An interview with Dr. Scanlon

The Oracle got a chance to sit down with Dr. Jennifer Scanlon prior to her keynote for the Hedgeman Center’s Social Justice Symposium. “Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Hamline University and narrating US history through the lens of justice.”

Dr.Jenifer Scanlon is Senior Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs at Bowdoin College in Maine, as well as being a member of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Department. She is a noted educator, researcher and author including being a part of and writing many articles and books like Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown and Until There is Justice: the Life of Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Q & A 



So in the book, you highlight many experiences and contributions of Hedgeman. What do you think is one or some of the most important things to know and remember about her in the context of our nation now and in the context of what she faced?

You know, one of the things that I keep coming back to… and it does relate to right where we are now in the world. One of the things she talked about is the important role that the U.S. plays in the world and that if we could figure out issues of race and hierarchy in our own country, that would go a long, long way toward helping the global figuring out of issues of race and hierarchy. 


And I think that’s really true now, you know, we might think that things going on in Ukraine have little to do with Hedgeman or with race. But in fact, I would argue that they do because they involve looking within thinking about how we devise hierarchies, how people assumed power, how assumed power stays in place, how it needs to be challenged. Those were many of the lessons that Hedgeman spoke about over and over and over again.

How do you think she would have responded to some of the challenges and the successes of Black Lives Matter and [of the recent discussions about race and racism]?

So for me, Hedgeman would be such a welcome voice during these years. One of the things you know, there are parallels when you’re a historian you see parallels between one period of time another, not that things are exactly the same…


But one of the things Hedgeman was good at was saying [was,] “No, we need to listen to young people. And we really, we need to recognize why would people be calling for Black Power?” Well, it’s because Black Americans were a singular group in not having had this collective experience in the 20th century of assuming power.


Now, she grew up down the road in Anoka, Minnesota. And there were lots of immigrant families in her community and she saw how Irish groups of people made their way in the world or Polish groups of people made their way in the world. And she was a good voice for saying, you know, young Black people are really, really frustrated. And not just young Black people, but when calls came for Black people to respond to young people’s cries for change, as they have in this these years you’re referencing, she was right there saying let’s not jump to warnings, let’s really listen, and that’s how we’re going to make change happen.

Do you think by growing up in Minnesota, she had a specific experience and perspective that she brought to the March on Washington and other her time in teaching down South and everything that is different than the experiences other people were bringing in?

People are products of where they come from and in Hedgeman’s case, she grew up in the only Black family in her community and so she knew what that meant, from an early age. And she knew the sting of having people look at you differently or treat you differently. 


But she also had powerful and close relationships with white people. And so I think, you know, she went in various directions with her feelings about white people and race over the course of her life. 


But she inevitably came back to love as a central component of getting through life and feeling like it was worth fighting with white people, arguing with them, being friends with them, making a way with them, and I do think that came from her family, her faith and her childhood, and then her time at Hamline.

What do you hope the Hamline community takes away from your keynote and the experience and life of Anna Arnold Hedgeman?

One of the things about biography is that we can very easily think that someone who’s worthy of a biography is someone who’s very, very different from us as regular everyday people. And so as much as we might admire them, we might also feel like well there’s this distance between me and them… 

And what I would hope people would take would be how she would react to that. And she would say, “No, no, no, you know, we’re all in this together and it’s one foot in front of the other. Find something that you’re passionate about. And keep at it,” and so that’s what I would hope that people would both admire her for the remarkable person that she was, but also resist because she would want us to feeling that there’s this gulf between what she was capable of doing in the world and what we are

So Hamline is a space like this space, like you’re in every day, of leaders and lifetime learners and students. So are there any takeaways or advice you would offer to the community as we work to cultivate and value social justice, diversity and inclusion?

One of the things that I admire about Hedgeman, and this relates to Black Power and other things, but the question you ask…is one thing: don’t be afraid of anger. There are reasons to be angry about the way things are in the world. And there are good reasons to take that in and see how that feels. For Hedgeman, I think it’s: what do you do with that? 

And so for her, it was always about “okay, let me learn more. Let me think about this other person’s perspective, but let me offer mine, let’s find a time to talk.”…  


She really believed that we can do better as a country, but we got to listen to each other and we’ve got to really talk and listen and be thoughtful, and not be afraid to be wrong. And then think about what does the future look like? She always kept that in mind. How can we have a better future together?

Yeah. So thank you for your time and all the insight you shared with us today. Is there anything else you would like to add?

You’re all very fortunate to have Anna Arnold Hedgeman as an alum. To really think about that she was part of your community and so continuing to keep her alive, and her ideas alive and her commitments alive is a really fantastic way to realize for legacy right here at Hamline.