Turn passions into action
“What I love about higher education is that you get to do work that you really believe in and that will make an impact beyond just your institution,” observes Marcella Runell Hall, an alum of the UMass Amherst Social Justice Education doctoral program. “I’ve had all these opportunities beyond my wildest dreams to explore things that I care about and then be able to actually have had that turn into action, or have that turned into quantifiable change.”
Hall is Mount Holyoke College’s vice president for student life and dean of students, as well as a lecturer in their Department of Religion. She oversees the college’s offices of residential life, health, counseling, religious & spiritual life, community & inclusion and student programs. Hall has edited three books focusing on social justice curriculum: The Hip-Hop Education Guidebook: Volume 1 (2007) with Martha Diaz, Conscious Women Rock the Page: Using Hip-Hop Fiction to Incite Social Change (2008), and Love, Race, and Liberation: ‘Til the White Day Is Done (2010) with Jennifer “JLove” Calderon. She has also co-edited UnCommon Bonds: Women Reflect on Race & Friendship with Kersha Smith (2018).
For Hall, social justice education was the ideal platform for launching a rich career in higher education, one that combines student support, scholarship, teaching, and the opportunity to create lasting change.
Social justice education was not something Hall had planned to pursue. She majored in social work with a concentration in women’s studies at New Jersey’s Ramapo College and earned a master’s in higher education administration with a focus on multicultural education at New York University. But as she talked with mentors and friends about her passions, the UMass social justice education program came up repeatedly. She also met several UMass Amherst social justice education alumni at the Social Justice Training Institute, including Kathy Obear, who sang the praises of the program. “I like to think of it that we sort of found each other,” she recalls. “It was a divine moment where it all came together.”
“I had grown up having a huge respect and admiration for hip-hop culture, hip hop music, artists, and so much of the narrative in hip-hop that was addressing what I would now call issues of social justice.”Marcella Runell Hall
My entire life changed as a result of coming to UMass.
Hall was also lucky enough to work with Ximena Zuniga on intergroup dialogues, another career-making experience. “Ximena is a guru of intergroup dialogue, internationally known for creating and sustaining such an incredible program.” With the skills she developed in the UMass intergroup dialogue program, Hall later created a similar program at NYU, which has continued for more than 10 years, and restarted one at Mount Holyoke.
Hall completed her Ph.D. in 2011. She worked briefly at the Bank Street College of Education in New York before becoming a fellow at the Tannenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, where she developed resources and curriculum for educational programs. From the Tannenbaum Center, she returned to NYU as their inaugural diversity educator. In that position, she was the founding co-director for the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership, developed curriculum for NYU’s first minor in multifaith and spiritual leadership, and taught a course called “Whose Social Justice is it Anyway?” Near the end of her NYU tenure, the university awarded her the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty Award, which recognizes those who exemplify the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through their excellent teaching, leadership, social justice work, and community building.
In 2014, Hall took a position as dean of students at Mount Holyoke College and after two years, also became vice president for student life. At Mount Holyoke, she has co-created the MoZone Diversity Peer Education program, Be Well Mount Holyoke, the aforementioned Intergroup Dialogue, Living Learning Communities, and the Dean’s Corner. She is also a lecturer in the religion department, where she has reprised “Whose Social Justice is it Anyway?”
Hall has loved being part of the community of Mount Holyoke—its students, the college’s traditions, and the opportunities it has afforded her. She also loves that the Mount Holyoke position has bought her back into the UMass Amherst orbit. “I think that being a part of the UMass broader network has been really awesome,” she asserts. “I very proudly talk about being an alum and understanding the importance of this network and all the opportunities and fantastic things that uniquely come with this experience. My entire life changed as a result of coming to UMass; I’ll be forever grateful for that.”