Dan is the subject of “Member Spotlight” for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The article (by Laura Petersen) is titled “Dan Blustein journeys from marine biology to Hollywood and back again,” and it’s a good read, chronicling his interesting forays in the saga explicit in the title–though “back again” might more accurately refer to “marine robotics” rather than marine biology. Of particular note is the reference to Dan’s opportunities in K’s externship program. Those two experiences, one with octopi at the Seattle Aquarium and the other job-shadowing a physician, helped clarify what he wanted to do. Of course the article showcases that Dan’s path has been more spiral than straight line. How cool (and liberal arts!) is that.
Jean died peacefully in her home with family present on the night of July 20, 2015. Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Jean earned her B.A. from K in biology. Later, while attending the University of Michigan’s summer graduate biology program at Douglas Lake, she met Nathan (Pete) Riser, her future husband. After completing her M.A. (zoology) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she studied and became a certified medical technologist at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. During World War II she worked in a pathology lab near Lansing, Michigan. Her enthusiasm for that work was evident in her stories and detailed knowledge of pathogens. Before moving to Damariscotta, Maine, Jean spent more than 50 years in the Boston area, as a hospital pathology lab volunteer, a college anatomy instructor, a Girl Scout troop leader, a conservation advocate and a docent at the Peabody-Essex Museum of Salem, Mass. She was a lifelong learner, an avid naturalist, birder, photographer and hiker. Past 90, she was still able to walk two miles and to enjoy identifying fauna and flora. Jean was a world traveler, who took great pleasure in attending international scientific meetings with her husband. She also enjoyed living in New Brunswick and in New Zealand during sabbatical years, as well as participating in an East African ornithological safari and a South Seas sailing adventure. Throughout her life Jean maintained detailed records of natural history, family health, travel and other events of interest. In addition, she possessed encyclopedic knowledge on a great variety of topics from Asian art to Wagnerian opera to European history to scientific discoveries. Her daughter once said, “She was Google before Google.” Several of Jean’s relatives have K connections. Her mother Ruth Desenberg Folz attended K for a year. Jean’s first cousin, Samuel Folz, was a member of the class of 1947. And Jean’s daughter Claire graduated in 1967. Jean was predeceased by her husband and is survived by her three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Doug retired on August 31 after a 21-year tenure as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Cooperstown, New York. He majored in religion at K and studied abroad in Clermont-Ferrand, France. His career service quarter with the Sioux tribe of South Dakota convinced him to enter the ministry. After graduating from K he attended Colgate Rochester Divinity School. He was ordained in 1976. Doug and his wife, Susan, plan to move to Cortland (N.Y.) to be close to their daughter and granddaughter. They also have a son and two grandchildren living in Seattle. One of Doug’s passions is model trains. He had train gardens set up in the yard of his Cooperstown home, where he would sometimes invite the public to watch train runs. Doug has more than one hundred model trains, and he expects to spend several years of his retirement setting up the train layout at his Cortland home. A retirement activity that he and Susan intend to share is visiting National Parks. And they also expect to babysit their granddaughter a lot.
From the “It’s a small world” department: Laura was hiking in early April the Chapel Trail in Sedona, Arizona. She happened to be wearing a T-shirt with the K logo. Two women she passed on the trail inquired if the shirt was related to Kalamazoo College. Turns out the two women–Larissa Miller Bishop ’96 and Stephanie (Gorman) Foote ’96–are alumni classmates, and both know Carrie (Graveel) Diegel ’96, a mutual friend of all three hikers. What prompted Laura’s recollection of the incident was a similar occurrence on a glacier trail in New Zealand, involving Holly Gillis ’09 and Jeff Palmer ’76. Holly remembered Laura; Laura remembered her recent story of Hornets crossing paths. Pictured in Arizona are (l-r): Laura, Larissa and Stephanie.
