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Analyst and Activist

Since coming to Kalamazoo College in 2011 Lisa Brock has served a dual role. As academic director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, she helps “teachers” (which includes professors, certainly, but also all persons involved in a student’s learning experience at K) think about the ways academic content and social justice can work together. From this work will grow new courses and new programs infused with scholarly rigor and social justice principles. As a result, K students will develop and cultivate throughout their lives the critical thinking skills, the leadership acumen, and the inclination to help build a better world for all. Brock also is an associate professor of history, and her favorite class to teach focuses on Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. She has taught courses on this subject for many years, even before the fall of apartheid and Mandela’s release from Robben Island (1990). Her work in social justice and history reinforce one another. An education so infused with social justice that the learner seeks to make a better world may sound utopian. But Brock the historian, and Brock the activist, knows it is possible. BeLight is delighted to help you get to know Lisa Brock in its February 2015 “Lighten Up” interview.

What is the best song ever recorded?

I love Billie Holiday, the pain in her voice makes every song memorable, but the best ever recorded is Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

I don’t recall its title, but my mom used to read me a story about a man who dropped his glasses in black ink, put them back on, and proceeded to move about the world even though he couldn’t see. Maybe it was called “The Man With Ink Glasses.”

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

I hope to hear ‘Here are your folk.’ And there, waiting for me, would be my mom and grandparents, my sister and uncles.

What’s your favorite word?

Analysis.

What’s your least favorite word?

Illness.

What turns you on?

Social justice.

What turns you off?

Profiteering.

What sound do you love?

Children laughing.

What sound do you hate?

A person yelling at another person.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

A composer. I liked writing songs and enjoyed my music theory classes in college.

What profession would you not like to participate in?

I’d never want to be a bureaucrat buried in the bowels of a corporation.

What’s been a great moment in your liberal arts learning?

Reading people like Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon when I was an undergraduate.

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

Zora Neale Hurston, a writer during the Harlem Renaissance and author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. She also was an accomplished anthropologist, despite having her work marginalized because she was a woman. She studied with Franz Boas. Alice Walker played a role in the re-discovery of this fascinating writer and feminist hero.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

My parents married young enough to ensure a great deal of grandparent hovering, so I remember enjoying lots of love from my extended family. I took that for granted and was shocked when my first college roommate, who had a very different childhood experience than mine, once told me that she didn’t like her mother. I lost sleep over that. The other thing that surprises me is how childhood is like a snapshot, so temporal. All old photos whisper impermanence. But when we’re children we often think things will always stay the same. Maybe that’s the memory from childhood that still surprises me: that I once could have thought that way.

What is your favorite curse word?

M—– F—–

What is your favorite hobby?

I’m an avid reader and a big fan of mysteries. Lately I’ve taken up listening to mystery novels as audio books. Unfortunately I often fall asleep, and the audio continues for up to an hour, which means I’m quite lost when I resume listening.

What is your favorite comedy movie?

The British version of Death at a Funeral.

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

There are two, and both are positive. One was the campaign and election of Harold Washington as mayor of Chicago. I worked on his campaign. And the other was the culmination of the anti-apartheid campaign (I was an activist in that movement as well) with the release of Nelson Mandela on February 11, 1990. Millions of people around the world “gathered” to be part of that moment. I remember many friends came together at my house at 3 a.m. in Chicago. We were making breakfast, talking excitedly, anticipating that great hopeful moment.

Christine Hahn, Associate Professor of Art and Art History

Christine was appointed the new chair of the College Art Association’s Committee of Diversity Practices. The CAA Promotes excellence in scholarship and teaching in the history and criticism of the visual arts and in creativity and technical skill in the teaching and practices of art. It is governed by a 22-person board and has its headquarters in New York City.

