Andy Miller shows his Campbell’s soup scar

Welcome home, Andy Miller! The proud Kalamazoo College alumnus—class of 1999, English major, music minor, creative writing concentrator, Michigan-certified secondary school teacher (English and music), and K intramural softball phenom—has returned to his alma mater. He’s worked here before. Following graduation he was associate director of LandSea, a program he loved as both participant and patrol leader. He also worked to help the Stryker Center liaison with the greater Kalamazoo business community. Former K president Jimmy Jones recognized great talent, and when he became president of Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.) in 2004 he convinced Andy to go east for a decade. At Trinity, Andy created the Quest Program, which became that college’s outdoor orientation program for first-year students. Simultaneously Andy worked for Trinity’s advancement office—in major gifts, planned giving, alumni relations, and parent giving, making him one of the great five-tool players (think whatever corresponds to speed, power, contact, glove work, and a cannon arm) in the world of advancement. Andy and alumna Mary-Katherine Thompson ’06 married in 2009. They first met on LandSea. This past August Andy came back to K to serve as the College’s executive director of development. Why the return? “It’s a perfect fit,” he says. “It’s coming home.” And we think it’s great to have him home!

And now his answers to the questions we’ve all been eager to know.

What’s the best song every recorded?

“Apologies to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Petty, Guns N’ Roses, and especially Springsteen’s ’Jungleland,’ which comes in second, but I’m going to have to go with ’Layla’ by Derek and the Dominos.

He coulda been a rock star--Andy Miller, sophomore year, in front of Harmon Hall

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

“’Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter.”

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

“’You did a good job down there.’”

What’s your favorite word?


What’s your least favorite word?

“Irregardless. People use it all the time, but IT’S NOT A WORD!”

What turns you on?

“Autonomy…challenge…the opportunity to create things…and, of course, my wife.”

What turns you off?

“Hate, prejudice, and close-mindedness.”

What sound do you love?

“The electric guitar. Specifically, a Fender telecaster coming through a Vox amp.”

What sound do you hate?

“I absolutely love dogs…but I have two at home who bark like maniacs every time another dog is being walked outside our house, which is regularly. Training remains a work in progress!”

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

“Professional rock and roll songwriter.”

What profession would you not like to participate in?

“Accounting. My lack of interest would pretty much assure my uselessness…and vice versa.”

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?

“There are two, both of which happened spring of my senior year and involved synthesizing my previous three-and-a-half-years worth of learning and developing.  My Senior Individualized Project gave me the opportunity to do a deep dive into every ‘art’ I had any competency in–a manuscript worth of poems (thanks Diane Seuss), a related series of photographs (thanks Richard Koenig), and an album’s worth of music (thanks Tom Evans).  On the more traditionally academic side, my English Comprehensive Exams required me to, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a Saturday, write essays on three different questions, with each essay using three literary references drawn from a list of texts read over the course of my entire time at K.  Handing in my SIP and my ’comps,’ admittedly at the absolute last minute in both cases, was so fulfilling to me because they truly served as twin capstone projects of my liberal arts learning.”

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?

“Neither is famous. It would either be my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young, or my maternal grandmother, who died before I was born.”

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

“I remember very well burning my arm on the stove at the age of two on Valentine’s Day when I was reaching for some Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup my mom was making for me. Somehow, despite being so young, I had managed to get my arm on top of the stove. My mom has never forgiven herself because she was out of the room preparing for a date with my dad to celebrate the birth of my cousin on that very day.”

What is your favorite curse word?


What is your favorite hobby?

“Songwriting and recording in my basement.”

What is your favorite comedy movie?

Blues Brothers is a pretty solid go-to. I use the phrases ‘We’re getting the band back together’ and ‘We’re on a mission from God’ regularly.”

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?

“Probably 9/11. I may remember it so distinctly because it happened when we were on LandSea in Ontario. Tom Breznau got a call from President Jones and we went to the one TV at the nearest one-street town to learn what was going on, which was unbelievable. And we had to figure out how to inform all the patrol leaders and participants scattered throughout Killarney. Then to live in the east for 10 years…9/11 has shaped a lot of what New York is like today.”

If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?

“Absolutely, unless she was drinking orange juice.”


Uncommon Reading

Before first-year students even arrive at Kalamazoo College they are shaping their class into a cohesive educational community. By way of K’s Summer Common Reading program, now in its 15th year, incoming first-years read the same book at the same time, connecting not only with their classmates through this common-but-uncommon experience but also with the many faculty and staff and the significant number of current students who also read the book and together share their insights afterwards.

The 2013 Summer Common Reading author Vaddey Ratner greets a Stetson Chapel audience with the namaskara, a Buddhist hand gesture that evokes utmost respect and adoration for the divine in everyone.

“It gives the students something to talk about, something besides ‘where are you from?’” says Dean of the First Year and Advising Zaide Pixley. “It’s all part of the teaching moment.”

Pixley helped launch and expand the Summer Common Reading program in 1999 and subsequent years.  “I love to read,” Pixley says. “And I wanted to give students a way to enter the world of ideas.” In 2000, with the support of the Provost’s office and Student Development, the program became official.

“The first book we chose was Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver,” says Pixley. “But we didn’t ask the author to come to campus. We soon decided that should be one of the criteria—that the author be here for orientation, meet with the students, and later, if possible, return for that class’s commencement.”

The book of choice in 2000 was Independence Day by Richard Ford, an author whom then-Provost Greg Mahler knew personally and had invited to attend. Writer-in-residence Diane Seuss, Professor of English Andy Mozina, Mahler, and Pixley were the original members of the committee that chose the books and organized the events. Membership on the committee has changed over time. Associate Professor of English Marin Heinritz was a member for many years and was responsible for bringing to campus journalist David Finkel, the program’s first nonfiction writer. Neither she, Seuss, nor Mozina are active members of the committee today, but Pixley’s presence has been a constant.

Is the reading experience relevant, even (or especially) when a book’s protagonist differs significantly from the predominantly 18-year-old readers?

