Pultizer Prize-winner Kantor Discusses Using Journalism’s Power for the ‘Public Good’

Reflecting on a career in which she spent years covering Barack and Michelle Obama and subsequently helped ignite the #MeToo movement, journalist Jodi Kantor is every bit as proud of a story she wrote that garnered little attention when it was first published in 2006.

“The article was about the two-class breastfeeding system,” she recalled. “New mothers who were white collar workers had lactation suites and quiet places and time off the job. But people who earn ten bucks an hour in coffee shops and restaurants and gas stations had neither the time nor the place to pump. The story had been published to a polite reception and kind of came and went. People reacted with concern but nothing much seemed to happen.”

Seven years later, Kantor received an email from a woman who had been moved by the story when it first came out and since that time had been working diligently to address the issue. She helped develop a free-standing lactation station for breast feeding and pumping, and was installing a prototype in the Burlington, Vermont, airport. Today, “those little lactation stations are spread across the country, over 400 of them at last count,” Kantor explained. “They’re giving women, especially hourly workers, privacy and dignity and a way to care for their babies.

“Compared to the glory and flash of the White House, it’s nothing,” she continued. “But it meant something to me and frankly it spoke to me in a way that nothing in political coverage had. It showed the magic of what readers can do. I got that first tiny glimpse that the audience can take our journalism and do things with it that we never dreamed.”

Kantor brought that message to campus during a public lecture in the Hollins Theatre on November 14. “An Evening with Jodi Kantor” was sponsored by the university’s Distinguished Speakers Fund, featuring the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and bestselling author who helped expose Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse allegations. Kantor and fellow reporter Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story in October 2017 in The New York Times, and their work has played a significant role in shifting attitudes and spurring new laws, policies, and standards of accountability around the globe.

The grandchild of Holocaust survivors, Kantor “grew up believing in the power of stories. I spent my childhood surrounded by people with numbers tattooed on their arms and steeped in questions like, ‘What really happened back then?’, ‘How could something like this possibly have occurred?’, ‘Why didn’t anyone stop it?’, and ‘Of the survivors, who is willing to tell their story, who is too traumatized to speak, and is it possible, even healing, to convince those people to trust you and open up?’ Even though I was far too young to think of it that way, [those are] some of the fundamental questions of investigative journalism.”

Kantor would draw heavily on that knowledge during her and Twohey’s months-long investigation of the Weinstein case. “Women would often say to us, ‘Why should I speak to you for a story? The risk is so high and I don’t want to be traumatized myself. Is there any gain for me, do you think any good will ever come of this?’ Megan and I always said the same thing: ‘We cannot change what happened to you in the past. But what we can do is help you convert the experience. We can take something very painful, something you really suffered over, and help you potentially feel very proud of how you handled it. We can’t say it will be easy, we know it can be difficult to tell the story to other people, but essentially you can take this pain and you can donate it to the public good. You can turn that private pain into some collective strength.’”

Throughout their investigation, Kantor said she and Twohey “had certainly felt the raw power of what we were going to report about Harvey Weinstein,” but were not sure whether their story would have much of an impact. “We knew that the history of this issue was a history of a lack of accountability. Some of our Hollywood sources had told us nothing would change. Whatever Weinstein did or did not do to women, that was how Hollywood worked, that was how men worked. One of our editors repeatedly pointed out, ‘Look, Harvey Weinstein is really not that famous.’”

Kantor remembered Twohey articulating their concerns during a late-night taxi ride just a few nights before their story was published. “After all this work we’ve done, after all the secrets we’ve discovered, what if nobody cares? What if nobody cares?”

At the same time, the two reporters and the Times faced a formidable challenge from Weinstein himself. “[He] was threatening to ruin us, we were writing under a legal threat,” Kantor explained. “He had even hired professional spies, Israeli ex-intelligence agents, to try and track and dupe us. Ashley Judd [one of several prominent actresses who was interviewed for the story] was putting her career on the line to tell the truth. Other women were waiting to come forward, hoping it would be safe. We really did not know what was going to happen.”

