanoke Valley region who wish to pursue a Hollins degree with zero tuition debt. Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) is a scholarship program that offers a pathway forward for young women. It’s the chance to turn the hope of a college degree into a reality, with scholarship recipients being granted the ability to attend Hollins full time for four years. Madeline Aliff, the director of admissions and recruitment operations at Hollins University, played a crucial role in creating and implementing the program and spoke about her experience with Hollins and the incredible support surrounding the HOPE scholarship.

Q: What is your history with Hollins University?
I grew up in Salem, Virginia, not too far from Hollins. Other than my aunt being an alumna, I didn’t know much about it. Once I graduated from Roanoke College, I decided I wanted my career to be rewarding and have meaning. I wanted to work with people, build relationships, and leave every day feeling fulfilled. Ultimately, I decided to go into admissions and began my journey with Hollins.

Q: What is your favorite thing about working with the students at Hollins University?
It has truly been a joy to get to know each and every one of my students. Since I started this career when I was young, my students sometimes look at me as an older sibling; answering their questions, offering guidance, and providing a safe space for them to learn and grow. I even have some students that text me on a regular basis asking for support. I have the opportunity to get to know them on a deeper level and learn more about their backgrounds and what makes them tick. All of my students are so different and they are truly what makes my job enjoyable.

Q: What is your favorite thing about Hollins University?
Other than the students, my favorite thing is the community as a whole. Hollins is a place where you can be yourself. I’ve found that out as a staff member, too. It’s remarkable to be able to work and support my students in an environment where I can be my authentic self.

And the campus itself is absolutely stunning. You drive around the loop, there’s this beautiful hill, these mountains, and all the magnificent surroundings. Then to add to that, the faculty, staff, and students provide a unique experience. They smile at you when you walk by and they ask how you’re doing; they’re not just asking to ask, they truly care. You have a beautiful setting for a campus, but then you pair it with the community aspect to complete the full picture of a home at Hollins.

Q: What is your experience with the HOPE scholarship program?
I had the opportunity to be a part of the process to create and administer the HOPE scholarship program. I had a hand in writing the proposal, rolling the scholarship out, marketing, recruiting students, and visiting high schools. Being able to watch it all unfold was pretty amazing, especially being able to sit down and tell families that their student received the HOPE scholarship.

I had the pleasure of telling student Be Lalanne she’d be receiving the scholarship. She and her mom were on a visit to tour Hollins. We made the decision that morning to offer the HOPE scholarship to Be. After her tour, I asked what she thought about the tour and Hollins. We talked about money and scholarships, and I got to tell her she was a HOPE recipient. She and her mom froze and then fell into each other’s arms. All three of us sat there and cried tears of joy. I will remember that moment forever.

Q: How is the HOPE scholarship beneficial to a potential recipient?
The HOPE scholarship is a huge benefit for many reasons, particularly in alleviating the financial burden a four-year college often bears. I come from a similar background as these students. I am a first-generation college student who received a full Federal Pell Grant. I remember how meaningful it was to me, and what the scholarship meant for my family. The HOPE scholarship is life-changing. To be able to go to college and get a degree with no debt, recipients can achieve something they didn’t think was possible.

Q: What is your favorite part about the HOPE scholarship program?
My favorite part about the HOPE scholarship program has been the opportunity to watch students achieve something they didn’t think was possible. There’s this awakening inside of them, and I’ve been able to see that spark light and glow. Maybe college wasn’t a possibility for these students. Maybe it wasn’t realistic for the students to think about even going to college because they’re first-generation or they have a limited income. It is so rewarding to see them have this opportunity and to help them grasp the dream they didn’t think was possible.

Q: Why should students choose to pursue an education at Hollins University?
Not only will students have the opportunity to receive a great education, but they’ll gain a community that cares about them as a person. The faculty, staff, and students at Hollins care about where you want to take your career, what’s going on in your personal life, and how they can help you forge a path forward.

Hollins is special in many ways, particularly being a women’s college. That is a big reason why we are all able to be ourselves here. We live in a world where not all voices are always heard, particularly in the last few years with what our society has been through. This community is rare because it provides a place where students feel safe and their opinion matters. Our relationships continue after college, too. Our network of alumnae provides assistance with graduation and job searches and strives to help each graduate of Hollins University continue their success after college.