Alfredo Ramon

Alfredo Ramon, who taught generations of Kalamazoo College students from 1958 to 1996 in K’s foreign study program in Madrid, Spain, passed away on January 30, 2015, at the age of 92, just days before an exhibition of his paintings opened at the Centro Cultural Nicolás Salmerón on 3 February. A professional painter, inspiring teacher, and genial lecturer, Alfredo embodied in his work and personality the history, spirit, culture, and character of Spain. He was an artist of great versatility who worked in a variety of media and subjects, from portraits to landscapes to street scenes. He also worked in diverse artistic areas such as restoration, stage and costume design, and poster painting. In the words of one of Madrid’s dailies reporting his death, he is perhaps best known for his street scenes of old Madrid which captured its soul and spirit and made of him a chronicler of the visual history of his adopted city. A master teacher, he conveyed to his Kalamazoo College and other American students the essence of Spain, past and present, through its artistic treasures. His classes in the Prado brought to life the glories of a Goya or Velasquez; a trip with him to Toledo resurrected the days of the Christian kings and El Greco. Alfredo was the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, and the list of his one-man shows dates from 1955 to 2015. His works are a part of permanent public and private collections in Spain and abroad, including Kalamazoo College, where he was well known as a visiting professor and frequent visitor. Alfredo Ramon was an esteemed colleague, a loyal and true friend of Kalamazoo College and its students. His contributions to the College and K students reach back to our first program in Madrid in 1958. In recognition of his achievements and role in the life of the College, Alfredo was awarded the degree Doctor of Fine Arts by Kalamazoo College in 1991. (Obituary by Joe Fugate)

 

Doubles

Associate Professor of Psychology Autumn Hostetter

Associate Professor of Psychology Autumn Hostetter left high school equally interested in the double entendre and the double helix. She loved literature’s exploration of the human condition, and she also loved the precision of science and the scientific method.

It didn’t take long for these seemingly separate strands to intertwine. The epiphany occurred in her freshman-year, first-semester introductory Gen Psych class. “That course revealed for me psychology as the intersection of science and literature,” says Hostetter. “It is a way to study the human condition using the reason of science.”

It wouldn’t be accurate to say she never looked back. After all, she did earn a minor in creative writing along with her major in psychology (at Berry College [Mount Berry, Georgia], a small liberal arts school of some 2,000 students who enjoy the world’s largest contiguous campus [some 27,000 acres—K, by comparison, has 1,450 students on some 66 acres] and who’ve been known to quip the school has a 5-to-1 deer-to-student ratio). As commencement approached, Autumn considered an M.F.A. (as next step to a dual career of writer/writing teacher) or a Ph.D. (as a pathway to becoming a professor of psychology).

Psychology—the double helix of science and literature—carried the day. Autumn completed her Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and began her teaching career at K shortly after. “I always wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college,” she says. Not surprising, perhaps; nor is her academic and research interests: the psychology of language and communication.

What’s the best song ever recorded?
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens.

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“The Ugly Duckling.” The idea that what you are now doesn’t determine what you will be in the future has always appealed to me.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“There are people here who will be very excited to see you.”

What’s your favorite word?
Crock-ah-doddle. My two-year-old son Oliver’s pronunciation of “crocodile.” I like his better.

What’s your least favorite word?
Tepid

What turns you on?
Sunsets

What turns you off?
Guns

What sound do you love?
Silence

What sound do you hate?
Oliver whining

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Being a writer, or something perhaps in advertising, which combines writing and psychology.

What profession would you not like to participate in?
Being on an assembly line, anything monotonous where you don’t use your mind.

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
Probably that first college psychology class, discovering that the subject carried the DNA of both literature and science. The professor, by the way, was a truly gifted teacher, one of the happiest, most optimistic persons I’ve ever encountered.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
Amelia Earhart, mostly to learn what happened.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?
When I was 10 my family took a two-week road trip west, driving from Georgia [Autumn grew up in Augusta] to Los Angeles, stopping at landmarks like the Grand Canyon. But mostly, I sat in the back seat reading Babysitter’s Club books that I’d already read.

What is your favorite curse word?
[The word] “badwords” [exclaimed with no pause between the parts]

What is your favorite hobby?
Baking. I love to make desserts.

What is your favorite comedy movie?
Earth Girls Are Easy, a film from the late 1980s starring Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, and Jim Carey. My grandfather makes a cameo appearance in one scene!

What local, regional, national, or world event affected you most?
Probably the September 11 terrorist attacks.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?
The question’s udderly ridiculous.

Abstract Thinker

I had heard two stories about Professor of Physics Jan Tobochnik, one of which turned out to be mostly true.

That one involved the surprise of college officials surrounding his arrival (let’s describe it as minimalist) at Amherst (Massachusetts) College. The 18-year-old Tobochnik had traveled from Philadelphia alone and by bus, accompanied by two large suitcases he had to schlep two blocks from the bus stop to campus. Where were his parents? “In Philadelphia,” he said with some surprise of his own. “Where else would they be?”

