Sally is the new head of the Kazoo School, a preschool through 8th grade private school in Kalamazoo. She wrote a blog post in the autumn that touched on the subjects of family, home, reunions, and the magic of entering an elementary school as an adult: “Because I work in one every day, I often forget what a magical experience it is to enter an elementary school as an adult. We are instantly transported to an earlier time–hopefully a happy time–of pencil shavings and kickball, backpacks and circle gatherings.” The post also says some very nice things about the pull of one’s alma mater. Sally graduated with bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she studied abroad in Caceres, Spain. Sally’s husband, Courtney Read, graduated as a member of the class of 2006. He majored in history and studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany.
Ladislav Hanka ’75 has a mind that buzzes with constant activity, always attracted to the sweetness of an idea with a twist. His degree is in biology, and his love of the natural world is evident in his art. His etchings, prints, and drawings illustrate the intricacies and mystery of nature: craggy trees, elegant fish, round-bellied frogs, fierce raptors and delicate song birds, dank mushrooms, the occasional napping old dog.
So the idea of combining living bees and his etchings seemed, well, natural. He saw it as collaboration.
Some five years ago, a friend had given him a box of bees.
“There was a little bit of sugar water in there, something like mosquito netting, and the bees were climbing around inside the box,” Hanka says. “And I thought, so cute! Like having a puppy!” He laughs. “Suddenly, I was a parent. It was on that level of forethought that I became a beekeeper.”
Where the idea came from to place his etchings inside the beehives, among the living bees, Hanka can’t say.
“Who knows where ideas come from,” he shrugs. “You wake up some night, and there it is. It seems such a simple idea, too, but I’d never seen anyone do it. So I put the etching in after soaking the paper in hot beeswax, brushing it on, and the bees seem to like that paper. Typically, they start on the chunks of old, recycled beeswax and avoid the lines of the etching. Perhaps it’s the flavor? Or the waxy aromatic paper? Otherwise they tend to chew up and destroy any foreign substance intruding on their hives. Then again, they may just be critics.” Hanka grins.
Standing in his studio, a building he constructed where the garage once stood at his residence in Kalamazoo, just a few blocks from Kalamazoo College, he leans in close to take a look at his etchings. He has them lined up in a row on a small ledge along the end wall. The etchings closely match what he exhibited in ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
ArtPrize is an annual art competition judged both by popular vote and a jury. This past summer more than 1,500 artists from across the world exhibited their work in and around downtown Grand Rapids. Hanka’s panoramic etching in ArtPrize 2011 won the Curator’s Choice award and was purchased by the Grand Rapids Art Museum for its permanent collection.
Hanka’s 2014 ArtPrize entry, “Great Wall of Bees: Intelligence of the Beehive,” is his third since the competition’s inception. Contained inside a glass case along the length of a wall just inside the entrance of the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), live bees buzzed and danced and chewed over three rows of Hanka’s etchings—detailed images of toads, salmon, trees, insects, birds—building honeycomb along the curves of his lines, indeed in surprising collaboration.
Great Wall of Bees was collaborative art and environmental message. In a description of his work on the ArtPrize website, he wrote:
“The additions bees make to the etchings are as inevitably elegant as the gently curving veils of honeycomb you find hanging from the domed ceilings within a bee tree. There is an undeniable intelligence at work in a beehive. You learn to respect that and care about these highly evolved creatures, which brings me inescapably around to bees being in trouble—not just here but worldwide.
“The cause of bee die-offs is hardly a mystery. It’s much like the growth in cancer rates. No single factor causes it. The crisis is due to a summation of assaults on the organism, until it’s all too much. Bees face a gauntlet of toxins, habitat loss, electromagnetic pollution, exotic diseases and imported parasites. …”
Hanka’s living exhibit drew a great deal of attention. He estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 persons viewed the Great Wall of Bees. His work was short-listed in the top 25 in both popular and juried categories for three-dimensional entries.
