Arts and Letters Review Fall 23

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An institute dedicated to bringing everyone to the table Students work with community partners and gain practical experience


Students and faculty are travelling across the world to study, research, and teach.

August 2023 | Issue 3
1 | JMU COLLEGE OF ARTS AND LETTERS COMMUNITY IN ACTION 3 4 5 6 7 9 Building Community With the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue New Leadership in the Cohen Center for the Humanities Interdisciplinary Partnerships Through the Logic and Reasoning Institute Community-Engaged Courses Give Students Hands-On Experience Student Success, Classroom to Career Cultura y Comunidad WELCOME Contributors and Introduction 2 FACULTY FOCUS Building Foundations Faculty Awards Fulbright Scholarships Awarded to Two Arts and Letters Faculty 10 10 11 ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT Exhibit Allows SMAD Students to Showcase Alumni Work Upcoming Events 13 14 New Faces Across the College Saying Farewell Remembering Tatiana Benjamin A Dean's Legacy Introducing Our Interim Dean Honoring Through Giving 15 16 16 17 18 18 COLLEGE UPDATES


Melinda Adams

Associate Dean, Professor of Political Science

Becca Evans Communications & Marketing Specialist, College of Arts and Letters

Karina Kline-Gabel

Assistant Dean, Lecturer in Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (Spanish)

Meirra McChristian Student Website Reporter, School of Media Arts & Design major ('25)

Peggy Plass

Academic Unit Head and Professor of Justice Studies

Siân White

Associate Dean, Professor of English

Shannon Wilson Director of Professional Development and Engagement, College of Arts and Letters

Laura Wisman

Administrative Assistant, College of Arts and Letters

Traci Zimmerman

Interim Dean, Professor of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication

This third issue of the marks one year since the inaugural issue was published a publication conceived of and championed by former Dean Robert Aguirre These pages, past and present, are replete with stories of college successes that redound to Robert’s passion and commitment to the humanities and social sciences at JMU.

Arts and Letters Review

As he moves forward to serve as Provost and Vice President (Academic) at the University of Windsor, we celebrate and share in his success And though his absence will be deeply felt, his presence will remain within the strong foundation he helped build

This issue illuminates these strengths: supporting the work of our excellent Centers and Institutes, expanding the recruitment and growth of our exceptional faculty, and fostering engagement with our enthusiastic and dedicated alumni As we undergo this leadership transition, we will continue to teach with passion and purpose, working across and within our disciplines, to elevate and empower the communities we serve.

Interim Dean College of Arts and Letters

Dr. Traci Zimmerman

Building Community With the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue

Since 2012, the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue (ICAD) has helped communities in Harrisonburg and across Virginia talk and think together. Co-directed by Lori Britt, Professor of Communication Studies, and Rob Alexander, Associate Professor of Political Science, its mission is to inspire dialogue and deliberation to shape inclusive communities and inform sound policies.

Working with undergraduate and graduate students as well as on- and off-campus partners of all kinds, the institute has a far reach. Student engagement starts within the center itself. ICAD hires and trains Student Affiliates to facilitate dialogue and teach those skills to their peers.

"In a society that faces continued polarization and technology dependency, we need to reconnect and find common ground. Facilitation provides [an] opportunity,” said Cuda Zmuda (‘23), a former Student Affiliate and Assistant Director of Campus and Community Engagement for the institute. The hands-on learning experience in the Affiliate program enables these students to grow comfortable with difficult conversations.

The institute recently played a key role in shaping Harrisonburg’s allocation plan for $23.8 million dollars of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds. ICAD partnered with the Harrisonburg City Council to collect public input about how the funds should be used, hosting events across the community and translating the surveys into seven different languages. They ultimately collected over 3,200 responses and presented their findings at a subsequent council meeting and in a publicly available report.

This community-building advocacy work requires enormous patience and skill. “The issues our communities are facing require us to stay at the table with each other,” says Britt, who has

In teaching students to facilitate, ICAD helps fill the gap between viewpoints, generations, and social groups. The institute’s partnership with the Lifelong Learning Institute connects members of older generations with current students to bridge an often-challenging generational divide.

