Meditation course helps inmates in Alabama prison

The Donaldson Correction Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, is the only maximum security prison in North America that allows prisoners an opportunity to take a 10-day (10 hours a day) Vipassana meditation course. According to psychologists at the prison, the biggest benefits to inmates is that it allows them to get in touch with their humanity, as well acknowledge their responsibility to themselves and others.

Last week several guests from the prison visited Emory to talk about the program with students and faculty in conjunction with a screening of The Dhamma Brothers.

The YouTube video above features Dr. Ron Cavanaugh, director of treatment for Alabama DOC; Kathryn Allen, PhD, Psychologist, Donaldson Correctional Facility; and Ben Turner, Vipassana Prison Trust.

The visit and screening were sponsored by Emory’s Department of Religion, Graduate Division of Religion, Ethics Center, Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding Initiative, Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies, Film Studies Department, and Emory Tibet Partnership.

If you attended the talks or screening, we look forward to hearing your comments below.

Emory Report (Feb. 25, 2011) article on the visit and screening


Emory College receives historic $14.4 million gift

A $14.4 million estate gift from Emory University alumnus James E. Varner Jr. will provide financial aid to deserving students through the Emory Advantage program. Varner, who graduated from Emory in 1943 with an economics degree, left the bulk of his estate to the Emory College of Arts and Sciences for student support. The gift is the largest in Emory College’s history.

See YouTube videos from the public announcement below.

An Atlanta banker with a successful career that spanned nearly four decades, Varner believed that the education he received at Emory helped him to achieve financial success in his career and that his gift to the college would help others excel.

“It is a pleasant obligation to continue to contribute to Emory and make it a little easier for students who come behind me,” Varner said in a 2007 interview for the Emory Alumni Directory.

Varner was acutely aware that the future of this country and this world lies in the education of each succeeding generation, said his stepson, John T. Clower III, a 1965 graduate of Emory’s Goizueta Business School.

“With his knowledge of economics and finance, Jim knew that an education today is much more expensive than in the past, and that one of the major structural problems with America’s society and the economy is the disparity between the education level young Americans are obtaining and the level required for the new jobs being created,” Clower said.

Varner’s wife, Mildred Price Varner, and those friends who knew him best remember Varner as thrifty in his personal life, but generous in supporting those causes that were important to him. Varner was a faithful annual contributor to Emory, even during his final years of debilitating illness. He died March 6, 2010.

“The Varner bequest to Emory College is exactly the right gift at the right time. There’s no greater challenge facing the College today than keeping Emory accessible and affordable,” says Emory University trustee and alumnus Wendell Reilly. “In the last three years alone, student support in Emory College has grown more than $30 million a year. While Emory remains committed to meeting the need of students and their families, the college has no way of sustaining that effort without the support of alumni and generous angels like James E. Varner Jr.”

“Emory Advantage grows out of the core belief that we simply cannot succeed unless we retain the ability to recruit to Emory the sort of vibrant, talented, diverse, exciting student body than enhances the Emory experience for everyone, and strengthens every aspect of the institution,” says Robin Forman, dean of Emory College. “This gift is, in every way, a significant investment in the future of these students, the College, and the University.”

The Emory Advantage student financial aid program was established in 2007 to ensure access to an Emory education for undergraduate students from families with total annual incomes of $100,000 or less. Through this program, need-based grants reduce the education debt burden for undergraduate students at Oxford College, Emory College of Arts and Sciences, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Goizueta Business School. Since its inception, 1,297 students have benefited from this program.

In the 2010-2011 academic year, Emory Advantage provided more than $6.3 million in financial aid awards to students across the university. Of that amount, about $4.2 million supported students in Emory College of Arts and Sciences.

[Pictured left to right at the gift announcement event on the Emory University campus Feb. 25, 2011: John T. Clower III 65B, Mildred Price Varner, Brittany Meagley 08C 11PH, and Carol Clower.]

Read news releaseSee Campaign Emory story

Related Media

Alumnus’ Estate Gift Supports Emory Students

At the major gift announcement event on the Emory campus (Feb. 25, 2011), Emory President James Wagner talks about the $14.4 million estate gift to Emory University from alumnus James E. Varner Jr. 43C that will provide financial aid to students through Emory Advantage.

Emory Advantage Program Encourages Dreams

Brittany Meagley 08C 11PH talks about the impact of Emory Advantage on her academic career at Emory College.

Sustaining the Emory Advantage Program

Emory trustee Wendell Reilly 80C talks about the timeliness of the $14.5 million gift by Jim Varner. “There’s no greater challenge facing the college today than keeping Emory accessible and affordable,” he says.

Varner Gift Marks Milestone in Achieving the College’s Campaign Goals

At the reception honoring the $14.4 million gift from James E. Varner Jr. 43C, Robin Forman, dean of Emory College, recognizes Mildred Price Varner and acknowledges the impact of the gift on students receiving financial aid and the College campaign goals. “This gift is, in every way, a significant investment in the future of these students, the college and the university,” says Dean Forman.

Residency program continues to thrive

The Mellon Foundation has pledged $533,000 to the Visiting Scholars Program of the James Weldon Johnson Institute, renewing a critical source of funding until 2014. a central component of the Johnson Institute’s mission.

Since 2007, the program has hosted junior and senior scholars in the humanities, humanistic social sciences and law. Scholars are assigned to a faculty host in one of the following departments or schools: music, history, African American studies, English, law and the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts.

“Before this program was created, these scholars worked in a fragmentary way and were not part of a community,” says Rudolph P. Byrd, founding director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies. “Here, they receive a network of support beyond the institute itself.”