“For the three weeks of the exhibit, I was the bee-man,” says Hanka. “I heard people talking about the bees in cafes and on the street. People still come to talk to me about the artwork and the bees, even though the show is over.”
It was profoundly gratifying, he says, to interact with the public coming to see his art and to watch the bees build their honeycomb around it. Bees crawled along the glass where children pressed their noses for a closer look. Some expressed concern over dying insects, and it gave Hanka a chance to explain something about the four-week life cycle of a bee and the difference between natural daily die-offs versus the massive losses bees currently suffer in beehives everywhere.
He dips a bare hand into one of his hives, set in a circle beside his house, and the bees emerge, almost lazily, spinning a hum of circles around Hanka’s head and landing on him. They swarm over his bare hands and land in his beard.
“They are not aggressive with me,” Hanka says. “Frame of mind is important. They respond much like any animal would. You have to be sensitive to their mood and show some respect..”
The bees do sting him occasionally, he says, especially when stressed, but Hanka shrugs it off. All a part of the art and all part of the natural order of things. As for the way the insects weave their intricate combs along his drawings, Hanka shrugs about that, too.
“I try to be realistic about that, how much intelligence is in the bee,” he says. “There is a spirit. I have no explanation for some of it.”
Hanka considers ArtPrize carefully, now that the citywide exhibit is done, his wall of bees packed up and brought back to the hive again. During subsequent weeks he contemplated the moment of fame.
“The space is clean and no evidence remains of the effort invested,” he says. “Honey gathering and art are both among the first recorded events in the mists of human history. My work invited people to partake of genuine, unfalsified sacraments. I saw they were truly moved by the beauty they encountered and by their concern for the fate of bees.”
Landing on the competition’s short lists gave him a few seductive moments of contemplating the financial prize (ArtPrize awards two grand prizes worth $400,000, and eight category awards worth $160,000). Those moments quickly evaporated in the final stages of the competition.
“Of course, there was a build-up and then disappointment,” Hanka nods. “Though we may ardently desire the accolades and money these votes confer, it isn’t why we make art.”
What remains, Hanka says, is the message he wanted to deliver: the interaction he had with his audience and his art, the near-mystical experience he had with another tiny life form. He acknowledges the influences that have remained with him from his years at Kalamazoo College, where he studied with Marcia Wood, Johannes Von Gumppenberg, Peter Jogo, and Bernard Palchick (all former professors in the art department). Equally, in biology, he credits Professors Paul Olexia, David Evans, and Fred Cichocki.
“I still keep in contact with many of them, and I value their influence in my life,” Hanka says. Ideas, he believes, are born in the buzz of many minds working at their purpose; they are built one upon another.
Hanka walks between the aisles of his beehives in the same way he walks between the tables in his studio. Both are covered with pieces of his work. He leans forward to study a detail, and then he leans back to contemplate the whole.
He is done with this particular project, this artistic collaboration with the bees that carried over years. Now, the bees will return to what they do best: making honey. The artist will let his mind spin and dream and buzz a little, until it lands on his next big idea.
A few blocks down the hill from the Kalamazoo College campus, in an upstairs office, the headquarters of International Child Care (ICC) is located. ICC is a Christian health development organization that has been providing health services for children and families in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for half a century. Since 2012, it has sponsored a six-week summer internship for K students, and now it employs K alumna Suzanne Curtiss ’14 as its communications director. All describe the time they spent at ICC as life-changing.
Three of the interns, Roxann Lawrence ’14, Amy Jimenez ’14, and Zoe Beaudry ’14, spent their six weeks in Haiti; Avery Allman ’16 and Curtiss worked in the Kalamazoo office. From ICC, each says, they learned a new appreciation of the difficulties inherent in providing aid to severely challenged nations, as well as a new respect for the spirit, resilience, and creativity of the people who live in those countries. They also saw the principles of social justice and sustainability at work.
Lawrence and Jimenez interned together during the summer of 2012. Their experiences were based at Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Grace, ICC’s flagship program, has been providing inpatient and outpatient care for Haitian children and families since 1967. Although its main inpatient building was destroyed in the earthquake of 2010, Grace continues to serve about 300 inpatients a year and more than 400 outpatients per day.