“We measure our successes one conversation at a time,” says Alexander. “The more people that participate in conversations, the better, but it’s a process that takes time and effort.”

Graduate students Olivia Hilton ('23M) and Mercy Faleyimo ('23M) at Vine and Fig, Harrisonburg, collecting community input about Harrisonburg’s post-pandemic needs.
“The issues our communities are facing require us to stay at the table with each other."
— Lori Britt

Cultura y Comunida

Every year, the Latin American, Latinx, and Caribbean Studies (LAXC) minor hosts

Cultura y Comunidad, a free community workshop dedicated

to generating ideas about K-12 curricular content on Latin American and Latinx history and culture that meet Virginia learning standards.

With partnership from the College of Education, this year’s event welcomed over 50 local K-12 educators and hosted members of the White House Hispanic Initiative Office, including Executive Director Melody Gonzales. She and her team also visited Harrisonburg High School and spoke to administrators and students. Sessions focused on helping educators network and access state and federal resources to address immigrant students’ unique needs.

Graduate students Sinead Sargeant ('24M) and Cedric Ansah ('24M) engage with community members at a meeting about the proposed Shenandoah Rail Trail. Left to right: Gloria Figueroa and LeSonya Bullard (HHS Assistant Principals), Melody Gonzales (Executive Director of the White House Hispanic Initiative), Karina Kline-Gabel (Assistant Dean), and Jasmin Chavez (Confidential Assistant for the White House Hispanic Initiative).

New Leadership in the Cohen Center for the Humanities

Seán McCarthy, Professor of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication (WRTC), has been named the new director of the the Humanities, a center that advocates for and advances interdisciplinary humanistic inquiry and research for both students and faculty.

McCarthy came to the university in 2012 after earning his PhD in Writing Studies from the University of Texas. Over the past eleven years, he has pursued opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration across campus and beyond in his teaching and scholarship through projects such as Celebrating Simms leadership roles at JMU X-Labs. “Bringing the humanities and interdisciplinary work together is my happy space,” said McCarthy. “Joining the Cohen Center feels like a natural fit for me.” Under McCarthy’s leadership, the center will explore experiential or applied approaches to research, teaching, and learning in the humanities.

McCarthy inherits an already well-regarded center from its previous director, Michael J. Klein, also a Professor of WRTC. “It’s been an honor and privilege to have served as the Director of the Cohen Center for the Humanities the past six years,” said Klein. “With invaluable support from numerous faculty and graduate student assistants, we accomplished a great deal in promoting the humanities and serving the faculty and students of CAL and the university.”

As director, Klein worked with Robert Aguirre, then the college’s dean, to bring the Cohen Center into CAL from its institutional home in the Graduate School. That move increased visibility within JMU for the center’s innovative programming, support for graduate students, and sustained collaboration with campus partners, including the African, African American, and Diaspora Studies Center.

The center’s most public-facing initiative, a podcast, exemplifies how the Cohen Center,

under Klein's leadership, integrated and celebrated graduate student work. The Conversations at the Cohen Center interview series, curated and produced by graduate students – initially by Becca Evans ('18, '20M), and subsequently Megan Medeiros ('17, '21M) and Conner Allen ('23M) — features scholars, writers, artists, and musicians from JMU and beyond, and provides an accessible way to share and archive interdisciplinary research and talks.

On officially handing over the directorship in July, Klein said, “As the center enters its second decade of existence, I look forward to seeing what lies in store for the Cohen Center. I wish Seán the best of luck as he takes the helm.”

Seán McCarthy, professor of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication

Interdisciplinary Partnerships Through the Logic and Reasoning Institute

In 2013, Thomas Adajian, Associate Professor of Philosophy, and Tracy Lupher, Professor of Philosophy, proposed a multi-disciplinary logic and reasoning institute at JMU. Their goal was to raise the profile of the study of logic at JMU; to highlight its centrality to intellectual inquiry of any kind; to enrich training in logic available to philosophy majors; and to connect any students interested in studying logic with faculty and students in other majors that study logic.