Welcome home, Andy Miller! The proud Kalamazoo College alumnus—class of 1999, English major, music minor, creative writing concentrator, Michigan-certified secondary school teacher (English and music), and K intramural softball phenom—has returned to his alma mater. He’s worked here before. Following graduation he was associate director of LandSea, a program he loved as both participant and patrol leader. He also worked to help the Stryker Center liaison with the greater Kalamazoo business community. Former K president Jimmy Jones recognized great talent, and when he became president of Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.) in 2004 he convinced Andy to go east for a decade. At Trinity, Andy created the Quest Program, which became that college’s outdoor orientation program for first-year students. Simultaneously Andy worked for Trinity’s advancement office—in major gifts, planned giving, alumni relations, and parent giving, making him one of the great five-tool players (think whatever corresponds to speed, power, contact, glove work, and a cannon arm) in the world of advancement. Andy and alumna Mary-Katherine Thompson ’06 married in 2009. They first met on LandSea. This past August Andy came back to K to serve as the College’s executive director of development. Why the return? “It’s a perfect fit,” he says. “It’s coming home.” And we think it’s great to have him home!
And now his answers to the questions we’ve all been eager to know.
What’s the best song every recorded?
“Apologies to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Petty, Guns N’ Roses, and especially Springsteen’s ’Jungleland,’ which comes in second, but I’m going to have to go with ’Layla’ by Derek and the Dominos.
What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“’Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter.”
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“’You did a good job down there.’”
What’s your favorite word?
What’s your least favorite word?
“Irregardless. People use it all the time, but IT’S NOT A WORD!”
What turns you on?
“Autonomy…challenge…the opportunity to create things…and, of course, my wife.”
What turns you off?
“Hate, prejudice, and close-mindedness.”
What sound do you love?
“The electric guitar. Specifically, a Fender telecaster coming through a Vox amp.”
What sound do you hate?
“I absolutely love dogs…but I have two at home who bark like maniacs every time another dog is being walked outside our house, which is regularly. Training remains a work in progress!”
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
“Professional rock and roll songwriter.”
What profession would you not like to participate in?
“Accounting. My lack of interest would pretty much assure my uselessness…and vice versa.”
What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
“There are two, both of which happened spring of my senior year and involved synthesizing my previous three-and-a-half-years worth of learning and developing. My Senior Individualized Project gave me the opportunity to do a deep dive into every ‘art’ I had any competency in–a manuscript worth of poems (thanks Diane Seuss), a related series of photographs (thanks Richard Koenig), and an album’s worth of music (thanks Tom Evans). On the more traditionally academic side, my English Comprehensive Exams required me to, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a Saturday, write essays on three different questions, with each essay using three literary references drawn from a list of texts read over the course of my entire time at K. Handing in my SIP and my ’comps,’ admittedly at the absolute last minute in both cases, was so fulfilling to me because they truly served as twin capstone projects of my liberal arts learning.”
Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
“Neither is famous. It would either be my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young, or my maternal grandmother, who died before I was born.”
What memory from childhood still surprises you?
“I remember very well burning my arm on the stove at the age of two on Valentine’s Day when I was reaching for some Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup my mom was making for me. Somehow, despite being so young, I had managed to get my arm on top of the stove. My mom has never forgiven herself because she was out of the room preparing for a date with my dad to celebrate the birth of my cousin on that very day.”
What is your favorite curse word?
What is your favorite hobby?
“Songwriting and recording in my basement.”
What is your favorite comedy movie?
“Blues Brothers is a pretty solid go-to. I use the phrases ‘We’re getting the band back together’ and ‘We’re on a mission from God’ regularly.”
What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?
“Probably 9/11. I may remember it so distinctly because it happened when we were on LandSea in Ontario. Tom Breznau got a call from President Jones and we went to the one TV at the nearest one-street town to learn what was going on, which was unbelievable. And we had to figure out how to inform all the patrol leaders and participants scattered throughout Killarney. Then to live in the east for 10 years…9/11 has shaped a lot of what New York is like today.”
If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?
“Absolutely, unless she was drinking orange juice.”