From the hospital Lawrence and Jimenez moved out into the communities, many of them still just tent cities since the quake, helping health teams that weighed babies, visited patients, and educated families about birth control, nutrition, and sanitation. The two also gave tours to visiting groups from North America and prepared a pre-orientation package for new visitors.
Lawrence is a native of Westmoreland, Jamaica, and she majored in anthropology/sociology and theatre arts. When she returned to Michigan from Haiti, she said, “Without a doubt, this has been the best summer of my life.”
Jimenez, an anthropology/sociology major from Compton, California, concurs. During her internship, she helped develop a program for children with disabilities. Because the cultures of Haiti and the Dominican Republic equate disability with shame, most of these children are hidden away by their families. The first challenge of ICC’s health care teams, therefore, is to find them; then they work with parents, teaching them to help their children maximize their functioning. Jimenez went to the tiny home of a single mother of a child who couldn’t use his hands. “He was such a happy child. He ate and wrote using his feet.” To Jimenez, the boy represented the spirit of the Haitian people. “They have experienced so many bad things, but they are a resilient people.” She also learned how important it is to do research when you’re trying to help, and “not to just impose your own style on other cultures.”
Zoe Beaudry spent her ICC internship in Haiti in 2013. The East Lansing (Mich.) native earned her K degree in studio art with a minor in sociology/anthropology, Beaudry is from East Lansing, Michigan. She job shadowed a sociologist at Grace, learning about his research into the mental health of people in Port-au-Prince. She also conducted art workshops for children at the hospital, compiling their drawings into a book titled “Waiting for Grace.”
Beaudry said, “Living in Port-au-Prince felt like a whirlwind of confusion and culture clash.” Like many people visiting Haiti for the first time, she found, “it was a new experience feeling so different from the rest of the people around me. It forced me to confront feelings of internalized racism and prejudice – which was a very valuable experience and an eye-opener.” She found that meeting Christian missionaries at the guest house where she stayed in Port-au-Prince, “led me to a strong interest in Christianity and religion in general.”
Both Allman and Curtiss did their ICC internships in Kalamazoo. A double major (business and Spanish language and literature), Allman used her internship to focus on marketing and development; she helped with grant writing, created marketing plans, wrote a history of ICC, and publicized its annual cycling fundraising event. She says that the experience had “an incredibly positive effect on me.”
Allman also believes that staying in Kalamazoo for those six summer weeks was a highlight. A native of Northville, Michigan, she took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Kalamazoo community and its nonprofit services.
A native of Saginaw, Michigan, Curtiss majored in English at K and became interested in public relations during her sophomore year. As a student, she worked in K’s Office of College Communication. Her own internship was structured to give her experiences in writing and event promotion. These experiences taught her how cultural differences can make it difficult to work internationally, she said, but they also greatly broadened her horizons. She learned firsthand how to generate publicity on a budget, as well as the ins-and-outs of working with local media.
She started her new job with ICC just one week after graduating from K, and she is now responsible for educating and engaging the public about the organization. Her job description includes not only public and media relations, but also planning encounter trips for North American groups who want to see ICC projects in the Caribbean.
Curtiss took her first trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic a month after she started her new job. “You can’t begin to comprehend the level of need until you see it,” she said. “The people are so kind and joyful and have a strong sense of national pride.” She also was struck by the passion of the ICC staff in both countries (all in-country positions are staffed by nationals): “They love the work they do.”
Keith Mumma has been associated with ICC since 1989. After spending several years volunteering, he became a board member and, in 2005, he was named the U.S. national director. Mumma still does some professional photography (his previous career), with Kalamazoo College as one of his clients. It was this connection that led Mumma to develop the ICC internship position in 2012. It’s been a good match, he said. “Both organizations have the same philosophy on life.”