Along with William Knorpp, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Elizabeth Brown, Professor of Mathematics, Christopher Fox, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, and others, Adajian and Lupher created the JMU Logic and Reasoning Institute (LRI). The group also organized a crossdisciplinary Logic and Reasoning minor, composed of core classes taught in the Philosophy and Religion department and electives — such as Philosophy of Physics or Logic and Legal Reasoning — in philosophy, math, computer science, and integrated science and technology.

LRI has sponsored many cross-disciplinary conferences, workshops, and colloquia and collaborated with departments and centers across the university. This past year, working with the JMU Institute for Stewardship of the Natural World, Ethical Reasoning in Action, and the Cohen Center for the Humanities, LRI organized a visit by the University of Tennessee logician Dr.

John Nolt to address environmental ethics. LRI also partnered with JMU’s Madison Center for Civic Engagement and the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue to organize a visiting lecture by Bowling Green State University philosopher Dr. Hrishikesh Joshi about his recent book,

Why It’s Okay to Speak Your Mind.

Since 2013, dozens of students have graduated with the Logic and Reasoning minor while majoring in a wide range of disciplines — including philosophy and physics, computer science and chemistry, math and media arts and design. Research assistants have pursued graduate work in philosophy, math, and psychology. “Chris Runion, with whom Tracy and I both collaborated, went on to do a doctorate in quantitative research methods; he’s now chief measurement scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners,” Adajian shared.

Currently the sole director of LRI, Adajian continues working to expand both the minor and LRI and looks forward to working with a new logician in computer science, Dr. Siddharth Bhaskar. “This past year we formed an alliance with the Center for Diagrammatic and Computational Philosophy at Endicott College, holding an online workshop and mini-conference on Charles Peirce’s diagrammatic logic; another workshop is planned for the fall.”


Community-Engaged Courses Give Students Hands-On Experience

“I had never been tasked with working for a real organization,” says Jacquelyn Hendricks (‘23), “The possibility of a video and ad [I created] actually being used [motivated me] to do the very best I could.” Hendricks is referring to her work in Media Arts and Design 201, one of several community-engaged, project-based courses offered in the college.

In courses from several programs, including Communication Studies (SCOM), School of Media Arts & Design (SMAD), Political Science, and Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication, student groups work on problems for various organizations — including government agencies, local businesses, and community nonprofits — and appreciate the “real-world” stakes of their work.

Partnering with local nonprofit clients, students in Shana Meganck’s SCOM 461: Public Relations Campaigns class draw on theory and practical skills — research, planning, implementation, and evaluation — to create public relations campaigns tailored to client’s needs. Previous clients include businesses, like Cat’s Cradle and Gift & Thrift, and community builders, like the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Education Program (SVMEP) and 50 by 25 Clean Energy for All.

Students field questions about their final

“Community partners praise the students for the quality and quantity of work,” Meganck says. “They are excited about the new energy and ideas.” Student groups prepare a detailed campaign proposal book that includes a strengthand-weakness analysis and suggestions for bolstering public perception of the client’s work through social media campaigns, giveaways, website updates, and weekly newsletters.

After presenting their findings and recommendations to their clients, students field questions and comments, just as they would working in a public relations firm. “It gives them a taste of what it will truly be like when they walk into their first job,” says Meganck, but the benefits extend beyond the professional. “They [gain] a deeper understanding of course content, the community, and themselves.”

For Meganck, the final service-learning project brings the course content to life by connecting her teaching to real-life outcomes and giving her “a chance to interact with the students in a much more hands-on way.” Meganck has extended those interactions beyond the classroom; along with her colleague Isaac Woo, she serves as faculty advisor to Bluestone Communications, JMU’s student-run PR firm.

7 | JMU
Meganck (standing, center) kicks off the last day of presentations with their SVMEP clients.

Some community organizations seek partnership with more than one JMU group. After hiring Bluestone Communications for its public relations needs, Harrisonburg’s Earth Day Every Day organization, dedicated to “reducing waste together,” sought visual design help from one of Adrienne Hooker’s community-engaged SMAD courses.

A graphic designer, associate professor of SMAD, and winner of the JMU Provost’s Award for Excellence in Outreach and Engagement in 2022, Hooker developed 200- and 300-level community-engaged courses to take on “wicked issues,” where students’ visual communication projects address the needs of community partners, like the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, who confront specific regional problems.

