Life Celebration Tribute to Dr. Joan Steiner
Lorna Hines-Cunningham, LCSW, ACSW

Our relationship began when I was a student at Drew University class of 1973. I was told my class represented the most “diverse” student body in the history of the University. Ten students of color were admitted and subsequently three graduated and I was the only woman. It was a difficult journey for me.

I met Joan through a fellow student named Linda Frasier. Linda was studying the classics –The Iliad, I believe, and invited me to come along to Joan’s house for a visit. We had already eaten our dinner in the student cafeteria. Linda had experienced an “A HA” moment in the course of reading and shared the relevance to the Black Experience. We talked for hours not realizing poor Joan did not have her dinner. Finally she said to us if we minded if she ate and proceeded to eat her meal!

There was great activity and turmoil during the years of my undergraduate studies. African-American/ Caribbean and African students looked for greater relevancy in the curriculum, including “Black Studies”. The administration indicated they could not attract Black faculty to the university. There was one gentleman who came for one semester and left. Joan responded to our need by volunteering to teach Black literature. I believe I was one of the first to take that class. I was already an avid reader of Black literature, however Joan taught me how to take a book apart, analyze, assess, search and identify thematic elements. Others have noted that Joan was a “tough taskmaster” who had rigorous expectations and utilized a “red pen” without hesitation. However that was not my experience. I did very well in her class in part because there was tremendous love and passion for the material.

We remained in contact over the years. She even attended my wedding with another student. Several years ago I was awarded “The Frances B. Sellers Alumni Achievement Award” and although I was sociology major, Professor James O’Kane (Departmental Chair) was unable to deliver the biographical sketch. I asked Joan to do it and it was there that I learned of the synergy that existed between us. Joan talked about the fact she considered social work as a career choice and decided to go into teaching English and Literature. I decided to go into Social Work and eventually obtained my degree and now that I am older I have begun to explore my creative energies utilizing the vehicles of poetry and short stories, and so I have discovered there is much between Joan and I.

And last, I would like to offer that Professors are gardeners not knowing what will become of the seeds they plant in students. There are instances where they will never know what is to become of their planting. I like to think that wherever Joan is she will feel good about the seeds she has sown in me.

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