ICC offers interns a wide variety of experiences, ranging from social justice to economics, pre-med, anthropology, marketing , as well as French (the official language of Haiti) and Spanish (spoken in the Dominican Republic). Mumma says that K interns have been an important part of ICC staffing. “They’ve all been self-starters,” he says, “and we need people who are independent workers.” Several of the students had already studied abroad by the time they came to ICC, and the international experience they brought with them was invaluable.
Roxann Lawrence summarized her ICC internship. It helped her, she said, “to see social justice working through an international perspective, reinforcing the importance of community participatory service to community development and change.” Her experiences, she concluded, “will continue to have a positive impact on me as I passionately pursue a life dedicated to serving and working with marginalized groups.”
Suzanne Curtiss added, “The spirit of ICC flows into the integrity of K.”
Seniors Allison Kennedy and Jasmine An found their calling in a one-of-a-kind community in Kalamazoo, a group of persons they were not expecting to encounter during college: inmates in the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI).
Their path to that community began their first year, when both started working at Kalamazoo College’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). Through CCE the pair revitalized a writing workshop that had been previously created for MPRI clients. As seniors, Kennedy and An serve as Civic Engagement Scholars for the program, a leadership position in the CCE.
Nowadays, on Monday evenings, no matter how fatigued from classes and work, Kennedy and An make their way to their writing workshop. Three hours later, they always emerge with a newfound energy.
When they left Ann Arbor and came to K, both women wanted to connect with a community that was outside of the so-called “K Bubble.” The MPRI provided that, and the women soon discovered that, in this workshop, authenticity was paramount. If they were not “real” with their participants, then the participants were not “real” with them, and the sense of community was false. Their work at MPRI was their main contact with the city of Kalamazoo, and both say the experience helped sustain their writing and made their college lives more impactful.
They’ve molded the program into an entirely new workshop, and they have created and archived a curriculum for review and revision by future CCE leaders of MPRI writing workshops, a hedge against the program going dormant again. The curriculum includes 40 workshop sessions, tailored to the men’s and women’s groups, with certain template poems and subjects. Participants write and then share their own work on an open microphone.
The goal of the workshops is for participants to explore or build an identity through voice and expression. The prison system can be dehumanizing, and Kennedy and An create a secure place where inmates can re-recognize themselves as people, a place to play and a place to know names and not just inmate numbers.
Their biggest challenge has been the system itself, which makes people seem insignificant and moves them from place to place. Kennedy and An seek to build a community that is unrelated to the prison. The new identities that are formed become the foundation of the ‘new’ community.
“Most people always share what they wrote during the session” said Kennedy. “You can feel the powerful sense of community, they really encourage each other to share and show support.”
“We hear more intimate stories from the members of MPRI than we would at K. But MPRI is a place where no one wants to be or stay,” said An.
Kennedy and An not only work in the Center for Civic Engagement, they also serve as student fellows in the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. The opportunities complement one another. Through the social justice center, Kennedy and An attend conferences and rallies relevant to their work at MPRI. They recently went to a workshop in downtown Kalamazoo led by Michigan United, a statewide organization committed to shifting the balance of power and cultivating the leadership of people directly affected by injustice. At the workshop, they were able to speak to a prison abolitionist. They discovered that the challenges they face in their project are shared by others.
The social justice center has created a space for the two to work and play with ideas and has provided very useful tools and knowledge. Kennedy said, “I have to credit my boldness to the social justice center.”
“It expanded our awareness of regional and national efforts similar to that which we are doing locally through the Center for Civic Engagement,” said An. “The social justice center sets high expectations for its student fellows, as high as the CCE’s expectations for its civic engagement scholars.”
The theme of the social justice center this academic year is “Building Justice,” and the theme’s emphasis is on student outreach into the community fits well with the duo’s CCE work.
Kennedy and An are collaborating with Michigan United to apply for a grant that would support their work at MPRI. Through MPRI they became invested in the Kalamazoo community and decided that they should continue to work in the city after graduation. “We recognize that creative writing cannot change the world, but the self-esteem, self-awareness, and empathy it can build in individuals is important if communities are going to come together to advocate for policy changes,” said An. If the women get the grant they would like to create narrative writing and leadership workshops, which would take place over the summer.