This work takes a distinctly service-oriented approach. Students consider the politics of communications — what priorities and biases the

RISE adopted a flyer designed by one student group to advertise its after-school program.

organization conveys — when assessing their client’s goals and needs and orient their visual communications not toward a market but toward an awareness of the potential effects.

During semesters focusing on race relations, community partners included the Ole School Alumni Scholarship Group (OSASG), dedicated to the diversity and enrichment of the JMU student body, and the RISE Foundation, a nonprofit that believes social change begins with educating youth.

Ms. Chanda McGuffin (‘93), co-founder and CFO of RISE in Waynesboro, VA, has twice sought help from Hooker’s SMAD 201 Call-to-Action (CTA) Campaign course for RISE’s after-school program and All Black Library, the first and largest Black library in Virginia. McGuffin has adopted JMU students’ designs, including the video Jacquelyn Hendricks’ group produced: “the video for the after-school program was top quality and one that I use for grant writing to explain what we do.”

For RISE’s “Build Our Library” campaign, Michael Russo (‘24) and his group created their designs around supporting their client’s enterprise: “We wanted this to reach adults and teens in the Rockingham County area who could volunteer their time and/or donate books and money to support [the library].” Their tote bag bore All Black Library’s slogan “Readers make great leaders.”

As Colby Owens’s group considered the child’s perspective when creating their designs, Owens asked himself, “What would make kids want to enroll into a school program? The answer is simple, other kids!” RISE now uses his group’s flyer and social media graphics to advertise its after-school program.

Projects in courses like these situate students’ coursework in a wider context, where the ethic of supporting these community enterprises supersedes the satisfaction of earning a good grade in the class. Some students even continue working with their clients beyond the class, gaining even more valuable experience while maintaining a lasting, service-oriented connection to the community.


Student Success, Classroom to Career

The 2023 Career Readiness Conference included participation from over 200 students, 30 alumni, 30 college faculty, and 10 University Career Center faculty and staff, as well as a keynote speech from Tina Fox (‘94) about mentorship. Participating students said that the alumni stories allayed their concerns about transitioning to a career after graduation and validated their decision to major in the college.

In March, the college coordinated a Pre-Law Career Trek to Richmond for 20 pre-law students. At the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, participants heard oral arguments, followed by a Q&A session with the judges and their clerks. Students shared an informal

2023 Fulbright Scholars

James Thomas ('23), Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication

Kevin Bie ('22, '23MAT), English, Mathematics

Sarah Triola ('23), International Affairs, German

Lauren McCusker ('21, '23MAT), History

2023 Gilman Scholarship

McKinley Mihailoff, Media Arts & Design

Brett Pettijohn, History

lunch with JMU alumni working in the legal field, hosted by the law firm Sands Anderson, and ended their trip by meeting with U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Colombell (‘99) and his clerks at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Boren Scholars

Sean Starkweather ('23), International Affairs

Ethan Rothstein ('23), International Affairs

Noah Buracker ('23), History

Critical Language Scholarship

Sean Starkweather ('23), International Affairs

Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Scholarship

Isabella Santos, Political Science

Class of 2022 Career Outcomes

Career Trek participants stand at the head of a courtroom, part of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Employed 76.7% ContinuingEducation 171% StillSeeking 5.3% Military 09% Military 2.3% Employed 86% Continuing Education 4.7% Undergraduate Graduate Still Seeking 7%

Building Foundations

Dr. Liliokanaio Peaslee, Professor of Political Science, never thought she’d be a full-time university professor. Having served with AmeriCorps and worked at a small nonprofit fighting hunger, she imagined pursuing policy and advocacy work. She discovered, however, that at JMU she could bring her service ethic to the classroom and remain

connected to the community by teaching students about applied research and policy analysis.

Fifteen years later, Peaslee was awarded the 2023 Carl Harter Distinguished Teacher Award, recognizing her exemplary commitment to teaching and to her students. She also received JMU’s Alger Family Faculty Award in 2018, which recognized her achievements in community engagement. Compassion and flexibility animate her teaching, and her dedication to her students and community shines both in and out of the classroom.

