September 10, 2021

Center Director Kerill O’Neill Steps into New Role

After nine years as Founding Director of the Center, I am stepping down and assuming a new role as Special Assistant to the Provost for Humanities Initiatives. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of feelings! Above all, I am thrilled that Dean Allbritton will succeed me as Director, bringing his wit, vision, and Southern charm to the position. The Center is sure to thrive under Dean’s leadership, and I look forward to seeing how it will grow and develop in the years to come.

As I look back on my time at the Center, and the years it took to ensure its creation, I am cognizant of the good fortune I had to work with such amazing people, to enjoy the support of the senior administration, and to host great events in collaboration with faculty, students, and community members. It all began with a great group of people in the Humanities Steering Committee who helped craft our successful proposal to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create the Center. Back then humanities faculty were gripped by a sense of malaise, a feeling that we were no longer valued in the same way, and that we were being relegated to the periphery of the college.

Kerill O'Neil

Together, however, we crafted a plan to reverse our fortunes, proclaim our worth, and demonstrate that the best was yet to come. Since then, our humanities theme has become the driver of the biggest intellectual conversations on campus, our humanities labs have transformed the way students learn, our Environmental Humanities initiative has flourished and grown, and our keynote events have galvanized the community by bringing an extraordinary series of luminaries to Waterville: writers like Sir Salman Rushdie, Cornell West, and Roxane Gay; environmental figures like Winona LaDuke, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Bill McKibben; and artists like Maya Lin, LaToya Ruby Frasier, and Mark Dion. For all the inspirational moments offered by visiting speakers, it is the collaborations with colleagues that I will recall most fondly. Whether it was theme sponsors, conference or summer institute co-organizers, arts incubator designers, event planners, or grant co-writers, I relished those shared moments of creativity, the centering of collective wisdom, and the laughter that punctuated our meetings.

For all of that, I am truly thankful. For eight years, I have relied on Assistant Director Megan Fossa who responds to all challenges with poise and good humor; I will miss our daily interactions! In addition, I could not have asked for better Associate Directors, first Lydia Moland, and then Dean Allbritton, who succeeded her, and Audrey Brunetaux as an interim director during my sabbatical. Their wisdom and energy enhanced everything we did. In the last few years, I have enjoyed working with Ayla Fudala, who staffs the Center’s Environmental Humanities initiative. That initiative, the result of a second Mellon grant, brought Chris Walker to Colby, first as a postdoc and now as a tenure-track faculty member. Working with Chris and Keith Peterson to grow EH at Colby, and make the Summer Institute an international success has been tremendously rewarding.


So, as I turn to my next chapter at Colby, I am profoundly grateful to all the students, faculty, staff, and college leaders whose generosity, creativity, and sagacity made directing the Center such a joy. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for the Center; I know it is going to be great!

Kerill O’Neill
Julian D. Taylor Professor of Classics
Special Assistant to the Provost for Humanities Initiatives

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