During their workshops they came to recognize the humanity of the inmates, and they would like to put the best workshop writers into leadership positions, extending the power of powerful voices.
The mission statement that Kennedy and An created for their workshop reads: “By magnifying voice through creative writing workshops and performances we hope to empower individuals to build identities that transcend the label of ‘formerly incarcerated.’ By bringing our most authentic selves to workshops we hope to provide a space for creative self-expression and build community around honest story telling.”
Said Kennedy: “We are committed to help contribute in Kalamazoo after graduation. When you leave your hometown you can experience your own sense of ‘placelessness,’” she added, “but you can change that feeling when you place yourself into and help your new community.” Kennedy and An are awed by the city and its opportunities.
“A lot of liberal arts students move to a big city after graduation,” said An. “We don’t want to do that. We want to thrive, and we want to thrive here.”
Kennedy and An graduate this June. Kennedy’s majors are English and studio art. An’s degree will be in anthropology and sociology and English.
When Associate Professor of Religion and History Jeffrey Haus came to Kalamazoo College nearly a decade ago, the Jewish Studies program was almost non-existent.
With just a handful of classes that focused on Jewish faith, culture, and history, Haus got to work building a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary curriculum from the ground up. Today, he directs a Jewish Studies program that boasts 14 classes, ranging from beginning and intermediate Hebrew language courses to “Women in Judaism” to the “American Jewish Experience.”
“I’d like to say it’s all been my doing,” jokes Haus, who came to K from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “But you can’t start a program if nobody cares. The College made a commitment to support the program; the administration made a commitment, too. There’s an openness on the campus to Jewish students.
“It’s indicative of how K has changed over years and become more diverse. The Jewish Studies program is part of that change for the better.”
It’s hard to pin-down exactly how many Jewish students there are at K, Haus says. The College does not ask students their religious affiliation and doesn’t keep track of such information. But his best estimate puts the number somewhere between 100 and 150 students.
It’s a demographic that has more opportunities than ever before on campus to celebrate their faith, engage with other Jewish students, and feel a sense of inclusiveness.
“I have heard from Jewish alumni from the ’70s and ’80s who said when they were students here, they didn’t feel out of place, but there was no real organized Jewish life.” says Haus. “It’s different when you know you have a critical mass of Jewish students to support one another and create some cohesion.”
During the 2013-14 academic year, six students (Jewish and non-Jewish) signed up for the Jewish Studies concentration. As the program continues to grow, its deepening reach bodes well for the College in many ways. In addition to increasing awareness of and appreciation for the Jewish history and traditions, the concentration’s courses provide an arena for discussing issues of identity, power, and social justice.
“Jewish Studies,” says Haus, can therefore “serve as a nexus where K students can connect different parts of a liberal arts education. Studying Jewish history and religion, they can apply lessons learned from other subjects.”
In addition, the College’s curricular emphasis on social justice increases the relevance of Jewish Studies courses. “Social justice, human rights, and the relationships between majorities and minorities are central themes in Jewish history, religion, and culture,” Haus says. “Jewish communities the world over have always been committed to caring for the less fortunate. The history of Jews is therefore a history of extraordinary communal creativity in areas such as education, economics, and charity.”
Currently, there are two study abroad sites in Israel for K students—one at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the other at the Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, located in the Negev, a starkly beautiful desert region in the south of the nation. Both sites have their advantages, Haus says, but the Be’er Sheva site might provide a bit more authentic experience—and a better deal.
“Jerusalem is where the action is, but it’s also more expensive, and there are more limits when it comes to course offerings,” says Haus. “There are also many more Anglophones in Jerusalem, and you can get by just speaking English. In Be’er Sheva, you have a little more diverse course offerings and it’s a bit more cost effective. There are also more chances to use and learn Hebrew and hang out with Israelis. You can get by with English, but you need to use Hebrew.