“Oh my,” Seuss chortles, recalling the first-year students meeting the Ford. “A student asked Richard Ford how he expected young people to relate to his middle-aged, white male real estate agent protagonist. His answer: ‘Are you a Danish prince? If not, then don’t read Hamlet!’”

Mozina nods. “I’ve seen great discussions happen. I often see the energy grow during the course of the author’s time on campus, with students saying that now they understand and like the book a lot better than they thought they would, or did initially. By the time some authors left, the students seemed ready to adopt them.”

As the criteria for the book choice developed, Pixley made one point immoveable.

“The author must come to campus,” she says. “We look for someone who makes a good guest, who is an engaging speaker and enjoys interacting with students. That’s what makes our summer reading program different than the programs at many other schools—the presence of the author.”

Committee members meet to discuss new and upcoming authors that fit the bill.

“New book and author choices are challenging,” Pixley admits. “We have no flexibility on dates. They have to be here when the first-year students come in. We look for books that have been nominated for prizes, books that are being talked about. Although she isn’t on the committee this year, Di [Seuss] is very plugged in, she has 2,000 Facebook friends and they are almost all writers. An A list and a B list begins to take shape, and we get student peer leaders involved, too.”

Committee members read lots of books and talk about authors who might be an appropriate and feasible guest. Criteria include the content of the book, of course, the way in which it can represent a boundary-crossing for the students, and an author who is willing to be here and participate in person. “We all keep our eyes out for ‘the next big one,’” said former committee member Seuss, “often finding the perfect fit with a younger author on the rise, like Chimamanda Adichie, who visited us with her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and has since won the Orange Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and a MacArthur Fellowship.”

Gail Griffin, professor emeritus of English, has been involved with the program since its inception. She adds: “We’ve often joked about it: either the day before or the day after an author visits, she or he will get a MacArthur award/Pulitzer Prize/National Book Award nomination. The track record is quite amazing; it defies logic.”

The 2014 Summer Common Reading author NoViolet Bulawayo signs books after her Thursday evening reading. More than 300 students waited in line to speak with Bulawayo, and she signed everyone’s book.

“It has to be good literature,” Pixley states. “We look for something that is engaging to young people and doesn’t come with 400 pages of footnotes. Coming of age themes are good, and we want a book that is intercultural in some way, and that doesn’t have to mean that the book has to be about different countries. Detroit can have a different culture from Kalamazoo, too. We look for books that can foster intercultural understanding.”

The book choice of summer 2014 covers that cultural boundary, in fact. Incoming members of the class of 2018 read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. The 2013 debut novel depicts the impossible situation of the person in exile, in this case a child leaving a beloved homeland beset with political turmoil and violence, poverty, starvation, and illness. As she grows to adulthood in a new place she realizes that she is caught between two cultures without being home in either. Bulawayo won the 2014 PEN-Hemingway Award, the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing, and the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2014. The novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.

Anna Gough ’15 is a first-year experience coordinator along with Bryan Olert ’15. Both experienced the value of bonding over a book that often pushed their comfort zones.

“I still think about the book we read when I was a freshman,” Gough says. “In 2011, it was The Good Soldiers by David Finkel. I would never have picked it up on my own.”

“It’s really the whole idea of liberal arts,” Olert, a history major, adds. “The Summer Common Reading program challenges you to read outside of your field, all over the field.”

Now seniors, Gough and Olert helped plan all of this year’s first-year events, and both consider the reading program their favorite.

“As an English major, it was fun to organize something I enjoyed so much in earlier years,” says Gough. “I felt like I was a part of creating the future for the new students.”

“And it’s great job experience in event planning, networking, organizing,” Olert adds.

Beginning to end, the Summer Common Reading program has drawn together not only freshmen, but the entire campus, as older students find themselves picking up the chosen book as well, wanting in on the hot topic of the campus. Faculty and staff are involved, too, teaching to the book or participating as discussion group leaders.

“The program asks a lot of faculty,” Pixley admits. “Yet K faculty members are always game. I’ve been asked—how do I get people to read the book and lead discussion groups? People here are willing to step out, willing to try new things.”

“We prepare the peer leaders and discussion leaders, write a lesson plan, host the guest, and do all of the often complex negotiations with agents and publishers to bring the next writer to campus,” Seuss says.

“I can tell you that very few people comprehend the work involved,” says Griffin. “In choosing the book, in negotiating with the writer to come to Kalamazoo, in organizing the visit and the sub-components of the visit, in turning around the students’ submitted questions and consolidating them for the author, in shepherding the author around. That detailed, thoughtful, exhausting work is what has made the program go.”

While the committee does prepare a lesson plan and suggested questions for the discussion group leaders, Pixley says that “everyone is free to improvise as they see fit.”

Reading contemporary books rather than classics, Pixley says, is another aspect of the program that differentiates Kalamazoo College from other institutions that have started similar programs.

“The National Association of Scholars singled us out as being subversive in our book choices,” Pixley smiles. Challenging students to think and question, however, is part of the program’s goal.

Says Seuss: “Each book lands differently, and each entering class receives it in its own way. What I love is that the reverberations continue long after the writer has left campus; students live with the book, in one way or another, for the rest of their lives. Students in my first year seminar often refer back to the book or something the author said, and I hear seniors doing the same thing. Maybe the best sign of the program’s success is when we witness students struggling to make connections, to approach and understand differences.”

“Our student body is more diverse than ever,” says Stacy Nowicki, library director at Kalamazoo College’s Upjohn Library and a member of this year’s committee. “We have students from many different areas in the United States and the world and from different socio-economic backgrounds. The Summer Common Reading book helps students learn to interact with someone different than themselves. It gives them entry to each other. This summer’s book is about the immigrant experience, and any student coming to Kalamazoo College may feel like they are immigrating to a new community. Through discussing the book, they can bring up their own issues.”

Nowicki joined the committee this year because of her involvement with the Reading Together program. Reading Together is administered by the Kalamazoo Public Library and has much in common with Kalamazoo College’s program. In both, an entire community reads the same book, joins in discussion, and meets the author.

“Success is [the] struggling to make connections, to approach and understand differences.”

