Tiffany Jones loves asking hard questions.
Her advisor, Dr. Pamela Palmer, knows that. So does her best friend, Lily Kate Tollison.
So, it surprises no one who knows her to hear her plans: Go to divinity school and later work for a social justice non-profit after graduating in May with a double major in religion and non-profit leadership.
Jones is a deep thinker and a soft-spoken campus activist, and she believes in the Bible’s revolutionary spirit and its clarion call to help those who feel left out.
She is also HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of October.
Jones is far from done.
Moving Beyond Mountain Life
Jones hails from Weaverville, North Carolina, population 3,120. It’s a picturesque town tucked beside the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. There, Jones learned about faith and friendship.
Whenever her mom didn’t know where she was, she’d call Weaverville United Methodist Church and find her youngest daughter there. Jones grew up in that church, sang in the children’s choir and acted as president of its youth group.
Then there is Daniel Green. He has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder. They’re close.
They met in fifth grade when he rubbed mustard on her arm to get her attention. Since then, they have done much together – bowl, eat ice cream and share crepes downtown at Creperie & Café a few steps from Weaverville United Methodist.
As seniors in high school, they went together to the prom – Jones in a sparkly blue dress; Green in white gloves, a top hat and a cane. They danced all night.
That was her life in the mountains. It calmed her, and she grew to love its small-town ambience. But when she came to HPU, she felt unsettled. The campus had more people than her entire hometown.
“OK, Tiffany,” she told herself. “You’ve got to find some people. They’re not going to find you.”
A Campus Change Agent
Interfaith Youth Council, a national organization, named the HPU group its Rookie of the Year.
She was one of the first members of HPU’s Student Diversity Council and helped plan a social justice retreat the council called HPU’s Next Step: Change Agent Retreat.
Afterward, Jones won the 2015 Outstanding Nonprofit Leadership and Management Student of the Year. She and other council members are planning another social justice retreat for early next year.
Its name? HPU Next Step: Leaving a Legacy.
“It’s important that students recognize today and be present in the moment,” she says. “But we have to pave the way for those coming behind us and be aware how we can impact HPU in the future.”
So it goes with Jones and her busy campus life.
She is also a member of two honor societies – Alpha Delta Omega for students majoring in human relations and non-profit leadership, and Theta Alpha Kappa for students majoring in religion.
And she works as an assistant resident director for Wanek and University Center II. In that job, she learned how to help her residents thrive.
Her work fits into what she follows from 1 Corinthians 13:7, one of her favorite Bible verses: “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.”
Dr. Palmer has seen that firsthand.
For the past three years, she has acted as Jones’ non-profit leadership advisor. This year, she convinced Jones to intern with the Guilford County Collaborative on Poverty.
That work fits Jones well.
“She is more vocal than your traditional student, and a lot bolder,” says Palmer, who has taught at HPU for 20 years. “But she’s bold in a good way. She is beyond her years in maturity.”
The Strong Bonds of Friendship
Jones gets along with many. That includes Tollison, a senior math major from Raleigh, North Carolina.
They met during a campus tour their senior year in high school, and they decided to room together. Yet, they were so different in so many ways. Tollison was conservative; Jones was not. Tollison washed dishes; Jones did not.
But they eventually learned to get along, and their friendship grew even closer when Jones got a nose ring.
“That’s Tiffany,” Tollison says laughing. “I accept who she is and she accepts who I am.”
Yes, says Jones.
“We all have a thinking brain, and our job is to understand that we’re all children of God,” she says. “We need to live and love that.”
A few weeks ago, Tollison went with Jones to David Hayworth Park to support her. Tollison knew her friend was nervous.
Jones had helped organize a protest rally when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came to campus, and she didn’t know what would happen.
But when the rally started, she stood in the back and saw 100 other students – black and white, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, Christian, Muslim and Jew all standing together.
“At that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit,” she says. “I knew I was in the right place.”