Rebecca L. Davis, PhD, teaches and writes about U.S. history, with an emphasis on histories of religion, sex, and politics. Currently, she holds the Miller Family Endowed Early Career chair at the University of Delaware. She is the author of "Public Confessions: The Religious Conversions That Changed American Politics" (UNC Press, 2021) and is the recipient of an NEH Public Scholar Award for her forthcoming book, "Sex in America," under contract with Liveright Press. Here, she answers questions from the Yale Alumni Association, explains why she chose Yale, and shares how her peers inspire her.

Why Yale?
My first visit to campus, the spring before my freshman year, assured me that Yale was a place where I could find my people – library nerds, queers, social activists, you name it. My host took me to the LGBT Coop dance that Saturday night, and I felt more at ease than I had ever been at a party! When someone else told me that the history department was "really, really good," that seemed like enough of a reason to attend despite the financial strain. (The decision to attend Yale for my PhD, two years after graduating with a history BA, was much less complicated, because of course by then I knew that the Yale history department was indeed really, really good.)

What is your most enduring memory of your time at Yale? 
I spent many years at Yale, between undergrad and the History PhD program, but among the many memories, I return to an evening in Woolsey Hall, listening to opera legend Frederica Von Stade mesmerize the audience with her voice. Equally memorable was the time Ray Charles brought down the house from that same stage.

What is your favorite place in New Haven, past or present? 
I used to go for long, embarrassingly slow jogs up Prospect Avenue, past the Divinity School, into a residential neighborhood. I loved the quiet.

What is your favorite spot on campus?
The courtyard outside Sterling Library not only has the stunning Women's Table but is alive with memories of the teachers, mentors, friends, and loved ones I used to run into there.

If you could relive your time at Yale, what would you do differently?
I wish I had spent more time listening to and learning from people whose experiences were different from mine. Especially as an undergraduate, I was so nervous about succeeding that I kept my armor up and was reluctant to show vulnerability – or allow others to be vulnerable around me.

What would you do exactly the same? 
There is no substitute for hours spent wandering through the library stacks, reading books at random. I developed a serious dust allergy, but it was worth it.

What's your favorite pizza place in New Haven?
Clare's, which is not a pizza place, but which sells the largest pieces of cake I have ever seen.

Who is another Yalie who inspires you? Why?
Serena Mayeri is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School whose scholarship and advocacy advance the causes of justice in countless ways. Serena was a year or two ahead of me in the history PhD program, having also earned her JD from Yale Law. She became a peer mentor to me, and today she is one of my dearest friends. Serena is brilliant beyond words, and from amicus briefs for Supreme Court cases to major op-eds to teaching, and in every word of her scholarship, Serena never deviates from her commitment to human rights, decency, and equity.

How did your time at Yale shape the person you are today?
Yale showed me what it meant to be a scholar, to study something inside and out.

What advice would you give to current students? 
All those concerts in Woolsey Hall or on the Green with famous artists? Go!


How would you answer? Share your responses with the YAA and they might be featured in an upcoming edition of "Getting to Know You."