“The important thing is for students to feel connected,” Nowicki says. “It’s a good way for professors and staff to get introduced to the incoming students, too. I’m guessing in that way it helps retention. And the discussion groups help students learn how to express their viewpoints and defend them while listening to the viewpoints of others.”

Griffin adds: “If you lined up all the books that have been chosen, they cover an amazing array of contemporary writers and a mighty inclusive list of perspectives and issues of the sort that we want our newest students to begin thinking about: race, economics, global politics, gender, sexuality, nationality, international issues, American issues, immigration, ‘home’ and leaving home, you name it.”

Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of the 2012 Summer Common Reading book, Once Upon a River, offers her perspective as a participating author. “It was a great honor and a thrill to have all the freshmen and many of the upper class folks read Once Upon a River. Kalamazoo College students are conscientious scholars and careful readers, and they had a lot of smart questions to ask. The world I presented in the book was very different from the world of the students, so it was interesting to see how they grappled to understand the choices my protagonist made, which were often so different from what they would have chosen. As an author it is always great fun to be surrounded by smart people who have read your book.”

Pixley smiles to recall some of the discussion around Campbell’s book. “Oh, I’m still hearing complaints about Margo, Bonnie’s character in the novel. Why did Margo do this, why did Margo choose that. But Margo had different circumstances in her life, and it was a different time. It’s wonderful how invested students can get.”

The interaction between author and students, all agree, can be one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.

“So often their first reactions to the texts have been resistant, defiant, because the committee has rightly selected challenging texts at the forefront of current fiction, and that material is often difficult, not easy reads,” says Griffin. “And then you watch them come to terms with it, chew on it, hear the author, stand in line for hours to meet the author, and suddenly—the book is theirs. I have seen an incoming class become a class over three days because of this program.”

Seuss lists favorite memories of students interacting with authors: “Chang-Rae Lee flying out of New York City and joining us just a few days after September 11, 2001. The students starting a Chimamanda Adichie Adoration Facebook page. Junot Diaz’s sass. Vaddey Ratner talking about her childhood as a captive of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the way she greeted people with the namaskara, her beauty.”

Heinritz most strongly recalls the moments “students got turned on by what they’d read or something the authors said. Often, years later they would bring up something Junot Diaz or David Finkel had said about writing when they were on campus, and it would become part of the fabric of that day’s class discussions.”

She also cites the generosity of the authors. “So many of them agree to offer a craft talk for student writers while they are on campus,” Heinritz says. “David Finkel got real with journalism students about what the profession requires and where it is headed. Bonnie Jo Campbell gave practical advice to aspiring fiction writers.” Finkel even offered to read and critique Heinritz’ writing, “which he did and was very helpful,” she says. “I consider him a friend. I know Di has also developed this kind of relationship with a couple of the authors, especially Chimamanda.”

Pixley nods. She remembers many of those moments, and more. The Summer Common Reading program is her labor of love.

“It’s a thrill,” she says. “To hear an author reading to the students, and the students are so quiet, listening so carefully, that you can hear the pages turn.”


Summer Common Reading Program Books

(1999 Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams)

2000 Richard Ford, Independence Day

2001 Chang-rae Lee, A Gesture Life

2002 Ha Jin, Waiting

2003 Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

2004 Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man

2005 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

2006 Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

2007 Edward P. Jones, The Known World

2008 Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

2009 Rachel Kushner, Telex From Cuba

2010 Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor

2011 David Finkel, The Good Soldiers

2012 Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River

2013 Vaddey Ratner, In the Shadow of the Banyan

2014 NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

Come Home

Homecoming fun in 2014, ready to be matched or topped in 2015.

One of the most special times to be a part of the action on campus is during Homecoming weekend. Some of us, like my colleagues on the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB), are fortunate to be on campus several times a year. When was the last time you came home to Kalamazoo College?

Homecoming at Kalamazoo College can mean many different things… fall colors in the Midwest, football games, the Hornet 5K run. For me, it’s about connecting with old friends, making new connections, and reconnecting with my alma mater.

“[It] is your chance to come home, to see what feels the same and to discover new connections.”

The AAEB would like to welcome you back to K every year for Homecoming. This year’s festivities occur October 23 through October 25. But it doesn’t have to be your reunion year for you to come to campus and feel the energy of a new academic year. After all, it’s likely you knew far more K students than just the members of your immediate class year! The campus is buzzing with activities of all kinds, and the city of Kalamazoo is a vibrant community.

Happenings worth your return include departmental gatherings, at which you can connect with professors and alumni who shared your major and various opportunities to see new buildings on campus or visit old haunts.

The AAEB sponsors two very special Friday evening events for alumni during Homecoming weekend. The first is a networking reception that informally gathers current students with alumni, faculty, and staff. Alumni share stories of their own career paths, listen and learn from others’ work experiences, and explore professional possibilities both local and global.

The second event is the Alumni Awards ceremony where we honor the achievements and service of fellow graduates. These special awards include recognition of a younger alumna or alumnus who has accomplished a lot in the first several years of life after K.

We welcome and encourage any and all alums to attend both of these events and the many other fun activities throughout Homecoming. That weekend is your chance to come home, to see what feels the same and to discover new connections.

A campout of families can also be an informal class reunion! The adults gathered are (l-r) Miguel Aguirre, April Riker ’97, Karen Reed ’97, Michael Ejercito, Chirst Altman ’97, Alexandra (Foley) Altman ’97, Paula Feddor Frantz ’97, Mark Frantz, Angela Pratt Geffre ’97, and Dan Geffre. And the kids are (l-r) Santiago Aguirre; Felicity, Sierra and Dante Ejercito; Maeve Altman; Max and Ryan Frantz; and Connor Geffre. The dog is Ramona Ejercito. (Photo courtesy of Michael Ejercito)

So whether your reunion is right around the corner or several years out, Homecoming 2015 will provide opportunities to stay connected with one another other and with our alma mater.

And if you aren’t able to get back to campus as often as you like, we encourage you to seek ways to connect in your local community. From regional events like Hornet Happy Hours to being a part of a career fair or recruitment event, there are ways to engage with K and your fellow alumni close to your home. The AAEB has created a menu of Alumni Bites to outline the many opportunities.