As it turned out, the Weinstein story had significant repercussions that persist more than a year after its publication. “It hasn’t stopped in New York, or Hollywood, or India, or here in Virginia,” Kantor said. “It’s been ricocheting in offices across the land and on campuses like this one. It has rewritten some of our personal and most intimate histories. What we’ve learned is that harassment and assault are not actually individual experiences, although it can certainly feel that way. The most powerful thing that you can see now is that it was a collective, shared experience. We know now that nobody who experiences it is truly alone.

“Many of us pride ourselves on knowing what’s going on with women and women in the workplace, but it turns out, we didn’t know the half of it. You can’t solve a problem unless you have correct information, and for a long time we have not had anything close to correct information about harassment or assault. Now, for the first time, while it is not fully complete, we have a more complete picture of what women – and by the way, trans people and men, too – have faced inside and outside the workplace.”

While Kantor believes “there are signs that very slowly and very messily, things are changing,” she emphasized that society must continue grappling with some difficult questions before a consensus can be reached on issues related to harassment and assault. Kantor and Twohey “are still investigating and we’re still writing. We are going to be focusing on documenting abuses for a very long time. We also want to use the tools of journalism – careful listening, fairness, nuance – to create the most productive social discussion we can and to move some of these issues forward.”

Kantor noted, “For many years as I practiced journalism, I became particularly excited about the potential for readers to act on our reporting, to take our work and use it in constructive and inspiring ways. That’s the real power of journalism. But, it’s not our power, it’s yours. It’s what you choose to do.”



Hollins Welcomes Prize-Winning Investigative Reporter, Best-Selling Author Jodi Kantor

Journalist Jodi Kantor, who helped expose Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse allegations and ignite the #metoo movement, will speak at the Hollins Theatre on Wednesday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m.

Admission to this special event is free, but tickets are required. Ticket reservations may be made here.

Kantor and fellow reporter Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story in October 2017 in The New York Times. Their work has played a significant role in shifting attitudes and spurring new laws, policies, and standards of accountability around the globe. Together with a team of colleagues who revealed harassment across industries, they were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Kantor and Twohey also received a George Polk Award, the McGill Medal for Journalistic Courage from the University of Georgia, and honors from the Los Angeles Press Club and the Canadian Journalism Foundation. They are writing a book on the Weinstein investigation and sexual harassment, forthcoming from Penguin Press.

Prior to her work on the Weinstein story, Kantor’s reporting brought about changes in policies and operations at Starbucks and Amazon. Her article on working mothers and breastfeeding inspired two readers to create the first free-standing lactation suites for nursing mothers, now available in hundreds of airports and stadiums.

For six years, Kantor wrote about Barack and Michelle Obama. Her best-selling book, The Obamas, about their behind-the-scenes adjustment to the jobs of president and first lady, was published in 2012.

“An Evening with Jodi Kantor” is sponsored by Hollins’ Distinguished Speakers Fund.

Entrepreneur Tina Wells to Keynote Career Connection Conference

Buzz Marketing Group founder and CEO Tina Wells, who has spent nearly two decades connecting influencers and consumers to brand clients, will deliver the keynote address at Hollins University’s 2017 Career Connection Conference (C3) on October 23.

Since starting Buzz, which creates marketing strategies for clients within the beauty, entertainment, fashion, financial, and lifestyle sectors, Wells has built and managed a network of 30,000 “buzzSpotters” and 7,000 “momSpotters” to field monthly research for her clients. An earlier iteration of her company, BuzzTeen.com, was one of the earliest news sites dedicated to providing teens with content in fashion, beauty, entertainment, health, fitness, lifestyle, academics, and world news.

Building off her years of experience, Wells authored the youth marketing handbook Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right and the best-selling tween series Mackenzie Blue. She has also written for The Huffington Post, Black Enterprise, MediaPost, and Retail Merchandiser Magazine, among others.