For Emily Wilcox, a former student, “Dr. Peaslee transformed the way I viewed the world and more importantly, how I viewed myself. She empowered me to not only be the best student I could be, but also encouraged me to follow my dreams.”

Peaslee teaches a range of undergraduate and graduate classes, from policy analysis to electives on social welfare and education policy. Student responses suggest her enthusiasm for the subjects inspires them: “Every year,” she says, “I receive notes from students about how I got them excited about policy or policy analysis, or how meaningful the courses have been, and that individual impact is what keeps me motivated in the classroom.”

Each semester, Peaslee’s students collaborate with community partners, researching policy, writing grants, and more. “Students work best when they can see the value ... beyond the classroom,” she

says, so Peaslee creates opportunities for them to apply their learned knowledge and skills to have a visible impact. Whether writing successful grant applications to bring resources into the community or presenting senior capstone projects to state delegates, her students see their work in practice.

JMU is just one stop on a student’s path. “It’s important in any major to realize that our students may not end up finding a career in the major, and being able to provide classes that equip them with skills they can apply across jobs [is] ideal,” Peaslee continues. “The skillset is what’s really necessary.” Peaslee invests time in teaching her students a variety of skills, such as using evidence-based research to improve programs and policy, to establish a reliable foundation.

“Dr. Peaslee’s dedication to my personal growth as a student is unmatched,” says Allison Edwards (‘21). “Her commitment and enthusiasm awarded me an educational foundation that prepared me for success.”

2023 CAL Award Recipients

Carl Harter Distinguished Teacher Award

Liliokanaio Peaslee, Political Science

Madison Scholar Award

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, History

Distinguished Service Award

Lori Britt, Communication Studies

2023 University Award Recipients from CAL

A Jerry Benson Faculty Engagement Award

Christina Kilby, Philosophy & Religion

Provost Award For Excellence in Research and Scholarship

Provost Award For Excellence in Part-Time Teaching

Tobias Reynolds-Tylus, Communication Studies Michael Trocchia, Philosophy & Religion

Roberts Endowment for Faculty Excellence

Mollie Godfrey, English


Fulbright Scholarships Awarded to

Two Arts and Letters faculty members received 2023-24 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Awards: Daniel Beers, Associate Professor of Justice Studies, will study humanitarian support for refugees in Romania, while Ken Rutherford, Professor of Political Science, will research disability rights in Vietnam.

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program offers over 400 awards in more than 135 countries for U.S. citizens to teach, conduct research, and carry out professional projects around the world. It is the U.S. government’s flagship program of international education and cultural exchange. The 2024-25 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program competition is open until September 15th, 2023.

Beers will spend the 2023-24 academic year at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca,

Romania, where he will research Romania’s humanitarian movement. More than a million refugees have crossed into Romania since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, and despite the size and speed of the crisis, Romanians have responded with an outpouring of humanitarian support.

“I began my career focusing on development issues in Eastern Europe. As a grad student, I worked for a democracy assistance project with the Ukrainian Parliament, and I conducted my dissertation fieldwork in Romania. I even met my wife while studying in Bucharest. Since then, my interests have shifted toward the humanitarian and refugee studies fields, leading me to work in other parts of the world. But since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Eastern Europe has become a global hotspot for refugees and humanitarian

Daniel Beers, Associate Professor of Justice Studies. Ken Rutherford, Professor of Political Science.

action. The Fulbright will allow me to return to a place that I know well, a place that I care deeply about, with a new set of skills that I hope will allow me to give back something meaningful. In a way, it feels like my whole scholarly career has led me to this moment.”

Beers will investigate local responses to the war, examining how Romanians mobilized to assist Ukrainian refugees, how they understood their work, and what the experience might teach us about the nature of humanitarian movements. He will also teach courses on humanitarian aid and refugee protection.

“I will be teaching in the International Development MA program, helping to strengthen the humanitarian studies curriculum at Romania’s oldest and largest university. I also hope to contribute directly to the efforts of local humanitarian activists and organizations in Romania. As a faculty member at JMU, I am active in a number of initiatives supporting refugees in the Shenandoah Valley. I am eager to get involved with similar projects in my host community in Romania, both to lend support and to learn from the important work they are doing.”

