Academic Programs

Women’s Studies Spotlight

Kelly Ball

Kelly Ball: Following an Unexpected Path

“I would strongly advise students to be open to the things they resist most. I had never heard of ‘women’s studies’ until I enrolled at Transylvania.”

Kelly Ball ’06 learned how to think at Transylvania, not what to think. For her, the distinction is crucial.

Almost by default, as a first-year student she took Introduction to Women’s Studies when other introductory classes didn’t fit her schedule.

“The first few weeks of that semester were a struggle for me,” Ball said. “I hated thinking about the realities of social difference, institutional injustice, and oppression. It was an overwhelming education. But I learned the nuances of academic analysis, what I now consider pure and simple thinking. We take it for granted, but thinking actually is a skill you have to exercise in order to strengthen.

“By the end of that first semester, I knew I wanted to keep learning more about feminist issues, concerns, and theory.”

Eventually, Ball designed her own program in women’s studies, and that led to a double major with philosophy and a minor in anthropology. She earned a master’s degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at The Ohio State University in 2008 and then began the Ph.D. program at Emory University. 

Ball credits philosophy professor Ellen Cox with teaching her important skills that have proven invaluable.

“Most of us learn to read in elementary school,” Ball said, “but I feel like I didn’t learn how to really read—to engage a text or a concept—until I took my first class with Ellen Cox.

“I still have the papers she graded and returned to me with written feedback from all the classes I took with her. I often read her comments on those papers; they offer a primer in philosophical analysis. It’s amazing to me that I still return to those comments and marginal prompts even as an advanced Ph.D. student. She doesn’t know it, but the caliber of her thought and the rigor of her insight are still teaching me.”

Ball found Transylvania professors to be nurturing from the start. “Ellen and Jack (philosophy professor Jack Furlong) have been my advisors, mentors, and friends ever since. No student could ask for more attentive, encouraging, and beautifully demanding faculty.”

Throughout her studies, Ball has been prolific. “I’ve worked hard to publish early in my field as a graduate student. I published a paper on queer youth living in the foster care system and have a forthcoming publication that examines feminist theoretical responses to sexual violence during childhood.” The latter paper won an award for best graduate student work in 2012 through the feminist society philoSOPHIA.

Her accomplishments at Transylvania and Ohio State helped her earn a five-year full fellowship at Emory. “Now I am a Ph.D. candidate and enjoying the luxuries of funded time for research and writing,” Ball said. “Scholars need that just as much as we need time dedicated to teaching. I am a big believer that a combination of research and teaching are what makes a good scholar: Both challenge us to synthesize and share information.”

 Kelly Ball on the freedom couch

One of Ball’s favorite memories of Transylvania involves an abandoned couch that Ball and her friends from the Diversity Action Council, the Writing Center, The Rambler, and the social justice organization dubbed “the freedom couch.”

Pictured from left to right: Ball, Kristin Todd, Rachel McCartney Benjamin, and Adam McKenzie.

“Girls are represented as profoundly bound up in their relations to their families.
This is different from how we see boyhood and masculinized characters usually represented.”

—Kelly Ball '06

Ball is currently a Ph.D. candidate in women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Emory University.
She won Transylvania's Holleian Award and the Anne Braden Prize in 2006.

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