Honors College News: Notes from Halfway There Spring 2020
“In these uncertain times.” It’s a phrase you might find yourself bandying about recently, or you might hear it from others even if you don’t stoop to overusing it. Certainly, these times seem uncertain, but I find myself thinking of the poet Horace and the apostle James and how they might question this phrase: How uncertain are these time? In what way uncertain? What even are these times? Are there times that are not uncertain?
Neither Horace nor James deny the uncertainty of the times. But reflecting on the poetry of Horace (see Odes 2.13 and 3.29) and the epistle of James (see James 4:13–15) has encouraged me to use another saying more regularly. I mean, of course, the Latin phrase, “Deo volente,” or its counterpart in the American phrase, “Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise”—the Latins presumably more pious than the Americans in thinking that even the rain and the creeks obey him.
As members and friends of the Honors College we will continue to practice virtue and devote ourselves to genuine education that forms the whole person. Lord willing. We will continue to pray for the well-being of all members of our community. Lord willing. We will be gracious to all in word and deed. Lord willing. And when the time comes and if we yet live, we shall return to the public life of our cities to spend and make money. Lord willing.
Director, The Honors College
Houston Baptist University
Featured in this issue of News & Notes:
Claudia Rudder is a first-year Honors Scholar majoring in psychology at HBU. She was born in southern California, but moved to Montgomery, Texas, almost ten years ago. In middle school, Claudia began to be home-schooled and participated in Classical Conversations. During this time, she was a member of the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA) in debate, the Greater Houston Combined Training Association (GHTCA), and United States Eventing Association (USEA) as a competitive equestrian. She has also spent four years volunteering at a local nonprofit youth mentoring and horsemanship program. More recently, Claudia has distinguished herself among her peers, representing the Honors College at the Great Ideas 2020 conference hosted by Scarborough College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She presented a paper entitled: “The Representation and Significance of Fire in Virgil’s Aeneid.”
What are you studying here at HBU?
I am studying psychology with the intention of becoming a cognitive behavioral therapist. All my life, I have had a passion for learning. With my love for reading as well as my background in classical education, joining the Honors College seemed like an obvious decision.
What is a challenge you’ve encountered in college that you weren’t expecting?
One challenge I’ve faced is accountability. The independence that college provides is often accompanied by distractions, which is why I had to learn quickly that my decisions leave an immediate impact on my academic performance, either positive or negative. Thinking one step ahead into the future helps remind me of what my priorities are and makes me a better student.
What is your favorite book that you’ve read and discussed thus far, and why?
One of my favorite readings was Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, specifically the eighth and ninth books when Aristotle discusses the nature of friendship and self-sufficient love. I remember leaving that discussion with a new perspective of how different relationships function. I was also impacted by one of our conclusions that in order to truly love people, we must first be able to love ourselves.
If you could describe the Honors College in three words, which would you choose?
In three words, I would describe the Honors College as, “Challenging, yet rewarding.” The Honors College always pushes students to reach new heights and explore different perspectives. It’s not easy, but that is part of what makes being an Honors College student so satisfying. Being in a setting with other students who love learning, discussing, and striving for deeper understanding in their work inspires me to seek out a deeper understanding in other areas of my personal and academic life. It also provides the opportunity to view different topics from different perspectives, offering new inputs that I would have never considered before.
Who is your Honors College mentor and how has he/she helped you in your academic journey?
My mentor is Dr. Elliott. She still has been extremely supportive and guiding. I am extremely grateful to have such an amazing mentor, and I look up to her so much.
After graduation, what do you hope you’ll be able to say about yourself when you reflect on your journey here at HBU?
Being at HBU has given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge, cultivate my interests, and solidify my identity in Christ. In the future, I hope that I will recognize everything that I’ve learned and experienced in the Honors College has shaped me into a mature, intelligent, and successful member of society. All my efforts and struggles teach me the value of a rich education like that of HBU. I am forever thankful for the opportunity for me to be here and grow in this academic environment with other people who challenge and support my endeavors in school.
Dr. Julianna Leachman is an Assistant Professor Literature, Honors College professor, and the Director of the Academy at HBU. She earned her BA in Comparative Literature and Russian from Vanderbilt University and her MA and PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas at Austin, with a focus on Russian literature and literature of the U.S. South. This is her third year at HBU.
What brought you to Houston, and more specifically, to HBU?
I grew up in Alabama and attended college in Tennessee. In college I met and fell in love with a Texan, though I was relieved he didn’t seem to have the same obnoxious Texas pride I saw (and scorned) in other students. We were married shortly after we graduated and moved to North Carolina, where we lived for two years. I was actually the one who brought us back to Texas after I was accepted to graduate school in Austin. After seven years in Austin, my husband (a Presbyterian pastor) was offered an opportunity to do ministry in his hometown of Houston. We have been here ever since. My husband has rediscovered his Texas pride, and I now find myself raising three fiercely proud Texas daughters. I came to HBU in 2017, originally to teach literature in the Academy.
