Holy Cross Professors Recognized for Outstanding Scholarship and Student Advising

Marfuggi Awards were given to Neel Smith and Lorelle Semley, who also received a prestigious Burkhardt Fellowship
June 6th, 2018 by 

Fenwick Hall during spring

After another successful academic year, two faculty members are being celebrated for their excellence in scholarship and academic advising.

Before the faculty of the College of the Holy Cross who were gathered for her spring address, Margaret Freije, provost and dean of the College, presented Mary Louise Marfuggi Faculty Awards to Neel Smith, professor of classics, and Lorelle Semley, associate professor of history, who also recently received a prestigious Burkhardt Fellowship.

The annual Marfuggi awards are made possible by a generous gift from Richard A. Marfuggi, M.D. ’72, in honor of his mother.

Excellence in Academic Advising

Neel Smith stands in front of a class

Neel Smith received the Mary Louise Marfuggi Faculty Award for Academic Advisement, an award given to a faculty member who has demonstrated effective academic advisement and mentorship of students that was extraordinary in quality and sustained over at least three years. The recipient is selected based on student nominations.

While presenting the award, Freije shared that student nominators stressed Smith’s influential advising, particularly in terms of “mentoring student research and independent projects, coaching them in both the detailed work of research and in their presentation of it.”

“I have never met a professor who was more trusting of his students to prove themselves,” one student wrote, while another echoed that Smith has an “uncanny ability to inspire a sort of self-confidence.”

Smith has served as the faculty advisor to the Manuscripts, Inscriptions and Documents Club since 2011, where he works with students from all class years who gather weekly to edit and publish a variety of primary sources from the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Smith has also mentored countless students whose work has resulted in publication as well as been presented at major national and international conferences.

“He always focuses on what people can do and how they can learn instead of what they do not know,” a nominator shared.

Another student recounted the role Smith played while she was pursuing an independent project and feeling uncertain about the daunting task. Smith reassured her that she was in change and capable of making the decisions ahead of her.

“Over time, I realized exactly what he was doing — I was completely capable,” she wrote. “I just needed the right person to push me in that direction. For the first time since I came to college, I felt empowered.”

Outstanding, Path-Breaking Scholarship

Lorelle Semley

Lorelle Semley received the Mary Louise Marfuggi Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholarship, an award that honors a member of the faculty for outstanding achievement in the creation of original work in the arts and sciences over an 18-month period.

While Semley’s recent scholarly achievements have been extensive, most notable was the publication of her book “To be Free and French: Citizenship in France’s Atlantic Empire” (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Semley’s book, described by a reviewer as a “staple of reading lists for years to come,” explores the meaning of citizenship for French colonial subjects of African descent. Freije explained that “the book dismantles scholarly preconceptions to recover a sense of agency possessed by women and men of color who ‘dared to define an alternative French citizenship, which recognized difference… as part of a ‘universal’ French identity.'”

“This book caps a body of scholarship that, in the words of one colleague, ‘sits at the junction of multiple historiographical discussions and puts African experiences at the center of many fruitful discussions still unfolding,'” Freije shared.

During these 18 months, Semley also published two major articles, a book chapter and a guest-edited journal, as well as collaborated with Rosa Carasquillo, professor of history, to organize the multidisciplinary conference “Rethinking the Afropolitan: the Ethics of Black Atlantic Masculinities on Display.”

Calling Semley a “prolific author, wide-ranging thinker and energetic contributor to collaborative scholarly ventures,” Freije also noted her role as a pathbreaker, making major contributions to the histories of Africa, the African Diaspora and the Atlantic World, as well as to women’s and gender history, urban history, race and empire.

At Holy Cross, Semley also serves as the director of Africana Studies and is a member of the Peace and Conflicts Studies and the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies faculties.

In addition to this recognition from the College, Semley and her scholarship have been recognized by the American Council of Learned Societies, which awarded Semley the Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship. This esteemed fellowship provides a stipend and research budget of over $100,000, which will support Semley’s research on her project, titled “Bordeaux, Forgotten Black Metropolis.”  She will conduct the research at Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration at Yale University during the 2020-21 academic year.

While conducting research for her recent book, Semley repeatedly came across references to Africans living in Bordeaux, France, a city best known for its wine. Intrigued and determined to explore this unexplored topic, Semley will continue her successful scholarly momentum studying Africans and Antilleans who have lived in Bordeaux since the 18th century, and how their forgotten history helped shape this French city.

“I am most energized by the continuities and new directions in my research as my work moves more into France itself while maintaining my foundation in African and Atlantic world history,” says Semley.

“Even in environments where the liberal arts and interdisciplinary work are celebrated, my fields of research in African history, gender and empire can still be marginalized,” she adds. “My overarching goal as an author and a teacher is to demonstrate that African history is integral to all of our stories, past and present. It means a great deal to me and I feel fortunate to receive this kind of recognition from my colleagues and my broader profession. And, of course, as an African American woman scholar, the significance of these awards runs deeper still.”

Photos by Tom Rettig

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