By Tobi Bankole
When the recipient of the 2020 Norch Cross alumni award was announced, a few faculty members could not contain their excitement. AP U.S. history teacher and Herald advisor Robert Robillard, seemed thrilled at the chance to engage with Dr. Caroline Light ‘87, a professor and accomplished author.
“It was exciting to see the school honor an historian,” Robillard said, “expecially one who publishes in and promotes the field of journalism.”
Dr. Light earned history degrees at Duke and Kentucky before becomin the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Women and Gender Studies (WGS) at Harvard. Her background as an historian gives her a unique perspective on current events, which is evident in her 2017 book Stand Your Ground.
“In the process of studying history, I actually transformed to become more of a journalist in many ways, and that’s where I am right now. I’m still evolving; I like studying the past, but the that way I approach the study of the past is to think about how we’re going to problem solve in the contemporary moment. I’m really interested in urgent contemporary issues and questions and problems that we’re all facing.”
Light is passionate about sharing her knowledge in a way that is accessible for young audiences. In her session with AP U.S. History students, she spent the time fielding questions and answering them in ways that were not only easy to understand, but conducive to more student questions and comments.
Mahum Hashmi ‘19 shares what she liked about the class period. “She had a unique way of thinking about things. Her opinions were really articulate and interesting.”
The room was packed not only with students, but with faculty and staff who jumped at the chance to hear Light speak. Questions were asked not only by students, but by Director of Upper School Mark Thompson and Chinese and yearbook teacher Nicki Dabney.
At the end of the session, students and faculty alike shared a laugh as Robillard asked Light to sign his copy of Stand Your Ground.
Transitioning from controversial gun laws to her other area of expertise, Light ate lunch with students to talk about the state of gender and sexuality education and information access at NCS. Informally, she engaged the small group of students about their experiences with intersectional education, and shared her thoughts on where to improve.
Nora Terrill ‘20 shared what she liked about the lunch. “She really wanted to know about our experiences, and you could tell that she genuinely cared.”
In the afternoon, all high school students got the chance to hear speak during activity period, when she officially accepted her award. She spent the duration of her speech talking about the importance of educating the next generation to discern between fact and opinion, expressing confidence in the students sitting before her. She shared how her experiences in graduate school shaped her perspective on the issues she teaches on.
While the students enjoyed this and it was directed at them, there were a few teachers who were moved.
“I found her very thought provoking, and found it necessary to do some self reflection,” said Dean of Students Stephen Belderes.
Weeks later, a small group of students had the opportunity to meet Dr. Light again in her office at Harvard. They saw a protest on behalf of one of Dr. Light’s close colleagues who was denied tenure, and listened to her speak on the injustices that she faces in the academic world.
She talked about life in Cambridge, from being a cyclist to art around Boston, and told the Harvard Model United Nations delegation about both the good and bad of being a WGS professor at Harvard.
“She talked a lot about how things weren’t perfect for her department,” says Tanner Vogel ‘22. “Like how they’re in a basement and don’t get a lot of funding.”
But above all, Dr Light’s message was hopeful. She shared exciting plans for WGS to move into a newer building, the influx of students she’s had over the past few years, and her vision of a future where WGS is valued even more.