Bruce is featured in an interview with the Center on Compassion and Global Health. During his tenure at the World Bank Bruce played a key role in the global effort to eradicate onchocerciasis (river blindness) in West Africa. Bruce is writing a book on that work. The director of the Center on Compassion and Global Health is David Aldiss, a friend of Alison Geist, who directs Kalamazoo College’s Center for Civic Engagement. Alison also teaches courses in K’s new concentration called “Community and Global Health.” David taught an epidemiology class on campus during a recent visit here as a visiting fellow of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. According to Alison, “We have a lot of alumni doing global health work as well as many students doing interesting Senior Individualized Projects and internships in the field of public health.”
James accepted a position as a psychologist at Columbia University (New York City). His clinical competencies include individual psychotherapy for mood and anxiety disorders, identity issues, LGBTQ mental health, and behavioral health issues. He has extensive experience in addictions treatment, and he works with clients to develop individualized substance use treatment plans. At K he majored in psychology and studied abroad in Bonn, Germany. He earned his Ph.D. at New York University.
Adam is the Jack Nelson Freedom of Information legal fellow for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit association dedicated to providing free legal assistance to journalists. He is spending his fellowship year working on freedom of information and access issues and on tutorials for the Reporters Committee’s “iFOIA” system for sending and tracking Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Adam graduated from George Washington University Law School last May. During law school, he volunteered for the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, worked as a research assistant, and served as the president of the university’s ACLU student group. He also served as an associate for the GW International Law Review. Before joining the Reporters Committee, Adam interned at the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the National Whistleblowers Center. At K he earned his bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) in political science, and he studied abroad at the London School of Economics.
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?
What’s your least favorite word?
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
What sound do you love?
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?
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.
“. . . 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
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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
A few blocks down the hill from the Kalamazoo College campus, in an upstairs office, the headquarters of International Child Care (ICC) is located. ICC is a Christian health development organization that has been providing health services for children and families in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for half a century. Since 2012, it has sponsored a six-week summer internship for K students, and now it employs K alumna Suzanne Curtiss ’14 as its communications director. All describe the time they spent at ICC as life-changing.
Three of the interns, Roxann Lawrence ’14, Amy Jimenez ’14, and Zoe Beaudry ’14, spent their six weeks in Haiti; Avery Allman ’16 and Curtiss worked in the Kalamazoo office. From ICC, each says, they learned a new appreciation of the difficulties inherent in providing aid to severely challenged nations, as well as a new respect for the spirit, resilience, and creativity of the people who live in those countries. They also saw the principles of social justice and sustainability at work.
Lawrence and Jimenez interned together during the summer of 2012. Their experiences were based at Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Grace, ICC’s flagship program, has been providing inpatient and outpatient care for Haitian children and families since 1967. Although its main inpatient building was destroyed in the earthquake of 2010, Grace continues to serve about 300 inpatients a year and more than 400 outpatients per day.
From the hospital Lawrence and Jimenez moved out into the communities, many of them still just tent cities since the quake, helping health teams that weighed babies, visited patients, and educated families about birth control, nutrition, and sanitation. The two also gave tours to visiting groups from North America and prepared a pre-orientation package for new visitors.
Lawrence is a native of Westmoreland, Jamaica, and she majored in anthropology/sociology and theatre arts. When she returned to Michigan from Haiti, she said, “Without a doubt, this has been the best summer of my life.”
Jimenez, an anthropology/sociology major from Compton, California, concurs. During her internship, she helped develop a program for children with disabilities. Because the cultures of Haiti and the Dominican Republic equate disability with shame, most of these children are hidden away by their families. The first challenge of ICC’s health care teams, therefore, is to find them; then they work with parents, teaching them to help their children maximize their functioning. Jimenez went to the tiny home of a single mother of a child who couldn’t use his hands. “He was such a happy child. He ate and wrote using his feet.” To Jimenez, the boy represented the spirit of the Haitian people. “They have experienced so many bad things, but they are a resilient people.” She also learned how important it is to do research when you’re trying to help, and “not to just impose your own style on other cultures.”