Gretchen recently received a Fulbright Fellowship (her third), which she will use to teach in Bosnia next year. Gretchen is the author of the four books, Dissent in Wichita: The Civil Rights Movement in the Midwest, 1954-72 ; Herstories: Woman to Woman ; Maybe Crossings; and Finding Duncan. At K Gretchen majored in history and studied abroad in Sierra Leone.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“The important thing is for students to feel connected,” Nowicki says. “It’s a good way for professors and staff to get introduced to the incoming students, too. I’m guessing in that way it helps retention. And the discussion groups help students learn how to express their viewpoints and defend them while listening to the viewpoints of others.”
Griffin adds: “If you lined up all the books that have been chosen, they cover an amazing array of contemporary writers and a mighty inclusive list of perspectives and issues of the sort that we want our newest students to begin thinking about: race, economics, global politics, gender, sexuality, nationality, international issues, American issues, immigration, ‘home’ and leaving home, you name it.”
Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of the 2012 Summer Common Reading book, Once Upon a River, offers her perspective as a participating author. “It was a great honor and a thrill to have all the freshmen and many of the upper class folks read Once Upon a River. Kalamazoo College students are conscientious scholars and careful readers, and they had a lot of smart questions to ask. The world I presented in the book was very different from the world of the students, so it was interesting to see how they grappled to understand the choices my protagonist made, which were often so different from what they would have chosen. As an author it is always great fun to be surrounded by smart people who have read your book.”
Pixley smiles to recall some of the discussion around Campbell’s book. “Oh, I’m still hearing complaints about Margo, Bonnie’s character in the novel. Why did Margo do this, why did Margo choose that. But Margo had different circumstances in her life, and it was a different time. It’s wonderful how invested students can get.”
The interaction between author and students, all agree, can be one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.
“So often their first reactions to the texts have been resistant, defiant, because the committee has rightly selected challenging texts at the forefront of current fiction, and that material is often difficult, not easy reads,” says Griffin. “And then you watch them come to terms with it, chew on it, hear the author, stand in line for hours to meet the author, and suddenly—the book is theirs. I have seen an incoming class become a class over three days because of this program.”
Seuss lists favorite memories of students interacting with authors: “Chang-Rae Lee flying out of New York City and joining us just a few days after September 11, 2001. The students starting a Chimamanda Adichie Adoration Facebook page. Junot Diaz’s sass. Vaddey Ratner talking about her childhood as a captive of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the way she greeted people with the namaskara, her beauty.”
Heinritz most strongly recalls the moments “students got turned on by what they’d read or something the authors said. Often, years later they would bring up something Junot Diaz or David Finkel had said about writing when they were on campus, and it would become part of the fabric of that day’s class discussions.”
She also cites the generosity of the authors. “So many of them agree to offer a craft talk for student writers while they are on campus,” Heinritz says. “David Finkel got real with journalism students about what the profession requires and where it is headed. Bonnie Jo Campbell gave practical advice to aspiring fiction writers.” Finkel even offered to read and critique Heinritz’ writing, “which he did and was very helpful,” she says. “I consider him a friend. I know Di has also developed this kind of relationship with a couple of the authors, especially Chimamanda.”
Pixley nods. She remembers many of those moments, and more. The Summer Common Reading program is her labor of love.
“It’s a thrill,” she says. “To hear an author reading to the students, and the students are so quiet, listening so carefully, that you can hear the pages turn.”
Summer Common Reading Program Books
(1999 Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams)
2000 Richard Ford, Independence Day
2001 Chang-rae Lee, A Gesture Life
2002 Ha Jin, Waiting
2003 Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
2004 Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man
2005 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus
2006 Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
2007 Edward P. Jones, The Known World
2008 Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
2009 Rachel Kushner, Telex From Cuba
2010 Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor
2011 David Finkel, The Good Soldiers
2012 Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River
2013 Vaddey Ratner, In the Shadow of the Banyan
2014 NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
Rose Kennedy and the K-Tucky Derby live on the same Kalamazoo College website—Story Zoo—separated by a decade or so, both upstream and downstream time’s river.
Every homecoming Story Zoo is open on the Quad or in the Upjohn Library recording studio, a chance for alumni, faculty, staff and students to share a K story that matters to them. Perhaps better than any other medium, the stories in aggregate articulate the joy and struggle, the grace and disorder, and the “serious quirky” that makes K what it is.
