TROY’s First Lady: Three decades of progress

Janice Hawkins brought her passions for culture and art to TROY and used them to help transform the University.

Janice Hawkins brought her passions for culture and art to TROY and used them to help transform the University.

A walk across Troy University’s Troy Campus in 2020 looks significantly different than it did in 1989 when Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. arrived as the new Chancellor.

From the lush greenery to the modernized buildings, one of the guiding forces behind the campus’ transformation throughout the last three decades has been at Dr. Hawkins’ side: his wife, Janice.

Janice Hawkins brought her passions for culture and art to TROY and used them to help transform the University and guide it into the new millennium.

“I believed that my wife, Janice, and I could make a difference here,” Dr. Hawkins said. “And she has been a remarkable partner on this journey, championing initiatives as varied as the appearance of the campus, advocating on behalf of military veterans and creating study abroad opportunities. And there has been no better champion for the fine arts.”

Mrs. Hawkins decided to transition a promising career working with the visually impaired into a lifelong partnership with her husband as he became president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) 10 years before transitioning to TROY.

“My career was working with the blind,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “That work exposed Dr. Hawkins to the Board of Trustees at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and they saw what an extraordinary young man and leader he was. We decided, rather than me continuing my full-time career, we would do this as a partnership, and that’s what we’ve done for 40 years.”

While at AIDB, the Hawkins family left a lasting legacy still felt to this day at that revered institution.

“Janice Hawkins had a long career and interest and commitment to the education of children and adults who are blind and visually impaired,” said AIDB President Dr. John Mascia. “That interest and long career influenced so many changes and so much unprecedented progress. Dr. Hawkins would be the first person to say Janice’s influence helped to develop this institute into the nation’s most comprehensive education and service program for people who are deaf, blind and deaf-blind.”

Janice Hawkins

Mrs. Hawkins’ history at AIDB led her to champion the Helen Keller Lecture Series, which she and Dr. Hawkins introduced in 1995 to raise awareness of the hurdles facing individuals with physical challenges, particularly those affecting sensory abilities.

“Every time I see Mrs. Hawkins, I can feel her passion for wanting to bring awareness to our citizens who have disabilities,” Dr. Mascia said. “The Helen Keller Lecture Series is a wonderful example of how Mrs. Hawkins wants to make sure that those people who are deaf, blind or deaf-blind are not forgotten. That lecture series is a very important part of our year. We look forward to going down to TROY and being inspired each year by a person who has a disability, and also having the opportunity to speak with providers and future providers, the wonderful students that are attending TROY.”

When she came to TROY, Mrs. Hawkins saw opportunities to embrace theatre, dance and other arts in a more comprehensive way.

That love of the arts, which manifested itself in the Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park, among other initiatives, began in her childhood in New York and New Jersey.

“My father was a lay minister in New York City,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “After we moved from New York City to New Jersey in sixth grade, we would go back into the city early Sunday morning because he would preach Sunday morning and night service. During the day, my brother and I either had to go on visits with him or fill this time.”

Along with her brother, she found herself taking in the sights and sounds of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park.

A lifelong love affair with the arts was born.

“Before I was 17, I had a chance to see the ‘Mona Lisa’ and the ‘Pieta,’ and the first play I ever saw was ‘The Sound of Music’ on Broadway,” she said. “I don’t consider myself artistic, and yet I discovered such a love for it. Even though we didn’t set out to explore the world of art, it came to me through a byproduct of our circumstances, and it has made me appreciate things of beauty and importance in a way I don’t think I would have without that early exposure.”

From almost the moment she stepped on campus, Mrs. Hawkins saw the value in making TROY a beautiful and attractive location for students.

Working behind the scenes, her efforts culminated in the creation of the Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park, a centerpiece of modern campus life consisting of an amphitheater, walking trails, a lagoon, a display of 200 replica terracotta warriors, as well as other outdoor sculptures and a new art facility: the International Arts Center (IAC).

“I think what I’m most proud of is the beautification of the campus,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “We set out to do that because if you’re going to school, and you’re paying money, you deserve to be proud of the place that you’re investing in and getting your degree from. And, in so many cases, it doesn’t take that much. The IAC building already existed. I’m not one that believes in tearing things down if there’s any way to save them. There are buildings we have been able to save, and the IAC is one of them because it has such perfect features for an art center.”

The IAC, along with the Cultural Arts Park as a whole, has become a centerpiece of the University, attracting visitors throughout the year.

“The IAC at TROY is having an impact on the entire state,” said Al Head, former longtime Executive Director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts. “There are visitors from all over Alabama and all over the Southeast and, really, if you think about it, all over the world. She has been recognized as the visionary and inspiration for that center. Many are coming to visit the campus, which is spectacular and quite a model for the entire state and for the entire Southeast, and she has played a really big part in all of that.”