Zoe Beaudry spent her ICC internship in Haiti in 2013. The East Lansing (Mich.) native earned her K degree in studio art with a minor in sociology/anthropology, Beaudry is from East Lansing, Michigan. She job shadowed a sociologist at Grace, learning about his research into the mental health of people in Port-au-Prince. She also conducted art workshops for children at the hospital, compiling their drawings into a book titled “Waiting for Grace.”
Beaudry said, “Living in Port-au-Prince felt like a whirlwind of confusion and culture clash.” Like many people visiting Haiti for the first time, she found, “it was a new experience feeling so different from the rest of the people around me. It forced me to confront feelings of internalized racism and prejudice – which was a very valuable experience and an eye-opener.” She found that meeting Christian missionaries at the guest house where she stayed in Port-au-Prince, “led me to a strong interest in Christianity and religion in general.”
Both Allman and Curtiss did their ICC internships in Kalamazoo. A double major (business and Spanish language and literature), Allman used her internship to focus on marketing and development; she helped with grant writing, created marketing plans, wrote a history of ICC, and publicized its annual cycling fundraising event. She says that the experience had “an incredibly positive effect on me.”
Allman also believes that staying in Kalamazoo for those six summer weeks was a highlight. A native of Northville, Michigan, she took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Kalamazoo community and its nonprofit services.
A native of Saginaw, Michigan, Curtiss majored in English at K and became interested in public relations during her sophomore year. As a student, she worked in K’s Office of College Communication. Her own internship was structured to give her experiences in writing and event promotion. These experiences taught her how cultural differences can make it difficult to work internationally, she said, but they also greatly broadened her horizons. She learned firsthand how to generate publicity on a budget, as well as the ins-and-outs of working with local media.
She started her new job with ICC just one week after graduating from K, and she is now responsible for educating and engaging the public about the organization. Her job description includes not only public and media relations, but also planning encounter trips for North American groups who want to see ICC projects in the Caribbean.
Curtiss took her first trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic a month after she started her new job. “You can’t begin to comprehend the level of need until you see it,” she said. “The people are so kind and joyful and have a strong sense of national pride.” She also was struck by the passion of the ICC staff in both countries (all in-country positions are staffed by nationals): “They love the work they do.”
Keith Mumma has been associated with ICC since 1989. After spending several years volunteering, he became a board member and, in 2005, he was named the U.S. national director. Mumma still does some professional photography (his previous career), with Kalamazoo College as one of his clients. It was this connection that led Mumma to develop the ICC internship position in 2012. It’s been a good match, he said. “Both organizations have the same philosophy on life.”
ICC offers interns a wide variety of experiences, ranging from social justice to economics, pre-med, anthropology, marketing , as well as French (the official language of Haiti) and Spanish (spoken in the Dominican Republic). Mumma says that K interns have been an important part of ICC staffing. “They’ve all been self-starters,” he says, “and we need people who are independent workers.” Several of the students had already studied abroad by the time they came to ICC, and the international experience they brought with them was invaluable.
Roxann Lawrence summarized her ICC internship. It helped her, she said, “to see social justice working through an international perspective, reinforcing the importance of community participatory service to community development and change.” Her experiences, she concluded, “will continue to have a positive impact on me as I passionately pursue a life dedicated to serving and working with marginalized groups.”
Suzanne Curtiss added, “The spirit of ICC flows into the integrity of K.”
Seniors Allison Kennedy and Jasmine An found their calling in a one-of-a-kind community in Kalamazoo, a group of persons they were not expecting to encounter during college: inmates in the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI).
Their path to that community began their first year, when both started working at Kalamazoo College’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). Through CCE the pair revitalized a writing workshop that had been previously created for MPRI clients. As seniors, Kennedy and An serve as Civic Engagement Scholars for the program, a leadership position in the CCE.
Nowadays, on Monday evenings, no matter how fatigued from classes and work, Kennedy and An make their way to their writing workshop. Three hours later, they always emerge with a newfound energy.
When they left Ann Arbor and came to K, both women wanted to connect with a community that was outside of the so-called “K Bubble.” The MPRI provided that, and the women soon discovered that, in this workshop, authenticity was paramount. If they were not “real” with their participants, then the participants were not “real” with them, and the sense of community was false. Their work at MPRI was their main contact with the city of Kalamazoo, and both say the experience helped sustain their writing and made their college lives more impactful.
