Three longtime faculty members were honored at Tuesday’s faculty assembly, including one who now has a kindness award named after him.
The new award, of which the inaugural winner has not been selected yet, is the Robert Colby Kindness Award.
“We’d like to name the award now and forever for someone who epitomizes kindness,” said Tom Cooper, Professor of Visual Media Arts. “Not with just a warm fuzzy feeling or a plastic smile or some other surface image of kindness.”
For more than 40 years Colby has always been available for anyone who asked for his time, often far beyond what was initially requested, said Cooper.
“Someone who creatively uses theatre not to impress himself, but to educate and uplift not only the audience, but also the performers, crew, and all concerned,” said Cooper. “Someone who has consistently been nominated for the Spirit of Emerson Award, and who, to our view, exudes the spirit of Emerson.”
During his 40 years, Colby has worn many hats. He’s currently the chair of the Performing Arts Department, past chair of the Faculty Assembly, the faculty union (ECC AAUP), and has served on all major committees.
“Although there are many types of kindness, perhaps the one that puts kindness most to the test is a commitment to unlimited support, eternal availability, and selfless service to others, even when facing great adversity,” said Cooper. “In that regard the Spirit of Emerson and the anonymous donor of this award are very happy to name it after one of Emerson’s heroes and champions, and a giant friend to our faculty.”
The entire assembly in the Bill Bordy Theater, faculty on the first floor and second-floor balcony, rose and gave Colby a standing ovation, along with some hoots and hollers. From the first row, Colby stood and smiled, thanking his colleagues.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan said it’s been a privilege to work with Colby in his various roles.
“He believes problems can be solved with care and creativity. He’s always enthusiastic and collegial,” said Whelan.
Whelan said Colby brings all of his considerable talent and abundant energy to the theater department and handles whatever problem is at hand.
Paraphrasing Dante, Whelan said, “Love kindled by virtue always kindles another…”
Colby smiled and was appreciative of his colleagues’ recognition of his work and inspirational manner, but he admitted he balked at the award being named after him.
“I’m from the Midwest. Kindness is one of the few positive qualities associated with being a Midwesterner, and it’s expected of everyone. It’s a certain kind of kindness that doesn’t need recognition, and if it does get recognition then we are suspicious of it,” said Colby after faculty assembly.
His ambivalence of having the award named after him was also rooted in what the word kindness means to him.
Colby said he feels the word “kindness” is often gendered, which sometimes makes it hard for women to be kind and be considered strong leaders. He added that people of color need to speak truth to power for equity, and they’re rarely called kind for doing so in a world of white privilege.
“I work in children’s theater and I avoid words like cute, fanciful and kind,” said Colby. “Children deserve truth.”
But he relented and said there is a spectrum of kindness, from being offered candy at Faculty Assembly, wonderful speeches by his colleagues, or a radical kindness that connects all of us. That radical kindness for a collective community is more important than individual kindness.
“The world moves to a better place if we all work together in radical kindness,” said Colby.
Kolodzy Praised for Caring Commitment to College and Colleagues
Journalism Department Chair Janet Kolodzy was also honored for her 20 years at Emerson. School of Communication Dean Raul Reis remarked Kolodzy has been incredibly involved at the College, having served on numerous committees and ad hoc committees.
Reis recognized Kolodzy for her accomplishments, including having published several books on journalism, and presenting at journalism conferences and workshops. She also received a grant to work in South Africa in 2014, where she trained local colleagues in curricular development in new media.
“Janet is known as the Energizer bunny because she has so much enthusiasm and energy,” said Reis, adding that one of her nicknames is the oracle because she’s all knowing about all things Emerson.
Newer faculty members have also praised Kolodzy for going above and beyond to welcome them and make their transition easier at the College.
“I have come to rely on Janet, especially for her advice, on many, many issues,” added Reis.
Cheeseman Called Gifted Actor, Great Communicator
“But he can’t attend, because he’s teaching, and he said that’s the best way he can honor his time at Emerson,” said Shea.
Shea said Cheeseman is a great teacher due to his considerable talents as an actor in comedy, tragedy, farce, melodramas, realism, classical plays, and performances without any speaking.
“He has worked virtually nonstop since graduating from Trinity Rep Conservatory…” said Shea. Cheeseman’s affinity for Shakespeare led him to perform with three Boston Shakespeare companies, as well as the New York Shakespeare Festival.
He’s also been in countless commercials, performed in Shear Madness in Boston for seven years, and has been a great creative partner with his colleagues.
“His classes always have wait lists. Why? What makes his teaching great is his way of communication,” said Shea. “There is a gift of generosity in what he offers when teaching. He’s open, caring, and always present. Among other objectives, he tends to liberate imagination and cultivate the power of a child to get his students to simply play.”
Shea remarked on Cheeseman’s extraordinary ability to put people together because he believes they’ll make something better.
“He communicates to students that they cannot fail. He believes in connection, joy, and wonder,” said Shea.