Professor of English Julia Walker died due to a pre-existing illness on Sunday Feb. 25. Students and faculty have mourned Walker’s passing, celebrating her 32 years of devotion to the Geneseo community.
Walker grew up in Alcoa, Tennessee, where she attended the University of Tennessee-Knoxville for her Bachelor of Science in English and education, and eventually her master’s. She began teaching high school in 1972, before realizing she sought further fulfillment elsewhere. She then earned a Ph.D. in English from Purdue University in 1982, and began teaching at Geneseo in 1985.
At Geneseo, Walker taught classes focusing on writers like John Milton, Shakespeare and Christine de Pizan, which expanded into the nature of history, gender politics and humanity. Walker was known not only for her intelligence and expertise, but also for her ability to challenge students with blunt honesty.
“She didn’t tolerate [anything],” English major junior Raina Salvatore said. “From your papers to what you said in class, everything you said, everything you did had to have a purpose. She is, without a doubt, one of the best professors the English department has ever had, if only because she was honest. She told it to you like it was.”
Both inside and outside of the classroom, Walker argued for women’s rights and against injustices on-campus.
“The biggest thing about her is that she was someone who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She had no fear,” English and history double major senior Erin Lieberman said. “If you did something wrong [or] if you did something morally incorrigible, she was not afraid to walk out on the College Green and say you did this.”
In criticizing unjust actions, Walker was known as someone who would help students who experienced sexual assault, according to political science and economics double major senior Rebecca Fasciano.
“She was also a huge supporter of women on-campus when it came to sexual assault,” Fasciano said. “She would fight for you.”
Walker’s colleagues remember her for her intelligence, dedication and her many interests. Walker enjoyed reading murder mystery novels, spending time with her pets and gardening, according to professor of English and theater and Coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies program Melanie Blood. Blood additionally emphasized Walker’s passion for her academic studies.
“She was a really brilliant woman. She was extremely well published. She had no patience for people who weren’t really rigorous thinkers and strong writers,” Blood said. “I’ll really miss her for her sense of social justice and the many lives that she touched while she was here, including mine.”
Professor and Chair of the Department of English Rob Doggett similarly underscored Walker’s importance within the department.
“Julia Walker taught at Geneseo for over 30 years and was greatly respected for the intellectual rigor that she brought to her classes, as one of the world’s foremost John Milton scholars,” Doggett said. “She was a dedicated teacher who tirelessly supported her students and was a champion of gender equality on-campus. She will be dearly missed.”
Beyond her focus on diligence and honesty, Walker also implemented innovative techniques in her classes. She occasionally taught about contemporary culture, including Harry Potter and YouTube, according to Blood. Lieberman remembered that Walker once used the video game Civilization V to help teach Western Humanities.
Above all else, Walker loved her three animals and named them after influential authors. Walker’s dogs were named after John Milton and Marguerite de Navarre (nicknamed Daisy), and her cat after the poet Virgil, Lieberman said. She treated each of her animals with a level of love and respect as though they had humanity to them, according to Salvatore.
Throughout her decades at Geneseo, Walker was not only educated students, but also deeply created an impact, according to Lieberman.
“She was a force of nature, so it’s really hard when you lose someone who’s got such a presence in your life,” Lieberman said. “I actually just got into law school and I attribute that to her because she taught me how to own my own destiny here. I’ll be honest, [without Walker] I would still be kind of a timid bumbling mess second-guessing myself at every turn. Instead, I applied to a reach school and got a really good offer on it.”
Overall, students like Lieberman plan to remember her rigorous side, along with her wit and importance to the community.
“She was an amazingly intelligent woman,” Lieberman said. “She had a certain brand of intelligence that wasn’t in your face, just straightforward. She was so witty; she was hilarious. She had her roots through this school.”
News editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.