June 05, 2020

Professors Majeed and Ortel retire from full-time teaching

Debra Majeed Debra MajeedProfessors Debra Majeed and Jo Ortel wrapped up their productive careers at the college at the end of the 2019-20 academic year, when each earned the honor of emerita status.

Debra Majeed, professor of religious studies and the Edwin F. Wilde, Jr. Distinguished Service Professor, is the first African-American woman and first Muslim to earn tenure at Beloit. Since she joined the faculty in 1999, she has made a profound impact through her scholarship and teaching of religious studies, Islamic studies, cultural and identity studies, and womanist studies. She furthered a public understanding of Islam and the experience of American Muslims as a scholar and a practitioner.

Majeed’s colleagues cite her courage and outsized role in transforming her communities, most notably Beloit College, “by encouraging all of us to imagine and become our best selves—that is, to follow her lead in balancing a reflective inner life with a courageous outer life. Nowhere has she issued and met this challenge more compellingly than in the classroom, where for the past 20 years Professor Majeed’s high expectations and passionate dedication to her students have elicited their best work.”

In 2017, she received the Underkofler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, an honor based on student nominations.

A religious historian, she has published numerous articles, book chapters, and is the author of Polygyny: What it Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands, published by University Press of Florida (2016). She earned her undergraduate degree from Pepperdine University, her M.A. and M.Div. from Fuller Evangelical Theological Seminary, and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

Jo Ortel Jo OrtelJo Ortel, professor of art history and holder of the Nystrom Chair in Art History, joined the faculty in 1997. Her courses on modern contemporary art, Native American art, and environmental art have engaged and inspired students through wide-ranging projects. She was adept at forming creative interdisciplinary connections, most notably integrating art and art history with environmental studies.

She developed and taught two of those cross-disciplinary courses by focusing on specific spaces. Contemporary Art in an Age of Global Warming and Enchanted Spaces both centered on the Powerhouse, Beloit’s student union and recreation center. She taught students about art’s potential to engage with day-to-day environmental challenges through Nature at the Confluence, an urban environmental center in South Beloit. In 2003, she received the Underkofler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at Beloit.

Ortel played a leading role in the growth of Beloit’s environmental studies program, particularly in the arts and the humanities. Under her leadership, the program doubled the size of its faculty advisors and multiplied the number of graduates by 10. Environmental studies remains one of Beloit’s most robust programs, encompassing five different majors.

Her research and scholarship on contemporary Native American art includes the publication of Woodland Reflections: The Art of Truman Lowe (2004). Published by the University of Wisconsin Press, her book showcases the life and work of the late contemporary Ho-Chunk artist. She leaves Beloit to continue her work on the art of Truman Lowe, making sure that it is prominently exhibited at some of the leading museums in the country. She earned her B.A. from Smith College, her M.A. from Oberlin, and her Ph.D. in art history from Stanford University.

Also In This Issue

  • Through formal and informal channels, Beloit alumni volunteer to mentor students and assist them in starting their careers. Beloiters Helping Beloiters formed quickly as class of 2020 graduates faced a tough job market.

    Beloiters Helping Beloiters is ‘Matchmaking at its Finest’

  • Duffy student Uzma Sayed

    Observing Help and Hope During a Pandemic

  • John Erickson’49 playing basketball as a student.

    In Remembrance: John Erickson’49, Coach, Fellowship of Christian Athletes CEO


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