By Emily Berge-Thielmann
For Dr. Carla Stephens, Director of the new Bard Queer Leadership Project (BQLP) and recent addition to the Simon’s Rock faculty, it’s hard to pick a favorite subject to teach. “This is a very tough question,” says Stephens. “Until this year, I would have easily chosen Cold War Civil Rights. I still love it and can hardly wait to teach it in the College, because I am planning to focus on four queer leaders within the modern civil rights movement: Pauli Murray, Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, and Lorraine Hansberry. I will also add lessons about the Lavender Scare to my unit on McCarthyism and red-baiting.” Stephens considers this answer and adds: “However, teaching a course that requires me to read some of my favorite books and short stories, analyze them with bright and curious young people, as well as write speculative fiction with students — I’m not sure that anything can be better than that.”
Dr. Stephens officially joined the Simon’s Rock community over the summer, just three days after her last day as principal of Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) in Newark, NJ. Though Stephens is new to Simon’s Rock, she has been part of the larger Bard community for years. She shared that she was especially eager to come and begin building the BQLP in collaboration with other administrators, faculty, staff, and students. It is a wonderful bonus that Great Barrington is a beautiful environment where nature has been healing.
With the Bard Queer Leadership Project hosting its first-ever cohort this fall, Stephens has big goals ahead, namely supporting growth of the program. “This includes developing and executing recruitment strategies, establishing community partnerships, working with faculty members to create BQLP-affiliated courses, and receiving input/feedback from students about the project,” says Stephens.
In addition to Stephens’ role as the Director of the BQLP, she is active in the Simon’s Rock classroom. She describes herself as fortunate enough to teach two Bard Academy courses that she particularly loves: “Cold War Civil Rights, a long history of the modern Civil Rights Movement within the context of the Cold War, linking the movement to the broader global black freedom struggle and… Afrofuturism, an exploration of literature within the movement, including award-winning novels that bridge the past, present and future of the African Diaspora. We will also create our own short Afrofuturist fiction.”
For the College, Stephens teaches a First Year Experience course and the Queer Leadership Colloquium specifically for students in the BQLP. “The Queer Leadership Colloquium is a lab course designed for students to synthesize knowledge that they are acquiring in BQLP-affiliated courses, like Queer Theory, with their understanding of transformational leadership competencies,” shares Stephens.
Much like her interests in the classroom, Dr. Stephens’ background leading up to becoming an educator is interestingly diverse. Before her time at BHSEC, Stephens spent four years at the U.S. Naval Academy and 20 years in a multinational corporation. She earned her B.A. (History and Political Science) and PhD (History) degrees from Temple University in her hometown of Philadelphia, as well as a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Once Stephens pivoted to education, she was honored to become one of the founding faculty members at BHSEC Newark in 2011, becoming the school’s principal in 2017 until summer 2023.
Not only is Stephens accomplished in the classroom, but she is also a black belt in Uechi-Ryu karate-do and looks forward to spending plenty of time at the Kilpatrick Athletic Center on campus. “I hope to create enough time in my schedule for exercise and meditation to rebalance body, mind, and spirit. Having lived in big cities all of my life, I would also like to start hiking in order to take advantage of the gorgeous landscape,” says Stephens on her recent move to Great Barrington.
What is Stephens’ favorite thing about the Simon’s Rock community? “Simon's Rock has a unique culture,” she shares. “Learning about and with this diverse group of students has been wonderful. I appreciate our students’ curiosity. I love the excitement I sometimes hear in their voices when they say, ‘I didn’t know that!’ My Afrofuturism students are so courageous when they read a creative piece of prose that they have polished beautifully and their peers are always so supportive. Additionally, everyone I’ve met has been welcoming and supportive. It’s been a very lovely transition period.”
Interested in working with Dr. Carla Stephens? For more information on the new Bard Queer Leadership Project, >please read more here and consider applying now.