And in those interims between local and regional events and our class reunions on campus, we can always find each other and stay connected through the alumni directory, alumni Facebook pages, and occasional informal gatherings with groups of K friends.

I recently spent a weekend camping with my K roommate and several other K friends and their families (together we now total 18!). It felt like no time had passed, and our bonds with each other and our alma mater were reinforced. I know we will stay connected and see each other in between, but it makes me that much more excited for our next reunion!

If there are other ways you would like to connect with Kalamazoo College or the AAEB directly, please let us know at We’d love to hear your ideas for events at Homecoming and in your area!

Just Fight

When the stresses of the day get to be too much, Mia Henry gets into the gym and kicks. She kicks hard. She’s a kickboxer.

“I joined the gym to work out my frustrations, and I thought it was better to punch and kick a bag rather than channel them elsewhere,” says Henry. And then she smiles, her face lighting up with kindness.

Mia enjoys the brave new space of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

Henry is the executive director of Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College (ACSJL). She took the position in a little over a year ago, after Kalamazoo College conducted a national search for a leader to follow Jaime Grant. Henry’s character combines tough empathy with the ability to fight for justice, a perfect combination for a social justice leader.

“I often use the metaphor of boxing when I speak about social justice,” Henry says. “Boxing is difficult, challenging but cathartic. I couldn’t land a solid hit until I got into shape. Freedom fighting is still fighting: you need training first. You need technique and you need to know your strategy in order to achieve change.”

When a recruiter contacted Henry about the Kalamazoo College position, she was intrigued.

“So many social justice organizations are focused on a single political issue or one specific cause,” Henry says. “ACSJL is able to look at the big picture and reflect on what leadership looks like.”

Henry’s road to Kalamazoo has taken many turns, with a starting point in the Deep South.

“I was born in Florida, grew up in Tennessee and Alabama,” she says. “I moved around a lot growing up. My family is mostly in Alabama now, but when I got older, I wanted nothing more than to teach in the big city. I wanted to live in a place of diversity and teach social studies, so I sent out résumés to all the high schools in the most diverse areas of Chicago and drove up with a friend who also wanted to teach.”

Arriving in her goal city, Chicago, Henry walked into one high school after another on her list, applying for teaching jobs. She was hired as a social studies teacher at Roald Amundsen High School.

“No matter what job I’ve held since, I still think of myself as an educator,” Henry says.

The iconography of the ACJSL is a study in collaboration and equality.

Her position at ACSJL will include maintaining and augmenting the vision for the Center; developing programming and partnerships with local, national, and international organizations; raising the profile of the Center and the College nationally and internationally; and working with K faculty, staff, and students on innovative projects and practices in social justice leadership. The Center is on the very threshold of its second biennial Global Prize for Transformative Social Justice Leadership.

“I liked that here the interdependence and contexts of social justice issues are stressed and studied,” she says. “That’s rare.”

In her first months at ACSJL, Henry listened carefully to the Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo College communities. She placed herself first in the role of student, learning, absorbing, considering carefully what she has heard.

“Freedom fighting is still fighting: you need training first.”

“People here have been very open with their discomfort,” she says. “No one thinks we can solve everything. Students have said to me, ‘Mia, we’ll never get rid of racism!’ But then I tell them to think of what we do here as medicine to fight disease. There will always be disease, and we will always have to fight it.”

As a girl, Henry listened to her mother tell stories of segregated schools in the Deep South. Her mother was one of only seven African-American children attending an otherwise white school.

“My mother would show me her school yearbooks, and she could still remember, point out each photo, this child treated her well, this child did not,” says Henry. “It was from my parents that I learned the values of justice, and that revolution begins at home, by treating people well. I was fortunate to have a family willing to have those hard conversations with me and tease out ideas about how we might change the world.”

From her parents Henry learned to admire people who were kind and who lead with love, she says, even while being angry at the injustices in the world.

“It’s the injustice that makes me angry,” she says, “more than the people behind it. I believe in the human capacity for change.”

With the building that houses ACSJL being so new and unique (it is the first architecture in the world designed specifically to reflect a mission of social justice leadership), Henry has assigned to herself the mission to help the community embrace ACSJL as its own.

“I want people to understand that ACSJL belongs to them,” she says.

Although what attracted Henry to ACSJL was its generalist approach to social injustice, she acknowledges a place in her own heart for one particular cause.

“Mass incarceration,” she nods. Along with several other boards, she serves on the board of directors for Community Justice for Youth Institute in Chicago, an organization that works to develop alternatives to incarceration. The profiling, she says, the disproportionate arrests, and the treatment that people receive when incarcerated—these are the causes that move her most to work for change.

As part of her personal work for her chosen cause, Henry visited an Illinois prison and learned about abuses within the prison system, including torture.

“It’s hard to hear about these kinds of things,” she acknowledges. “We don’t want to believe this about ourselves. But it happens.”

Hearing the ugly stories, having the difficult conversations, however, are a part of what leads to positive change, she says.

“My approach to my work at Kalamazoo College comes from a place of love. I love people, all people, enough to fight for them. One person’s values don’t have to be at the expense of another’s values.”

Embracing the call for leadership is liberation, Henry says. “Here, I want to nurture leadership. My hope is that at Kalamazoo College every student, staff and faculty has the tools to apply a social justice lens to their work.  Doing so is critical for enlightened leadership and thus deeply embedded in the Kalamazoo College mission.”

The Training of a Champion
ACSJL requires a special kind of leadership. Mia Henry had the rich and varied work experience Kalamazoo College sought for its commitment to social justice leadership, and she has since proved to be the perfect fit.

