First Edmundite Fellows have warm welcome at joyful garden reception
President Sterritt and S.S.E. Superior General Cray celebrate arrival on campus of Jolivette Anderson-Douoning and Rafiqur Rahman as nearly 100 community members gather outdoors on ideal afternoon
Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt called it “a momentous day in an exciting week of anticipation and preparation,” while to Society of St. Edmund Superior General Very Rev. David Cray, Wednesday afternoon’s reception in the Teaching Gardens formally welcoming the College’s inaugural pair of Edmundite Graduate Fellows — Jolivette Anderson-Douoning and Rafiqur Rahman — felt like the Holy Spirit at work.
“At a time when we Edmundites are exploring ways to secure our future legacy at Saint Michael’s College, it is gratifying that The Edmundite Graduate Fellows’ Program [here] originated spontaneously from the College community itself, specifically from the Racial Justice Task Force,” said Fr. Cray. “The Holy Spirit has us thinking alike.”
Fellows, their family members, speakers and faculty-staff greeters mingled in good spirit and humor during the late-afternoon gathering of nearly 100 people on a perfect breezy and warm day to be among colleagues and the beautiful flowers of the gardens. The social interactions felt as warm as the day with so many people seeing one another for the first time in many months.
The Sodexo team provided an elegant repast of tasty snacking food under tents. Several who spoke mentioned the key role of Margaret Bass, special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, in making the Fellows Program a reality. Besides President Sterritt and Fr. Cray, those gathered heard brief remarks from the department heads who will supervise the Fellows – Professor Ray Patterson in religious studies for Rahman (who goes by “Rafi”), and Professor Kathryn Dungy in history for Anderson-Douoning, or “Joli.”
President Sterritt came first to a podium to introduce the Fellows and share their impressive academic credentials alongside appreciative words about their personalities. “I am certain that our community will embrace these Fellows both as delightful people and excellent scholars,” she said.
The president said Anderson-Douoning is a candidate in the American studies program at Purdue University and will be teaching an upper-level course in history at Saint Michael’s on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Resistance and Power, working with Dungy. “In addition to her doctoral studies at Purdue, she is a graduate of Louisiana Tech University and holds master’s degrees both from Purdue and from Grambling State University,” Sterritt said.
She noted that Rahman is a doctoral candidate in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America and is simultaneously pursuing a ThM degree in Black Catholic Church Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. He will be teaching a course on Black Catholicism this fall in the religious Studies Department, Sterritt said, noting Rahman’s deep academic interests in comparative theology, Black Church Studies and interfaith dialogue and reconciliation. He has a bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and an impressive array of graduate degrees including a master of divinity in Black Church Studies from Emory University, a master’s in museology from Johns Hopkins University and a MPhil in South Asian Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Fellows also will present one public lecture drawn from their research each semester. “Our intellectual community will be much richer for their presence,” said Sterritt, who encouraged the community to support and learn from the new community members. The president made a point of also welcoming the Fellows’ family members who were present — Anderson-Douoning’s 15-year old daughter Nadja, who is ready to start the school year at Winooski High School and living on campus with her mother, and Rahman’s wife of 21 years, Lynn.
Fr. Cray said the College and Edmundites already “have been talking about developing more, and more meaningful, relationships with Xavier University of Louisiana, where Edmundites have studied and served on the faculty and in Campus Ministry, and where I myself received a Master of Theology degree from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies in 1997.”
The priest said it was too bad that the late Fr. Ray Doherty ’51, SSE, “did not live to welcome a fellow Marine into our St. Mike’s veterans’ community — Semper Fi!” (Rahman is a Marine Corps veteran). Cray said he felt a connection to Anderson-Douong and her work on “Black Spaces” since he ministered in small-city and rural Alabama as well as inner-city New Orleans. “I hope that your stay here will be as beneficial to you as it promises to be a blessing to us,” he said.
In a campus communication earlier this year, President Sterritt explained the thinking behind establishment of the Edmundite Graduate Fellows Program: “The opportunity to bring two BIPOC scholars to our campus will, as the founding description of the program states, certainly enrich the learning that takes place in and out of our College’s classrooms. Bringing more underrepresented voices to our academic community will deepen our shared conversations immeasurably, and a more diverse faculty can also empathize with and address the challenges BIPOC students face on campuses like Saint Michael’s where they are in the minority. We are firmly committed to identifying and implementing more measures like the Edmundite Fellows program that will meaningfully diversify our faculty and staff.”