The Power of HOPE
College can be scary or intimidating. Fortunately, the admission staff at Hollins University is prepared to help students on their collegiate journey and beyond. To learn more about Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education scholarship, visit hope.hollins.sitevision.com.

Third Annual Leading EDJ Conference Continues the Work in Building “A More Inclusive and Equitable Hollins University”

Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton urged students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i to “choose to see the bared humanity of one another and choose not to look away from the discomfort, but rather to lean into it” during the third annual Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice (Leading EDJ) Conference, held February 23-24.

“I know there will also be moments of love and grace, of courage and compassion,” she added. “I ask that we lean into those moments as well.”

This year’s Leading EDJ Conference welcomed over 370 participants for roughly 30 sessions united around the theme of Barriers and Bridges to Access. “The theme reflects the holistic need to evaluate our policies, practices, programs, and this place,” Hinton explained. “We’re asking ourselves: How do we experience Hollins? How do we limit one another’s experience in this place? And most importantly, how can we turn barriers into bridges?”

Vice President for Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging Nakeshia Williams expressed her hope that attendees would come away “with new knowledge and tools, piqued curiosity, heightened self-reflection, increased understanding and compassion, and some very concrete plans for action and change” after “listening, learning, and connecting with one another as we work together to imagine, strategize, and create a more inclusive and equitable Hollins University.”

Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton (left) welcomed keynote speaker Lauren Ridloff to the 2023 Leading EDJ Conference.

Lauren Ridloff, who portrayed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first deaf superhero in the 2021 film Eternals, delivered the event’s keynote address. Ridloff, who is also Hollins’ Distinguished Speaker for Spring 2023, is a former Miss Deaf America who played the lead role of Sarah Norman in the 2018 Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God and was nominated for a Tony Award. She subsequently appeared as Connie on the AMC series The Walking Dead and was honored in 2020 with the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award at the Media Access Awards, which highlight and promote disability and its representation in film, television, and new media.

Born deaf to hearing parents, Ridloff told the conference audience that she grew up signing and speaking at the same time and had years of speech therapy. But by the time she became a teenager, “my parents began to realize that my sense of identity, my cultural pride as a deaf person, wasn’t strong. My mother is a proud, Black, female artist and my father is a strong, proud, Mexican musician, and they knew the importance of having that sense of belonging and understanding of cultural pride. They saw I needed to be around more people who were like me.”

Local resident Jordan Bell presented “Gainsboro Revisited,” which explored the history of the African American people in Roanoke’s Gainsboro community.

In what she called a life-changing event, Ridloff spent two weeks at a sleepaway camp for deaf teens. “For the first time, I was free to express myself in my most native, natural language, which was sign language. This was the first time I didn’t have to choose my words carefully and I didn’t have to modulate my intentions to fit my speaking ability.”

Returning home, “that was when I truly came out, so to speak, to my family as this proud deaf woman who chose not to use her voice. I chose to use my hands. Now, I think, ‘Wow, that was a brave and radical thing for a young woman to do.’ I didn’t have any idea of how it would turn out, but I had to be true to myself.”

Over the next 30 years, Ridloff completed her education, embarked on a teaching career, and got married. “I found my joy and purpose,” she said. When she was approached to serve as a consultant to director Kenny Leon as he prepared the Children of a Lesser God revival, she jumped at the opportunity to share her advice and experience with the production and had no illusions of becoming an actor. However, another pivotal life moment occurred when she was asked to participate in a table read of the play.

Assistant Professor of Theatre Wendy-Marie Martin gave students an overview of theatre for social change and how it functions.

“I would have to use my voice, and my feelings, my body turned upside down. Was I bending my principles of who I am as a person by using my voice? It was such a vulnerable moment for me, and I was terrified.

“But then I realized: What I’m doing is helping make a story happen again on stage, and that story is important. And I thought, ‘Other deaf actors would be able to take on that role and tell the story of Sarah.’ We started the table read and got to the scene where Sarah, who had refused to use her voice up until that point in the story, screams her words. And I just screamed. It didn’t matter if people understood me, it was about the feeling, the intention. And I think in that moment in that room, I found my voice. I learned how to push for storytelling that impacts change.”

When ultimately she was asked to actually play Sarah, Ridloff said she “couldn’t stop thinking about the irony of that. Here I was on stage, night after night, yelling words to the audience. Some people might have understood them, some may have not, but I claimed my power. And I screamed: ‘This is my perfect voice. This is exactly how I want to convey myself.’ Somehow, through the magic of storytelling, the audience found a connection with me. That’s when thought that maybe I could pursue acting.”

