Skip To Main Content

Menu Trigger Container

Dr. Jennifer Harrison Hutton ‘01 offers Black Student Alliance a glimpse at dream jobs, career moves, and the beauty of changing course

Dr. Jennifer Harrison Hutton ‘01 offers Black Student Alliance a glimpse at dream jobs, career moves, and the beauty of changing course
Dr. Jennifer Harrison Hutton ‘01 offers Black Student Alliance a glimpse at dream jobs, career moves, and the beauty of changing course

For Dr. Jennifer Harrison Hutton ‘01, the oldest of 14 cousins, caring for others has always been second nature. She was inspired to become a pediatric physical therapist when her youngest cousin, Devon, was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy as a toddler. In the years since, his wit and tenacity have inspired her to help kids access the strength and tools they need to reach their goals — both physically and in life. 

Dr. Hutton spoke to a group of students in February as part of the Black Student Alliance’s recognition and celebration of Black History Month. The Black Student Alliance, started by a group of seniors from the Class of 2021, seeks to create intentional spaces where students of color can commune and support each other. 

“The girls have shared that connecting with Black alumna, in some ways, helps them see how far they can go,” Harpeth Hall Director of Equity and Inclusion MarQuis Chappell said. “That there is no limit to their capabilities in life.”

As students eagerly grabbed slices of pizza and took their seats, Dr. Hutton’s enthusiastic nature and “big-kid-at-heart” energy — which is reflected in her nickname Dr. JPop — engaged everyone in the room. She shared anecdotes about her career pursuits, building allyship among healthcare workers, and what it means to feel like a member of the family for the children she supports.

Dr. Hutton wears many hats — pediatric physical therapist, DEI practitioner, and once-reluctant Honeybear.

“That first year wasn’t easy for me at all,” she said of her transition to Harpeth Hall in middle school. “It was new. I left all of my friends. But I found the students I felt safe with and the teachers I felt safe with. When I needed them, I knew where to find them. So, when I had those moments where I’d say something and someone didn’t understand, I could go back to those groups.”

Dr. Hutton joked about wanting to fail out at first, but how she eventually met teachers like Jeanette Fox Klocko who recognized her potential.

“She said, ‘I’ve seen your scores, I know what you can do, and I’m not going to let you fail,’” Dr. Hutton said.

Once she settled in, Dr. Hutton decided to take advantage of everything Harpeth Hall had to offer.

“If they asked me to do something I said ‘yes,’” she said. “I decided to just lean all the way in.”

Following Harpeth Hall, Dr. Hutton attended Oakwood University, a historically black university in Alabama, for her undergraduate degree, then went on to Loma Linda University where she received her doctorate in physical therapy. Her dream job was to become a pediatric physical therapist and return to Nashville to work at Vanderbilt University. After many years of hard work, Dr. Hutton did just that. There was only one problem.

“I had the dream job, and I didn’t know what to do next,” Dr. Hutton said.

In search of her new dream, in 2020 she started Building Allyship, a program that helps healthcare providers take action to better support marginalized communities. She also started the podcast Beyond Allyship to provide resources for those who want to go deeper than what their job provides in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) resources.

“The most fun part of peds is you become part of the family. I’ve been to basketball games, I’ve been to bar mitzvahs, I’ve been to birthday parties. Those moments balance out the hard ones,” Dr. Hutton said. “But I saw things in my treatments and in meeting different families that our healthcare system was broken.”

This winter, Dr. Hutton launched “Get Movin’,” a movement deck for kids that features illustrations of children from diverse backgrounds and abilities. While there are breathing exercises and activities, what Dr. Hutton is most proud of is the representation within the deck.

“The deck represents different groups so that parents and educators can have those talks with kids at home and at school instead of putting the burden on people [with disabilities] to answer all the questions,” she said.

Dr. Hutton encouraged students to get out of their chairs and participate in one of the cards from the deck.

“Aside from the joy the girls drew from the activity, they were able to imagine the professional possibilities they have,” Mr. Chappell said.

For Harpeth Hall’s students, speakers like Dr. Hutton provide encouragement in myriad ways as the girls envision their own futures and realize how — like Dr. Hutton — their current life experiences, both individually and in school, may influence that path. 

“I thought Dr. Hutton's talk was inspirational,” senior Blessen Jolobi said, “because she was able to take what a family member was experiencing and find a way to help others who have or are going through the same struggle.”