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Cynthia Oliver

Cynthia Oliver

Professor of dance | 2015 Doris Duke Impact Award nominee

During move-in week ’19, we asked UI faculty members to tell us a story about their own experience of leaving home for the first time. Here’s Adelphi (N.Y.) University grad and 19-year faculty member Cynthia Oliver, a professor of dance and associate vice chancellor for research, humanities, arts and related fields.

“I went off to college at 17. My dad escorted me on the trip. While I had traveled extensively with my parents, I had only traveled a small bit on my own and I never went to a stay-away camp, so the experience of being ‘left’ was completely unfamiliar.

“I had accepted an offer to join the Adelphi University dance department as a freshman on probation during my first semester, and If I passed muster, I would earn a merit scholarship for my BFA. My dad and I traveled from the Virgin Islands, and with some help found my dorm and tiny room to be shared.

“I think the administrators thought it would be a good thing to partner me with another island girl. So they assigned me to a young Jamaican sophomore who had divided the room perfectly down the middle into my side and hers.

"The only problem was she had ‘decorated’ the room in awful blue and red satin — comforters, curtains, doilies. It was godawful and I was at first too nervous to say anything.

“So I lived with it, even with her bossing me around and giving me cleaning assignments for the room. But that freshman timidity didn’t last long and I eventually spoke up, shed the awful accessories and found a perfect roommate from the dance department for the second semester.

"We became great friends — to this day. It helped that we had similar aesthetic interests, sense of style and sleeping habits.

“But even more than the roommate issue, I recall being terrified and sad when my dad left. I cried as I watched him walk across the grass to the car. I felt so alone and afraid. And while I still missed my family, in a few weeks, I was fully ensconced in dancing all day and half the night and couldn’t wait for our weekly calls to tell my folks about the new and exciting experiences.

"It was a huge period of growth and independence.”