F&M Stories

Williamson Medalist Embraces Multifaceted Learning at F&M

Roxana “Roxy” Calder, of Philadelphia, is the 2024 recipient of the Williamson Medal, the College’s most prestigious award for student achievement. It has been awarded annually since 1922. She graduated summa cum laude majoring in religious studies and minoring in Middle Eastern area studies. She received the medal at Franklin & Marshall’s Commencement May 11.

How did you learn you were receiving the Williamson Medal? Were you surprised?

I received an email that President Altmann wanted to meet with me briefly. This would not be my first visit to the President's Office; I had met with her to discuss my work for the “Landscape of American Higher Education” course she and Professor (Alan) Caniglia taught in fall 2022. Since then, I have been lucky enough to continue to build relationships with them both. When I arrived at President Altmann’s office that day, she told me she wanted to chat with graduating seniors about the past four years. I talked her ear off, quickly using up the 15-minute meeting slot. Near the end of our chat, she congratulated me for winning the Williamson Medal. I was quite overwhelmed and emotional. Luckily, I was able to process this huge honor with not just President Altmann, but my Professor Altmann. 

Williamson Medialist Roxana "Roxy" Calder
Why did you decide to attend Franklin & Marshall?

I knew from my high school experience that I needed small classrooms and a close-knit community to learn at my best. My high school, Friends’ Central School, was small, but each year, there were a couple of graduating seniors who went to F&M. I remember being comforted knowing that each of these students was quite different, with varying interests and personalities, and had all found a place at F&M.

How did you decide on your combination of major and minor?

In some ways, I have the dreaded module system from my first semester to thank. I took “Islamic Art and Architecture” with Professor (Kostis) Kourelis and “Islam” with Professor (SherAli) Tareen. That deep dive into interdisciplinary learning — classrooms that examined subjects from multiple perspectives and disciplines–created a fascinating intellectual landscape for me to explore. I chose to pursue an area studies minor that allowed me to work across disciplines, taking classes in anthropology, history, art, etc. In spring semester, I took “American Spiritualities” with Professor (John) Modern; that class and his teaching convinced me to choose religious studies as my major, a field that thrives in nuance and complexities. My religious studies professors introduced me to a world of creative and collaborative scholarship, far from the solitary world I had often imagined. Their teachings have shown me the power of critical thinking.

What was your most memorable class at F&M?

I have enjoyed so many classroom moments. In my junior year, I took “Anthropology of the Violent” and then this spring, I took “Anthropology of Love and Desire,” both with Professor (Adeem) Suhail. Not only was the material engaging and challenging, but I was propelled into a different sphere of selfhood. Classrooms, when built on community and connection, have the power to aid in self-discovery. He worked to engage with us and give us space to step into our authentic selves. Every time we raised our hands, every time we completed an assignment, we became something new.

Tell me about your honors thesis. How did you get interested in this topic?

I took “Islam in North America” with Professor Tareen over J-Term in my first year. I could not stop thinking about the sources we analyzed and discussed. Growing up in Philadelphia, I had some exposure to American Muslim communities, but that course challenged my conceptions surrounding Islam in America. Then I took Professor Modern's class “Why Religion Matters Today?” I was intrigued by the chance to combine my interest in Islam with my newfound exposure to critical secular studies. My thesis built on those interests, honing in on how African American Muslims sought to understand and reconstitute their identity within a landscape of American secular logic.

What did you enjoy the most about being a student at Franklin & Marshall?

I enjoyed becoming truly multifaceted. Much of my high school career was spent worrying — about the next test, the next exam, the next misstep. With all that worrying, I had very little time to be anything. The best thing about being an F&M student was that I was encouraged to, expected to, and celebrated for existing in multiple spaces and places. I learned that each new world I entered–each new organization or research opportunity–made me a better learner and a better student. The classmates that have taught me the most, the professors I admire the most, and the friends that give the best advice, are the ones that embrace that multifaceted outlook. 

If you had to choose one F&M student activity as your most rewarding, what would it be?

Last fall, I joined the new student organization, the Coalition for Peace and Justice. It allowed students to engage with resistance to apartheid, colonialism, and oppression around the globe. CPJ connected me with peers beyond the classroom, as we articulated our uncertainties, fears, and sorrows. We became “diplomats,” in the most literal sense — seeking to better the campus and the larger world around us by holding ourselves and our institution to higher standards. My fellow students and our supporters in the community reminded me how important it is to be lifelong learners, to be ready and excited, to challenge and engage with the world around us. I never want to exist in an academic world that only seeks to recite what we’ve been taught. CPJ and its student leaders showed me what it means to “live” our classroom — to critically examine the world around us, thoughtfully and intentionally.

What are your plans for after you graduate?

I will return to Philadelphia to teach high school English and earn a teaching certificate with the Teach For America program. This will allow me to continue to grow and learn in the classroom. I taught at McCaskey High School this year, and I have grown fond of the much-needed perspective that high school students give so easily and honestly. Amid a lot of change and challenges, I am grateful I will be in Philly, surrounded by family and a lot of F&M friends. 

You mentioned that Lancaster feels like home to you now. When did that happen and why?

In 2022, I did a summer internship with the Phillips Museum and Shadek-Fackenthal Library. It furthered my academic interests and allowed me to live independently in Lancaster. I spent time roaming the city with my roommate, developing new routines and meeting new people. In the following years, I worked at Modern Art’s Vinyl Church exhibit, where I soaked in an amazing community fostered by Libby and John Modern, one featuring diverse and engaged artists and scholars working to make Lancaster better. I also worked at a local restaurant, Luca. These experiences gave me an identity beyond “college student,” introducing me to a diverse and exciting world of food and farms, culture and community. My Lancaster roots have been deepened through student teaching at McCaskey with Professor (Lee) Franklin, where high schoolers have shown me this city through their eyes. Through each of these worlds, Lancaster has come alive for me.  

If you could give one piece of advice to the students who will start attending F&M this fall, what would that be?

Take advantage of the classes, opportunities, and moments that might not line up completely with your assumed path or interests. Spaces and people that push us outside our comfort zone and provide us with new vantage points, will always pay off. New experiences can become an affirmation of our existing passions or a chance to unearth a new interest. F&M’s academic environment requires engagement across disciplines. That is a privilege, one you should take advantage of and enjoy.

“The best thing about being an F&M student was that I was encouraged to, expected to, and celebrated for existing in multiple spaces and places.”

— Roxana “Roxy” Calder

Related Articles

May 23, 2024

Ten Faculty Earn Tenure, Promotion

At its May meeting, the Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the Professional Standards Committee and the Provost, granting four F&M faculty tenure and promotion to associate professor, while six others were promoted to full professor.

May 13, 2024

Class of 2024 Turns Tassels

A pandemic enveloped their earliest days of college in uncertainty. Four years later, members of the Class of 2024 have emerged as leaders and scholars.

May 12, 2024

Lux et Lex Walk Marks Milestone for Class of 2024

On the eve of Commencement, Franklin & Marshall’s graduating class took one final look at campus together during the Lux et Lex Walk.