See full Emory Report article (Feb. 18, 2011)

Emory a “Best Value” by Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s

The Princeton Review has named Emory University one of its “2011 Best Value Colleges” for private schools. The annual rankings of the 50 best value private schools and 50 best value public institutions were published in USA Today this week. Emory was most recently cited as a “Best Value” by The Princeton Review in 2009 and 2008.

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine also recently named Emory a “Best Value” for 2010-2011, ranking the university 15th overall in its annual Best Value survey of 100 top private universities that exemplify excellent academics while keeping costs to a minimum.

Related Links

For more on Emory’s rankings

“Best Value” news release

The Princeton Review

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Highlights from Garrett Turner’s “I Dream A World”

Here are a couple of highlights from Garrett Turner’s “I Dream A World: The Life and Work of Langston Hughes,” which the College senior (Music & Creative Writing Double Major) wrote and produced (Feb. 11-12, 2011, Emory’s Harland Cinema). (See full production)

“Harlem Sweeties” by Langston Hughes

“The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes

An AHANA Theater Collaboration—This project was sponsored in part by a grant from the Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts, The SIRE Undergraduate Research Program, an SGA Cool Project Grant, The Office of Multicultural Programs and Services, and The Ethics and the Arts Society.

Doing theater at Emory

Recent grad Kristen Gwock 10C, who is a communications coordinator at Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts, talks about some of the great things about doing theater at Emory in this new YouTube video. One of those is Theater Emory, a professional theater company in residence where undergraduates can collaborate with professional artists, including the Department’s core faculty. For more information, see

Laurie Patton named new dean at Duke

Duke University has announced that Laurie Patton, Charles Howard Candler Professor and Professor of Early Indian Religions, has been selected as the next dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Duke University effective in July.

Dr. Patton served as chair of the Department of Religion from 2000-2007, and as Winship Distinguished Research Professor from 2003-06. She was the recipient of Emory’s highest award for teaching, the Emory Williams Award, in 2006.

“Everything that I have learned about leadership, integrity, and creativity in higher education I have learned at Emory,” she said. “Colleagues and students alike have given me the kind of inspiration that comes once in a lifetime, and their vision for higher education is unique. I already carry Emory’s example with me wherever I go, and will continue to do so in all of my work in higher education.”

Robin Forman, dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, said: “From my first moments on the Emory campus, Laurie emerged as someone with an unusual breadth and depth of understanding about how the university does, and more importantly, how the university should, work. She is remarkably insightful and creative about what is possible to achieve. Duke has made a brilliant choice. I am very sorry to be losing her as a colleague, but look forward to continuing our conversations and collaborations as she assumes her new role.”

Upcoming Rushdie Events

Emory University Distinguished Writer in Residence Salman Rushdie returns to campus this semester for his fifth consecutive year of teaching, seminars and public events.

“Truth and Memory” Conversation

Sir Salman Rushdie will participate in a public conversation on the subject of memoir titled “Truth and Memory” with Dr. Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the university, at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27 in Glenn Memorial Auditorium.

Admission is free and tickets are not required. A question-and-answer session is part of the event. Doors will open at 4 p.m. No large bags/backpacks, cameras or recording devices are permitted. The author will not be available for book signing before or after the event. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis and there is no overflow viewing area.

“Salman Rushdie’s work expands beyond the boundaries of fiction to consider important matters of memory and truth,” says Magee. “His perspective on the history and place of memoir in our literary tradition will similarly expand our own assumptions about these questions.”

Film Series Curated and Introduced by Rushdie

A public film series, “Great Works of Fiction Made Into Great Films,” has been curated and will be introduced by Rushdie. All films start at 7:30 p.m. and are screened in 35mm in Emory’s White Hall 208. Admission is free.

Films include:

  • Feb. 21: Pather Panchali (1955), 115 minutes. By Bibhutichushan Bandopadhyay. Film directed by Satyajit Ray. Print restored by the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project at the Academy Film Archive with funding from the Film Foundation.  Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
  • Feb. 28: The Dead (1987), 83 minutes. By James Joyce. Film directed by John Huston.
  • March 14: Contempt (1963), 103 minutes. By Alberto Moravia. Film directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
  • March 21: Lolita (1962), 152 minutes. By Vladimir Nabokov. Film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

A Conversation With Robert Spano and Steve Everett

Rushdie also will participate in “Music and Literature in the Technological Age: A Creativity Conversation” with Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Emory University Distinguished Artist in Residence; and Steve Everett, professor of music at Emory. The event is scheduled noon-1 p.m. Monday, March 14 at Emory’s Cannon Chapel.

Rudolph Byrd on Jean Toomer’s racial identity

In the latest Emory Report, Rudolph P. Byrd talks about the significance of Jean Toomer’s racial ambivalence in an audio recording.

Toomer, best known for his 1923 book Cane, focused on the African American experience, but Prof. Byrd, director of Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute of Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, says that even though Toomer spent many years trying to pass as white, he was actually African American.

Byrd and Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. are co-editors of a second edition of Cane (W. W. Norton, 2011). Included in the new edition are decades of correspondence, reviews and articles about the book.


Check out the first issue of, a quarterly journal of art, philosophy and politics affiliated with Emory University.

According to the editors, the journal “emerges in part out of interest in a set of theoretical topics – the ontology of the work of art, the question of intentionality, the imperative to historicize, the ongoing appeal of different and sometimes competing materialisms – and in part out of opposition to the dominant accounts of those topics.”

The site contains a peer-reviewed quarterly journal with editorials, reviews, poetry and other features, including “the tank,” an on-line forum for solicited work in progress and for comment on it.

Editorial Board

Jennifer Ashton, Todd Cronan, Michael Fried, Oren Izenberg, Brian Kane, Ruth Leys, Walter Benn Michaels, Charles Palermo, Robert Pippin, and Victoria Scott