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Janice Dean Willis, (born 1948) is Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, where she has taught since 1977; and the author of books on Tibetan Buddhism. She has been called influential by Time Magazine, Newsweek, and Ebony Magazine. Aetna Inc.’s 2011 African American History Calendar features professor Willis as one of thirteen distinguished leaders of faith-based health initiatives in the United States.
After graduating from college in 1969, Willis was faced with a stark postcollege choice: go to Nepal and study Buddhism or join the Black Panthers and fight for black rights. She called it a decision of "Peace or Piece." Deciding on "peace," her passion for Buddhism brought her back to Nepal to live in a Tibetan monestary. She studied under Lama Thubten Yeshe, who encouraged her academic pursuits in Tibetan Buddhism, for the next fifteen years. She received her BA and MA degrees in philosophy from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist Studies from Columbia University in 1976. Willis continued to give lectures and write various essays, books, and articles on Tibetan Buddhism.
Janice Dean Willis says "Buddhism has helped me in real way to find what I was looking for as a young person in a world that was violent. It showed me how to locate deep wounds that racism caused in my early life ... and having found them, how to heal them."
Janice Willis, Professor of Religion and Chair of the Religious Department at Wesleyan University, has studied with Tibetan Buddhists in Nepal, the United States, Switzerland, and India for four decades and has taught courses in Buddhism for thirty-two years including universities like the 'University of California' and the 'University of Virginia'. She is one of the earliest American-scholars of Tibetan Buddhism and has published various essays and articles on Buddist meditation, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race.
Since 2006 she has contributed to the group blog On Faith alongside Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, and Madeline Albright, among others. In 2003, she was awarded Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.