During Reunion 2014, the Hobart Alumni Association and the William Smith Alumnae Association will honor Professor of English Emerita Claudette Columbus with the Distinguished Faculty Award (DFA).
A member of the English Department faculty from 1969 until her retirement in 2003, Columbus taught the literature of late-18th and 19th-century authors including John Ruskin, Charles Dickens and Robert Browning. She also studied native Andean practices with two Fulbright grants that enabled her to visit Peru, and additional grants from Hobart and William Smith.
With Christopher Gunn, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Economics, Columbus was instrumental in instituting the ombuds men and women at the Colleges, and herself served as an ombudsperson there. She was instrumental in creating the HWS women’s study and Latin American studies programs, and served as adviser on more than a dozen student honors projects.
“I hope everyone has (or has had) a professor and a course that anchors them and swings them way out into new spaces,” says Assistant Professor James McCorkle ’76. “I feel incredibly lucky that I had Claudette at this moment in my life. She was transformational for me, and no doubt all her students; hopefully how we respond to the world reflects that process that she engaged within us, and which is still going on as one really never finishes thinking about questions once raised.”
“Like all great teachers, Claudette has a combination of qualities that make her classes-and her-unforgettable,” says Dorothy Wickenden ’76. “She pushed us to read and think in ways that she might describe as transgressive-crossing lines between disciplines and reveling in the dark, perverse, and sublime. She taught me to love Thomas Hardy and the Romantic poets. And she has a wicked sense of humor.”
Columbus received her B.A. from Bucknell University, her M.A. with high honors from Columbia University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her articles, published in a number of professional journals, range from essays on major figures in the English Romantic and Victorian periods to essays on Latin American subjects, on which she has written two books. She led several semesters of off-campus study to London and Ecuador, and in 2003, received the HWS Faculty Prize for Teaching. She was also awarded faculty prizes for community service and scholarship.
Her scholarship has continued even after her retirement from HWS. In 2013, “at the ridiculous age of 80,” as Columbus says, she was invited to present a paper at the centenary celebration of a major Peruvian author’s birth; the paper was published later that year.
Columbus says she is “extraordinarily grateful to Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ varying and ever altering curriculum attributable in part to the administrative support of the faculty. The Colleges have long emphasized cross-disciplinary studies; they have supported terms abroad. This breadth of investigation kept the professors on their toes and up to date.”
Established in 1990 by the Hobart Alumni Association and the William Smith Alumnae Association, the DFA recognizes the importance that graduates of these Colleges place on the contributions of outstanding faculty members of the past-for their impact as teachers, mentors and scholars. Nominations for the award are sought by all alumni and alumnae and are professors who are retired or have moved on from Hobart and William Smith for more than five years or are deceased.
“The impact that professors have on their students can last a lifetime. They have a gift to inspire, challenge and engage with their students,” says Director of Alumnae Relations Kathy Killius Regan ’82, P’13. “Selected with great care and consideration, these faculty members will be remembered for their teaching as well as their scholarly achievements. All have left distinct marks on HWS, and their legacies still influence those who had the good fortune to study with them.”