Dr. Melody Lehn joins SUMMA as program director ahead of the 2022 camp! 

Where are you from?

I originally hail from Philadelphia, but grew up in Greer, South Carolina. Though I have lived in the South for most of my life, I still cheer for the Eagles!


Where and what did you study as an undergraduate?

I stuck close to home and attended Furman University, a liberal arts college in upstate South Carolina. I loved my time at Furman and majored in Communication Studies and minored in Women’s and Gender Studies. Furman is a terrific school and I have an abiding love for liberal arts education, which no doubt drew me to Sewanee.

Where did you attend graduate school and what did you study?

I spent six years at the University of Memphis, where I earned a Master’s degree in Rhetoric (2009) and a Doctoral degree in Rhetoric (2013). 

What drew you to sewanee?

Sewanee represents the very best of a liberal arts education that equips students to become active citizens in the 21st century. I love the residential atmosphere here. We are more than faculty, staff, and students: we are neighbors and community members. I love the small classes where I get to know and collaborate with my students. Just this semester, I traveled with three students to an undergraduate honors conference where they presented their original research. The university is committed to ensuring our students graduate able to speak, listen, write, and critically think about the issues that affect us all.

What do you teach at sewanee?

Before coming to Sewanee in 2017, I taught for several years at the University of South Carolina. My favorite course was a seminar on the rhetoric of U.S. first ladies that I taught in the Honors College. At Sewanee, I teach a wide variety of courses in the Rhetoric Program, including Public Speaking, Argumentation and Debate, U.S. Public Address, the Rhetoric of Mass and Social Media, and my favorite course: Voices of American Women. As of the 2021-22 academic year, Sewanee offers a new minor in Rhetoric–so SUMMA students who come to Sewanee can continue the conversations begun during camp!


What is your favorite part of teaching in Sewanee's rhetoric program?

Undergraduate research! I love mentoring students as they discover topics, pursue questions, engage in archival research, seek out research resources, and transform ideas into arguments and analyses. Several of my students have written and revised original research papers that have been accepted for presentation at the Theodore Clevenger Undergraduate Honors Conference. 

What do you research?

My scholarly work focuses on the intersections of rhetoric, politics, gender, and religion. I am particularly interested in how language creates and sustains our democracy. Many of my publications have focused on the voices of American women ranging from studies of Eleanor Roosevelt’s sit-in protest at the 1938 Southern Conference on Human Welfare to Pat Nixon’s personal diplomacy in Peru following a devastating earthquake in the 1970s. With my Sewanee colleague Sean Patrick O’Rourke, I co-edited the 2020 volume Rhetoric, Race, Religion, and the Charleston Shootings: Was Blind but Now I See, which investigated the rhetoric surrounding the 2015 church killings at Mother Emanuel AME. A key scholarly goal I also have is to promote undergraduate research in rhetoric. SUMMA is an ideal place to help nurture campers in the work of investigating various debate topics, which will in turn enrich their and my understanding of how students can meaningfully contribute to public knowledge about a range of important theological and civic topics.


How did you get involved with summa?

I was honored to be invited to attend SUMMA 2021 as a Debate Judge and Seminar Leader for the Flannery O’Connor group. I fell in love with SUMMA on the very first day. The energy was incredible. Dr. Keller’s lectures were insightful and thought-provoking. My seminar group tackled tough questions with care, conviction, and open-mindedness. What is most astonishing is how campers learn the debate topic upon arrival and, within a very short amount of time, construct cases to affirm or oppose a proposition about this topic. Doing so takes real devotion and courage. With the Rev. Cindy Fribourgh’s retirement after the 2021 camp, it was an easy decision to get more involved in SUMMA–though Miss Cindy leaves very big shoes to fill.

What are your goals for summa?

First and foremost, my goal is to affirm SUMMA’s mission to promote theological debate through “speaking the truth in love.” Perhaps at no other time in recent memory, our ability to speak, listen, think, and reflect with one another in love is paramount to our ability to live in unity together. I am also very interested in continuing to help build SUMMA’s strong alumni network. With each conversation, I learn new aspects that make SUMMA camp special and very unique. I hope to get to know more of SUMMA’s friends, and think that social media is a terrific way for us to all stay connected during camp but especially when camp is not in session. 

what should campers look forward to at summa camp 2022?

While much of what campers love about SUMMA will be the same, there are some exciting changes this year! Camp will be in the heart of Sewanee’s campus for the first time in several years. Together, we will explore our beautiful domain, worship in All Saints’ Chapel and St. Luke’s Chapel, gather for meals in McClurg Dining Hall, research the debate proposition in duPont Library, practice debates in Sewanee’s state-of-the-art Center for Speaking & Listening, and much more. You can expect to see some of camp’s most beloved traditions, from SUMMA’s Got Talent to our walk to the cross. We may even make some new traditions this year! I am so thrilled that Dr. Keller will be back as SUMMA’s Principal Lecturer and the Rev. Gina Brewster-Jenkins will be back as Camp Director. We will have a few new guests joining us as well, alongside a dazzling list of seminar leaders. Stay tuned!