“I think that no matter how many Jews there are on campus, there’s never been a better time to be a Jewish student at K,” adds Haus. “Between the strong support from the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, strong support from the administration, and growing number of Jewish activities on campus, as well as this program, it’s leaps and bounds better than what was seen here decades ago. It’s great to have that in a liberal arts setting.”
Jewish students looking for a sense of belonging have traditionally become a part of the Jewish Student Organization, which is open to Jewish and non-Jewish students and has been on campus for decades.
Claire De Witt ’14 is deeply rooted in K’s Jewish student culture and community. The East Lansing native and double major (history and religion with a concentration in Jewish Studies) is the president of the JSO.
About 10 to 15 students are part of the JSO each year, De Witt says, and they are involved with organizing campus-wide events for Jewish and non-Jewish students, faculty, and staff. Many events center around Jewish holidays, when traditional meals are prepared, such as baking hamentashen for Purim. Other activities include building a sukkah on campus for Sukkot and donating trees to Israel for Tu Bishvat.
The biggest event the JSO organizes is a Passover Seder, with a full dinner and service put on by student members. About 60 K community members annually attend the Seder, De Witt says, a time when JSO members can educate other College members about the Jewish faith.
“I enjoy JSO because of the community I am able to cultivate through our events and weekly meetings,” says De Witt. “We are a close-knit group that enjoys movie nights and cooking events together throughout the year. As a Jewish student I truly appreciate having a safe space to gather, celebrate, and share the cultural heritage with which I so strongly identify.”
JSO isn’t the only group that has become a support network for students of the faith.
“Even six years ago, you didn’t have an option about what kind of Jewish student you wanted to be on campus. Today we have Jews from many different traditions,” says K Chaplain and Director of Religious Life Elizabeth Hakken Candido ’00. “There is more diversity among Jews. JSO used to be the primary vehicle for support, and in the past there was a feeling that if you were Jewish, you needed to be involved with JSO. There is enough room now to not have to be in JSO, if you don’t want to, and still feel supported.”
Madeleine Weisner and Jennifer Tarnoff feel that sense of belonging. The two seniors will graduate in June and have seen the campus become more inclusive and supportive of those who share their faith.
Several days a week, you can find Weisner, from Minneapolis, and Tarnoff, from Chicago, in the basement of Stetson Chapel in a cozy, albeit cramped, space called “The Cavern.” It’s a safe spot for sharing stories, hanging out and sampling free cookies and tea, or picking up “George,” the Cavern’s communal acoustic guitar. Although not tied to any particular religious tradition, there is an element of faith that permeates the space.
Currently, there are eight Jewish student chaplains, the most ever, Hakken Candido says. Student chaplains are the primary volunteers who help organize activities for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Haus recalls that when he arrived at the College there were no Jewish students in those roles.
Tarnoff is a student chaplain, while Weisner works a paying job as a chapel intern.
“My dad wanted me to look at big state schools that had Hillels (a well-known Jewish campus organization),” Tarnoff says. “But I wanted to find a school that could continue the community feeling I had growing up Jewish. There were many other things that trumped going to a big school. There’s a lot of Jews at K. There’s definitely a community here.”
All too often, the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur occurs during orientation and move-in week. Although there is not an official College policy for them to do so, many professors and teaching staff will let Jewish students out of classes to attend services if they wish to, Hakken Candido says, and her office works with JSO to provide free rides to the synagogue of their choice. There are two synagogues in Kalamazoo—the Congregation of Moses, affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Temple B’nai Israel, a Reform temple. Similar efforts are made for Rosh Hashanah, which also takes place in the early part of fall term.
The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life also hosts a “Break the Fast” dinner after Yom Kippur for new and returning Jewish students. The event is a great opportunity for freshman Jewish students to meet their older counterparts on campus, develop connections, and find out about Jewish life at K right at the beginning of the year.
“I didn’t grow up perhaps as religious as Jennifer. I didn’t really seek it out,” Weisner says. “But as my college life went on, I looked into my faith more. Having the college support me meant that I had room to grow in my own spirituality.”