Mackenzie Rose M.A. ’14 led a session on defining and combating the stigma of trauma in educational environments.

Ridloff landed her role in The Walking Dead a couple of weeks after her Broadway run ended, and it was during the series that she was approached about playing Makkari in Eternals. While both experiences were exciting, she nevertheless at times felt fear and frustration. As a deaf actress she had needs ranging from the appropriate number of interpreters to how to get cues from the director when she had her back to the camera. Yet, “I didn’t want to ask for too much. I was so grateful to work with these amazing, seasoned stars and I didn’t want to cause trouble. I just wanted to prove that working with a deaf actor is easy. To deliver the best work they could, other actors did not hesitate to ask for the things they needed, so I finally had to admit I had some challenges as a deaf actor. I had to advocate for myself.”

Currently, Ridloff is preparing to star in a new show for Starz in which she also serves as executive producer along with filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time, When They See Us) and actor and costar Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek, Fringe, The Affair). “I finally have a seat at that table in Hollywood where the important decisions are being made. I am so happy to open more doors for deaf talent. This show will include deaf actors and writers, which means authentic representation is happening not just in front of the camera but also behind it where the story is being created.”

When Ridloff looks back, she is “so glad I found my voice at that table read. I found a way to fight, and this is how I fight: by telling stories that mean something. By telling stories that make connections. I am ringing that bell, making sure stories are heard.”


Hollins Presents Leading EDJ Conference, February 23 & 24

The artist celebrated for her pioneering role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will be the keynote speaker at Hollins University’s third annual Leading Equity, Diversity and Justice (Leading EDJ) Conference, February 23-24.

Featuring the theme “Barriers and Bridges to Access,” the Leading EDJ Conference will bring together Hollins students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i for 30 sessions across three time periods.

Lauren Ridloff
Tony nominee Lauren Ridloff is Leading EDJ 2023’s keynote speaker.

“Leading EDJ aims to create an intentional and meaningful space for all of us to reflect, learn, and facilitate action toward making Hollins a more equitable and just community,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “This event brings together members of our community and prominent local and national figures to learn from one another in various formats, both face-to-face and online.”

Lauren Ridloff will deliver the conference’s keynote address on Friday morning, February 24. A former Miss Deaf America, Ridloff performed on Broadway as Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God and in 2018 was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, the Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play. She subsequently appeared as Connie on the AMC series The Walking Dead and was honored in 2020 with the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award at the Media Access Awards, which highlight and promote disability and its representation in film, television, and new media. That same year, she was chosen by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts as a 2020 Breakthrough performer.

Dev Cuny
Guest speaker Dev Cuny ’02 will present “Asserting Identity in the Workplace” to kick off Leading EDJ 2023.

In 2021, Ridloff was cast in the movie Eternals as Makkari, the MCU’s first deaf superhero. “It felt like it was a lifetime of waiting,” Ridloff shared with Variety after the film’s release. “I didn’t really see anyone like myself ever represented on the screen. It was definitely life changing. And I hope that this has the same impact on different communities, people who have been marginalized or are underrepresented in this industry. From the deaf and hard of hearing community, the response has been very positive. I feel like a lot of people are thrilled just to see a deaf person of color in the movie.”

Guest speaker Dev Cuny ’02 will kick off this year’s event with a special session for students and alumnae/i on Thursday evening, February 23, entitled “Asserting Identity in the Workplace.” Cuny (they/them) is a nonbinary speaker, educator, chaplain, and restorative justice facilitator who works in multiple capacities to support young people at the intersection of oppression, trauma, and mental health.




First-Year Students Attend Virginia Law Audit Project Announcement

Hollins University students Elizabeth Barker ’26 and Jay Garcia ’26 visited the State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, for the launch of the Virginia Law Audit Project (VLAP) by the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

VLAP is a crowd-sourced, nonpartisan, statewide initiative in which state statutes, administrative code, and the Virginia Constitution are reviewed. The mission is to identify all forms of discrimination (racial, gender, age, religious, disability, housing, employment, etc.) and propose legislative amendments to further equity in the language and substance of the law. This spring, Virginia’s NOW chapter will partner with students, law schools, nonprofits, and law firms across the commonwealth to develop and recommend these statutory updates.

Assistant Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies Courtney Chenette, who is part of VLAP’s development and legal research coordinating team, is teaching courses this spring at Hollins that will collaboratively support the project.