•    Henry has served on the national leadership team for Black Space, an initiative of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs). SPACEs supports intergenerational groups of community leaders working for racial equity across the United States.
•    Henry was associate director of Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit in Chicago working with 50 area high schools that involves young people in the political process through action civics.
•    Henry worked as a senior consultant for youth development at the University of Chicago. She taught youth development classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was a program coordinator for City University of New York, monitoring college enrollment, student achievement, and parent outreach initiatives.
•    Henry worked with the Chicago Freedom School (CFS), an organization that provides training and education opportunities for youth and adult allies to develop leadership skills through the lens of civic action and through the study of the history of social movements and their leaders.
•    Henry founded Reclaiming South Shore for All, a grassroots group committed to institutionalizing systems that promote peace, youth leadership, and political accountability. She also owns and operates Freedom Lifted, a small business that provides civil rights tours.

Henry’s experience has provided her a tool kit of empathy and understanding as well as the hands-on experience that has honed her ability to know what works and what doesn’t. She has worked with youth and adults, helping them to approach and solve their problems, personally and academically.

Henry earned a B.S. degree in sociology and criminal justice from Rutgers University and an M.S. Ed. degree in secondary education from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Complicated Yearnings

Stetson Chapel is an architectural mix—part Colonial Revival meeting house, part Italianate tower, and part Beaux-Arts classicism with Ionic columns supporting the outside pediment and Corinthian columns in the interior. The Chapel offers a sense of order, quiet, and peace. Architectural boundaries cross there, and so do other boundaries. At its renovation and rededication in 1987, Stetson Chapel was identified as “the soul of the campus,” a place for students to ask each other important spiritual and ethical questions and to cross religious differences.

“K has helped me speak about the things I believe.”

The Office of Religion and Spiritual Life under the direction of Reverend Elizabeth (Liz) Hakken Candido ’00 encourages students to intertwine their spiritual growth with their academic, intellectual, and emotional growth. One program that helps students make those connections is Interfaith Student Leaders (ISL)—a group of K students (some 26 volunteers and five paid interns) who are particularly interested in exploring religion further and helping other students do so. Most ISLs have a religious background in a Christian tradition (Catholicism, Mormonism, and Protestantism); several bring to the program other faith traditions, including Buddhism, Bahá’í, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Pantheism, and Unitarian Universalists; a few are atheist.

“We share conversation about important topics that students want to discuss” said Candido, whose objective is to help students take ownership of the answers to their questions.

“College students are hungry for talk about God and religion,” she said, even though they may perceive religion negatively, as divisive and authoritarian. “At K, we provide ways to engage each other about faith and spirituality so that students can find a better way to be religious—in whatever way they find applicable to their lives.”

Many parents of today’s youth have left their faith traditions, which may contribute to some of their children’s difficulties approaching the spiritual. At K, 40 percent of students do not identify with any religious tradition or with just one religious tradition. Religious identity is complicated and the answers to questions of meaning and purpose are complicated, too.

“And yet such questions and complications are the very purpose of religion,” says Candido.

“Ours is a world of vibrant diversity,” says Candido. “We grow and flourish when we support one another.” Most ISLs are not seeking to become religious professionals. “We use the name ‘Interfaith Student Leader’ to reflect the diversity of religions represented as well as the work they do.”

We invite the reader to meet four of them.

Arik Mendelvitz ’15

Arik Mendelevitz ’15 earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and minors in history and theatre. His plan after graduation is to go to professional circus school in Illinois and then to “run away and join the circus.” On campus as an ISL he saw himself as a resource on Judaism.

“Education is the best way to defeat prejudice,” said Arik, “and being an ISL is a great education to do just that.”

Arik is a devout Jew who keeps kosher and served as president of the Jewish Student Organization (JSO). He has helped organize several events including this year’s campus Passover Seder meal, attended by some 50 students and administrators. Arik also coordinated the annual Community Reflection on the Holocaust.

Keeping kosher for Arik means he does not eat pork or shellfish, and he separates meat and dairy products. It’s part of what identifies his Conservative Jewish practice. “It’s not a faith question to me, but rather something ingrained that I grew up with,” he said.

One of Arik’s favorite places was the Cavern, a small, informal space located in the Chapel basement. ISLs and interns regularly meet there. Candido shares her own collection of religious books there for anyone to read.

“It’s interesting and enriching to learn about a variety of perspectives,” said Arik. “Some see religion as a ‘we-versus-them’ contention, but that’s not the way it is here.”

Honey Sunmonu ’16

Oyindamola “Honey” Sunmonu ’16 is the daughter of a Muslim father and a Christian mother. She is also a native-born Nigerian who has been in this country since she was 11 years old. She considers multiculturalism a strength, and she lives each day as a Black woman, an African, a Muslim, and a Christian.

“I come to the Cavern when I’m lost,” says Honey, who has been visiting the Cavern since her first year. “I had problems balancing the social and the spiritual.”

A friend told her about the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. She discovered (to her relief) that she didn’t have to identify with any specific religion. And she has found her service as an ISL a path that suits her.

“I aspire to be a mediator between Muslims and people ignorant about Islam,” said Honey, who finds that most people are surprised when they find out about her religion. “I love the expressions I sometimes get,” she said with a chuckle. “But I don’t like it when certain groups get a bad reputation. If I can soften someone’s heart and talk with them, maybe things can change.”

Honey also brings her mediator skills to the classroom when the subject of religion or Islam surfaces and arguments develop.

“I’m able to explain Islam and correct misconceptions about the religion.”

The call to be a mediator doesn’t mean it’s easy for Honey.

“During the early half of my life, I hid my identity as a Muslim and refused to display my religion in public. Slowly, over the years, I have accepted it.”

Part of the problem is the conflation of Islam and violence in the minds of many people, due in part to unbalanced media coverage.

“When someone asks me about Islam, I often use Christianity to explain it,” says Honey. “Without Christianity, I couldn’t understand the Quran. The Prophet Mohammed is the last prophet after Jesus, whom Muslims also consider a prophet. I read the Bible in English. What I learn about both religions is they use the same wisdom, the same God, and they come from the same place.”

Honey finds Candido particularly helpful when she feels “lonely in the middle. With Liz it’s OK for me to be Black, Muslim, Christian, and anything in between,” says Honey.

Being a Black African also presents certain identity problems for Honey because African-Americans and Nigerians come from very different cultures.

“I can’t erase the Nigerian in me,” she said. “I have Nigerian memories, language, and music in me. However, after 10 years in the USA, sometimes I’m torn.”

