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Karen Flynn selected as inaugural Terrance & Karyn Holm Endowed Professor

Woman at podium teaching

Karen Flynn, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was selected as the first Terrance & Karyn Holm Endowed Professor.

Flynn, who will also serve as director of the Midwest Nursing History Research Center – which is housed at UIC Nursing – will start her new role on January 8.

The Terrance & Karyn Holm Endowed Professorship was made possible by a $1 million gift from Karyn Holm, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAHA, in memory of her late husband Terrance. Holm spent 12 years on faculty and was associate dean for practice at UIC Nursing, The professorship is intended for a faculty member who represents excellence in nursing history research. [Holm’s gift also created the Karyn Holm Unrestricted Research Center Program Fund to support the college’s Midwest Nursing History Research Center.]

“With this endowed chair comes the opportunity to validate and highlight the important work of nursing,” Holm says. “Dr. Flynn knows that nurses universally continue to care for individuals, families and communities in health and in illness, in peace and in war. As we continue on this journey, it is my hope that giving voice to nursing’s accomplishments ensures that its rightful place in the history of health care is documented.”

Flynn’s past work has focused on nursing and health care history in the context of Black feminist and diaspora studies. Her award-winning book, Moving Beyond Borders: Black Canadian and Caribbean women in the African Canadian Diaspora, delves into the experiences of 35 post-war era nurses who were born in Canada or immigrated there from the Caribbean.

Flynn says she values that this position will allow her to return to her roots of being “community-centered,” focusing her scholarship – not just on publications – but on exhibits, oral histories and other types of engagement with communities of nurses.

“I realized this is truly my calling,” Flynn says. “There’s no point in theorizing, if our theories do not translate into practice and have meaningful impact on people’s lives.”

She is co-leading the Mapping Care project – featuring a traveling exhibit and website – with UIC Nursing associate professor Gwyneth Franck, PhD, RN, MPH, on the contribution of Black nurses in Chicago.

“When we talk to nurses, we get a much broader perspective of Black women’s lives,” Flynn says. “We get a glimpse into how some of the nurses had to navigate the structural racism that was embedded in the various systems that they encountered in Chicago … the way nurses and their families responded to these inequalities.”

Franck, who has been leading the Midwest Nursing History Research Center since October 2019, says the college is “incredibly fortunate” to have Dr. Flynn as the inaugural Holm Professor.

“Her commitment to nursing history, the community, and her students will be a huge asset to UIC Nursing, and I am excited to learn from her as she leads the MNHRC into the future,” Franck says.

Flynn recently served as a guest editor of a special issue on race and nursing for the UK Association for the History of Nursing. The first of its kind, the volume on racialized nursing histories is global in scope and hopes to inspire current and new generations of nursing scholars and allies.

“As a scholar, teacher and public intellectual, Dr. Flynn strives to ensure that her public scholarship is accessible, available and translatable to broader audiences,” says UIC Nursing Dean Eileen Collins, PhD, RN, FAAN, ATSF. “Dr. Flynn’s research pays keen attention to race, gender and equity as it relates to the experiences of Black Canadian midwives, Chicago Black nurses, and the histories of pandemics, including COVID. We are lucky to bring her unique perspective to the UIC College of Nursing and the Midwest Nursing History Research Center.”

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