“I’m committed to equipping our students to make immediate contributions to law and government,” she explained. “VLAP is an experiential learning opportunity for students to apply their legal research skills beyond the classroom as scholars, practitioners, and changemakers.”

Barker and Garcia were both in the Fall Term 2022 first-year seminar and January 2023 Short Term course “Trial and Error,” which Chenette teaches in conjunction with Roanoke City Circuit Court Judge David Carson. The class introduces students to substantive areas of law and the procedures of trial advocacy and includes sessions at the Roanoke City Courthouse.

This spring, Chenette’s classes and pre-law and advocacy students will review code sections based on NOW’s research criteria.

“I’m very excited to offer the opportunity for Hollins students to use their academic research skills to modernize the commonwealth’s laws and advance gender equity,” she said.

In addition to Hollins, the University of Virginia School of Law; George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, Gender and Policy Center; the League of Women Voters; and the American Association of University Women are among the institutions and organizations to date that are championing VLAP.


Photo caption: (Left to right) Jay Garcia ’26; Lisa Sales, president of the Virginia Chapter of NOW; and Elizabeth Barker ’26.

“The Audacity of a Leader”: Hollins Honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Members of the Hollins community embraced the theme of “Community, Justice, and Activism” during the university’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 16.

Students, faculty, and staff engaged in a morning of conversation that, according to President Mary Dana Hinton, “facilitated and enhanced our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”

In her welcome, Hinton praised the campus community for cherishing that promise. “Now, that is not to say that we are doing the work perfectly. We are imperfect and incomplete in our efforts. But we get up and we do the work each day, not just on major occasions, and I believe that sets us apart as a university, along with the sense of love that permeates our community. I believe it’s that sense of love that has particular meaning on this day, and particular relevance to the topic of community, justice, and activism.”

Hinton emphasized that Hollins “will take a more arduous road, a longer road, and a road we must tread in community with one another, but it’s a road that will move us, individually and collectively, to a new and better place.”

Sabrina Dent, D.Min., president of the Center for Faith, Justice, and Reconciliation, delivered the program’s keynote address. Based in Richmond, Virginia, the Center is an independent, nonprofit organization and theological think tank dedicated to building a beloved community in Virginia and beyond.

Citing King’s example, Dent focused on “the audacity of a leader” and how that characteristic remains as relevant today as it did during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. She quoted Coretta Scott King’s foreword from her husband’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?: “He not only took the responsibility for leadership, he toiled vigorously to offer discerning leadership.”

Dent noted that King practiced discerning leadership in a number of ways. “He took the time to travel to the communities that were the most marginalized and impacted by the public policies that continued to disenfranchise Black people in the South. He listened to the stories of the people as a strategy to develop his plans to move forward to support the community. Furthermore, he used wisdom – his knowledge, experience, and good judgment – to make decisions.”

King, Dent continued, “teaches us that leadership requires that we do the difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes thankless work to help others in need or to save lives. This requires that we acknowledge the pain of those who are suffering and that we work toward addressing the issues that caused that pain.”

The courage to draw attention racism, bigotry, and prejudice is a core component of a leader’s audacity, Dent said. “One must be willing to be call out what they see as a truth teller. King was clear in stating in his book, ‘Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find, but something we create. A productive and happy life is not something that you find, it is something that you make.’” She added that “diversity of voice, identity, and experience are critical in addressing issues of racial justice, religious freedom, and human rights. Yet, at the same time, the unspoken hierarchy of white privilege and supremacy is ever present in how we operate in society and even create public policies that impact communities. This has, and will continue to have, implications for many groups if people of goodwill and faith fail to take action, to humanize the true essence of freedom for all people.”

Dent identified other qualities of an audacious leader:

  • Understanding history (“We must be willing to teach and acknowledge the truth about all of American history. If we don’t, the lessons of history are doomed to repeat themselves.”)
  • Protecting the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (“The First Amendment guarantees human rights for all people.”)
  • Serving as an ally (“One who is intentionally choosing to align themselves with the issues and concerns of the very individuals they claim are their community.”)

Significantly, she added, “It requires that we reimagine our role in doing this work, that we reimagine our advocacy and engagement, that we get involved. The dream of religious freedom, building community, advancing justice, and pursuing activism is one that causes us to be disciplined and united. It is in our pursuit of dignity, justice, and reconciliation that we must take a look at ourselves and the honest stories we’ve seen unfold in history and think about our responsibility in addressing them.”

