The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, in collaboration with several other campus divisions, brought two distinguished alums to campus this week whose spiritual identities have shaped their careers. During the three-day “With Usefulness and Reputation” residency, the guests were honored for their work and spoke in small settings to student groups.
One of the two honorees, Jewelnel Davis ’79, currently serves as university chaplain, associate provost and director of the Earl Center at Columbia.
“She’s long been my colleague and somebody I admire enormously, so this is really fun to bring her back to her alma mater,” said University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson.
The other honoree, Nawal Nour MD ’88, works as an obstetrician and gynecologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She received a 2003 MacArthur Fellowship — commonly known as a Genius Grant — for her research on health policy issues regarding female genital cutting.
Nour — who was born in Khartoum, Sudan — first became interested in the topic at a young age. Genital cutting has been performed on over 90 percent of girls and women in Khartoum, Nour said. “That was a seed that clearly disturbed me, and as I kept growing I was more and more concerned about the issue,” she said.
“Her work is the kind that makes someone’s jaw drop a little bit,” Nelson said.
The residency commenced Tuesday with a reception and panel in Petteruti Lounge, during which Nelson and Galen Henderson MD ’93, president-elect of the Brown Alumni Association, welcomed the honorees and asked them questions about their undergraduate experiences.
Nelson noted that the program’s title is drawn from the objective written in the University’s charter to preserve “a succession of men duly qualified for discharging the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.” A similar phrase appears in the University’s current mission statement, she added.
“I didn’t know a single Brown student who graduated and didn’t want to change the world,” Nour said.
Dean of the College Maud Mandel also asked the honorees which values they found in receiving a liberal education.
Nour said she followed “a meandering path that was so necessary” during her four years at Brown. Though she came to College Hill with an interest in medicine and ultimately became a doctor, she was not pre-med and took mostly political science, anthropology and English classes, she said.
Davis, who concentrated in religious studies, emphasized the ability to take courses in fields unrelated to a planned future career, citing ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations” as one such course she took during her time as an undergraduate.
“Don’t think of Brown as vocational school,” Davis advised students in the audience. “That’s not what Brown is about.”
Over the next two days, Nour and Davis each met with various campus organizations for small group discussions. “Our priority in this has not been to put somebody up in front of a room with hundreds of people. It’s been about getting small groups of people together to really talk,” Nelson said.
Brandon Dale ’17 helped facilitate a discussion between first-generation students and Davis, who was the first in her family to attend college. “My hope is that people will leave the conversation with something new learned and maybe something new appreciated,” Dale said.
In addition, Davis also met with religious studies concentrators, students involved with CareerLAB and the Curricular Resource Center, Dining Services student employees and members of Black Church at Brown.
Nour met with the Brown Muslim Students Association, presented to students and clinicians at the Alpert Medical School and had lunch with the Women in Medicine and Science Advisory Board.
“We’ve had very full conversations in small groups, where I did share my career with them,” Nour said. “But more importantly, I came to Brown to learn from students and hear more about what their needs and issues were.”
Together, both honorees had lunch with members of the Brown Center for Students of Color and students from the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center and joined this week’s Thursday Night Interfaith Supper.
Nour and Davis each expressed their gratitude toward Brown for the opportunities it provided while they were students.
“Brown helped me to imagine a world that I didn’t even know how to conceive,” Davis said. “Sometimes people say things opened doors. … I think it opened rivers; it opened a universe.”
While some classes are essential, “the memories you have of Brown are the friends you make,” Nour said.
“It is about the spirituality, but it doesn’t have to be religious,” she added. “It’s the spirituality at Brown of belonging and being a part of a wonderful group of friends and colleagues.”