Honors faculty member uses teaching as a way to promote social justice, advocacy

September 23, 2020

Dr. Lynn Hampton, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in the Honors College, once aspired to a political career, with dreams of becoming a United States senator during her adolescence.

“I wanted to make an impact relating to laws and government and to give a voice to the disenfranchised and voiceless,” she said.

Dr. Lynn Hampton with Honors graduate Ali Carter ’20 as he was interning at the Supreme Court during the 2019 fall semester.

In college, she interned with the Congressional Black Caucus. The opportunity provided her with a poignant snapshot into the way politics really works in our country. While she’s grateful for her experience, it also made her realize that she was simply not cut out for politics.

“I thought the only way I could truly make an impact was in law, politics or government,” she reflected. “It was a bit of a one-track mindset and I thought that, since I had decided against politics, law was the direct pathway to that.”

She briefly attended law school but quickly realized that sociology would be a better fit for her interests in social justice and advocacy, so she pivoted her education, ultimately earning a Ph.D. in sociology from Vanderbilt University.

She realized that teaching on a college campus could make an impact in both social justice and advocacy. “I think about [the role of a professor] as it relates in the classroom,” she said. “I don’t take it for granted. You aren’t just impacting one life; you are also impacting the lives of people the student comes in contact with.”

With recent social unrest in the United States making the news worldwide, she realizes that her role as a teacher may be more important than ever.

“I’ve always been a glass half-full kind of person… I have to maintain that sense of optimism. Every time I go into that classroom, those are future legislators, future educators, future healthcare workers,” she said. “Every time I go into that classroom is a new opportunity to inspire a new generation. I cannot afford to be cynical.”

Students engage in Dr. Hampton’s Beyonce & Intersectionality class during the 2019 fall semester.

In 2016, as the movement was gaining traction and receiving more mainstream media coverage, Hampton taught a course called Black Lives Matter.

She had some reservations about how the course would go but was surprised to see a large amount of student enthusiasm and support. She realized, “If we are afraid to introduce topics to our students – what are we doing? It starts with us.”

“Stereotypes may or may not be true, but you don’t know that until you start having those conversations and students are able to have a dialogue,” she said.

She continues to provide students with innovative course offerings like U.S. Schooling & Society and Beyonce and Intersectionality. Her courses create opportunity for conversation about important issues.

“I want to help develop courses that speak to the latest generation and specifically address them where they are,” she said. “We can’t keep them engaged if we’re not innovative.”

She reflects that Honors students give her hope and inspire her to be a better teacher. “The process of being a life-long learner starts with curiosity. I love that about this group! All the classes I’ve piloted have been in Honors.”

She also acknowledges that we live in strange times, but offers a sense of optimism, “For any students feeling some kind of way because of the global pandemic – I am with you and I understand the need to operate from places of caution – but I think that in the midst of all of this, there are still great opportunities to be creative, press forward and continue to lean in!”

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