Some stories will move you, like the paean of David Kessler ’70 (An Arresting Exam) to the courage of former president Weimer K. Hicks. It changed David’s life.
Some are downright poetic, like the extended metaphor (coat-to-cape) of Pam Brown Gavin ’74 (10 Best for the Clueless).
Forgot what it was like the first Saturday in May at Angell Field? Let class-of-1985 friends Elizabeth (Fiore) Vogel and Carolyn Dadabay remind you of K-Tucky Derby. See if you can spot Carolyn in the video.
What punishments and penalties marked your K day or era? In the late 1950s being “campused” was the sentence for “late minutes.” Head Proctor Karen (Lake) DeVos ’59 met some good friends in “lock up.” And big changes were coming (French Influence to K: “Lighten up!”), originating from foreign study in France.
Some stories solve longstanding mysteries. The Student Observation Bureau. Remember? Well, it didn’t last long, but it sure caused quite a stir. Where, exactly, did it originate? Rachel Robinson ’85 finally reveals that secret (S.O.B.–Old Rules, New Prank).
So take some time and time travel—through the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the aughts, the 10s and more. You’ll discover memories of great professors like Chen and Doc Stowe, Nelda Balch, T.J. Smith, Karyn Boatwright and Mickey McDonald, among others. You’ll recall small but vital details of the elements of the K-Plan: foreign study, career service, civic engagement and the SIP. Great parties (Beach Party) and enduring relationships (A Lifetime of Friendship).
Most stories are one to three minutes. There is one however, that is longer (about seven minutes), and it is worth the time: David Easterbrook’s (class of 1969) moving story about the delivery of a 20-year-old message from a Masai elder to the Kennedy family (When You See Rose Kennedy in the Market). In this day of social media and shortened attention span, please don’t miss the beauty of David’s “longer” lyric.
Whether your K story is the memory of an unforgettable moment, or the trajectory of your career, we want to hear it. All alumni, students, faculty and staff are invited to contribute to the Story Zoo. Individual or group stories are welcome! Nor must you wait for homecoming or commencement. Feel free to record your own video, upload it to the video-sharing site of your choice (e.g. Vine or YouTube), and send us the URL.
The next campus recording is scheduled for Saturday, October 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the fire circle next to Stetson Chapel. All alumni, students, faculty and staff are invited to stop by the Cavern Fire Circle to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and to record your favorite K memory.
Scores of Kalamazoo College students do not usually gather outside Mandelle Hall’s Olmsted Room to await word on the fate of a faculty meeting agenda item. But gather they did late last fall, and they greeted one particular vote with applause and celebration.
The matter? At its meeting of November 14, 2014, Kalamazoo College faculty unanimously approved a new major at the school: Critical Ethnic Studies. It is the second major approved in the past two years. In 2013 the faculty voted to create a new major in Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Prior to that, the major in Business was approved in 2008.
After the vote for Critical Ethnic Studies, faculty and staff arose in a spontaneous standing ovation, which sparked the applause and cheers of the students quietly waiting in the Olmsted Room’s foyer. When the meeting adjourned high fives were shared among all.
“One reason I came to K was because of its commitment to diversity,” said Assistant Professor of Political Science Justin Berry at the meeting. “I have many students who are looking forward to this opportunity.”
Assistant Professor of Music Beau Bothell added, “I’m very excited to have new critical ethnic studies majors coming into my courses and challenging our assumptions of what and how we will teach.”
“Not only does this help K catch up to where other institutions have been for years,” said Assistant Professor of English Ryan Fong, “it places K at the forefront of where the discipline is going.”
Calls for ethnic studies at K go back more than 40 years, to the late 1960s when the discipline was first born and institutionalized as academic programs at San Francisco State University and the University of California-Berkeley. Periodically, since those early days, the call for ethnic studies at K has been sounded by various faculty, students, and groups, including, among others, the Black Student Organization (1968), the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Association (2007), and the K chapter of the the national Chican@ student organization M.E.Ch.A (2012).
