Toni Flores: A Woman Who Opened Minds

I first met Professor Toni Flores as a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I was told by an upper-class student, “You have to take Toni,” and so I found myself in Professor Flores’ Introduction to Women Studies class which was filled with many first-year William Smith students. (The class might have even been called “Our Bodies, Ourselves” as that was our major textbook.) In her class we discussed things I’d never thought about before: sex and gender, the history of motherhood, feminism and the abortion debate, date rape. She challenged nearly every assumption I’d brought to college and turned it on its head.

Professor Flores in 1980s

As the weeks passed, I had the opportunity to get to know Professor Flores and she asked if I had any interest in babysitting for her, then, two young sons. I remember feeling terribly flattered that this woman, this icon, this goddess with long black hair, could have chosen anyone to watch her children – but she chose me. I felt this responsibility, this honor, as I arrived at Toni’s house. Her house was a little dark inside, but it was immediately obvious to me that her house epitomized her. Everything felt casual. Comfortable. There were no areas that were “off-limits” to the kids. There were artifacts – treasures – from her numerous trips to Mexico scattered about, blankets and lots of throw pillows. And books and books and books.

Professor Flores, late 1990s

At some point, during one of my visits with her children, I remember being in her kitchen (probably getting somebody a snack) and noticing a long line of ants marching directly from Toni’s sugar bowl in the cupboard, down the wall, across the floor and out a wee crack in the far wall.

When she arrived home after her meeting, I thought she might want to know about the bug situation, so I showed her the ants. Unfazed, and – true to her spirit – she crouched down over the little guys and watched them intensely for more than a few minutes. I remember looking at her, studying her, and seeing her smile. I remember the creases around her mouth, the joy she found in watching those little ants. She was able to find so much happiness in the little things. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up.

During my four years at college, she helped me with many things – personal things – but it is that little moment in her kitchen that I cling to.  Toni Flores, Professor of Women’s Studies and American Studies, died on November 3, 1997, after battling a long illness. Toni wasn’t horrified by life, any of it. She was amused by it, mostly. And I have tried to take that lesson from her.

Who was your favorite teacher, and what do you remember about him/her?

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