They’ve molded the program into an entirely new workshop, and they have created and archived a curriculum for review and revision by future CCE leaders of MPRI writing workshops, a hedge against the program going dormant again. The curriculum includes 40 workshop sessions, tailored to the men’s and women’s groups, with certain template poems and subjects. Participants write and then share their own work on an open microphone.
The goal of the workshops is for participants to explore or build an identity through voice and expression. The prison system can be dehumanizing, and Kennedy and An create a secure place where inmates can re-recognize themselves as people, a place to play and a place to know names and not just inmate numbers.
Their biggest challenge has been the system itself, which makes people seem insignificant and moves them from place to place. Kennedy and An seek to build a community that is unrelated to the prison. The new identities that are formed become the foundation of the ‘new’ community.
“Most people always share what they wrote during the session” said Kennedy. “You can feel the powerful sense of community, they really encourage each other to share and show support.”
“We hear more intimate stories from the members of MPRI than we would at K. But MPRI is a place where no one wants to be or stay,” said An.
Kennedy and An not only work in the Center for Civic Engagement, they also serve as student fellows in the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. The opportunities complement one another. Through the social justice center, Kennedy and An attend conferences and rallies relevant to their work at MPRI. They recently went to a workshop in downtown Kalamazoo led by Michigan United, a statewide organization committed to shifting the balance of power and cultivating the leadership of people directly affected by injustice. At the workshop, they were able to speak to a prison abolitionist. They discovered that the challenges they face in their project are shared by others.
The social justice center has created a space for the two to work and play with ideas and has provided very useful tools and knowledge. Kennedy said, “I have to credit my boldness to the social justice center.”
“It expanded our awareness of regional and national efforts similar to that which we are doing locally through the Center for Civic Engagement,” said An. “The social justice center sets high expectations for its student fellows, as high as the CCE’s expectations for its civic engagement scholars.”
The theme of the social justice center this academic year is “Building Justice,” and the theme’s emphasis is on student outreach into the community fits well with the duo’s CCE work.
Kennedy and An are collaborating with Michigan United to apply for a grant that would support their work at MPRI. Through MPRI they became invested in the Kalamazoo community and decided that they should continue to work in the city after graduation. “We recognize that creative writing cannot change the world, but the self-esteem, self-awareness, and empathy it can build in individuals is important if communities are going to come together to advocate for policy changes,” said An. If the women get the grant they would like to create narrative writing and leadership workshops, which would take place over the summer.
During their workshops they came to recognize the humanity of the inmates, and they would like to put the best workshop writers into leadership positions, extending the power of powerful voices.
The mission statement that Kennedy and An created for their workshop reads: “By magnifying voice through creative writing workshops and performances we hope to empower individuals to build identities that transcend the label of ‘formerly incarcerated.’ By bringing our most authentic selves to workshops we hope to provide a space for creative self-expression and build community around honest story telling.”
Said Kennedy: “We are committed to help contribute in Kalamazoo after graduation. When you leave your hometown you can experience your own sense of ‘placelessness,’” she added, “but you can change that feeling when you place yourself into and help your new community.” Kennedy and An are awed by the city and its opportunities.
“A lot of liberal arts students move to a big city after graduation,” said An. “We don’t want to do that. We want to thrive, and we want to thrive here.”
Kennedy and An graduate this June. Kennedy’s majors are English and studio art. An’s degree will be in anthropology and sociology and English.
Kalamazoo College Class of 1997 graduates Mike and Jen (Kipka) DeWaele and Jerry and Molly Mechtenberg-Berrigan of Peace House in Kalamazoo co-sponsored and participated in a 165-mile walk from Chicago to Battle Creek, Mich., to protest drone warfare. Located in Kalamazoo’s Eastside Neighborhood, Peace House is dedicated to fostering peace, justice, and community building. It is one of more than 200 communities in the Catholic Worker movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York City in 1933 to “live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ.”
The walk began at the Chicago headquarters of the Boeing Company, manufacturer of the MQ-9 Reaper, the drone that will be operated out of the 110th Airlift Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard (ANG), a new command center in Battle Creek. A core group of 16 walkers were joined by 100 people for the final mile of the walk and a one-hour vigil of songs and speeches about U.S. activities with drones and peaceful alternatives to drone warfare.