From the field’s origin its founding principles were (and remain) four: self-determination, solidarity among American racial minorities, educational relevance, and an interdisciplinary approach. The ethnic studies field provided early models to examine relationships between racism, colonialism, immigration, and slavery in a U.S. context. Its rigorously intellectual approach sought to create curriculum that reflected (and exercised) multiple voices and worldviews derived from knowledges and ways of knowing that have been silenced or made invisible.
At K, the culmination of the field’s disciplinary development and the calls for campus movement on the matter began in earnest in late 2013, when K appointed Reid Goméz the College’s first professor in ethnic studies. Her position was financed by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In addition to her teaching duties, Goméz worked as part of a Core Curriculum Working Group to write a “Critical Ethnic Studies Major” proposal for faculty consideration. With the approval of the proposal the group will administer the program and serve as the major’s core faculty. They are Goméz, the Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor in Ethnic Studies; Espelencia Baptiste, Associate Professor of Anthropology; Shreena Gandhi, Assistant Professor of Religion; Amelia Katanski, Associate Professor of English; Shanna Salinas, Assistant Professor of English; and Babli Sinha, Associate Professor of English.
Ethnic studies questions how knowledge is defined and who gets identified as a thinker. It’s less about the study of a specific area, ethnicity, or culture and more about disrupting singular notions of knowledge by ending the suppression and control of multiple knowledges. It’s somewhat akin to the fable of the five “scholars” trying to define an elephant based on their singular limited engagement with one portion of the whole. In this tale about blindness, multiple knowledges are excluded; as a result, the elephant is misperceived as a tree, fan, rope, wall, and hose when each “scholar” insists on the hegemony of his “knowledge” of the leg, ear, tail, body, and trunk, respectively.
“The ethnic studies field has always been counterhegemonic,” said Goméz. During the four decades of the field’s development the intellectual inquiry of one branch (called critical ethnic studies) has focused on “the logics of racism, colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and hetero-patriarchy” and moved away from the notion that people are oppressed because they are not known or understood.
At K, the Working Group wrote, “Critical ethnic studies [will] interrogate the production of knowledge. The primary project is to theorize from multiple, and simultaneous, narratives of silenced peoples and epistemologies.” The major will be an interdisciplinary, intellectual, and collaborative inquiry.
Eight units are required, including three core courses, four electives, and a senior colloquium. The core courses—“Argument With the Given,” “Language: The Colonial and Imperial Difference,” and “Insurgency, Solidarity, and Coloniality of Power”—define the field’s scope and approach to scholarship and provide the necessary practice with key language and theory.
The electives currently number 17 courses in the departments of anthropology and sociology, English, and religion. More courses from other departments will be added to the electives list as professors reshape them to fit the criteria for critical ethnic studies cross-listing, a process that involves the review and assistance of CES core faculty. According to the Working Group, “The core faculty aspires to serve as a campus resource. They intend to engage the campus community in questions of power, epistemology, and discipline, and to participate in a learning community shaped by the intellectual goal of substantive engagement with each other, within and across individual faculty disciplines and areas.”
The senior colloquium involves the entire cohort of each year’s majors. The majors will meet together in the fall term to decide the form and content of that year’s colloquium including assessment guidelines and procedures. “The purpose of the colloquium is to determine an intellectual social-political project that can be carried out over the year and that contributes to the field,” wrote the Working Group.
The new major is lauded not only by faculty and students. “We recently received funding for a campaign gift of an endowed professorship,” said President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran. “And the donors would be very pleased to have this endowed chair support a professor in critical ethnic studies.”
The College will extend Goméz’s appointment through the 2015-16 academic year and also will conduct a tenure track search that year. In academic year 2016-17 the funding for the position will transition from the Mellon Foundation grant to the endowed chair support.
“Critical ethnic studies is a process of engagement and shapes the ability to engage content in a variety of fields of study,” concluded the Working Group in its report. “The field requires the logic governing the academy to change [and] this change is realized through the relentless pursuit of other ways to engage and through ongoing discussions of additional means of engagement. These processes invert, rethink, and displace universalities. Central to the field is a refusal to consume the other. Critical ethnic studies scholars must go beyond themselves and devise conversations that move past voyeurism and consumption.”