Dent concluded, “I want us to remember and honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose commitment to the beloved community was unwavering. But most importantly, I want us to commit ourselves to finding and exercising the audacity to lead in our various contexts by being courageous truth tellers, activists, students, and engaged citizens who are committed to building a better and brighter world for our children, now and in the future.”

Following the keynote address, participants in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event could attend the concurrent resource sessions “Antisemitism,” “Resistance in Art,” or “BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] Identity and Resistance.” Hollins’ celebration was sponsored by the Darci Ellis Godhard Fund.

Hollins to Host AAC&U Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Center

Hollins University is among the host institutions announced by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) for 14 new Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers around the country.

“We’re thrilled to partner with these institutions and promote racial equity and healing on their campuses, in their communities, and through the fast-growing network of TRHT Campus Centers,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella.

Launched in 2017, the TRHT Campus Centers initiative consists of a dynamic and diverse network of host institutions, including community colleges, liberal arts colleges, HBCUs, minority-serving institutions, faith-based institutions, and large research universities. The new centers bring the total number of TRHT Campus Centers to 71, continuing momentum toward AAC&U’s goal of establishing at least 150 self-sustaining, community-integrated TRHT Campus Centers at higher education institutions nationwide.

“As the network of TRHT Campus Centers expands, we remain humbled and dedicated to achieving our shared goals with our institutional partners. Doing the work of truth, racial healing, and transformation has been, and continues to be, a great challenge and a privilege,” said Tia McNair, AAC&U vice president for diversity, equity, and student success and executive director for the TRHT Campus Centers.

TRHT Campus Centers play a vital role in the national TRHT effort to address historical and contemporary effects of racism by building sustainable capacity to promote deep, transformational change. With the shared goal of preparing the next generation of leaders and thinkers to build equitable and just communities by dismantling the false belief in a hierarchy of human value, each campus center uses the TRHT framework to implement its own visionary action plan for creating new narratives about race in their communities and promoting racial healing and relationship building through campus-community engagement.

Case Studies Showcase Sophomore’s Interest in Researching Cultural Heritage

In the introduction to their book Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Heritage: Rights, Debates, Challenges (Brill, 2017), editors Alexandra Xanthaki, Sanna Valkonen, Leena Heinämäki, and Piia Nuorgam noted that “Indigenous rights to heritage have not been at the centre of academic scholarship until quite recently. It became clear that more work needs to be done on this topic, more stones to be uncovered, and more discussion to be had.”

Javeria Piracha ’25 has contributed to the growing study of this issue by conducting research under Assistant Professor of Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske during the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program this past summer. Alongside Breske and fellow student researcher Makda Kalayu, the applied economics major analyzed the interaction between Indigenous peoples and those owning their cultural property, and that research recently earned her a speaking opportunity at a regional International Studies Association academic conference.

Piracha became interested in cultural heritage when she took Breske’s Introduction to International Studies course in the fall of 2021. “That was the first course I took in international studies and I really enjoyed it,” she said. She’s now considering declaring a second major in the subject. “During the course we visited the [Eleanor D.] Wilson Museum at Hollins. We viewed these stone carvings that had been donated to their collection many years ago, and about which they knew very little.”

According to Wilson Museum Director Jenine Culligan, the objects were made by the Taíno people, an Indigenous group in the Caribbean. “We know these carvings are found in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and parts of Mexico, and they’re associated with crops or other plants,” she explained. “Unfortunately, we have no provenance (history of ownership documentation) for these objects, and we haven’t yet been able to identify their country of origin.”

The mystery surrounding the carvings intrigued Breske, who was first introduced to the objects in fall 2018 by Culligan and decided to pursue this research first with her Spring Term 2022 Cultural Property, Museums, and Rights class and then with the two students in the summer of 2022. Piracha’s turned part of this research project into her conference paper, “Economic Impact of Museum Industries: A Study of Provenance and Authenticity of Taíno Zemi Objects.”

“This project is a case study of Taíno sacred stone figurines, known as zemí figures, that are held by institutions and in private collections,” Piracha said. “It makes use of items from the Wilson Museum as well as other items that have either been sold at private auctions or are in the collections of American museums. The project focuses on the ethical obligations we have to return objects to their rightful places because of their heritage value; the diversity, equity, and inclusion claims museums make in the United States; and the reasons it is morally required for cultural objects to be returned after the 1970 UNESCO Convention,” which advocated for ending the illicit trafficking of cultural property. “Looking to the future, this project also explores the various ways repatriation could help the economies of countries in the Caribbean.”

