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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.

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.

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.

Dennis Frost

Dennis is the Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences at Kalamazoo College. His article “Sporting Disability: Official Representations of the Disabled Body at Tokyo’s 1964 Paralympics” was recently published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Sport and Social Science.

Babette (Sellhausen) Trader, Retired Dean of Academic Advising

Babette died on May 12, 2014, in Sarasota, Fla. She served nearly 20 years at Kalamazoo College in various positions in the department of student affairs, including dean of students and dean of academic advising.  She received her B.A. from the University of Maryland and her master’s degree from Indiana University. In addition to her work with students at K, Babette served at two other colleges: Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (Lynchburg, Va.) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Mich.). In 2002, she received the Weimer K. Hicks Award from Kalamazoo College for distinguished service. Her professional affiliations were a source of great pride. She was a member of Alpha Xi Delta, a fraternity devoted to education for women, and received the Order of the Pearl award for 60 years of membership in the fraternity. Other professional affiliations included president of the State of Michigan Association of Women Deans, Administrators and Counselors; the Michigan Student Personnel and Guidance Association; and Delta Kappa Gamma. She was a former member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. On April 19, 1949, she married Robert B. Trader. After their successful careers in Kalamazoo, they retired to Hilton Head, S.C., and then to Sarasota. Babette loved to play tennis, mahjong, and bridge. She was an avid reader and volunteer. She was preceded in death Robert; at the time of his death, they had been married 54 years. Babette is survived by her daughters, Christine Burris and Diane Trader, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

The Snack That’s a Quality Meal

Andy Mozina at the WMUK 102.1 FM radio station, Kalamazoo’s NPR affiliate, talking on air about his new story collection for the Arts and More program.

It begins with a lie. A good one. The author, after all, is an expert liar. He disarms you for only a moment when he admits it, his expression unchanged.

Andy Mozina, an English professor at Kalamazoo College since 1999 and author of the new story collection, Quality Snacks (Wayne State University Press, May 2014), makes his admission, or confession, on air in a recent interview for the Arts and More program at the WMUK radio station, Kalamazoo’s NPR affiliate. Yes, he lies, he says.

As do all fiction writers, and Mozina is fast gaining notoriety as such. Quality Snacks is Mozina’s second story collection. His first, The Women Were Leaving the Men, also published by Wayne State University Press (2007), won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a finalist for the Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writer. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Tin House, Ecotone, Fence, The Southern Review, and The Missouri Review, and has received special citations in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the Midwest. His critical work, Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice, was published by Routledge in 2001.

On the morning of his radio interview Mozina enters the studio breathless. He abandoned his car, he says, realizing that he was running late. The car was beached like a whale on the grass, he says, with hazard lights blinking and doors swinging open as he tore up the campus in his race to the studio.

Really? Not quite. As it turns out, Mozina’s car is parked in its parking spot, squared between the yellow lines, doors locked, lights off, engine cool.

Mozina grins, just a little. This is how he tells stories, building on near nothing, embellishing, adding twists and surprises and horseshoe turns on every page. He says he often begins his story idea with the twist, then builds the story around it.

Quality Snacks is a collection of 15 stories, each one with Mozina’s signature sense of wry humor. The stories, for the most part, are built around the efforts of middle-aged men struggling with relationship issues.

Santa Claus as a baseball player may not qualify as middle-aged in the final story, “No Joy in Santa’s Village,” but he nevertheless struggles with deteriorating relationships with his elves, who have come to resent him for what they consider Santa’s shortcomings. In fact, the elves in the dugout are showing a dark side as they clamor for Santa flesh in retribution for those long winter nights.

“His dugout was filled with elves. Some never moved, some never sat still—whittling a piece of wood into a bat, whittling the bat into baseballs, whittling the baseballs into tiny bats, which were whittled into still tinier baseballs. Some were incontinent, some respired entirely through their pores, like plants. Some rooted for Santa, some cast spells against him. At each game they created a locked-ward atmosphere in the dugout. Last year, one or another of the elves would occasionally streak onto the field in the middle of a game, tear up a piece of turf, and retreat toward the bench, gibbering hysterically, holding the turf aloft.” (Page 184, “No Joy in Santa’s Village”)

As for Doritos, a popular snack by Frito-Lay, Mozina says he once had an addiction for the chips, but, happily, has been able to conquer it. His title story, “Quality Snacks,” is a story of a team of Frito-Lay employees brainstorming new and vitamin-fortified flavors for the snack (burrito, chicken quesadilla, enchilada, refried beans), perhaps even marketing them as a main meal rather than just a snack.

