Women’s College Students Learn in First Fall Convocation That, in Finding Life’s Passions, “There’s No App for That”
In the traditional kickoff of the Brenau University Women’s College academic year, one of the region’s foremost forensic interviewers, Dr. Julie Battle, told students that going to college will not automatically prepare them for life or careers.
“You can’t do a Google search to find your passion,” said Dr. Julie Battle, chair of Brenau’s academic program for both undergraduate and graduate degrees in clinical psychology.
“You just have to figure it out on your own. It’s not a straight line and, often, it’s not something that can be done quickly.”
Although keeping up with studies and being the best one can be academically is part of the deal, Battle explained the ke
y to discovering who you will be in life and what you will do often involves taking the occasional wrong path, making mistakes and making difficult decisions that will put you at odds with friends and family.
“You have to do the right thing even if it’s not the easy thing,” she said. “You have to do the right thing despite any potential negative personal consequences.”
Battle is often called upon to work with child victims of crimes and testify as an expert witness in criminal court cases. For example, she worked with the four-year-old victim of a highly publicized case in Hall County, Georgia, in early 2015 in which two people received life sentences in a child sex trafficking case. In imposing the sentence, Superior Court Judge Jason Deal clearly demonstrated that he took the psychological impact on the victims into consideration when he said that, unlike murder, which “deals with the death of the physical body, offenses against children often kill their spirit.”
“Helping child victims to have a voice,” Battle told the students, “is something that I’m passionate about. Sometimes doing the right thing requires you to be bold.”
She confessed that her finding that passion almost did not happen because of the less-than-bold mindset she encountered while she was a student. One of her professors occasionally recounted stories of his own courtroom testimonies in which he encountered skilled lawyers who were experts in punching holes in testimonies and finding mistakes. Battle said she did not want that to happen to her and vowed never to testify in court about anything.
However, she realized that helping children find their voices meant that sometimes that voice needed to be heard in open court, and the only one who could provide it for them was the psychologist.
Since “stumbling” into the field, she’s become one of the region’s most prominent expert witnesses, having conducted more than 1,700 forensic interviews and testifying in almost 100 criminal trials.
Fall convocation, regarded as the traditional opening of the academic year at the 137-year-old Brenau Women’s College with faculty and administrators in full academic regalia processing in and out of ornate Pearce Auditorium, also engages Brenau women in two more traditions.
In one, the first-year students at Brenau walk before their peers and the faculty to the front of the auditorium and sign the Brenau Honor Pledge, a self-policed code of conduct. The second involves students hearing a challenge to pursue academic excellence delivered by the most recent recipient of the university’s highest teaching honor.
Battle, who joined the Brenau faculty in 1999, received the Ann Austin Johnston Award for outstanding teaching at the Women’s College graduation ceremony in May.
Prior to coming to Brenau in 1999, Battle completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University and worked with patients with mental health disorders at Grady Hospital. She also worked with military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, including female soldiers sexually assaulted while in service, at the Veterans Administration Medical Centers in Mississippi.
To find her own life’s calling, Battle said she had to go through quite a bit of trial and error. She initially thought her passion was working with substance abuse patients, but after a brief stint working at a treatment center, she realized that line of work was not for her. Later, she took a research assistant position on a project involving child victims of violent crimes. Although she took the job just to pay her rent, she soon found herself becoming deeply invested in the work.
Success, Battle said, does not mean dollar signs or prestige. Instead, she said it means being able to believe in a calling higher than one’s self and never feeling hesitant to do the right thing in tough situations.
“Regardless of where you end up in life, what job you have or how much money you make,” she said, “if you are bold, if you write your own narrative and you find your passion, you will be successful.”
The annual fall formal convocation has been a Brenau rite for more than a century. President Ed Schrader acknowledged that, although “the core values held dear by Brenau’s founders remain the heart and soul of the university, today’s students differ quite a bit from the young women who preceded them.
“Although this tradition is old,” he said, “your ideals are new.”
Student Government Association President Mary Katherine Jabbia, a senior biology major and All-America swimmer from Slidell, Louisiana, also encouraged the Class of 2019 to embrace a spirit of boldness.
“At Brenau, there is no time to be timid,” Jabbia said. “The only errors you can make are the ones you don’t learn from.”
For a full text of Battle’s address or to listen to the audio recording,