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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.

Caroline Barnett ’15

Caroline has joined the Sojourners yearlong Christian discipleship internship program in Washington, D.C., working as an editorial assistant on Sojourners Magazine, which provides commentary, news, and analysis from a faith perspective, interviews with those on the forefront of theological and justice-oriented study, culture reviews, inspiration, and more. Sojourners envisions a future in which Christians put their faith into action in the passionate pursuit of social justice, peace and environmental stewardship, working in partnership with people of other perspectives, for the common good of communities, families and individuals. At K, Caroline majored in anthropology and sociology and studied abroad in Dakar, Senegal. She served in the Chapel’s Interfaith Student Leaders program, and an article on that endeavor appeared in the October BeLight.

Wade Thomson ’98

A partner in the law firm Jenner & Block, Wade was selected by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company to “40 Illinois Attorneys Under Forty,” an annual list that honors 40 of the most talented young attorneys working in Illinois. The profile cites Wade’s involvement in a large and complicated aerospace dispute (in which even his opponent praised him for his fierce but fair advocacy for his client) and his active pro bono practice, including his service for clients of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. Wade has represented more than 20 immigrants and their families from 16 countries to secure asylum or other legal protections.

Nathan White ’06

Nathan is the senior legislative manager for Access Now, a New York City-headquartered advocacy organization that defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world. A former communications director in the U.S. Congress, Nathan has shaped political and social issue campaigns across the United States and the Internet. He earned his bachelor’s degree from K in political science, and he studied abroad in Hong Kong. He earned a master’s degree in global marketing, communications and advertising from Emerson College in Boston.

Allen M. Omoto ’82, Ph.D.

Allen was awarded an American Psychological Association Presidential Citation for his passionate dedication to social justice and to bringing psychological science to bear on social policy. Throughout his career, Allen has demonstrated a strong and lasting commitment to social justice and inclusion through his research, publications, teaching, mentorship and leadership. He was APA’s inaugural William A. Bailey AIDS Policy Congressional Fellow. He served on the Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns, chaired the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest, has served on the APA Council of Representatives and has been elected president of Div. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues) and Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues). Allen has received awards for distinction in education and training (Div. 44) and service (Div. 9), as well as the Western Psychological Association’s Social Responsibility Award. Through his passion, dedication, sense of humor, and the example he sets for integrating his values into his personal and professional life, Allen inspires and leads his students and his colleagues to affect social justice through the science of psychology. He is currently a professor in the Claremont Colleges in California.

Laura Newland ’03

Laura is the executive director of the District of Columbia Office on Aging (DCOA). She leads an agency that develops and carries out a comprehensive and coordinated system of health, education, employment and social services for the District’s older adults, persons living with disabilities and their caregivers. Prior to her appointment by Mayor Muriel Bowser, Laura served as DCOA’s interim general counsel. She was appointed interim executive director in early November and named executive director in December. She has deep professional roots in advocacy. Prior to joining District government, Laura worked at AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly directing the Real Property Tax Project. She spearheaded the community advocacy and litigation strategy that led to significant legislative reform in 2014 and the creation of the Real Property Tax Lien Ombudsman. Before receiving her law degree (Georgetown University), she worked in a variety of nonprofit settings, spanning numerous issues that included domestic violence, jail-based voting and registration, and consumer protection. At K she earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and studied abroad in Thailand.

Ruth Moerdyk ’83

Ruth was awarded the Faith Award this year for recognition of her leadership and work in creating safe and affirming spaces through a faith lens. Ruth advocates for the LGBTQ community from the pulpit (she serves as the pastor of Christian Church-Disciples of Christ in Kalamazoo), in everyday life, and as chair of the Faith Alliance. During her time at Kalamazoo College, Moerdyk helped found the first LGB student organization at K and went on to provide leadership for the LGBTQ student organization at Chicago Theological Seminary. She earned her bachelor’s degree in religion and studied abroad in Sierra Leone.