Piracha submitted the project to the International Studies Association (ISA) South regional conference for its 2022 annual conference this fall in St. Augustine, Florida. Established in 1959, the ISA is one of the oldest interdisciplinary associations dedicated to understanding international, transnational, and global affairs. It features more than 7,000 members from around the world, including academics, practitioners, policy experts, private sector workers, and independent researchers.

Breske has encouraged SURF research students to submit abstracts to the ISA regional conferences for the past two years so that they can gain the experience of speaking to academics and professionals in the field.  Piracha was invited to deliver her first academic conference presentation at ISA-South. “The people who presented with me and who were in the audience were all professors and all at the Ph.D. level, so I was surprised I got a chance to present,” she said. “They asked excellent questions.”

Another research project related to cultural heritage that Piracha has undertaken and submitted to the ISA-Northeast 2022 Annual Conference in Baltimore, held November 4 and 5, was “A Sense of Belonging: An Analysis of the Afghan Refugee Population in the United States and Ways Their Cultural Identity is Being Kept Alive.”

“It’s an overview and analysis of the Afghan refugee population in the United States and how cultural heritage can help them create a sense of belonging and help in their integration in the host society,” Piracha said. “A refugee often chooses to flee from their home country in hope for a better chance at life. However, they do wish to maintain aspects of their cultural identity.”

“A Sense of Belonging” addresses the underrepresentation of refugee communities in cultural heritage discussions and the different ways their heritage can be preserved. In her research, Piracha explores methods for keeping cultural heritage alive such as preserving oral history, promoting cultural participation, and understanding the significance certain objects carry of memory and ancestral affirmation.

“My case study revolves around refugees from Afghanistan who fled to the United States between 1979 and 1992. The study also examines how the Afghans maintained the production of culture after their arrival in the United States, the difficulties they encountered, and the length of time it took to build a community in the United States.”

The ISA conference presentations, for which she received travel funding from Hollins’ Warren W. Hobbie Ethics and Service Endowment, are part of what is shaping up to be a busy but rewarding academic year for Piracha. She will spend the 2023 Spring Term in London, where she will take economics courses and complete an internship in public policy (she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field after graduating from Hollins). It will be her second study abroad experience as a Hollins undergraduate, the first occurring during the 2021 January Short Term when she traveled to France.

“Learning about different cultures, getting to experience various traditions first-hand, and understanding the perspectives a country has to offer have always excited me.” Piracha explained. “As an international student, I have developed a knack for wanting to assimilate different cultural experiences in my own identity to better equip myself to become an intentional, globally aware citizen. Thus, studying abroad in France was the perfect opportunity for me to embark on these cultural journeys. By knowing more about the educational and cultural aspects of other countries, I can use them to shape my future and the communities I want to serve.”

After completing her spring term in London, she will return to the U.S. next summer for an internship with a marketing company in Orlando.

Ultimately, Piracha hopes to work in economics analyzing data that include economic indicators. “My own country, Pakistan, has a declining economy and lately has had a number of internal displacements as a result of the climate issue. With a degree in public policy, I will be able to do research for Pakistan and predict emerging trends that will aid in developing long-term objectives for those who have been internally displaced.”

Piracha will also draw upon her experience working with various nonprofit organizations. “Previously, in Islamabad, I founded and led an organization that focused on destigmatizing taboo topics such as period poverty that affect low-income women in Pakistan.”





AAC&U President Visits Hollins to Stress the Enduring Power of the Liberal Arts

In 2020, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) released a new blueprint for the future of higher education.

What Liberal Education Looks Like focuses on restoring public confidence in liberal education and inclusive excellence and refuting claims that higher education in general, and liberal education in particular, are irrelevant. It’s also a collective call to action to uphold the considerable potential of colleges and universities.

“This work is urgent,” said Lynn Pasquerella, AAC&U president. “Talk of higher education as a public good and of investing in society through education has been replaced by talk of return on investment – tuition in exchange for jobs. Skeptics deride the arts and humanities as elitist, and we need to be vigilant in rebutting those charges and recognizing them for what they are: Collusion in the growth of an intellectual oligarchy, in which only the richest and most prestigious institutions preserve access to the liberal arts traditions.”

