Mary Holiman

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Mary Holiman

When Mary Holiman ‘19, a first-generation college student from Hardeeville, S.C., first stepped on the Johnson C. Smith campus as a freshman in 2015, she was determined to learn everything she could from her professors. 

She never expected she’d learn so much about herself, too. Or that by her senior year she’d be presenting her own research at a prestigious conference in Dubai and headed to New York University to pursue graduate studies.

Without the mentorship of “Dr. BG” – that’s Associate Professor of Criminology Dr. Anita Bledsoe-Gardner – and support from other faculty, staff and students, Holiman says: “I would not be where I am today with so many opportunities to choose from.” 

In high school, Holiman says she struggled during her senior year to find the right university for her. She had no idea what kind of college experience she wanted, but knew she was craving a fresh start away from Hardeeville, where she’d been a victim of emotional and physical abuse. 

She was a good student, and though she’d received offers from several universities – including Spelman College in Atlanta – upon graduation Holiman still had not selected a school since nothing felt quite right. Then, Holiman visited JCSU and says she fell in love with the campus and the possibilities that came with a smaller school focused on fostering individual talent. That day encouraged her to take a leap of faith and enroll as a student of the JCSU class of 2019. 

As a freshman, Holiman quickly became enamored with sociology and took every class she could. She discovered a passion for research in Dr. BG’s juvenile delinquency course, where she became troubled by the lack of black female representation in the datasets she was studying. “Sociology is in large part the science of understanding why you are the way you are and what constructs have been put in place that have helped or hindered you along the way,” Holiman says. “But for me, I wasn’t able to understand so much of my own makeup because I didn’t see people like me represented in research.”

Holiman says she recognized her own experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety as she conducted her McNair Scholar thesis research, which focused on the unique trauma black women and girls face. “African American girls are dealing with internal issues that manifest externally,” she says. “Our processing these issues is considered unruly and disrespectful, yet we don’t have the opportunity to heal without proper therapy.” And recovering from trauma can be especially difficult in minority communities because of the stigma around mental health – a stigma Holiman hopes to combat through her research.

Despite her struggles, Holiman remained determined. She presented her McNair Scholars thesis at the International Conference on English Studies, Women Empowerment, Education & Social Sciences in Dubai, an experience that would not have been realized without the support of Dr. BG and the JCSU community. 

So, what’s next? In the fall, Holiman, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., will head to New York University to pursue graduate studies in public health with a concentration in community health science and practice. “I have lots of emotions thinking about graduating and moving to New York City,” she says. “But I know I’ll carry what it means to be a Golden Bull with me into this new chapter and throughout my life.”