The Essence of Shakespeare

Jenny Davis recognizes the legacy of Shakespeare and continuing impact of his work through Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre productions.

By Andria Beckham | Photography by Lori Sparkman Photography

University of Central Arkansas First Lady Jenny Davis is passionate about education. She and her husband, UCA President Houston Davis, have devoted their personal and professional lives to it. Jenny dedicated a decade to teaching high school and continues to instill the transformative power of learning in her three children. “I love teaching, but I think the tenth grade is my favorite because students move from being concrete thinkers to abstract ones. They are such fearless, original thinkers at this age. I can think of no higher honor or thrill than witnessing a student realizing his or her own intellectual power.”

A Mississippi native, Jenny met Houston at the University of Memphis while earning her master’s degree in teaching. Through Houston’s collegiate career, the family settled in Conway. He served as an interim president at Kennesaw State University in Georgia before he accepted the leadership role with UCA. Jenny and Houston were immediately impressed with the community’s support of higher education, the quality of the academic programs and the alumni’s love of their alma mater. Jenny discovered the Conway Public Schools Foundation and admired the philanthropic support it provides through a variety of initiatives. Volunteer opportunities include Toad Suck Daze, Conway Symphony Orchestra and Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. Last year, Jenny served as honorary chairman of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre’s Bard Ball. Just one week after moving to UCA, she and her husband hosted a party for actors, technicians, and patrons of the theater’s four productions. “My house was full of creative people from all over the country who had come to live and work in Conway because of Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. It was an amazing way to start our lives in Conway.”

As First Lady of UCA, Jenny participates in the UCA Women’s Leadership Network. This organization provides members an opportunity to connect through shared values and inspiration. She also serves on the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference Board of Directors, an annual event that celebrates and encourages women writers. “Books and poetry have been extremely influential on my development as a thinker and a person. Writers are so fearless and experimental now, especially with all the new avenues for publishing.”

Jenny recognizes the legacy of Shakespeare and the impact of his work throughout history. “Few understand human nature and politics as well as he did, and no one has ever written with his power and command of language. As a teacher, I know Shakespeare changes lives. I’ve witnessed it in my classroom. He talks of parents and children, old age and youth, race and gender, politics, and every situation is as it happens in life.” Jenny notes that everyone can relate to Shakespeare. “Without realizing it, we recognize the humanity of the characters and we see it in each other, too.” When asked if students still appreciate the arts with consideration to social media platforms, Jenny is quick to reply “the internet is a fake kind of communal experience allowing us to stay in our tribes. Shakespeare and theater bridge divides rather than deepening them by allowing us to have experiences in which we participate in a piece of art that recognizes what we share as human beings. The world needs that now more than ever.”


Just Jenny

Happy Place: on a beach in Europe

Last Book Read: Classical Greece

Favorite Family Vacation: Harry Potter World at Universal Studios

Inviting Arkansas

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