May 2011


People Together

A key theme runs through the work of Joan Hawxhurst, director of the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD): bringing people together. Today, for example, the people include “K” students and “K” alumni, whose paths might not cross absent CCPD programs like externships, internships, and the Guilds. Three and a half years ago, her work involved the Kalamazoo Public Library’s first “Community Reading Program,” gathering readers of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to discuss the novel’s relevance to current culture. And before that, Hawxhurst founded and directed Dovetail, a national organization for interfaith families. In that work, she brought together various individuals and groups that offered support for interfaith families, making a strong and prominent network of what had previously seemed atomized and hidden.

“I’ve enjoyed taking new initiatives and making them actual programs,” says Hawxhurst, including her own initiative: Dovetail. (Hawxhurst was raised a Methodist; her husband is Jewish.) In the early 1990s, support for people of different faiths in a loving relationship lacked nuance or was, simply, lacking. Twenty years later those challenges have been addressed, and the fact that interfaith families are more generally accepted is testament to the effective work of Dovetail.

Hawxhurst’s college education shares the epiphany (and subsequent “course correction”) that so often characterizes “K” liberal arts stories. She enrolled in Virginia Tech’s outstanding 5-year architectural program, but discovered a love for international relations and became one of only eight in her class to graduate with a degree in international studies. She earned her Master’s (international relations) from Yale and then completed a three-year social justice internship sponsored by the United Methodist Church. For half of that internship she worked in Argentina with the organization Service for Peace and Justice. Most of that period she was in rural areas of the country, bringing people together, gradually helping them lose their fear (instilled by years of military dictatorship) of congregating in groups. Later she worked in the Washington Office on Latin America. These experiences developed another key theme evident in her work and nature: a deep commitment to social justice.

What’s the best song ever recorded?
“I’ve thought about this one, and my answer will no doubt expose my geekiness, which my kids often consider overtly evident. Here goes:  it’s Jewel’s ‘Life Uncommon.’ ‘Fill your life with love and bravery /  and you shall lead a life uncommon… There are plenty of people who pray for peace, / but if praying were enough it would have come to be.’”

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“This one I know: Tikki Tikki Tembo, about a boy with a long name and his little brother with a short name. I used to read it with my younger sister, and it is about the injustice of prioritizing the firstborn.”

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“I’m like to think God would not say anything, because God will have taken the gates away. I guess it’s that absence of gates that I’ll ‘hear.’ There’s no reason to have a gate in Heaven.”

What’s your favorite word?
“’Collaborate,’ and ‘community’ is a close second.”

What’s your least favorite word?
“I don’t have a least favorite; there are uses for all of them.”

What turns you on?
“People who smile with abandon.  At ‘K’ what turns me on is the moment when you find the exact thing that two people need to know about each other.”

What turns you off?

What sound do you love?
“Rain falling on the flat rubber roof of my house.”

What sound do you hate?

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
“Well, for a week or two, President of the United States, because then I would never again not appreciate and respect how much is on the shoulders of that individual—how difficult it is to move forward, to compromise, and still believe in your vision for the country. But I’m sure I could only handle this for a week.”

What profession would you not like to participate in?
“Anything requiring large amounts of rote repetition. I don’t think I’d like accounting, or being a bank teller.”

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
“I love this question. I was halfway through my undergraduate education when I was first introduced to the work of Howard Zinn, and it was mind blowing to learn the value of different perspectives; the degree to which the writer influences the written account of history. I never could believe in objectivity again. It felt like I woke up.”

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
“It’s hard to choose just one, but it would be a woman who had dedicated her life to nonviolent activism. Dorothy Day, maybe, or Mother Teresa, or Shirin Ebadi. I’d like to have lunch with all three together.”

What memory from childhood still surprises you?
“Now that I have kids, the memory is my parents sending me to fly all by myself to my grandparents’ home in Arkansas. I was only 7 years old. I had no problem with it back then, for me it was just a great adventure, but now that I’m a parent I wonder how they could have done that. They must have really needed a break.”

What is your favorite curse word?
“I don’t use them—or at least try not to. So I don’t have a favorite.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“In this decade of my life, my kids. They are not a hobby, of course, but they are where I put my energy and passion.”

What is your favorite comedy movie?
The Princess Bride.”

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?
“I’d say this is a tie. Nine-eleven is one. We had just moved to New York and were living in Albany, our house in the flight path to the Albany airport. Many of my neighbors were closely connected with people who perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. I remember wondering why the perpetrators of those attacks were so angry, and I remember feeling alone—very out of sync with the immediate nationalist and jingoist response that seemed to overwhelm all other responses.  The other event was the election of Barack Obama; perhaps it’s a ‘yin’ to the other event’s ‘yang.’ I experienced election eve with my kids and felt a powerful and pervasive sense of hope. I still feel that hope, even though it seems that others who felt it strongly then have felt it wane.”

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?
“Nope. It would come out of her udder, and therein lays an innovative possibility. Perhaps we should show comedy movies in dairy barns.”

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