Pasquerella recently shared her passion for “the public purpose of higher education” with Hollins faculty, staff, and the Board of Trustees as the university embarks on creating a new five-year strategic plan. “I’ve been committed to promoting access to excellence in higher education regardless of socioeconomic background, to championing the centrality of liberal education, and to defending political scientist Benjamin Barber’s notion of colleges and universities as civic missions where we not only educate people to be free, but we free them to be educable, thus serving as a visible force in the lives of those who have been most marginalized in our society.”

Those who claim a liberal education and preparation for work, citizenship, and life are mutually exclusive are creating “a false dichotomy,” Pasquerella said. “We need to highlight the fact that in a global knowledge economy, demand for graduates with a liberal education is growing.”

Pasquerella cited the AAC&U’s 2020 research, How College Contributes to Workforce Success: What Matters Most, in which nearly 500 executives and hiring managers were surveyed. The study found that confidence in higher education and the value of a degree remains fairly strong: Sixty-seven percent of employers have a good deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education (compared to 63% in 2018), and almost nine in 10 (87%) believe that a college degree or credential is definitely or probably worth the time and financial investments.

“Perhaps most importantly, employers regard liberal education as providing the knowledge and skills for long-term career success in the 21st century,” Pasquerella noted. “Nine in 10 employers believe it is important to achieve the learning outcomes that define a contemporary liberal education, and they urge new efforts to help students acquire those. At least half of employers think it’s very important for college students to possess a range of mindsets and aptitudes to be successful, including a solid work ethic, ability to take initiative, self-confidence, persistence, self-awareness, empathy, and curiosity for lifelong learning.”

Pasquerella added that AAC&U’s research showed active and applied educational experiences can have a positive impact on students by improving their engagement and deepening their learning, which in turn can positively impact hiring decisions. These include first-year seminars, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative projects, undergraduate research, internships, community-based learning, capstone courses, and engagement with educational mentors in and out of the classroom.

At the same time, Pasquerella said, “Student learning assessments must support student success, with guiderails to keep all students on track rather than hurdles that only some students can clear. Inclusive excellence is not a process that isolates students or promotes competition among them. Rather, it’s a collaborative process that takes aim at educational disparities and patterns or systemic disadvantage. Colleges and universities must demonstrate that our success is inextricably linked to the psychological, social, educational, and economic well-being of those we serve.”

Pasquerella asserted that “a 21st century liberal arts education mandates the acceleration of high-impact opportunities that engage students in solving real-world problems within the context of the workforce. It adopts a holistic approach to evidence-based problem solving that incorporates diverse points of view. The curriculum’s emphasis should be on learning outcomes, knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and integrative and applied learning as necessary for students’ intellectual, civic, personal, and professional development, and for success in a global economy.”

Asking arts and humanities advocates “to step outside of our echo chambers and use whatever modes of engagement are available to connect the work the academy is doing with people’s lives,” Pasquerella endorsed “leveraging popular culture to promote humanistic understanding. We must recognize more expansive forms of literature and art as the key to survival of the humanities. If we continue to relinquish the opportunities that would extend our reach, public discourse will continue to decline, and academicians will continue to lose the chance to engender a true sense of wonder. In fact, if academics rely exclusively on the mechanisms of arcane study to get out our message, scholarly pursuits as anything more than an ossified repository of ancient curiosity will die.”

Pasquerella concluded with a plea to collectively reaffirm how a liberal education sees the world as a set of interdependent yet inequitable systems, expands knowledge of human interactions, privilege, and stratification, and fosters equity and justice locally and globally. She recalled the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington: “We’re now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. This is no time for apathy and complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

King’s lesson “is more critical than ever,” Pasquerella said. “We need to illuminate the transformative power of the arts and humanities. At the same time, we need to recognize that higher education and its graduates must play a leadership role in fulfilling the promise of liberal education, ensuring that all students are positioned to find their best and most authentic selves.”

Hollins, Jed Foundation Announce Collaboration to Enhance Campus Mental Health Services

Hollins is partnering with a national, nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting the emotional health of young adults to build upon the university’s existing student mental health, substance use, and suicide prevention efforts.

Through The Jed Foundation (JED), which for more than 20 years has helped colleges and universities strengthen their support networks and emotional safety nets, Hollins is participating in an initiative called JED Campus Fundamentals. The collaboration, which will take place over 18 months beginning this fall, will guide the university through the development of systems, programs, and policies that prioritize student well-being.

