Henry “Hank” Knight is a professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies here at Keene State College. Back in the 1960s Knight was a Division I athlete at the University of Alabama, where he played football and baseball. As a football player, Professor Knight played as a defensive back and a “rover” which is “a combination of linebacker and strong safety,” Knight said. He called himself a scrub, a term which according to Co-founder of Inside Owl Athletics and Associate Journalism Professor Dr. Chad Nye, means “…a player whose primary role is as a practice team player. This player will go to practice every day. He will suit up with the team and he will practice with the entire team. His primary role, however, is to learn the plays of the team’s next opponent so that the starters get a good feel for what they will need to do in the actual game.”
Even though Professor Knight said he was a scrub, he added, “I consider myself in many ways an accidental professor,” Knight said. “I didn’t set out in that direction at all. I was committed to a vocation in ministry.” Knight’s wife enrolled at Vanderbilt to earn her PhD in Religion.
Knight was asked to teach a couple of courses at Vanderbilt. He was offered jobs as a campus chaplain and religious professor at Baldwin Wallace College, where he realized that he loves teaching. “Then I was asked to consider becoming a chaplain at the University of Tulsa as a member of that department of religious studies so I moved there and lived there for sixteen years. Then from there I came here,” Knight said.
Although Professor Knight was reticent about his athletic career, preferring to discuss The Cohen Center, he said:“I wouldn’t change the things that I learned about coaching and teamwork and teaching. I see a lot of what I do in a classroom when teaching as coaching. It’s a different kind of teaching process, where your focus is on your student or your player not only learning from you, but becoming free of their need to depend on you.”
Knight, who came to Keene State to direct the Cohen Center, said, “Studying the Holocaust was a private little kind of personal interest. It was keyed or initiated by the work of Elie Wiesel and college courses that I had in religion and literature. Then I took more courses in seminary that dealt with the same thing. And I kept that as kind of a private track. While I was at Baldwin Wallace I developed a major grant from The Cleveland Foundation for the college, that extended over three years. We brought people in for all sorts of programs, and the last person I brought in was Elie Wiesel and that was 1983.”
Knight said he is currently teaching five courses: “Rethinking the Holocaust, that’s an upper-level seminar for majors; I teach another upper-level course simply called ‘Trauma’ I’ll be offering that in the spring; another course called Religion and Violence; another course called The Holocaust and the Christian World; and a course called Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Knight said.
One of Knight’s frequent students, Alexis Sanborn, spoke very highly of Professor Knight during an interview.
“Hank is a teacher that makes you think critically. He will let the room sit for five minutes in silence and make you think about the answer to a question so that’s definitely something that’s really good especially for someone who wants to be a teacher to understand that you need to let your students actually think about the questions. I mean he really like, very philosophical, he makes you question a lot of things that you think you know. Yesterday I think we sat in class for fifty minutes discussing one quote. He’s really an amazing professor.” Sanborn said.
Another former student, Sofita Thornblad said, “Professor Knight doesn’t lecture very much, it’s a lot of discussion. A lot of the time he brings in art or other, not necessarily artifacts, but other art for us to look at and discuss. He encourages us to lead the classroom, that’s almost always a part of the class, leading and participation…he has less of an agenda and more lets the class shape itself base itself based on the students’ needs.”
Knight said he was mentored by and was close personal friends with Elie Wiesel, the famous writer, activist, and Nobel Laureate who survived both Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
When asked about his relationship with Wiesel, who helped design the first Holocaust Studies courses, Professor Knight’s eyes watered up and he said, “He’s an incredibly important mentor and friend in my life and [even though] he’s passed away, I would use present tense because he still guides me, his sensitivities are still at work for me. He showed me a pathway for critical faithfulness, and there’s a musicality about his identity that really was important for me. We had what I think is just a special bond. And I wouldn’t be doing what I do without him. We plotted plans together about courses…”
While working on the Holocaust Studies courses, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize. “It kind of changed a lot of things for him and complicated his life a bit and it did the same for our relationship…It was a special relationship. A wonderful- I consider it a gift,” Knight said.
Knight became the director of the Cohen Center here at Keene State College after he saw an advertisement in the “Chronicle of Higher Education” placed by colleague Paul Vincent. Knight soon applied for the new position.
Alex Harvey can be contacted at