The notion of struggle and pain as a test is more Nigerian than American, according to Honey

“‘You’re not special,’ my father will tell me. ‘You need to go through the hard stuff sometimes. Everyone struggles.’”

“It’s a great thing to fall back on my culture and my values,” adds Honey.

Caroline Barnett ’15

Caroline Barnett ’15, a recent graduate from Prairie Village, Kansas (near Kansas City), plans to be a Presbyterian minister. She felt a call to ministry in her senior year of high school after spending “every possible free hour” with her church’s high school youth group. Over the years she has spent a lot of time with church people and discovered that she likes being with them and doing what they do, namely, helping others through a faith community. She hopes to pursue pastoral care and counseling for the elderly, which she learned about through her father’s elder care business.

“The faith journey often gets harder for older-aged adults who may be sick or who have experienced death among their families and friends,” says Caroline. “There is value in just sitting with people and experiencing their pain.”

Public speaking also attracts Caroline to the ordained ministry.

“K has helped me take my feelings and put them into words,” she says, “to speak about the things I
believe because I have to be articulate to be understood and to be understanding of listeners.”

Her interest in the relationship between religion and language has provided her opportunities as an ISL to elicit conversations about faith and spirituality, especially those regarding the meaning of life and one’s purpose in the world.

“These conversations happen on campus even though students don’t happen to think in religious terms,” she explains. “However, once you engage people, you find that many of them are actually thinking about spirituality and religion and how it affects their lives.”

For example, one important question students ask when they arrive on campus is what to keep of their parents’ values and how to build a life that reflects their own values.

“I see it everywhere,” said Caroline. “I am surrounded by people doing religious things.”

An interfaith perspective comes naturally to Caroline because her father is Jewish and her mother is Presbyterian.

“All my cousins and I grew up with Christmas and Passover celebrations without any tension,” she said.

Caroline has learned that all faiths are connected in their quest to build relationships with others, even though their practices are different.

Being an ISL also helps Caroline “get out of my head,” which is a comfortable place for this double major (religion and anthropology and sociology). She regularly joined the group at the Cavern when the ISLs met, to play music and just hang out.

“They are a fun group of people,” said Caroline who considers herself a quiet, introverted person. “I feel more connected spiritually when I’m with other people because they draw me out and remind me why I believe what I do.”

Candido, a fellow Presbyterian, has been especially influential to Caroline. “When I had something on my mind, she is always open to listening to me. She’s a calm person to be around.”

Dan Michelin ’18

Dan Michelin ’18, from Los Angeles, is a secularist and an atheist. He’s not opposed to religion, but he doesn’t believe in God. Instead, he is heavily influenced by Soto Zen Buddhism, which focuses on stretches and poses.

“Everyone is looking for fulfillment in life,” says Dan. “That’s where religion comes in. Anyone can get being good and doing good works. I focus my efforts on the earthly stuff because that’s the only thing I can experience in the here and now.”

“Nature is central to the earthly experience,” adds Dan. “Anything that affects sentience is earthly. I have a sense of empathy toward sentient beings—humans and animals.”

Dan attributes his attraction to Nature to his year off between high school and college when he lived in Nepal. And, even though God is not at the center of Dan’s spiritual experience, he can still relate to other students as an ISL.

“I lend a voice to the atheist community here,” he says. “We talk instead about secular things like how to make life on earth better for us. We’re inclusive. We talk about morality, what it is and why it’s important to be moral. We talk about how to live a happy life.”

Students can deal with things like death in secular and non-secular ways, too, he adds. Christians see death as going to Heaven. Some seculars see death as a part of life where one’s energy still stays around.

“Matter can’t be created or destroyed, according to the law of conservation,” said Dan. “It can only be moved around and changed.”

Dan’s father is an “apathetic atheist” who doesn’t care at all about religion, and his mother grew up in a Christian Scientist household, but later became a Baptist and now incorporates meditation into her practice.

Dan has been on a spiritual path most of his life, starting as a devout Christian and then giving it up because he lost a sense of meaning from it. A friend got him into Buddhism through its literature.

Dan started the Secular Spiritual Group on campus, which meets weekly to discuss various moral and ethical issues. People from all faiths attend.

“We live in a world with both religious and non-religious people,” he said. “We can all benefit from this group. Spirituality is about finding meaning. Atheists seek this, too.”

Dan loves working with Candido. “I get feedback from her when I need it,” he says. “She is very professional, but she also shows warmth and understanding. She’s just a wonderful human being.”

Letter from the AAEB President

Dear Alumni:

Some 20,000 Kalamazoo College alumni live throughout the world, and K is reigniting its commitment to connecting them with their alma mater and with each other. Whether it’s at a Hornet Happy Hour to network with fellow alums or a SWARM event to recruit future Hornets, the members of the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB) are proud to serve alongside K staff and class agents to connect alumni with these opportunities and to learn how the college can better meet alumni needs and interests. We are seeking your ideas and involvement!

AAEB President Alexandra Altman (right) pictured with Board Chair Charlotte Hall ’66 (left) and Kalamazoo College President Eileen B. Wilson Oyelaran

At K we did more in four years so we could do more in a lifetime. That phrase captures our adventures during our undergraduate years and beyond. We tend to reconnect with our friends and classmates no matter where we go after graduation because the bonds we formed at K endure. We read about the experiences of our fellow grads in the LuxEsto magazine and BeLight e-zine, and we contribute to the College financially and through our participation at reunions and regional events.

I encourage you to reflect on the importance of the experiences we shared and the education we received at Kalamazoo College, and I challenge you to find new ways to reach out and engage with the College that likely changed your life. There are Hornets around the world with whom you can connect; there are current students studying or working in your field; there are alumni moving to your city or country of residence. Please be open to helping them reach their potential. It’s quite possible that you’ll benefit just as much or more from making this new contact.

“Check out the ‘Alumni Bites’.”