“Well, I don’t remember saying that,” says Tobochnik today. “But I guess my entry was a bit atypical, even for 1971.”

The second story—physics a distant second career choice behind his desire to be shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies—is completely false. “Though I did know a professor at Cornell [Tobochnik’s graduate school] who did have to choose between physics and playing in the minor leagues,” he says.

Does Tobochnik at least remain a lifelong Phillies fan? “I try hard to,” he confesses. “But this year they’re pretty bad, so I’m kind of agnostic.”

Would acuity in physics better serve the science of fielding or hitting? Tobochnik ponders a moment or two. “Probably fielding, where there would be more time (perhaps marginally more) to think about the application of physics,” he ponders. “Some physics might apply to a player’s stance in the box or nuances in the bat swing, but the ball is on you so fast.” He brightens: “There’s a surprising amount of scientific literature published on physics and baseball. I read a lot of it in the journal I edited [The American Journal of Physics].”

This is a man who loves questions, no matter how far afield (or, “from left field”) they may seem. Jan Tobochnik is BeLight’s first physicist to endure the “Lighten Up” interview.

 

What’s the best song ever recorded?

I don’t know. I’m bad with popular culture questions. I like the Beatles. Is “Let it Be” one of theirs? Let’s go with that.

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

I can’t really remember any, certainly nothing before the age of four-and-a-half. There is a story about me that I don’t recall but find interesting. In Philadelphia our house was near Route 1, a very busy 12-lane road. One day, around the age of 3, I apparently climbed from my crib and took a walk. I was found several blocks from our house at a drug store. It was lucky I didn’t try to cross Route 1.

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

I’m an atheist. I can’t answer this one.

What’s your favorite word?

I-don’t-know.

What’s your least favorite word?

Generally speaking, any word that disparages people or groups.

What turns you on?

Abstract thinking! One of the most important things I try to do at K is cultivate in students an appreciation for abstract thinking.

What turns you off?

Bigotry.

What sound do you love?

The sound of ocean waves on a shoreline.

What sound do you hate?

Fingernails on a chalkboard.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

I would like to be a politician because I think that work is so important. And yet I wouldn’t want to be a politician today because the current state of our public discourse is so ugly and polemic.

What profession would you not like to participate in?

Anything on an assembly line. It would be too repetitive.

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

At Cornell I was working on a project that had to do with a theory of melting that was developed by two renowned physicists, Kosterlitz and Thouless. I remember one day having a prolonged argument about that theory with a visitor to the department. I didn’t know who he was, but my advisor later told me it was Kosterlitz. Had I known that, we wouldn’t have had the discussion that we had.

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

Elizabeth Warren. She’s positioned to move politics in a direction in which I’d like to see it go. I would like to know what she’s thinking.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

I attended a big public junior high school in Philadelphia. More than 1,000 students in three grades. I was the first or second fastest sprinter in that school. That didn’t last into high school. But the memory still surprises me.

What is your favorite curse word?

The one I use the most is full-of-shit.

What is your favorite hobby?

I don’t think I really have one, as such. I like to read. I read about sports. I play racquetball. I play bridge. But I don’t really consider any of those hobbies.

What is your favorite comedy movie?

“A Serious Man” is a fascinating combination of hilarious and dark. I also liked “Brother Where Art Thou.”

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

The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War shaped how I think.

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

No

Richard Means ’52

Richard died on February 15, 2014. He was a beloved professor emeritus of sociology at the College who first arrived on campus as an undergraduate student in 1948, when he transferred from the University of Toledo. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. At K he won the Hodge Prize in philosophy and was president of the student body. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He and fellow K graduate, Joyce Allen, married in 1953.

Richard earned a bachelor’s degree in divinity from Colgate Rochester Divinity School (1956) and an M.A. and Ph.D. (sociology) from Cornell University (1959 and 1964, respectively). He served as a chaplain at Cornell (1956-59) and was ordained as an Associate Minster of the First Congregational Church (1957). He returned to K in 1961, where he received tenure (1964) and was promoted to full professor (1972). He retired from K in 1993, having served the College for 32 years.