In spring 2024, Rutherford will spend five months at the University of Foreign Languages, Hue University in Vietnam. Rutherford will conduct research on Vietnam's regional and international leadership on disability rights and humanitarian issues while teaching a course on American politics and culture.

A recent UNICEF survey found that over seven percent (around 6.2 million) of the population aged two years and older in Vietnam have a disability, and an additional 13 percent — nearly 12 million — live in a household with a person with a disability. Vietnam played a key role in initiating and drafting an international convention on disability rights and was one of the first governments to sign and ratify the 2006 Convention for Rights and Dignity of People with Disabilities.

Rutherford’s research will create greater awareness of Vietnam’s role in promoting the social and economic reintegration of persons with

disabilities. It will also suggest how other Asian countries in particular, and international society more broadly, can address issues affecting persons with disabilities and initiate legal measures to support them.

"My Fulbright Vietnam research attempts to broaden society's understanding of what it means to be disabled, which, in turn, I plan to incorporate into my JMU classes (International Law, Global Politics) and continued global advocacy for the rights and dignity of people with disabilities, especially those impacted by the deadly legacies of war.”

This is Rutherford’s second Fulbright award. In 2005, he received a U.S. Scholar award to the University of Jordan in Amman to research Jordan’s regional leadership in protecting the rights of the disabled.


network had a full display in the SMAD Gallery in the ground floor hallway of Harrison Hall earlier this year.

Through the end of the spring semester, posters and videos highlighted the career paths of SMAD alumni — who now offer words of advice to current students as they plan their futures. Students who pass through the exhibit are invited to draw slips of paper inscribed with wisdom.

“Never give up on your goals and dreams,” is the tip from Christine (Chin) Warren, a 2004 Digital Video and Cinema alum, who is director of marketing for TEGNA/13 WTHR, an NBC affiliate. “Surround yourself with allies and mentors who will help you grow and succeed, so that you can then uplift and empower others!”

“Take every opportunity you can, and don’t be afraid to try new things,” said Zach Hill, a 2020 Journalism graduate who is now director of

of Realtors. “You never know where you could end up.”

Visitors to the SMAD Gallery could see examples of alumni work on a video loop. Posters profiled six alumni and seven employers. The exhibit was created by the SMAD 332: "Visual Communication Design" class that Associate Professor Adrienne Hooker teaches.

“We feature a wide variety of alumni — gogetters, entrepreneurial types, and they range from a sound designer alum to one that’s actually doing instructional design at George Mason,” Hooker said. “It’s not just motion or digital. There are other things on the wall, too.”

Hooker and her students contacted SMAD alums who had been active in SMAD Day to identify the people and companies to profile. They also emailed 3,500 SMAD alums to solicit their career advice and received 142 responses.

Students assemble the paper posters they used to determine the final layout for the exhibit. Article originally published April 2, 2023, in SMAD News.

Catherine Conboy, a SMAD Creative Advertising (CA) senior, said it was a satisfying feeling seeing everything coming together.

“The main takeaway that I had was how important it is to communicate ideas and design aspects throughout the entire execution in order to produce consistent, quality work,” Conboy said.

Students also learned more about the businesses graduates work for or have started.

“I enjoyed working with my alumni business, Red Thinking, and seeing all the great designs they've created over the years,” said Mira Dover, a junior with a CA concentration.

Hooker said she hopes the art exhibit will become an annual event so there will be new alumni and companies to spotlight each year. “It shows what we all know as faculty, that the students and alums want to help each other,” she said.

In addition to Conboy and Dover, a number of other students created panels for the exhibit: Lillie Gonzalez, Aubrey Grubbs, Sidra Swift, Grace DeMaso, Yousra Errami, Kayla Liske, Emma Sweterlitsch, Jane Gerrard, Hunter Blake, Anna Jeffrey, and Rachel Keller.

Featured alumni were: Jeremy Cherry (’11), Dominique Dean (’20), Catherine Eunice (’91), Javay Frye-Nekrasova (’16), Casey Templeton (’06), and Sidney Yi (’17).

