When Rabbi Shields gave the opening prayer at a graduation [in the late 2000s], that was the first time that had occurred. I remember he very explicitly had asked the President whether it would be problem if he said a very short prayer in Hebrew. He was quite nervous about how to handle that, but most of us had no idea who was gonna be doing the opening prayer, and when he got up, we all went, “Wow, okay Davidson! One more step into the future!” Or into the present.
Ruth Ault grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois. She earned her Ph.D in psychology in 1972. After teaching at Brigham Young University for seven years, Ruth Ault was hired by the Davidson College Psychology Department in 1979. She was the first Jewish faculty member in the College’s history. She received tenure in 1982 and retired in 2014 after teaching at Davidson for thirty-five years.
Summary: Ruth Ault describes her Jewish background prior to Davidson College: raised in Conservative Judaism and being in non-Jewish communities, like Pomona College and the University of Utah. Ault recounts her interview process for Davidson College in 1979, as the first hired Jewish professor at Davidson, and the college’s Presbyterian tradition and bylaws. She recounts how her arrival to Davidson was received by the local community, and in relation to the Linden Affair. Ault then discusses the growing presence but overall lack of Jewish community members, as well as inclusive and exclusive practices and bylaws. She also explains her less visible but not purposely hidden Jewish identity at Davidson, in contrast to her identity as female and to the experiences of other Jewish professors and students. Ault traces the major changes in reception of Jewishness at Davidson College, including the hiring of Rob Spach and the foundation of Kol Tikvah. She talks about the role of religion in Davidson’s Board of Trustees, hiring process for professors and college presidents, and when she received tenure. Finally, Ault responds to the 2018 doxxing of neo-Nazis at Davidson College and current Jewish Studies activism.