Wells’ honors include Essence‘s 40 Under 40, Billboard‘s 30 Under 30, Fast Company‘s 100 Most Creative People in Business, and Inc‘s 30 Under 30.

Each fall, C3 brings Hollins students and alumnae together for an array of panels, workshops, presentations, and networking opportunities. Alumnae share how they translated their liberal arts education into satisfying careers and also provide tips, tools, and tricks of the trade to land that first job. Approximately 75 alumnae from a variety of backgrounds are returning to campus for this year’s event.

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Tippett Encourages Hollins Audience to Pursue “The Adventure of Civility”

Civility gets short shrift in today’s increasingly polarized society. But the creator and host of public radio’s On Being believes that with a 21st century sensibility, civility is on the verge of staging a comeback.

Krista Tippett admits that civility “is kind of an intense thing to be discussing in the year 2017,” which is why, she says, “I always rush to add qualifiers like ‘muscular’ or ‘adventurous.’ I worry that the word ‘civility’ has connotations of niceness and tameness and politeness that are too mild to be an antidote to our current political culture.”

The Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times bestelling author, who received the National Humanities Medal from the White House in 2014, spoke on March 5 in Hollins’ duPont Chapel before an audience from both the campus and greater Roanoke communities. Sponsored by the university’s Distinguished Speakers Fund in conjunction with Hollins’ gender and women’s studies department, Tippett’s address was a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8.

In contrast with the frustration and despair that shadow conventional wisdom about the national dialogue, Tippett said, “I find it helpful and even calming to pull back to a long and wide lens on the challenge of this moment in history, its possibilities for growth and change. This terrifying and wondrous century is throwing open basic questions that the 20th century thought it had answered. We are reimagining the very nature of authority, of leadership, of community. I believe we are in the midst of nothing less than a reformation, but this time it’s a reformation of all our institutions. We are each called as human beings to determine as best we can in ourselves what is just and right and true, live by that, and let that be a compass for the change we can make in the world we can see and touch. At the same time, it is up to us to form and inhabit resilient, creative, peaceable realities in an interdependent way that is unparalleled in human history.”

Tippett offered “a few encouragements” in achieving civility:

  • “Words matter. The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, and how we treat others.”
  • “Rediscover questions as civic tools and listening as a social art. It is very hard to resist a generous question, and we all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty and revelation. They may not want answers, at least not immediately. They might be raised in order to be pondered. Listening is about being present. It involves a kind of vulnerability, a willingness, very simply, to be surprised, to let go of assumptions, to take in ambiguity, and understand the humanity behind the words of the other.”
  • “Dare to claim and embody love as a public good. Love is the superstar of virtues, but also the most watered-down word in the English language. It’s audacity is in its potential to cross tribal lines.”

Tippett cautioned that “Common ground is not the same thing as common life. There is value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to one another with dignity without insisting on a goal of common ground that would leave all our questions hanging or calling the whole thing a failure when that didn’t happen. Common ground is not the same thing as common life, which encompasses all our disciplines and endeavors and all of ourselves as citizens, as professionals, as people of faith, and as neighbors, family, and friends. If we insist on common ground as a pre-condition, we narrow our possibilities.”

Tippett also noted that the physiological and psychological stress society suffers as a result of constant uncertainty and change creates pain and fear, which in turn provoke anger. All are potential roadblocks to civility.

But, she emphasized, “I believe that you and I, we all have it in us to be nourishers of discernment and fermenters of healing, to discover how to calm fear and plant the seeds of the robust common life that we desire. This is civic work, this is human, spiritual work in the most expansive 21st century sense of that language.

“I have seen that wisdom, both personal and collective, emerge through those moments when we have to hold seemingly opposite realities in creative tension and interplay, power and frailty, birth and death, pain and hope, beauty and brokenness, mystery and conviction, calm and fierceness, mine and yours.”