The IAC, which also houses the Department of Art and Design, has been transformative for the artists who work and study there.

“The IAC has been vital,” said Ed Noriega, a Professor of Graphic Design and Director of the Center for Design Technology and Industry. “It has given graphic design a whole different look, a whole different perspective for the potential we have for reaching across campus and the globe. It has empowered us, and it has empowered the students. They are proud to come to the building, exhibit their work and work in that facility.”

Janice Hawkins sits with dozens of College of Communication and Fine Arts students in front of a rustic building in Pietrasanta, Italy.
Mrs. Hawkins sits with CCFA students in Italy.

Mrs. Hawkins’ passion for cultural arts directly contributed to the growth and development of dance at TROY.

“We remain especially grateful to Mrs. Hawkins, who has campaigned relentlessly year after year on our department’s behalf,” said Deborah Hicks, Coordinator of Dance. “Because of her efforts, we have a beautiful 4,000-square-foot studio space in which to train and perform. Because she has worked around the clock to make the Danza in Arte a Pietrasanta (DAP) Festival in Italy affordable for our students, we have enjoyed the Tuscany coast for three summers, but she also extends her support of our students in more personal ways — traveling to Italy with us, hosting our alumni lunch and scheduling personal time with current students.”

Noriega credits Mrs. Hawkins with elevating the presence of art at TROY.

“Many universities look at their art departments as novelties, but she looks at it as an opportunity to be entrepreneurial,” he said.

Mrs. Hawkins’ work with the arts isn’t limited to TROY. She’s also served on the board of the Alabama Humanities Foundation for many years, a role in which she’s helped education initiatives throughout the state.

“Janice has been a strong leader for the humanities all across the state and not just TROY,” said Armand DeKyser, former Executive Director of the Alabama Humanities Foundation and an appointed member of the National Council on the Humanities. “She has been an advocate for programming, targeting education programs that help teachers in particular. Janice has been a wonderful friend who has helped me through my eight years at the humanities foundation and has been a mentor and guide throughout my tenure. Her advocacy for TROY has been one of her strongest traits in dealing, not only with the humanities, but dealing with all the people we meet across the state of Alabama.”

The “international” aspect of the IAC reflects Mrs. Hawkins’ interest in helping international students and fostering TROY’s reputation as Alabama’s International University.

Her first project at TROY was Friends of Foreign Students, which was born from her relationship with her father, an Irish immigrant.

“His heritage has given me an appreciation for people from other countries and that heritage that we have,” she said. “It made me interested in making those people feel a part of what we’re doing, to feel like they’re at home. That was very important to me.”

Thanks in large part to Mrs. Hawkins’ efforts, TROY forged a partnership with the city of Pietrasanta, Italy, first bringing dance students to the DAP Festival in 2017 and kicking off a yearly tradition for fine arts students.

“Mrs. Hawkins did all in her power to help dancers get to Pietrasanta that summer, and she hasn’t stopped since,” Hicks said. “We have been three years now, and I can’t really put into words the impact the DAP Festival and travel to Italy have had on our dancers. You would have to be in the presence of [the students] experiencing world travel for the first time in order to fully appreciate how their breath catches when they realize the significance of what it means to experience [that area] of the world.”

Her work in building relationships in Italy is another example of her leadership skills.

“She has shown great leadership there,” Head said. “I think [internationalization] is an area that is going to grow and expand and take on new dimensions in the future. Her contributions have been significant. In my position with the State Council on the Arts, I’ve been able to have a good view of all of that, and the impact has certainly been focused on TROY to a degree, but her impact has been statewide and really beyond.”

Her work also extends to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins pushed for the creation of TROY for Troops, which has helped military families for the better part of two decades.

“TROY for Troops came as a result of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, and our desire to reach out to our graduates and families and friends that were serving over there or anywhere in the world,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “We have a great appreciation for the military. Our son-in-law serves in the Air Force, our daughter went through ROTC. Dr. Hawkins is a Marine. In starting TROY for Troops, students worked with us and sent care packages our way. It was so needed at the time because so few universities were doing things to help our people serving.”

The 30 years and counting since Mrs. Hawkins arrived have seen unprecedented growth at the University, and her influence will be felt for generations to come.

“She has made major contributions at the University and made the arts a priority,” Head said. “For years, performing arts like theatre and dance have been encouraged and supported by her. And, more recently, she’s given us the Nall Gallery inside the International Arts Center, really significant projects that would not have happened without her, both in terms of outright support but also vision and inspiration for doing something on that scale.”