Phi Beta Kappa Honors History's Cynthia Lyerly

Phi Beta Kappa Honors History's Cynthia Lyerly

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Assoc. Prof. Cynthia Lynn Lyerly (History) has been voted Teacher of the Year by Phi Beta Kappa students who praised her skill as lecturer and mentor.

Assoc. Prof. Cynthia Lynn Lyerly (History) was voted Teacher of the Year by the BC Phi Beta Kappa chapter. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Lyerly was honored this past weekend at the academic honor society's annual induction ceremony. Phi Beta Kappa members who nominated her for the honor cited her devotion to students and her spellbinding ability at the lectern.

One wrote: "As a lecturer, Professor Lyerly is absolutely superb. One of her lectures will be forever etched in my mind. As she stood in front of the class, she read of incidents taken of punishments received by slaves at the hands of their masters...

"The emotion she used in reading these stories was absolutely breathtaking. The classroom was as still and quiet as a church. Her words seemed to take the breath out of me. By the end, Professor Lyerly had tears in her eyes, as did I, and for a while not a person moved or said a thing. That emotion and power was a part of all her classes, and it is one of the reasons I truly loved attending class each day."

Lyerly teaches courses in American women's history, gender, and the Old South. She currently is researching a book-length study of Thomas Dixon Jr., the novelist who inspired the D.W. Griffith film "Birth of a Nation," and "tapped into and shaped some of the most virulent and repulsive racist thinking of the century," she said.

She expressed gratitude to the members of Phi Beta Kappa for voting her Teacher of the Year. "Every year that I have been at BC, I have advised Scholars of the College who are also Phi Beta Kappa, so I know how exceptionally bright and hardworking these students are."

She described herself as being motivated in the classroom by a perfectionist streak.

"I am never satisfied with my teaching," she said. "I am my own worst critic - every lecture I give or discussion I lead needs improvement. But I have noticed over the years that the best teachers are usually the ones who are hard on themselves and always seeking to improve.

"My parents were both teachers - retired now - and I learned from them that a teacher who demands the best from herself can also demand excellence from her students. Even when I give A's on papers, I mark them up mercilessly. Every writer can improve and every analyst can think more deeply.

"I work very hard to create an environment in the classroom that allows students to challenge themselves and grow intellectually. The classroom is a safe place to be wrong in - as long as you are thinking!"


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