Mozina won’t admit to a fear of dogs, but his opening story, “Dogs I Have Known,” begs to differ. He’s convincing. In one mini-story after another, the narrator describes dogs that have made an appearance in his life, none truly vicious, yet Mozina manages to make even the nicest pup at least a little unnerving with toothy potential.

The banker and the college professor meet over sandwich wraps and keep on meeting into what warms and then sizzles into “My Nonsexual Affair: A Tale of Strong and Unusual Feelings.” Lines are not exactly crossed but toed and danced upon with increasing insistence, and Mozina manages his signature effect on the reader once again.

That effect: to make us see ourselves at our nerdiest, geekiest, weakest, most vulnerable and so also most human. Even as we wince and sigh, glad that’s not me…we have to admit, some of it is. The silly human condition, the offbeat element of truth that is stranger than fiction, unless it’s Mozina’s fiction.

Earth Words

“. . . we go to poetry … so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”  – Christian Wiman, poet

Gabriella Donofrio ’13 (left) and Alice Bowe ’13 sort and plant lettuces at Harvest of Joy Farm in Shelbyville, MI.

Amy Newday plants seeds in soil (she runs her own farm), and she plants seeds in students (she directs K’s Writing Center and teaches classes in the English department). Some seeds grow green crops. Others grow green poetry.

Newday recently completed a winter term course called “Ecopoetry,” and is currently teaching a spring term senior Capstone class called “CSA (community-supported agriculture) and Sustainability.” The two courses are an integral part of Kalamazoo College’s ongoing creation of a Center for Environmental Stewardship, teaching students about the impact of human life on their world.

“I feel a strong call to be of service to the earth and the non-human beings we share it with,” says Newday. “As I get older and get to know myself better and as our ecological crises worsen, this call becomes stronger. What I was curious to explore with my students in the ecopoetry course was—what does poetry have to do with ecological crises? Can poetry be a vehicle for transforming our relationships with the ecosystems in which we dwell?”

A farmer and a poet, Newday grew up on dairy farm in Shelbyville, Michigan. Her “Ecopoetry” course drew thirteen students, all of whom participated in a reading on campus to draw their class to a close. Each student read a poem from the textbook that had especially moved or inspired them.

Emily Sklar ’15 was one of those students, a biology major with an interest in ecological issues. “I love biology, although I’m not quite sure yet what I will do with it,” Sklar says. “I also love being outdoors, and I’m concerned about the environment, so I’ve been wondering how to combine all that. Science comes short on the ethical and moral aspect of ecological issues, so that’s why I took the poetry course. Poetry gives me another way to understand what’s around me, and the course has given me a blend of language that builds collaboration between scientists and poets.”

“Ecopoetry” is a relatively new term, if not quite a genre in its own right, Newday explains. “Writing about daffodils is no longer enough. Critics beat up poets like Mary Oliver for being what they call a ‘nature poet,’ writing about birds and trees. Writing about birds and trees is important, but ecopoetry includes the bulldozer that knocks the tree down and destroys the bird.”

Poetry can help us imagine possibilities … possible solutions to ecological crises.

Three main groupings of poetry compose the new genre, Newday says. As defined by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura Gray-Street, the editors Newday’s class textbook, The Ecopoetry Anthology, poetry that explores nature and the meaning of life falls into the first group. A second group includes environmental poetry with a more political slant that may address social justice issues and is often related to specific events. The third group includes poetry about ecology, often in more experimental forms.

“In this course we explored how the language of poetry has shaped and reflected changing perceptions of nature, ecology, and humanity over the past two centuries,” Newday says. “We looked at what poetry can contribute to current cultural and cross-cultural conversations about environmental justice and sustainability.”

Students at the reading in March read favorite poets they had studied, such as, yes, Mary Oliver, and also Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Ralph Black, G. E. Patterson, Deborah Miranda, Tony Hoagland, Robert Duncan, Lucille Clifton, Lola Haskins, Sandra Beasley, and Linda Hogan. Some students also read their own work.

“I’m not a big reader,” Sklar admits. “But I fell in love with this poetry. What I had hoped would happen, happened. The facts in science are great, but poetry gives us a way to connect to people who aren’t scientists.”

The ecopoetry course, Sklar adds, helped her to solidify an idea for her Senior Individualized Project that she’d been mulling over for about a year. Her interest in nature, biology, ecology, and human responses to all three came together in a plan to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Along with a K alumna, Margaux Reckard ‘13, Sklar began 2,200-mile adventure a few days after the poetry course concluded (see “Where the TinyTent AT?” in this issue of BeLight).