What do you enjoy most about teaching in the Honors College?
The Honors College offers students the college experience I wish I had. When I was in college, I found myself registering for whichever classes had the catchiest titles or were taught by professors I liked. There was no real continuity to my program of study, and any intertextual discoveries I made were accidental. My core classes were simply a hurdle I had to jump to get to my more interesting major classes rather than an integral part of my college experience. The Honors College at HBU, however, offers students something much more intentional and meaningful. It invites students to read both broadly and deeply. The chronologically-arranged interdisciplinary curriculum gives students a clear sense of the historical progression of western thought more broadly. The discussion sections and writing assignments invite students to examine these important texts more closely, keeping in mind the context of the book’s publication and reception. From text to text, semester to semester, the curriculum builds on itself, offering students a fully-orbed understanding of the human intellectual tradition from the ancients to the moderns.
What inspires you to engage high school students in the Academy in this same teaching and learning style?
The Academy offers high school students opportunities I wish I had before college. My desire for all Academy classes is two-fold: first, to inspire in high school students a love for some of the great texts of the western tradition in hopes that they will return to these texts again and again
throughout their lives; second, to develop foundational observational, analytical, and communication tools that transcend academic disciplines and are both applicable and necessary for all college majors and career paths.
What would you say are the biggest differences or similarities between the high school and college students you teach and mentor?
The Academy students and the Honors College students are self-motivated, engaged learners who are eager to challenge themselves academically. One difference between the two groups is that the Honors College students have usually already met with and overcome academic setbacks, so they do not become overwhelmed if, for example, they have three exams scheduled for the same day. Academy students, on the other hand, often do not yet have a vision for what to do when academics become too difficult, or when academic and personal priorities conflict.
If you could only read three books for the rest of your life, which would they be and why?
Oh, horror! I’m glad this question is purely hypothetical. Today I’ll answer it this way: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, St. Augustine’s Confessions, and Flannery O’Connor’s complete stories. These books offer a deep, rich understanding of sin, suffering, and grace.
What advice would you give to graduating seniors?
There’s always time to read.
Are you currently writing or conducting any research?
Yes! I am (slowly) revisiting my dissertation in hopes of developing it into a scholarly monograph. Its current working title is Authority and Authenticity: National and Regional Identity in Literature of Russia and the U.S. South. I am also working on introductions to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and Flannery O’Connor’s “The Enduring Chill” that will be part of an edited collection for first-year seminars at Christian colleges and universities. Finally, I’m developing conference papers on Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and three Dostoevsky short stories that I hope will eventually become articles.
What would you say is the key to being a successful college student?
The key? Do not isolate yourself. College is not meant to be an individual intellectual pursuit. Make friends; get involved in a church community; sleep, eat, and exercise regularly. Remind yourself that you have a body and a soul, not just a mind, and that you were made to live in community with others.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
I am most looking forward to introducing students to Faulkner, Dostoevsky, and O’Connor in the upper-level English class, On Death and Dying, that I am team-teaching with Dr. Denny Kinlaw.
Nathan and Cora Cobb both graduated in May 2016. Nathan earned a BA in music, and Cora a BA in English. Since then Nathan has earned an MA in music theory from University of Washington, and is currently pursuing a PhD in music theory at the University of California–Santa Barbara. Cora has been working as a pediatric dental assistant and nanny since graduation, and is currently living her ultimate dream of being a stay at home mom to their 8 month old son, Eliot. In 2018 Cora and Nathan added a snugly ball of fluff to our family, Leo, who is a German shepherd/lab mix. Cora and Nathan currently live in Goleta, California, where it truly is sunny and mild 360 days a year, and they absolutely love it.
How did the Honors College prepare you to succeed after graduation?
Cora: One thing I took from my time in the Honors College was the value of pursuing and maintaining a consistent community. Having now moved cross-country twice, it was my memory of the rapidly-formed and tight-knit community of our class in the Honors College that provided some hope when I worried that it would take years and years to grow close to new neighbors, church members, etc. in our new home. It also taught me to always look for the right edition of books—just because something seems unapproachable at first read doesn’t mean the book is awful—you might just have a bad translation or edition!
Nathan: First of all, it improved my writing ability. Additionally, the books we read in the Honors College have made me more effective in my discipline [music theory] and more able to engage with my peers in graduate school and with the material I have read since undergrad.
What are you currently reading/studying?
Nathan: I’m reading The Guermantes Way, volume 3 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time Series. I’m studying French spectralist music, specifically the works of Michaël Levinas.
Cora: I just finished The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (great light novel), and I’m about to scour my parents’ bookshelves for some quarantine reads since I had to return all my library books before leaving California. So I think I’m in for a wild ride, haha.
Have you reread any of the books you studied during your time in the Honors College? If so, which books and what led you to return to them?