In addition to Red Thinking, based in Washington, D.C., featured employers are Digital Minerva, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville; Martin Agency, Richmond; Power Digital Marketing, offices in San Diego, New York, and Washington; Stacks, with offices in Bend, Oregon, and Nashville, Tennessee; TeePublic, New York; and withSimplicity, Harrisonburg.


September 18th

"Beyond the Degree: George Anders and the Power of a Liberal Arts Education" — the college will host the Senior LinkedIn editor, Pulitzer Prize winner, and New York Times bestselling author for a talk and Q&A

October 27-28th

JMU Homecoming — join fellow Arts and Letters alumni for on-campus events or meet with your local Alumni Chapter to celebrate

November 3rd

Washington, D.C., Career Trek — students will tour Capitol Hill and meet with alumni working for the Federal Government or Non-Governmental Organizations

November 29th

Giving Tuesday — mark your calendar for the best time to give back to your favorite JMU departments

February 22nd-23rd

Career Readiness Conference — offers an opportunity for students and alumni to connect. Contact Shannon Wilson ( to participate

The poster advertising the exhibit featured the work of SMAD alumni in everything from ad campaigns to product labels.

New Faces Across the College

Gbenga Adesina

Completing PhD at Florida State University. Research areas include archival poetics and narratives of migration and memory.

Tori Bertram

Assistant Professor of School of Communication Studies. Completing PhD at University of Tennessee. Research interests include workplace relationships, organizational socialization, and memorable messages.

Jonathan S. Jones

Assistant Professor of History. PhD from Binghamton University. Research focuses on 19th-century U.S. History, history of medicine and health, Civil War studies, and addiction studies.

Kristen Okamoto

Assistant Professor of School of Communication Studies. PhD from Clemson University. Research focuses on organizational and health communication with an emphasis on nonprofit organizing practices.

Melissa Švigelj

Assistant Professor of Justice Studies. Completing PhD at University of California, Santa Cruz. Research interests include educational access and transformative justice in state institutions for youth; and racial, queer, and feminist intersectionality.

Brian Walter

Assistant Professor of Anthropology. PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Researches environmental anthropology in the South Carolina Lowcountry, coastal change, water infrastructure, environmental racism, and community-based movements.

Eva Carrara

Assistant Professor of History. PhD from Florida State University. Research interests include Roman cultural history, ancient gender and sexuality, ancient historiography, and digital humanities.

Robin Leiter-White

Lecturer in Political Science. JD from University of Richmond. Interest areas include housing policy with a focus on low-income tenants and homeowners, structural racism, and the affordable housing crisis.

Mollie Stambler

Assistant Professor of Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication. PhD from the University of Minnesota. Research focuses on workplace wellness and health discourse and practice outside of formal medical settings.

Alberto Urquidez

Assistant Professor of Philosophy. PhD from Purdue University. Research focuses on the nature of racism and antiracism, the philosophy of race, and Africana philosophy, among other areas.

Samantha Yaussy

Assistant Professor of Anthropology specializing in biological anthropology. PhD from the University of South Carolina. Research interests include bioarchaeology, paleopathology, and paleoepidemiology.

Visiting Postdoctoral Mellon Fellow in Global and Diasporic Poetry with Furious Flower Poetry Center.

Saying Farewell

Dr. Larry Burton, Mike Grundmann, Dr. Mark Parker, Dr. Sue Spivey,

Our best wishes to those who retired this year:

Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication School of Media Arts & Design

English Justice Studies

Remembering Tatiana Benjamin

Assistant Professor of Justice Studies

Minor co-coordinator of African, African American, and Diaspora (AAAD) Studies

Our beloved colleague, Dr. Tatiana Benjamin, unexpectedly passed away in December of 2022. She was with us only 18 months, not nearly long enough. Known for greeting her students at the start of class with, “Hello Beautiful Humans,” Benjamin was herself a most beautiful human—she loved plants and gardening, her many friends, her family, beautifully painted nails, singing, big earrings, and maybe most of all, teaching her students.