In addition to the resources available on the College’s website that inform you of social events in your area and special occasions on campus, the AAEB has developed what we’re calling “Alumni Bites” to illustrate the many ways alumni can easily connect with each other and with K in five broad categories: student recruitment, career development, Guilds mentorship, social events volunteerism, and charitable contributions. Check out the Alumni Bites on the AAEB page for more details. Also, please reach out to any member of AAEB. We welcome the chance to hear your ideas and have you join us!

I invite you to read the AAEB article that appears in the fall issue of LuxEsto magazine. It highlights the results of the alumni survey conducted last year and includes more information on how the AAEB and K staff members are working to improve ways alumni can engage with each other and with the College. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at Homecoming and the Alumni Association Awards ceremony on October 17!

Alexandra Altman ’97

President, AAEB

Out of the Ashes

The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College’s first biennial Global Prize for Collaborative Social Justice Leadership (May 2013) attracted 188 entries from across the U.S. and 22 other countries. Three global prizes ($10,000) were awarded. The January issue of BeLight featured articles on two of the organizations that won awards: The Dalia Association and Language Partners. This issue features the third global prize winner: Restaurant Opportunities Center.

It was September 11, 2001, and Fekkak Mamdouh remembers having the morning off. He was to return to work that afternoon as a waiter at the Windows on the World restaurant, perched on the top floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Of course, his job was the last thing on his mind as he watched the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that day. He had been in the restaurant the night before, working a late shift. He feels lucky to be alive, but mourns the loss of 73 of his fellow workers who died. More than 350 other workers at the restaurant lost their jobs.

“They were my brothers and sisters, and they died,” says Mamdouh, a native of Morocco. “I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to honor their memory. A movement was needed.”

Advocating for better pay and working conditions for his fellow restaurant workers—the bussers, wait staff, cooks, and cleaners—was the way Mamdouh and others felt they could assure that those who were lost became memorials to the betterment of all who work in food service.

Members of Restaurant Opportunities Center accept the ACSJL Global Prize for Collaborative Social Justice Leadership.

Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) was born. And for its effort to improve wages and working conditions for restaurant workers, the organization earned one of the three $10,000 awards in the 2013 Kalamazoo College Global Prize for Collaborative Social Justice Leadership administered by the College’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

Mamdouh is one of ROC’s co-directors.

The restaurant industry, he says, is a behemoth in the United States economy (employing 10 million workers) and one of the only industries that grew during the Great Recession. It’s also home to seven of the 10 lowest paying jobs in America, including the two absolute lowest.

Restaurant servers in the U.S. have three times the poverty rate of other Americans and use food stamps at double the rate of their fellow workers across the nation. It is not uncommon, says Mamdouh, to find restaurant workers around the nation who are homeless.

The issues don’t end there, he adds. Ninety percent of workers in the industry have jobs with no paid sick days, and two-thirds admit to working while sick. Matters of race and class also abound. Workers of color earn on average $4 less than their white counterparts and are often segregated from the best paying jobs at restaurants. Many wait-staff work for much less than minimum wage, averaging about $2.13 and hour.

“It’s usually like this: ‘If you don’t like the job, if you have a problem with what’s gong on, then go home. We can replace you,’” Mamdouh says. “That’s the way a lot of owners approach things. But we have a right to a fair, equal, and dignified workplace.”

We are fighting the good fight.

In response to these challenges to fairness and equality, ROC organizes around three strategies: 1) Foster workplace justice campaigns that develop leadership skills of workers at high-profile restaurant companies to win policy changes and economic benefits; 2) Promote companies that are taking the “high road,” providing their employees with better wages and benefits than the industry standards; and 3) Support national research and policy development, that becomes the basis for local, state, and federal policy.

ROC has grown rapidly in New York City and across the country. It now counts more than 10,000 members in more than two dozen U.S. cities, and has chapters in Canada and Japan. During the next five years, they hope to count two million members in their ranks.

“This Global Prize from Kalamazoo College makes us more well-known. It increases our exposure,” Mamdouh says. “It’s going to help us a lot, and we can use it as leverage for more fundraising. But it’s more than money. It’s recognition by a wonderful organization that we are fighting the good fight.”

“We are growing leaps and bounds,” he adds, “But there are always struggles to overcome.”

In many ways, it starts with the consumer. No one would want a sick person cooking their food or a wait staff member berated and humiliated by their manager, then asked to put on a happy face, according to Mamdouh.

“Ten years ago no one cared about free-range this or organic that. Now people demand it. They can demand the same of restaurant owners, that they treat their employees with dignity.”

Restaurant Opportunities Limited has helped open restaurants under the nameplate “Colors” in New York City that is worker-owned and operated, serving as a positive, supportive learning environment for those who want to enter the restaurant industry. But the well-regarded restaurants also are destinations where customers can see how workers are supposed to be treated.

“Come down and see how it’s supposed to work,” Mamdouh says. “The food’s pretty good, too.”

Ghost Voice

You know you want to. Go ahead, do it. Just don’t get caught.

Sneak into your sister’s room while she’s out to the party, fish under her fluffy ruffled pillow—and there it is, with its tiny gold key attached by a thin orange and black ribbon. Read her diary under the bedcovers at night, using a flashlight to skim her rounded handwriting. All her secrets …

A picture of Claire Wight Payne from the scrapbook of her classmate, Lydia Buttolph ’16.

It’s a lot like that. Only these diaries are one hundred years old, they’re available online, and the girl sharing her secrets on the written page is Claire Wight, Kalamazoo College Class of 1916. She’s a student (and athlete) at K, walking the Quad with her boyfriend Ralph, tennis racket under her arm, telling him how she’s pretty darn sure that “Tuffy,” her math professor, is going to flunk her this time.

Some things change and some never do.

The diaries, nine of which may be viewed by appointment at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, are dated between 1909 and 1938. In 1909, Claire Wight is 15 years old and attends Kalamazoo Central High School. “Mamma gave me a lovely new diary,” she writes. And she writes in her diary most every single day.

“She’s at the stage of figuring out who she is, what love is, what she wants to do with her life,” says Lisa Murphy ‘98, College archivist at Upjohn Library Commons. Wight’s diary entries about her years  at K begin with 1913. Her entries for the year 1912, when she was a freshman in the fall, are missing.

