Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Honors Work: Seeing Gaps, Combining Gifts, Focusing on Wider Human Needs

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Honors Work: Seeing Gaps, Combining Gifts, Focusing on Wider Human Needs

Article excerpt

In the spring of 2017, an honors-led team brought a unique speaker to the University of Maine community: Leigh Boyle, Executive Director and Founder of "The Lipstick Project," which is a women-run volunteer organization based in Vancouver, Canada, that provides free, professional spa care services to terminally ill patients. The organizing team's work to bring Leigh Boyle and "The Lipstick Project" story to Maine reflects qualities and values described in the writings of Samuel Schuman as central to honors education, and it offers a creative, replicable model for other honors communities to consider

Samuel Schuman was a widely involved and highly respected honors administrator and teacher who served as director of the honors program at the University of Maine, as a chair and member of numerous NCHC committees, and as the organization's vice president and president. He wrote extensively and thoughtfully about honors education as engaged, imaginative, and socially conscious. In a comprehensive handbook, Beginning in Honors, Schuman defined honors as "enhanced educational opportunities for superior students" (7). He named "values essential to the honors enterprise" as "considerate human interactions, faith in the worth of the search for truth, a deep-seated conviction that academic excellence is worth pursuing and unflinching honesty in our work as teachers and learners" (4). Schuman's description of honors' "enhanced opportunities" rooted in mindful interactions, the pursuit of truth, excellence, and honesty resonates with the goals and outcomes of Boyle's visit to Maine, as does Schuman's summative claim that "sometimes honors work is not like other academic work, but of a different kind" (Beginning 8).


"Once you see the gap, you can't un-see the gap," said Boyle in her keynote address on "The Lipstick Project" at the 2016 Independent School Gender Project Conference in Lakeville, Connecticut, a biennial gender conference that Mimi Killinger, Associate Professor of Honors at UMaine, and a group of Orono High School girls happened to be attending. Nearly a year later, Boyle would be flying to Maine to speak in Orono to more high school students and the University of Maine community

"The Lipstick Project" efforts had begun for Boyle in 2010 when she traveled to Northern Ethiopia as a photographer working at a village school. Boyle felt isolated by linguistic and cultural barriers in the Ethiopian village as well as by infrequent contact with home. She found community by volunteering at a local women's hospital that served patients with obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition that results from obstructed or prolonged labor Obstetric fistula leaves women chronically incontinent, and in developing regions like Northern Ethiopia, they are often separated from their communities because of the stench that accompanies the condition and the stigma of failed childbirth.

Obstetric fistula is fairly easy to treat, but in rural Ethiopia women typically lack adequate medical resources Boyle was eager to help the Ethiopian patients but unsure where to start She reached out to friends back home in Vancouver, receiving several suggestions that she paint the women's fingernails Boyle thus began regular Sunday visits to the hospital, bringing nail polish, hand cream, and essential physical contact, connecting with women otherwise deprived of humane and beautifying care (Boyle).

Upon returning to Vancouver, Boyle was approached by a friend with a relative in hospice who needed similar restorative care. Her friend explained that while his relative was receiving necessary medical attention, the critical elements of personal touch and affection were missing. This moment stopped Boyle in her tracks. The troubles of the women she had helped back in Ethiopia were not isolated; they were here across the ocean in Boyle's own community, too. Boyle describes this moment as "seeing the gap. …

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