Her time with us was full of laughter and ideas, creativity and kindness. She was a scholar who brought an understanding of the complex work of Black Abolitionist Feminists to students and colleagues. She was caring, powerful, sharp, and above all, “unruly” (her self-described persona). She was unconquerable, autonomous, and uncontrolled by the unjust structures of modern life that seek to repress and restrict.

Benjamin worked tirelessly to disrupt and dismantle systems of inequity. She lived a life of purpose in the way she conducted her research and advocacy, taught and mentored her students and her peers, and served communities — from New York to Virginia to Jamaica.

We learned from and were made better by Dr. Benjamin. She demanded excellence and justice in everything she did, and she did it all with great passion, love, and joy. And a fantastic manicure.


A Dean's Legacy

Robert Aguirre accomplished much during his time as dean of the college (2018-2023). His efforts to strengthen, innovate, and diversify the college and its work have increased its reach and visibility.

Previous Arts and Letters Review issues have featured many of his initiatives, including JMU cohort faculty hires, the Faculty Fellows Program, the student professional development position, and the creation, elevation, or relocation of several Centers, Institutes, and cross-disciplinary minors.

Other achievements have substantially impacted faculty and student success. He created an Associate Dean for Research position to oversee increased infrastructure and support for faculty research, scholarship, and creative endeavors across the college. He also established the Arts and Letters Opportunity Fund to recruit and retain under-represented and first-generation students by offering 4-year scholarships. By creating a new position in Communications and Marketing and transforming the School of Liberal Arts Alumni Advisory Board into a College-wide alumni board, he significantly increased engagement with alumni and the public.

Aguirre undertook many of these initiatives while shepherding the college through the COVID-19 pandemic and JMU’s transition from a regional to a research university. He emphasizes that these achievements came about through collaboration with college leadership, faculty, staff, and students. We honor that collaboration and the thriving college he leaves behind.

Aguirre addressing the 2023 graduating class in the JMU Atlantic Union Bank Center. Aguirre speaking with activist Dolores Huerta during the 2023 SOMOS Conference keynote. Aguirre speaking at the Washington, D.C., Semester 25th Anniversary event.

Introducing Our Interim Dean

interest in privacy, technology, and the public domain. Her work as an administrator has also prompted her to investigate inclusive labor practices and transformative framings of feminist work.

Dr. Traci Zimmerman (‘92, ‘94M), the new Interim Dean of CAL, has a long relationship with JMU. A teacher, scholar, administrator, and alumna, she brings both an ethic of service and a legacy of strong leadership to the role.

As a Professor in the School of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication, her research focuses on authorship, intellectual property, language and the law, and digital literacies and is inspired by her

Honoring Through Givi

Nancy Guerrier, in memory of Steven W. Guerrier (JMU History faculty member 1988-2021) and their daughter Jacqueline D. Guerrier ('14, '18M), donated a $100,000 gift to create the Dr. Steven W. Guerrier and Jacqueline Danielle Guerrier (‘14, ‘18M) Scholarship Endowment for Valley Scholars. Valley Scholars is a JMU initiative designed to remove the financial barriers that might prevent promising students in the Shenandoah Valley from attending college. The scholarship is awarded to students enrolled at JMU who have completed the Valley Scholars program during high school.

Nancy also donated a $50,000 gift to the Guerrier Family Memorial Scholarship Endowment in the Department of History. The Department of History established the endowment in 2022 in memory of Steven and Jacqueline with generous gifts from Jay and Susan Brigham and Morgan, Angel, Brigham & Associates, Jacqueline’s former employer. The endowment will provide funds annually for up to two students designated as Guerrier Family Scholars.

In 2000, Zimmerman began teaching in WRTC and served as its Academic Unit Head for seven years before joining the dean’s office in 2020 as an Associate Dean. While initially focused on undergraduate recruitment, student affairs, curriculum, and communications and marketing, she later assumed responsibility for overseeing faculty and staff relations in the college.

Zimmerman earned her Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University. A firstgeneration CAL alum, she received both an M.A. and a B.A. in English from James Madison University. She also earned a Master of Science in Jurisprudence (M.S.J.) from Seton Hall Law in 2017, with a concentration in Intellectual Property Law.

Harrison Hall, MSC 2105, 54 Bluestone Drive Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807
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