June Henton reflects on history of human sciences in IQLA Distinguished Lecture Series

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College of Human Sciences Dean Emerita June Henton reflected on the history of human sciences at the 2022 International Quality of Life Awards, or IQLA, Distinguished Lecture Series. 

Henton, who served as dean for over 30 years, detailed the rich history and evolution of human sciences as an academic field as well as its growth at Auburn University. She noted how the growth of human sciences as a field can be followed parallel to the evolution of the women’s movement.  

“We as human scientists are proud of our heritage, but we also know there is much work left to be done,” Henton said. “Let us remember that the women who came before us have done the yeoman’s work, clearing the path for us to succeed… So here we are passing the torch to the next generation.”

She told the story of chemist Ellen Richards, the first female to ever be admitted and later become an instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, and is also considered the founder of home economics. Richards had a desire to help women in the home who were struggling with issues such as food safety, household sanitation and energy conservation.  

“Our field was just like engineering, agriculture architecture and all the applied arts and sciences,” Henton said. “We had our unit of study as the family, and within this environment which we translate into food, clothing and shelter, and their relationship to the world. 

“How simple this sounds on the surface, but the complexities that come with our many family structures and their relationships with their communities truly boggle the mind.”  

Henton also spoke on the integral role that land-grant universities, such as Auburn University, played in the growth of home economics. One of the functions of land-grant universities was to deliver knowledge and practical information to farmers and consumers, paving the way for programs devoted to the study of and education in home economics.  

During her time at Auburn, Henton provided visionary leadership for teaching, research and outreach in the College of Human Sciences’ academic departments, and helped to spearhead multiple groundbreaking initiatives. She helped launch initiatives and programs such as the National Textile Center University Research Consortium, the Elmer and Glenda Harris Early Learning Center, the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program and many more. 

As home economics programs around the country faced being disbanded to cut costs, Henton guided the college, then called the School of Home Economics, through the possibility of being displaced and dismantled. Henton, along with students, faculty and alumni, rallied together to keep the college alive.  

“I knew when programs were displaced they frequently fell to the bottom of the barrel for the new dean, they were low priority and vacant positions often were not replaced,” Henton said. “We developed a strategy to stay intact, and you would not believe the flurry of activity. We rallied the troops, garnered the support of our most powerful allies and weathered the storm.” 

One of the students within the school designed a shirt with the letters SOS on it, for “Save our School,” which Henton and others adopted to bring awareness to their cause.  

Henton led the push for a name change from the School of Home Economics to the School of Human Sciences, and later the College of Human Sciences as it is now known. Auburn University became the first in the nation to adopt such a title. Many universities have since followed.  

Henton also established the Women’s Philanthropy Board, as well as the formation of the Hunger Solutions Institute in the pursuit of ending world hunger. For her significant contributions to individual, family and community well-being locally and around the world, Henton was the recipient of the IQLA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.   

“June Henton’s desire to improve quality of life is a shared passion in the College of Human Sciences, shared by our faculty, staff and students,” said Susan Hubbard, dean of the College of Human Sciences.  

The lecture series came to a close with the presentation of the first ever Spirit of IQLA Endowed Scholarships. Established in 2020, the scholarship is awarded to a student or students who demonstrate a passion for improving the quality of life and well-being of individuals, families and communities. Elena Gagliano and Lani Hammond were the inaugural recipients. 

Gagliano is a sophomore from Birmingham, Alabama, pursuing degrees in both human development and family science and psychology with minors in statistics, counseling and women’s and gender studies. 

Hammond Is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama, in interior design. She is interested in sustainability, particularly in helping mitigate the housing crisis. Hammond is working towards finding sustainable solutions to the lack of affordable housing, and the impact this has on communities and individuals.  

To see Henton’s entire IQLA lecture go here. To learn more about the College of Human Sciences click here.  

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