September 17, 1913:

“College opens! It seemed good to see all the students back and it was regular ‘pandemonium’ with them all talking at once.  I have a very stiff program. The hardest there is and I don’t know how I will come out with it. I have 7:55 math, 9:15 german 10:15 public speaking, 11:15 history 1:30 Chemistry besides Lab work gymnasium etc. I have Prof. Williams, Prof Bacon, Prof Dagistan, Dr. Balch, Prof Smith, This P.M.  E & I went down town and got our books then came home & went over to the gymnasium & practiced tennis against the brick wall Oh I hope I can beat Miss Gregg, It was quite fun watching the Freshmen and helping them out of their dilemas [sic]. This evening I studied a while then Ralph & I went walking through town out onto East Main got some ice cream & candy then came home.”

Murphy has been in close contact with Paula Metzner, assistant director for collection and exhibit services, who has been meticulously transcribing the diaries to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum website, entry by entry, with spelling and grammar mistakes intact for authenticity. In the Kalamazoo College archives (third floor of Upjohn Library Commons) are collections of photographs, programs, notes and various mementos from Claire Wight and from her school years at K in general.

Reading these diaries is a great way to get an idea what K was like a century ago.

“Claire Wight was the daughter of a Baptist minister, Rev. Wallace Wight, who also went to K and graduated in 1892,” says Murphy. “The Baptist roots of Kalamazoo College were very strong during that time, so it makes sense that she came here. Women had few career choices back then—maybe teachers or nurses—but a minister would have thought it was important for a young woman to be educated.”

Students back then, explains Murphy, would not have declared majors and minors, but rather designated a course of studies. It appears Claire Wight studied chemistry along with Latin and German, and other general courses, including what was then known as “hygiene class.”

“Hygiene class promoted health and efficiency,” says Murphy. “It would have included gymnastics, dancing, graded physical training, and games.”

Claire Wight ’16 donated her many MIAA tennis medals to the K archives.

Wight made her mark most, however, in tennis. She won eight MIAA medals in Tennis Women’s Singles throughout her years at K, one silver and seven gold, all but one of which are in Kalamazoo College archives. She credited her father with teaching her how to play and notes elsewhere that he was “an instigator” of building the tennis courts at Kalamazoo College.

Lillian Claire Wight was born in South Dakota in 1894, but moved to Kalamazoo, where she lived on Ingleside Terrace with her parents when her father was appointed to minister at First Baptist Church and later Bethel Baptist Church.

“Women lived in the Ladies’ Hall at that time,” says Murphy, “but Claire would have lived at home since she was from Kalamazoo. The men lived at Upper Hall.”

During Wight’s years at K, Herbert Lee Stetson was president; she writes in her diary at times about her friendship with his daughter, Elizabeth, who was also a student at that time. The student body included 253 students; some 22 were women members of the senior class. A master’s program was available, but with only one graduate student attending. Two students from Egypt attended Kalamazoo College during the same years.

“Reading these diaries is a great way to get an idea what K was like a century ago,” Murphy smiles. “I can identify with some of the pressure she feels about doing well in class, her panic over exams, and how busy she is. Like Claire, I had a professor tell me that I can do better.”

In an entry dated December 6, 1913, Claire writes:

Claire often alluded to her math professor, C.B . Williams, as “Tuffy” in her diary entries.

“Well diary I’m going to College and we do have the parties and spreads and receptions and stunts that you read about and I guess I’m in my share all right but somehow it’s different from what I supposed it would be. I think the books of college stories hide the hard work of college life too much because really most of the time we’re working away at our books and recitations and then too [it] isn’t just having a banquet but we have to get busy and wash the dishes same as ever and sometimes I get so tired out that I feel like the old woman… but I love college just the same and we do have grand times.”

All in all, Claire seems to have done well in her studies, although she was not beyond playing occasional hooky. She was also apparently popular with the boys, although one in particular, Ralph Payne ’15, was most attentive and persistent. Claire wrote about his frequent attentions, as he often asked her to go walking with him, or to attend various events or parties.

“She kept writing in her diary that she had doubts about her feelings for Ralph,” Murphy concedes, “but as often as she went walking with other boys, she kept coming back to Ralph. Eventually, in July 1917, she married him, and she writes in a note later that they had a good marriage for 59 years.”

The diaries illustrate a time very different from today in terms of women’s rights and choices of lifestyle. Claire writes on February 11, 1914:

“This evening Helen and I and Mother and Gene & Mrs. Weaver went to a woman’s meeting at the 1st Baptist Church and heard Evangelist Drum speak on the subject ‘How to chose[sic] a husband.’ It was a fine address but I thought it was more of a woman’s duty than a man’s to talk of such things and while the address was helpful and good I wish a woman had given it. I’ll jot down some of the points that appealed to me. Have the home tidy when your husband returns. Always be tidily dressed and dress young and wear a bit of color. Get what you want done by your husband by indirect suggestion. Don’t tell your Mother the faults of your husband. After the lecture Mother & Helen & I stayed down town to see the new gas lighting system, chester lights, turned on. It was beautiful and a pine tree in the park was all wired with red, white and blue lights and flooded with water so it was just a mass of sparkling icy crystals when it was turned on   the display of soft and sparkling light was beautiful and wonderful.”

While writing that she worried if it was “sinful” to attend the theatre, Wight several times remarks, “but it doesn’t feel sinful.” She took roles in several plays staged at Kalamazoo College. Murphy has found her name listed on theatre programs, including playing the part of Queen Elinor in a production of “Sherwood” in 1916, staged in the woods rather than on a stage.

In an alumni survey, to the question “Who was the most significant and influential College person in your own Kalamazoo College experience?” Wight answered: Lemuel Fish Smith, a chemistry professor.  She writes of other transformative experiences, too, such as hearing Helen Keller speak, attending many concerts, and enjoying many cherished friendships with fellow students.  And pranks, too …Wight relishes writing about freshman boys who crawl through stealthily opened windows to steal ice cream from school freezers, and sophomore girls who sneak into the dorm rooms of freshmen girls to steal all of their clothes.