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Expert Panel to Discuss America’s Political Party System

Political scientists from Hollins University, Roanoke College, and Virginia Tech will explore what the next few years may hold for the Democratic and Republican parties during the panel presentation “After 2016 – The State of the American Political Party System” on Thursday, February 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Niederer Auditorium, Wetherill Visual Arts Center. Admission is free and open to the public.

The panel will look at what has been happening both within and between America’s two major political parties, their future paths, and whether this is the beginning of the end of the two-party system.

Participants will include: Karen Hult, chair of Virginia Tech’s department of political science; Jason Kelly, assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech; Ed Lynch, professor of political science at Hollins; and Harold Wilson, director of Roanoke College’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research.

The event will be moderated by Jong Ra, professor of political science and chair of the department of global politics and societies at Hollins.


At Commencement, Ann Compton ’69 Urges the Class of 2016 to “Stay Engaged”

During Hollins University’s 174th Commencement Exercises on May 22, Ann Compton, a trailblazer for women in broadcast journalism, asked graduates to “make a difference as you move forward.”

A member of Hollins’ class of 1969, Compton was the guest speaker for the windy but sunny morning ceremony on the university’s historic Front Quadrangle, where 176 undergraduate and graduate degrees were conferred. (View Compton’s address in its entirety here. See highlights of the complete ceremony here.)

Compton joined ABC News in 1973. Just one year later she became the first female assigned by a network television news organization to report from the White House on a full-time basis. She covered seven presidents during her distinguished 41-year career.

The Journalism Hall of Fame inductee told graduates, “Your generation needs to stay engaged,” and offered three ways in which they could be an agent for positive change:

  • “Bundle up all your energy and invest it in restoring trust in America.” Even if the graduates were reluctant to become active in the political arena, Compton said their involvement in civic issues “will make our society strong.”
  • “Look up to the horizon.” Just as the presidents she covered all faced unforeseeable crises during their administrations, “abrupt challenges” will happen to the graduates, too. “The path you set from this campus into the world is yours to choose,” Compton explained. “But at some point, you will also be defined by how you react to the unexpected in life. Do not fear it. Persevere. Protect your core aspirations but know that you have the strength of character to handle any adversity.”
  • “Please don’t forget to look inward.” Compton noted that “women have had lots of recent advice about leaning forward and to be bold. But please don’t lean forward at the expense of those closest to you, family and dearest friends.” She recalled an address by then-First Lady Barbara Bush to a graduating class at Wellesley College “that has stayed with me every day since. Barbara Bush said, ‘At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, not closing one more deal. You’ll regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent. Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not only on what happens in the White House, but what happens inside your house.'”

Compton was introduced by classmate and close friend Suzanne Allen Redpath ’69, who was also a pioneer for women in television news and recently retired after spending more than four decades with CBS News. Most recently, she served as the senior coordinating producer for 48 Hours, and was recognized during her career with three Emmy Awards. Compton joked that she and Redpath were “among the first women to climb the network news ladder in high heels,” but on a more serious note she stated, “Both of us worked hard, had a little bit of good luck, and build careers and families on the strong foundation of a liberal arts education at a women’s college. I believe that is still the key to success in the 21st century.”

Other highlights of the 174th Commencement Exercises included the presentation of the following honors:

  • Hailey Hendrix, an English major from High Point, North Carolina, received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. Given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, this award recognizes a senior who has shown by daily living those qualities that evidence a spirit of love and helpfulness to other men and women.
  • The Annie Terrill Bushnell Award was given to Sarah Pillow, a communication studies major from Orange, Virginia. The award honors the senior who has evidenced the finest spirit of leadership during her days at Hollins.
  • The Jane Cocke Funkhouser Award, recognizing the junior or senior who is pre-eminent in character in addition to being a good student, was given to Emani Richmond, a communication studies major from Mebane, North Carolina.
  • The Faculty Award for Academic Excellence, recognizing the students with the highest and second-highest academic standing in the class of 2016, was presented respectively to Mandy Moore, an English major from Maurertown, Virginia, and Mikaela Murphy, an international studies major from High Point, North Carolina.



