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‘A tough side and witty humor:’ Hofstra mourns Dr. Henton

‘A tough side and witty humor:’ Hofstra mourns Dr. Henton

Students, faculty and community members are mourning the loss of Jennifer Henton, professor of African American and Caribbean literature in the English Department at Hofstra, who passed away on Saturday, April 13, in her home due to health complications.

Henton began her career at Hofstra in 2006 after receiving her bachelor’s from Bloomsburg University in 1990, master’s from West Chester University of Pennsylvania in 1992 and her doctorate from the University of Delaware in 2001.

During her time at Hofstra, Henton was involved in the English Department as well as the Honors College and African Studies program.

“[Henton] always put students’ needs first and foremost,” said Karyn Valerius, an English professor at Hofstra. “She was a talented person who could do a wide range of things.”

Henton was a specialist in African American and African Diaspora literature, teaching a plethora of courses in areas including: 20th century American literature; African American literature and psychoanalysis; the Harlem Renaissance; slave narratives; popular culture; global Anglophone; literature with interests in literary and psychoanalytic theory; black film and film theory; and women’s studies.

Vimala Pasupathi, associate dean of the Honors College and English professor, began her career at Hofstra alongside Henton.

“[Henton] and I started teaching our first semester together at Hofstra,” Pasupathi said. “She was my first and closest friend on campus.”

“She’s a very serious scholar – she knows the important questions to ask and was really able to see the world from multiple perspectives simultaneously,” said Warren Frisina, dean of the Honors College and professor of religion. “Fewer people are able to see things as they do but simultaneously take into account the way others see them and then adjust. It contributes to her scholarship, her pedagogy and her skills as a teacher.”

A vigil was held for Henton on Tuesday, April 16, during the Honors College Culture and Expression (C&E) lecture period. Frisina introduced Pasupathi and opened the floor to students, faculty and Henton’s family, who were also in attendance, to speak and reflect on Henton’s life. Just a week before, Henton had given her own lecture to C&E students.

A vigil was held for Henton on Tuesday, April 16, during the Honors College Culture and Expression (C&E) lecture period. Frisina introduced Pasupathi and opened the floor to students, faculty and Henton’s family, who were also in attendance, to speak and reflect on Henton’s life. Just a week before, Henton had given her own lecture to C&E students.

Pasupathi shared an excerpt from Eddie Huang’s memoir, “Fresh Off the Boat.” In the book, Huang reflected on his coursework at Rollins College in Florida with Henton, who he described as a “tough” teacher.

“The most important professor in my life was Dr. Jennifer Henton,” Huang wrote. “She was fragile and soft-spoken, but once we got into the coursework, I’d never seen a woman go so hard. She changed my entire view of women – where she saw bias, misogyny, racism, classism and the like, she pointed it out and never felt the need to curb her opinion for people. And she was right.”

“A lot of folks will tell you that Professor Henton had a reputation as a ‘tough’ teacher,” Frisina said. “Students stood up and talked about her toughness, but not that she was bad tough, rather that she cared enough to tell you that it wasn’t good enough and tell you that you could be better when you didn’t know you could be better.”

Students at the vigil reflected on Henton’s teachings and wisdom, sharing stories about her scholarship and her humor.

“Dr. Henton was pretty special. She was witty, fun and insightful and her assignments were reasonable and purposeful, as tough as they were,” said Trey McMullan, a freshman political science major. “She was smart and made a point to teach us about literature and the world as best as possible and I’ll always remember her for that.”

“She was a very kind person and told it like it is. She was direct, and she had a wonderful laugh,” Valerius said. “She would often be quietly listening and taking it all in at a meeting, and when she was ready to say something, it was usually to the point and very insightful ... often challenging us to think about a perspective that got lost in the conversation.”

According to Frisina, there will be a memorial service taking place in the fall of 2019,

“People will have had time to process and write up longer and more extensive tributes to her scholarship and detail and her teaching,” he said. Details regarding the scholarship and memorial event in her honor will be announced at a later date.

“[She] was always outspoken and on the side of students. I will always personally be grateful for her willingness to actively participate in the conversations that [we], as students, needed and wanted to have,” said Sabrina Josephson, a freshman English major.

Henton is survived by her husband Wes Reddin, sister Karen Henton and uncle Jasper Lucas, all of whom attended and spoke at the vigil last Tuesday.

In honor of her academic work, donations can be made for a Hofstra student scholarship through www.hofstra.edu/give.

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