By Emily Stull
After 30 years of working primarily with what is now the Department of Theater and Performance Studies, former Stanford professor and vice provost for undergraduate education Harry Elam is weathering the pandemic as the 16th president of Occidental College. But even amid the current state of uncertainty, Elam has recently been honored for his dedication to Stanford with the renaming of Roble Gym’s black-box theater, now the Harry J. Elam, Jr. Theater.
“Among [Elam’s] many contributions, he was instrumental in energizing theater on campus and so it is very fitting that he will be honored with his name on the theater in Roble Gym,” wrote Matthew Tiews, associate vice president for campus engagement and interim head of the Office of the Vice President for the Arts.
“His impact can be felt almost everywhere, from creative expression in undergraduate education to leadership as Vice President for the Arts,” Tiews wrote in an email to The Daily.
In 2016, the $28 million renovations of Roble Gym included the establishment of the black-box theater. Elam was the artistic director of the first production that took place there, “Spring Awakening.”
Two years later, on the same stage, Elam directed “A Raisin in the Sun.”
“The naming of this theater has a profound significance for me; theater has been central to my life’s work as a scholar, educator and director,” Elam wrote in an email to The Daily. “[The theater] is a space I know well, with lots of wonderful memories.”
Elam first became an associate professor at Stanford in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies in 1990, after working as a visiting professor since 1989.
After he joined Stanford’s faculty, he become the Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education in July of 2010.
While vice provost, according to the Los Angeles Times, Elam “spearheaded efforts to reshape undergraduate education.”
These efforts included the augmentation of summer programs to assist students transferring to Stanford, as well as Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts.
“I’m very proud of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts and Arts Intensive,” Elam wrote. “The programming at IDA, which conjoins arts, race and social justice, has attracted students of all majors and levels and is more relevant than ever. Arts Intensive brings students back early from summer break to take one course in the arts in an immersive, small-group setting.”
Throughout his tenure, Elam also focused on the integration of graduate students of color in mathematics and science departments.
In 2015, Elam initiated the development of Stanford in New York, which according to its website, is a “quarter-long, 4-day/week internship in [the] area of student interest” for undergraduates including “field trips, alumni mentoring, guest speakers, and group activities.”
“I was very happy with how Stanford in New York has launched,” Elam wrote. “I think it’s a program with great potential to expand Stanford’s reach and engage students in models of learning that mesh professional and intellectual development.”
In February 2017, Elam continued his legacy at Stanford, becoming the vice president for the arts as well as the vice provost for education.
By then, Elam had been honored with five different awards at Stanford, some of which included the Arts and Science Student Union (ASSU) Award for Undergraduate Teaching in 1992, the Black Community Service Center Outstanding Teacher Award in 1994, and the Rhodes Prize for Undergraduate Teaching in 1998.
In addition to his work at Stanford, for the past 20 years Elam has directed numerous plays professionally. One play, “Blues for an Alabama Sky” by Pearl Cleage, won the Drama Logue Award for Best Production, Best Design, Best Ensemble Cast and Best Direction.
Elam has further made his mark in the literary field by writing two novels in the bases of theater criticism.
Despite his many and profound achievements, Elam told The Daily he is “most proud of my students, graduate and undergraduate students who have gone on to fabulous careers post-Stanford,” and “after 30 years, [the] connections [with students and faculty] are many and enduring!”
“Harry Elam was an incredible leader in the arts at Stanford for over thirty years,” Tiews wrote in the same email. “We miss him enormously but know that he will do great things as President of Occidental College.”
Contact Emily Stull at stull242 ‘at’ gmail.com.