Among the qualities that made him exceptional, wrote his colleague and friend, Dean of the Chapel Robert Dewey, on the occasion of Mean’s 25th service anniversary with the College, were his “command of a discipline, intellectual curiosity beyond that discipline, stimulating conversation, collegial support, a sense of humor, a broad range of interests and an impressive knowledge of each, a passionate concern for the vitality and quality of the College and for the problems confronting society, the nation, and the world.” His research and teaching interests were broad and deep and included the family, criminology, mental health institutions, the sociology of religion, race relations, alcohol and drug abuse, the environment, and social gerontology. Citing the breadth of his colleague’s intellectual interests Dean Dewey likened Richard to “a man in a conning tower rotating his periscope across the wide horizon to see and grasp what he finds there.” Richard wrote numerous journal articles on various topics in sociology and religion, and he was the author of the book The Ethical Imperative: The Value Crisis in America, which was used in college classes at Grinnell and Carleton, among others.

After he retired from K, Richard served as interim minster of the First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo. He then served as interim minster of the First Congregational Church of Coloma, Michigan.

He is survived by Joyce, his wife of 60 years, their three children, three grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.

Tom Rice, Professor of Art

Tom had a solo exhibition titled “Monuments to the Ephemeral” at the Firehouse Art center in Longmont, Colorado. The exhibit opened April 22 and ran through May 25. The exhibit comprised several large ink drawings on transparent plastic that explore ideas related to the effects of climate change on the environment. Tom wrote, “As early as the 19th century, American landscape painters of the Hudson River Valley School realized that the natural resources of the Americas were under assault by industrialization. Their work idealized the pristine landscape of the Americas in order to preserve and glorify its grandeur. My work references these paintings with a renewed alarm at the effect of climate change and the fragility of the environment. Monuments to the Ephemeral speaks to environmental concerns through the futile attempt to immortalize disappearing geological features in images that are even more fragile and ephemeral. Comprised of transparent plastic and ink, these drawings have a fairly short life span. In the gallery, they hang loosely against the wall and sway with any gentle breeze caused by the movement of our human bodies. To personalize the drawings, each piece also includes an excerpt from a love letter. Like the environment, love is ephemeral and can be nurtured or easily destroyed. Both subjects confront issues associated with loss.”

Alice Lynette (Spath) Blanchard

Alice, who went by her middle name of Lynette, died on March 13, 2014. She taught flute for 30 years at Kalamazoo College. At an early age, she became a flutist with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra, rapidly advancing to first chair. She graduated from the School of Music at the University of Michigan in 1943. During her college summers she taught flute at the renowned Interlochen Music Camp. In 1943 she married Raywood Helmer Blanchard, who after his military service as a pilot in the Army Air Corps, enjoyed a career as an international patent attorney. Lynette served as principle flutist with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra for 25 years. When the couple retired to McAllen, Texas, she was the first chair flutist and president of the McAllen Town Band. She was an avid golfer and active in the Methodist Church. You could find her playing the piano for her Sunday school class on any Sunday when she wasn’t fishing with her son in Rockport, Texas.

Gail Griffin, Professor Emerita of English

Gail joined two other Kalamazoo writers in a recent issue of the journal Quarter Past Eight. It was the first time that longtime colleagues and fellow writers Gail and Di Seuss ’78 appeared in print together. Di is Writer-in-Residence and a professor in the English department. The two colleagues were joined in print by Hadley Moore ’99, a short story of whose appeared in that issue of the journal. Di’s piece won the journal’s Short Prose Contest. Gail’s two pieces were both finalists.

In other “English” news, Gail may have retired, but she keeps a close eye on K graduates in the arts. She sent us the following note:

Lisa Kron ’83 is almost sure to win the Tony Award for the book associated with the Broadway hit Fun Home, and possibly share the Tony for lyrics as well. Joe Tracz ’04 was just nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award (off-Broadway) for the musical The Lightning Thief. David France ’81, of course, received an Oscar nomination for his documentary film How to Survive a Plague, and it’s being turned into a series on F/X. It’s interesting to me that Lisa was a theatre arts major, Joe an English major, and David a political science major. And then there’s Jordan Klepper ’01 (a math major!) of The Daily Show fame and Steven Yeun ’05 (psychology) who plays Glen on the The Walking Dead. What a crop of media stars from K! And the breadth of their liberal arts journeys is incredible.”