Nathan: I read The Aeneid because I didn’t actually read it the first time around. I reread The Iliad because I think its worthwhile, and Sophocles and Aeschylus.
Cora: I have come back to T. S. Eliot many times, but otherwise nope!
What is one piece of advice that you wish you could have given to yourself as a freshman?
Cora: Just soak it all in! Honestly there’s nothing I would redo about any of my college experience. Just would advise myself to enjoy every little piece, even and especially every 2:00 a.m. study session memorizing timelines that didn’t even end up on the test.
Nathan: Do the reading. I didn’t get serious about it until sophomore year, and I missed out on some great books that I’ve had to go back and reread.
Are you still friends with any of your Honors College classmates?
Yes! We are still very close with Nathan’s roommates, especially Garrison and Isaac. I (Cora) keep up with everyone I can on social media and keep Nathan updated.
How did you both meet? Can you provide any advice for dating in college?
We met in high school! Advice for dating in college . . . hmmm! Nathan says, do things that you can do together, together. Study together, hang with your friends together, just basically live life together instead of stressing about the fact that you don’t have time to go on “dates.” I 100 percent agree with that, and I think my other advice would be to seek the Lord first in all things—that’s the only reason our relationship has been so easy and sweet! But also, we know nothing about dating in college . . . we just decided in high school that we were better together and never looked back.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
Nathan: Being out of quarantine. Haha, just kidding. We have a road trip planned for September to drive up the east coast and through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Canada, so I’m really excited to see all of that and take our first big vacation with Eliot!
Cora: We moved back to Texas for the next three months while the nation is shut down and all of Nathan’s work and classes are online, so I am actually really, really looking forward to the next three months being close to family and getting to give Eliot lots and lots of time with his grandparents! Also getting to see him move from babyhood to toddlerhood and all the wild and crazy things that come with that. Also very excited for when libraries open back up and I can get back to my regularly scheduled programming of an unlimited stream of free books.
What are you most thankful for?
Nathan: Without a doubt, Cora and Eliot.
Cora: I was gonna say the same. Nathan and Eliot. Seriously very thankful for our sweet baby who spends 70 percent of his time awake laughing and smiling, 28 percent of it looking very intently at everything and trying to figure it out, and really only 2 percent whining. He’s a hilarious angel who already clicks into Nathan’s and my sense of humor so consistently. And so thankful for all the insane opportunities Nathan and I have been given in the past eight years and the fact that he is always game to go for things that might seem a bit wild at first.
Julian of Norwich is a mystic author of the Middle Ages. Her book Revelations of Divine Love is the earliest surviving work authored by a woman in the English language. In it she describes a series of “shewings” or visions through which God reveals to her many truths.
For the Christian reader, these visions can be seen as divine reflections, as windows opened to display the supernatural workings of God, offering an incredible opportunity to marvel at the great mystery of his attributes. For the skeptic, it remains a question whether these visions are true, and for Honors College students, both believers and nonbelievers, this question is one to be addressed. The visions that Julian beheld were revealed to her during a spell of serious illness, an illness that she prayed would befall her. Couldn’t the visions be merely the delusions of one who, having fallen ill and nearing death, brought her deepest desires to the surface of her conscious mind? Even so, if they were but dreams, would they not have merit? Can we find truth in these pages, whether the story is true or hallucination?
Regardless of the reader’s disposition toward faith, Julian’s work is one to be enjoyed by every reader. Her tone is welcoming and exudes a feeling of other-worldly peace. In the calm state of recollection in which she writes, one can’t help but be transfixed as she lays out so vividly the messages relayed to her in these interactions with the divine.
Our Honors Scholars are assigned this text in the fall semester of their second year. While typically our newsletters highlight a work our students are currently reading, given the current climate of our world it seems fitting to encourage all of our readers to reflect on Julian’s work for three key reasons: first, to realign one’s sensitivities to the steadfast heart of our Lord; second, to understand how His work is often conducted through unusual (and sometimes unwelcome) circumstances and in ways beyond our understanding; and, third, to reflect on and take note of the gentle, quiet nature of the anchoress, Julian, herself.
As we move forward into what is unknown, we can seek rest in what has been revealed to us in Scripture. Revelations of Divine Love offers us a different perspective and a refreshing reminder of these truths that keep us grounded in times of hardship and tribulation.
“And thus our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably: I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well, and I shall make all thing well; and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well.
In that He saith, I may, I understand it for the Father; and in that He saith, I can, I understand it for the Son; and where He saith, I will, I understand it for the Holy Ghost; and where He saith, I shall, I understand it for the unity of the blessed Trinity: three Persons and one Truth; and where He saith, Thou shalt see thyself, I understand the union of all mankind that shall be saved unto the blessed Trinity. And in these five words God wishes we be enclosed in rest and in peace.” (Julian of Norwich, chapter 31 of the long text of Revelations of Divine Love)
Written by: Christian Webster