Word of the decision spread quickly and far. One academic advisor heard within a day from an advisee on study abroad in Tokyo who expressed his delight and wondered if he’d have time to change his major.
I was not the most confident lad as I stood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed one fine August morning in 2006 in front of the Crissey Hall listening to our new enthusiastic head soccer coach welcome us freshmen into the family. These new freedoms and new rules (or occasional lack thereof) were a lot to take in. I didn’t dive flawlessly into the current, quickly hammering down strokes and adjusting to the flow. I belly-flopped, gasped for air, and skimmed the surface for the nearest flotation device. Life at K for my first two years was a constant struggle to keep up and find some sort of balance, some sort of identity.
First-year fall term I was a nervous sweaty wreck, concerned with what everyone thought of me and worried I would screw up. I tried to blend in, which wasn’t always easy. My first-year seminar, “Visions of America-On Stage,” was taught by Ed Menta, and he pushed me from my comfort zone. Normally I would sit in the back of a classroom and observe, taking notes like a mad court stenographer but never really interacting. That didn’t work with Ed. He demanded we take on characters and not only read plays but also interpret and analyze them, more closely than I ever had before. He forced you to question and to face the brutal limits of your adolescent level of understanding. It was after my first paper in Ed’s course that I realized K wasn’t going to be an easy road. I had considered writing my strongest subject and was abruptly taken back when I found a C- written in red pen at the top of my paper.
I realized I had to be more careful and critical of my work. But I didn’t want to put in the time and effort it would take. There were always people in every one of my classes that were smarter and caught on quicker. I didn’t take the time to learn from my mistakes. For the remainder of first year I was searching for answers but not the method or path to find the answers.
And by the middle of sophomore year I was fed up with my college life. I didn’t like my mediocre performance in class and on the soccer field, and socially I felt invisible. I’d been denied a three-month study abroad program in Spain for the spring. Nor would I be allowed to live off campus with my soccer mates during junior year. I was in a hard place.
I’m not sure what exactly clicked, but something began to change sophomore spring term. It started with little risks. The voice within me grew stronger and I started questioning outward. I worked up the courage to pipe up more in classes. I socialized outside of my soccer circle and got to better know the wonderful mix of eclectic students. In our spring outdoor practices and scrimmages I tried different positions and showed my versatility. It dawned on me that I needed a broader perspective on each part of my life before I could identify what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. I was looking at myself differently, not in an overly critical way but instead evaluating goals I wanted to accomplish, examining the paths I could take to reach them, and then forming and executing my plan within a realistic time table. By no means did I have one of those enormous desk calendars for my room where I could fill in every single waking hour of my life, but I did find harmony in a semi-chaotic balance of opportunity and cost, and I picked my battles properly. By the time I was half-way through my junior year my work was improving and I was finding balance. My last two years at K were the best of my life.
By senior spring term I was walking confidently through the sun-filled quad. I was smiling more often. I had finished my final two soccer seasons as team captain and started every game. I made Dean’s List and completed a major in economics and a minor in religion. I participated in on-campus and off-campus events and held strong friendships beyond the circle of my teammates. Those have endured to this day. I still get goose bumps thinking about those last spring days—discussing the financial crisis in Professor App’s senior seminar, throwing a Frisbee or football around the quad, and raucously cheering on the men’s tennis team to another MIAA championship.
K is not a school for everyone. But for me it was the place to learn more about myself and how adaptive I could be. I learned I can jump into the unknown without a lick of experience and rise, ready to take on the world.
Today, at age 29, I work as a senior sales representative at a two-billion-dollar logistics company. It had 250 employees when I started and has grown to an operation of 2,500 employees at 10 offices nationwide. I multi-task daily, providing cost and problem-based solutions to a multitude of customers in a variety of industries. I’ve learned to question even the processes we’ve put in place and to absorb all of the knowledge I can to make insightful and innovative decisions. I push myself to learn what is new and to live outside my comfort zone. (Thank you, Ed Menta!) When I look back, I don’t think about doing anything differently. I smile, and hope that some young nervous first-year student like me will be lucky enough to experience the full metamorphosis that K can offer.