Ethan Fields, director of higher education program outreach and promotion at JED, noted that a “top-down, bottom-up infrastructure, informed by data collection, analysis, and utilization, and a commitment to long-term strategic planning” are the key elements for success. “We all play a part. Student well-being is linked to everybody’s roles and responsibilities, and diverse voices from different stakeholders and students need to be a part of this process.”

The mental health of students, faculty, and staff is a significant concern for higher education leaders, particularly after the impact of more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to national data sources, 41% of U.S. students who were screened for depression last year using a validated tool screened positive, while 34% of students who were screened for anxiety were positive. “We know that other well-being metrics such as basic needs insecurities, which can include struggles with housing, food, or finances, can also affect one’s mental health,” Fields said. “In addition, students are coming to us with lived experiences of trauma, having experienced discrimination based on their identities.”

In conjunction with experts from the fields of adolescent psychology, suicidology, and public health, JED worked with the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center to produce a comprehensive strategy for promoting mental health and lowering suicide risk, based on a model developed by the U.S. Air Force. “Everything Hollins is going to go through over the next 18 months as a JED campus relates back to that approach,” Fields explained. “It starts with helping the campus really look at and evaluate how it can infuse natural, therapeutic life skills development throughout the student experience.”

Together, Fields said, Hollins and JED will consider an array of factors specific to the university, including social connectedness (“Isolation and loneliness are two major risk factors for suicide, and we want to look at how students are connecting with each other as well as with faculty and staff.”); identifying students early on before a crisis occurs (“Helping students understand that it’s okay not to be okay, but there is help all around them on this campus.”); evaluating current services on campus and in the community related to mental and physical health and substance use (“How do we work together as a shared community of care to meet students’ needs?”); and crisis management (“Ensuring that student know where they can get help if they are in an emergency.”).

Fields stressed that equitable implementation is crucial to creating an effective strategic plan. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to recognize that certain populations of students face systemic and structural inequities even accessing mental health services. We’re going to look at all the different populations of Hollins students, understand their unique experiences, and determine how we can center and serve them, especially students of color and LGBTQ+ students, in the strategic planning process.”

This fall, under the leadership of Vice President for Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging Nakeshia Williams, Hollins will form a mental health and well-being team that will spend five months in a thorough assessment of the resources that are currently in place, both on and off campus. In addition to Williams, the team will include the following members:

Darla Schumm (co-lead), associate provost
Sheyonn Baker, executive assistant to the president; secretary, Hollins University Board of Trustees
Gloria Bryant, coordinator, Facilities Management
Megan Canfield, dean of students, Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging
David Carlson, chief, Campus Security
Lisa Dmochowski, director, Health and Counseling Services
Billy Faires, executive director, Marketing and Communications
Ellie Gathings, director, Housing and Residence Life
Amanda Griffin, lead counselor, Health and Counseling Services
Kaiya Jennings, chaplain and director of belonging, Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging
Cathy Koon, manager, Graduate Services
Jaiya McMillan, president, Student Government Association
Autumn Nordstrom, director, Scholarships and Financial Assistance
Zoe Thornhill, manager, Student Activities and Organizations
Jeffrey White, director, Center for Career Development and Life Design
Maliha Zaman, executive director, Institutional Effectiveness; chief data officer

Then, a tool called the Healthy Minds Study will be used to survey students to understand their lived experiences, attitudes, and beliefs related to mental health, substance use, diversity and inclusion, and other issues. “After we collect that information,” Fields said, “we will provide the task force with a report of notable strengths and considerations. That becomes the basis for a consultation visit where we meet and turn feedback and recommendations into a strategic plan with short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. We then assist the campus with implementing that plan.”

While Hollins’ active collaboration with JED will last 18 months, the goal is to develop a strategic plan that will guide the university for four-plus years. “We set it up to become a continuous process,” Fields stated. “Toward the end of our engagement we’ll focus on sustainability. We’ll see where you started, where you are currently, and where you are going to make sure you’re set up for success.”

Fields encouraged the entire Hollins community to “think much more upstream about mental health and well-being. The ultimate goal should be lowering some of those challenges that may lead to suicide ideation. As the strategic plan comes together and the university makes changes in its policies, programs, and procedures, we want to see changes in the students’ attitudes, behaviors, and lived experiences.”