“The walk sends a message that there is a group of Americans so deeply concerned about drones that they would take two weeks to walk against them in order to try to stop their use,” said Jerry. “The walk also relates to the work we do at Peace House fostering hope for a future for kids.”
The peace activists are also concerned about the moral and legal questions of drone warfare as well as the possibilities of retaliation on U.S. soil.
“We believe in a world without war,” said Mike, “and drones are creating a new kind of war.
So what can a 165-mile walk do?
Part pilgrimage, part spiritual exercise, the walk brought together people with different experiences and commitments and to create a community of hope.
One of the walk’s organizers, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, asked local peace groups along the route to house and feed the marchers as well as to gather people for information sessions. VCNV leaders Kathy Kelly and Brian Terrell have both visited Pakistan and seen the effects of drones on the people there.
“Drone pilots spend an eight-hour shift involved in surveillance and strikes at a war zone 7,000 miles distant, and then they go home to their families,” said Terrell during a potluck in Kalamazoo. “In an attempt to keep war further away, drone warfare has brought it closer—closer to home.”
“The myth about drones is that they are a quick, precise and an efficient tool for targeting the right bad people,” said Mike. “The truth is that drones are clumsier and more indiscriminate than their reputation claims.”
In January 2014, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that the United States has launched 381 strikes in Pakistan since June 2004. Casualty figures range from 2,537-3,646 people killed, including 416-951 civilians. The Bush administration conducted 51 drone attacks and President Obama has ordered 330 strikes. A Human Rights Watch study revealed that in Yemen “in six selected air strikes since 2009 at least 57 of the 82 people killed were civilians.”
Drones glide like a kite and can’t handle breezes or winds well, according to Mike. The pilot reacts to a target, but there is a two- to six-second lag between trigger and strike. This adds a layer of inaccuracy. The MQ-9 Reaper can carry up to four Hell-fire II anti-armor missiles and two laser-guided bombs that can create enormous explosions. It has a cruising speed of 230 miles and can fly for 1,150 miles.
Drone flight by itself can terrorize. Sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai in her book, I Am Malala, mentions the fear villagers experienced when drones were heard or seen flying overhead in northern Pakistan.
“These are the hidden costs,” said Molly. “Families and children must live with the mental cost of having to live with drones. These costs can’t be put on a graph.”
Drones are proliferating. Non-military uses include examining crop growth in agriculture, cinematography, scientific research, climate tracking, wildlife management, species preservation, search and rescue missions, mapping, communications networks, news reporting in hot spots and delivering medicine after natural disasters. The United Nations and other human rights advocates want to use drones for human rights monitoring.
According to CNN the drone market doubled from 2007 ($3.75 billion) to 2013 ($7.5 billion). Projected sales will reach $11 billion by 2022. The United States accounted for two-thirds of the 2013 global market. Other countries purchasing drones or drone technology include China, England, India, Iran, Israel and Russia—and 70 other countries, according to a July 2012 GAO report. Only two countries currently use drones to attack targets.
The U.S. Air Force has invested in drones as part of the Pentagon’s overall restructuring plan to slow down the growth of military spending. The cost of a drone ranges from $4 million to $10 million compared to the $100 million required to make a F-35 fighter jet.
The Remote Piloted Aircraft mission in Battle Creek is scheduled to begin operations in 2016. It will be one of dozens of command centers throughout the United States—with dozens more planned in this country and all over the world.
“We reject the whole drone program,” said Jerry, “because we Americans would not tolerate them if our enemies violated our territorial sovereignty.”
The K Connection
The work of the four Peace House activists is deeply influenced by their studies at Kalamazoo College, particularly under Professor Peter Gathje, currently a professor of Christian ethics at Memphis (Tennessee) Theological Seminary.
“He was radical,” said Molly. “He wasn’t teaching religion only. He was teaching about nonviolence in the world. We had him for our first-year seminar, and he invited local peace activists Jean and Joe Gump and Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW).”
One of the first actions of Mike, Jen, Molly and Jerry was to establish the Nonviolent Student Association, which became a living/learning unit and community on Catherine Street.