“Poetry can help us question,” Newday says. “We are losing all kinds of diversity in our world, and cultures and languages are being lost along with biodiversity. Languages each give us a unique way to see the world and add perspective. Poetry can help us imagine possibilities … possible solutions to ecological crises.”

Harvest of Joy farmer John Edgerton (left) discusses with students (l-r) Chandler Smith ’13, Caroline Michniak ’13, and Alicia Pettys ’13 different techniques for organic and sustainable planting.

In her senior Capstone course, “CSA and Sustainability,” Newday digs even deeper into building connections between students and the earth. Along with textbooks, she hands them trowels, hoes, shovels and watering cans. She takes her students to her own CSA operation, Harvest of Joy Farm, where she and partner John Edgerton practice sustainable and organic methods of farming.

The Capstone course, Newday says, offers students the opportunity to explore and experience food systems, agriculture, community building, education, economics, business, and food justice as an alternative to the mainstream food economy. If that sounds like it’s dealing with a great many topics—it is, and that’s the everyday life of a farmer.

Part of the course will take place in the traditional campus classroom, and for at least three hours each week students will work on the farm. They will help plan the CSA business, prepare the soil for planting and then plant a wide assortment of seeds and plants, maintain compost and learn about permaculture, and maintain and harvest the garden. Students will also experience the business aspects of running a CSA, the marketing and selling of vegetables to community members, and the relationships built between farmer and community members.

The course will also involve an ongoing blog of farm activities, and a student-generated on-campus collaborative project. Students will participate in discussions about their experiences and observations working on the farm.

In informational sessions held prior to the beginning of the course, Newday and Edgerton met with students interested in learning more information before making a decision to enroll.

“I was surprised how much I loved running a CSA,” Newday says to the students gathered to hear about the course. “The relationships we developed through the CSA were very rewarding. There’s an instant gratification when you give good food to people, and you see how excited they are to receive it, taste it, and share it.”

The concept of a CSA, Newday tells the students, is not the traditional business model of trading cash for product. “A CSA offers people the opportunity to invest in the kind of world they want to live in.”

The Harvest of Joy Farm is in its fourth year. At the beginning of last summer’s (2013) growing season, 45 members paid for 28 shares and half-shares in the operation, which provided the funds to cover the costs of farming. In return, shareholders receive vegetables and fruits each week during harvest.

“The course will help students to better understand the economics of farming, especially on a small scale, and to consider how small farms fit into the larger agricultural economy, in the United States and across the world,” says Newday. “Along with learning about sustainable agricultural practices, students will learn how to critically consider what it means to make environmentally, socially, and ethically sound food choices.”

To learn more about the Kalamazoo College Capstone CSA experience, read student blog entries, and view photos, visit kzoocsa.blogspot.com.  To learn more about Harvest of Joy Farm, LLC, visit harvestofjoyfarm.wordpress.com.

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.”

SIDEBAR

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

Blogger De-Fogger

Kalamazoo College Professor of Psychology Siu-Lan Tan exits Olds-Upton Hall, walks across the campus quad awash in the deep green of mid-summer, sits under a towering maple tree, and removes her laptop from a bag. Pasted to the keyboard are yellow, pink, and baby blue Post-It notes capturing reminders, ideas, and appointments.

“I’m a Post-It person,” she says.

Professor of Psychology (and very popular blogger) Siu Lan Tan

Tan, a professor of psychology at K, wouldn’t disagree if you interpreted the paper stuck to the computer as a slight aversion to technology—or at least social media. She is not on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or any other similar platform. Until a year ago, she didn’t even know what a blog was.

She does now, however, and a lot of people are noticing.

In September of last year, Tan received a phone call from the senior producer of the World Science Festival, sort of like a TED talk organization but devoted to the hard sciences. The group was putting together an event focusing on neuroscience and film music and had discovered a film-music study that Tan had published, and which an esteemed panel of artists – including filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen and actor Alec Baldwin – wanted to replicate on stage and broadcast over the Internet.

It was a big honor, Tan says, but she had to decline due to copyright issues she thought might creep-up. The producer called back. Baldwin was disappointed, she said, as was another panelist, Tufts University neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel, Ph.D. Instead, Dr. Patel would describe Tan’s research during the public presentation and organizers wondered if Tan might write a blog post about her study.

Tan agreed, and called her sister – herself an author – and asked what exactly a blog post was, and how to write one.

“That was my first trial,” Tan says. “But it paved the way for what would come next.”