Veteran Political Strategist Donna Brazile to Speak this Fall

CNN commentator and ABC News consultant Donna Brazile will share her perspective on the nation’s political climate within the framework of social justice on Monday, November 14, at 7 p.m. in the Hollins Theatre. Admission is free and open to the public.

Author of the best-selling memoir Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics, Brazile has worked on every presidential campaign from 1976 through 2000, when she became the first African-American to manage a presidential campaign. She is vice chair of voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), reflecting her passion for encouraging young people to vote, to work within the system to strengthen it, and to run for public office. She is former interim National Chair of the DNC as well as the former chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute.

In 2009, O, The Oprah Magazine chose Brazile as one of its 20 “remarkable visionaries” for the magazine’s first-ever O Power List. In addition, she was named among the 100 Most Powerful Women by Washingtonian magazine, and the Top 50 Women in America by Essence magazine. She also received the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s highest award for political achievement.

Brazile is a native of New Orleans. She is founder and managing editor of Brazile & Associates LLC, a general consulting, grassroots advocacy, and training firm based in Washington, D.C. She is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a columnist for Ms. Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine.

Hollins Alumna and Renowned Neuroscientist to Speak on Campus and at VTCRI

Mary Beth Hatten ’71, the Frederick P. Rose Professor in the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology at The Rockefeller University, is returning to Hollins and the Roanoke area to take part in three special events on April 13 and 14.

Hatten is a past recipient of the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience Investigator Award, the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, and a Faculty Award for Women Scientists and Engineers from the National Science Foundation. In 2015 she received the prestigious Max Cowan Award, which honors a neuroscientist for outstanding work in developmental neuroscience.

On Wednesday, April 13, Hatten will host a casual conversation with Hollins students from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. in the Chemistry Reading Room (Dana 225). At 4:30 p.m., she will present “Mechanisms of Brain Development: Implications for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders.” The lecture is free and open to the campus community and general public.

The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) is featuring Hatten as part of its Distinguished Public Lecture Series on Thursday, April 14. She will discuss “Mechanisms of Cerebellar Development: Migration, Circuit Formation, and Synaptic Plasticity” beginning at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

“VTCRI is bringing some of the world’s leading medical researchers and scientific thought leaders to Roanoke as part of our mission to engage the community in the excitement and promise of scientific research,” VTCRI Executive Director Michael Friedlander explained on the institute’s website. “We’re absolutely delighted to be able to share the insights of such highly sought-after experts in such a range of fascinating topics.”

Photo: Mary Beth Hatten ’71 received the Max Cowan Award last fall for her work in developmental neuroscience. 

Legendary White House Correspondent Ann Compton ’69 to Speak at 174th Commencement

Pioneering broadcast journalist and Hollins alumna Ann Compton will be the guest speaker at Hollins University’s 174th Commencement Exercises. The ceremony takes place Sunday, May 22, at 10 a.m. on the school’s historic Front Quadrangle.

After graduating from Hollins in 1969, Compton became the first woman ever hired as a reporter at Roanoke’s WDBJ-TV. She joined ABC News in 1973, and just one year later became the first female assigned by a network television news organization to report from the White House on a full-time basis.

Compton covered presidents, vice presidents, and first ladies during a distinguished 41-year career that took her throughout the country and around the world. She was a floor reporter at the 1976 Republican and Democratic National Conventions. She also served as a panelist for the 1988 and 1992 presidential debates.

During the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Compton was the only broadcast journalist allowed to remain aboard Air Force One. She was part of the ABC News team honored with the prestigious Silver Baton Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award for the network’s coverage that day.

Compton was inducted into the Journalism Hall of Fame by the Society of Professional Journalists in 2000. The Museum of Broadcasting’s Radio Hall of Fame welcomed her in 2005. Upon her retirement from ABC News in 2014, President Barack Obama stated, “Ann Compton…is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know.” ABC News Radio Vice President and General Manager Steve Jones called her “one of the most amazing women in journalism.”