“We had great conversations about what kind of world we wanted to live in and how we could direct our lives to make that happen,” said Jerry. “We discussed how we could create a world that was fairer, more just and decent, and less violent. NVSA was the original Peace House.”
The four students educated themselves on issues of political importance and traveled all over the country to attend various peace demonstrations (on one occasion they were arrested). Their purpose was to emulate Gandhi’s “experiments in truth.”
“We had a sense of who we were, and what we were about,” said Jerry, “and we wanted to walk forward. This march against the drones is another ’experiment in truth.’”
The two couples graduated in 1997, and their weddings in 2006 were two weeks apart. Jerry majored in history and earned a minor in religion. Molly and Mike were international studies majors. Jen earned her degree in human development and social relations major. They started Peace House in 2009.
Molly and Jerry work with the youth group at St. Thomas More Catholic Student Parish, which involves high school, middle school and upper elementary students. Jen works at Community in Schools, part of the Kalamazoo Public Schools system. Mike oversees the day-to-day operations of Peace House.
The military use of drones save American lives, protect the country from its enemies, and reduce civilian casualties, according to Major Kelly Black, USAF, executive officer, 110th Airlift Wing, Michigan Air National Guard, Battle Creek, Michigan.
Major Black was the contact person for the Peace House activists who approached him in advance about their plans for the demonstration at the base’s front gate. He found them polite and responsible in all their actions and added that it is the right of citizens to express themselves freely, and in fact one the missions of the military is to defend that right. However, he doesn’t believe those who protest the military uses of drones have all the facts about them.
One of the military’s most important objectives is to be more efficient and economical. This shift in priorities began with the end of the Cold War when the United States began the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process that closed more than 350 installations in five rounds: 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005. This downsizing included two Michigan bases: K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette County (1995) and Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda (1993). A smaller force requires doing things in new ways. And, theoretically, reductions in military spending mean potential reallocations of money to domestic peace time uses.
Since September 11, 2001, war has changed, said Major Black. Small terrorist groups, not nations, conduct operations that take place in cities as well as obscure and vast areas. The drone is particularly good at reconnaissance of the enemy’s movements without sacrificing the lives of American ground troops or pilots.
The drone is slow and it provides a much better view of what is going on and who is involved. In the past, the military had to depend on a jet pilot riding at almost the speed of sound. Therefore, a reconnaissance drone provides more accurate intelligence because it can fly for a longer period of time over a wider area. Its video feeds can be reviewed and analyzed by a group of people rather than one pilot.
“You have more people seeing what’s going on,” said Major Black. “Is the enemy killing troops? Assassinating ambassadors? Holding children at gunpoint and forcing them to lay IEDs and set out road-side bombs? These video feeds allow us to pinpoint the action and allow a highly trained team to analyze what is seen and then decide what to do.”
Drones can be mass produced at a relatively low cost. They’re the size of a fighter or metro commuter plane and can use the same precision munitions. However, they operate much more cheaply than a fighter jet. Their camera equipment is similar to that of a news helicopter.
Reconnaissance technology has changed – and must change – over time, according to Major Black. In the 19th century scouts went in front of the battlefield. Then, the military used balloons and binoculars. During World War I and II, it was biplanes and single-engine propeller planes. Jets came shortly after World War II. Drones have been in operation since 2004.
“America’s enemies have technology,” said Major Black, “so we use also use technology to defend ourselves. Technology is always evolving, it’s important to keep our equipment up to date. It’s the most efficient, ethical, and effective use of the funds taxpayers have entrusted to us.”
Drone technology does change very quickly. FedEx, Amazon, and E-Bay-type businesses as well as wedding photographers are capitalizing on possible commercial applications. Ted Talks provide an interesting look at an aspect of this current technology.
Although drones were originally designed for reconnaissance, they now can carry weapons against enemies seeking to harm the United States and its people. “Our weapons systems are more accurate and steadily getting better,” Major Black said. “We have the best equipped troops and the most ethical, most educated soldiers the military has ever had.” Cannot an ethical case be made for the judicious use of a weapon against a committed enemy of a country and its people? Are not drones less invasive to a country’s sovereignty and people than troops in-country?
Fair – and tough – questions. Questions that Major Black and the members of Peace House will continue to address.