Editors at Psychology Today, the popular general interest magazine published every two months, had wanted Tan to contribute content to their website for years. The journal asked to publish her post for the festival. Then Oxford University Press asked to do the same on their blog site.

Both were so impressed with Tan’s writing that they asked her to be a regular contributor to their sites. And that’s where Tan’s burgeoning notoriety began.

By October, Tan had her own personal blog on the Psychology Today site, named “What Shapes Film?” The posts present an interesting analysis of the often overlooked psychological aspects of films and how human developmental themes resonate within them.

Other posts offer content that can be both quirky and thought-provoking. Examples include “Why You Can’t Take a Pigeon to the Movies” (hint: Where you see scenes that are fluid, a pigeon would observe each frame due to its highly developed sense for visual stimuli) and “Gravity: Developmental Themes in Space,” which explores themes of human growth, development and rebirth.

Some of her work takes a closer look at viral videos, ones that become immensely popular due to their inherent humor or heart-tugging message. But where you laugh heartily or shed a tear, Tan sees more.

“I wanted people to read it and say, ‘Wow, that’s really interesting!’”

An example of that deeper perception was her post, “Why Does This Baby Cry When Her Mother Sings,” which garnered her significant recognition on the Psychology Today site. That post explored the developmental phenomena of “emotional contagion,” where humans absorb and reflect the intense emotions around them—in this case, a mother singing sweetly and passionately to her 10-month old daughter in a viral video viewed more than 30 million times. Interestingly, within 24 hours of publishing the post, Tan was surprised to hear from the baby’s mother herself, Amanda Leroux, who thanked her for the article and for sensing the special emotional bond with her daughter, Mary Lynne. Tan’s post was No. 22 on Psychology Today’s “Top 25 Posts of 2013,” competing against 13,000 posts that year. The same post on Oxford University Press’ blog was the fourth most popular post there last year.

“It can be an uphill battle to blog about things that are educational, or at least deal with more of the fundamental and research-oriented aspects of psychology,” Tan says. “But when you can present a fascinating research study or two in a fun and interesting way, people are more likely to read it and take away something that’s useful. People are more likely to learn.

“Most people are interested in movies. I wanted to do something that wasn’t esoteric. I wanted the blog to be inclusive and positive. I wanted people to read it and say, ‘Wow, that’s really interesting. I don’t think I will experience that the same way again.’”

In addition to her penchant for blogging, Tan is a published co-author of two books, The Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance and The Psychology of Music in Multimedia. Two more books are in the works, she says, dealing with music and child development.

Psychology isn’t just about counseling, and Tan is quick to point that out. The discipline also deals with revealing the diverse facets of human nature, what we have in common and how the mind and behavior works.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in music at Pacific Union College, Tan began studying the pedagogy of piano, with the goal of teaching music as a career. When she took a required developmental psychology class, everything changed.

“I fell in love,” she says. “I thought, ‘This is the greatest thing. Why didn’t I get into this before?’ I kind of took the long route.”

So Tan dropped out of her master’s degree program and enrolled in California State University Sacramento where she took enough psychology classes to get into a graduate psychology program. She earned a Ph.D. degree several years later from Georgetown University, with a focus on developmental psychology and the psychology of music.

She came to K in 1998, where she began teaching courses in child psychology and human development.

“I love, love teaching,” she says. “The blogs are an extension to my teaching but on a larger scope with a more diverse audience. It’s also an opportunity for me to continue to be curious about many things and keep learning. I have to read extensively and fact-check every post.”

In fact, many of her blog post ideas have come from the K community, she says. She consistently bounces ideas off of her students and colleagues, and has formulated posts based off themes discussed in her courses. K students often ask her to blog about something. Her husband, himself a filmmaker and blogger, also serves as an idea generator and sounding board for ideas, she says.

For instance, a blog post titled “3 Reasons Why We’re Drawn to Faces in Film” includes research published in 2007 and co-conducted with K alumnus Matt Bezdek ’07, who now holds a Ph.D. degree in psychology and is still doing research on psychology and film, Tan says.

Another post, “Video Games: Do You Play Better With the Sound On or Off?” included research co-conducted with K alumnus John Baxa ’09.

“K students and classes are the primary inspiration for the blogs,” she says. “I’d say 80 percent of the posts relate in some way to the College. They are really our blogs. There is no disconnection. They belong, in many ways, to K.”

Watch The Stories They Tell, a professionally produced documentary about Siu-Lan’s developmental psychology class’ Co-Authorship Project, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., in Dewing Hall Room 103 during Homecoming Weekend, Saturday, October 18.