Blue Jays Always. Roll Tide!

Logo of the University of Alabama Department of Religious Studies. A picture of Manly Hall.

Four years ago I joined the faculty of Elizabethtown College as Assistant Professor of Religious Studies. I was a newly-minted PhD embarking on my first full-time position.

In that time I have tried to embody the best of the teachers with whom I had the opportunity to study. And I committed to becoming the professor that I wanted and needed as a student.

I don’t know how representative my experience is for new faculty, but you don’t get a lot of guidance on how to be a professor. There are HR handbooks and best practices to consult to be sure. But when the term begins, you just kind of have to get started.

Just a minute ago I was graced with the memory of the new student orientation that coincided with my first semester. I was wandering around the buildings where I’d be teaching in the following week. I rushed past the door of then-future colleagues who were putting the finishing touches on summer research projects. I heard first-year seminar professors putting on what appeared to be master classes for now-soon-to-be graduates.

It was daunting and exhilarating and befuddling.

I haven’t felt that way since the second time I started high school… but that probably bears explaining.

It’s weird to see the plot of your present life becomes a prelude, yet the experience is bringing me comfort and clarity. 

My junior year of high school I transferred from an academically-acclaimed suburban high school to an urban arts magnet school. In a not-so-perfect 80s television metaphor, I went from to Head of the Class to Fame. Both were really good but quite different.

Anyway, I remember the first day of school at The High School for Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) and being enveloped by a gulf of dedication. It was a place where beauty was being crafted. You could smell the resin and hear the scales and see the sketches that were in the process of becoming creativity expressed. I had played violin all my life but had never been this close to artistry. These kids weren’t just talented; they were brilliant! I remember hearing circles of friends walking past me discussing literature more classic, music more hip, and politics more pertinent than I even knew existed.

That’s what it was like coming to Elizabethtown College.

It took me a lot of years and a lot of therapy to appreciate the good parts of high school. I spent way too much time fixated on being the new kid that was playing catch up to bona fide geniuses. They were fair feelings to have, but I’ve since come to realize that I was able to learn so much and do my fair share of cool things too. Those lessons, friendships, and achievements only came into view when I stopped trying to be something other than ever-changing me.

A little older, a little wiser–it hasn’t taken me all that long to learn to cherish the time I’ve spent at Elizabethtown College. I didn’t know all the cool things I’d get to do with students, friends, and colleagues during my time here. Nor did I expect to be welcomed into a community so well-wrought. I draw on the strength of these same bonds to announce that this is my last term at Elizabethtown College.

In Fall 2018, I will be joining the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama as Assistant Professor of Religious Studies. There I will be continuing my efforts in showcasing how social theory can enhance the study of religion, and I will find ways to contribute to the rich legacy of public-facing scholarship of their students and faculty. New opportunities await, including a growing graduate program, a college football team (I hear they’re not bad.), and full acceptance of my use of the contraction, “y’all.”

For those of you familiar with the field of religious studies, you already know about the amazing work coming out of Alabama. If not, the video below will give you a taste.

I want to thank all of you who have wished my family well. And I look forward to honoring our commitments to stay in touch.

The opportunities before me at the University of Alabama would not be there were it not for the work I was able to do at Elizabethtown College. As I discern what kind of professor I will become in August, trust that I have a new compass to help guide me. Will I do right by the students, colleagues, and friends that helped me understand the importance of educating for service.

Blue Jays Always. Roll Tide!


2 thoughts on “Blue Jays Always. Roll Tide!

  1. Congratulations, Richard! I’ll never say that Alabama phrase because I had to hear it too often last fall when Mercer collected its check. You are going to a good place with really good people. Hope to see you around in this neck of the woods some time.

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