Archives

Dream Work

The young people who come into the office of Sara Wiener ’03 often have nowhere else to turn for help. They are scared, anxious and sometimes living with families who do not fully understand them.

SaraWeinerPIC2

Sarah Weiner at the UMHS, where she heads the pediatric gender services office.

But they do know one thing: they want to be able to live a fully authentic life. They know the body they were born with does not house their true selves. And even in a day and age when public discussion about transitioning to another gender is more commonplace, the social stigma is still strong, and support systems oftentimes are shaky at best.

“The kids I see have been so distressed,” says Wiener. “Some say they’ve attempted suicide. Some are bullied at school. Others have hurt themselves. The stress on them is often incredible. Trans and gender non-conforming kids have always existed, but often in the shadows.”

Wiener, 34, is extending a much needed helping hand.

Since 2008, she had been working as a clinical outpatient psychologist at a Massachusetts medical center, counseling “medically complex” young people—kids with genetic disorders, poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes, and other medical issues.  The work was satisfying, but she had a yearning to return closer to her native home of Plymouth, Michigan.

“So I approached the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) and said, ‘You don’t have a pediatric gender services office, and I’d like to start that here.’”

The health system listened.

The UMHS, which for 20 years had been attending to the health care needs of transgender adults—one of the first hospitals in the nation to do so—agreed it was a good idea. Wiener got the job and early this year became UMHS’s manager of comprehensive gender services.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “It fits with who I am and my politics.”

The story of how Wiener landed in the growing world of transgender health care is a testament to the self-directed, lifelong style of learning championed so much at K. Wiener, who holds a Master of Social Work degree from Smith College in Massachusetts, had next to no formal training in gender dysphoria or transgender health care. During her graduate studies, she remembers exactly one course that dealt with gender issues, and then only in a cursory way.

“I got a bunch of books and journals and spread them out on a table and thought to myself, ‘How am I going to do this?’” she recalls. “But I knew I had the skills. K gave me the know-how to teach myself on my own. Embracing lifelong learning—that was kind of hammered into you as a K student. I was thinking of the College when I did this. And I did it.”

Research shows that about 80 percent of prepubertal children who identify with a gender other than that assigned at birth do not go on to become transgender adolescents or adults, she says. Instead, they may grow up to become gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The majority of adolescents in puberty who are struggling with their gender during or after puberty will go on to become transgender as adults, Wiener adds.

“It’s this constant voice telling them, ‘This is not me,’” she says. “For many people, it does not go away.”

She does a lengthy clinical assessment before making any recommendation for medical intervention, assessing the young person’s current functioning, family environment, any co-morbid mental health issues (PTSD, depression or chronic anxiety, trauma) and gender histories.

Young people enter her office looking for answers about everything from hormone therapy to surgical procedures. Their families—sometimes conflicted about how to address their child’s gender identity—also are a part of the consultation, receiving support from Wiener’s office as well. Any minor must have the consent of their parent of guardian before going forward with any therapy.

“Some parents have a hard time with what their child is going through,” Wiener says. “Some think it’s a phase the child will move through, or are having trouble accepting what’s going on. These parents need support, too. Here, we have a holistic approach.”

LuxEsto spoke with Wiener just a month after she started her new position. Already, she had seen young people and their families from across the state. In Michigan, there is only one other health care provider willing to prescribe hormone therapy to transgender young people, she says.

“Trans people want and deserve to be integrated. They often want or need specialized medical and any number of other support services. We can do that here.”

Wiener’s work also puts her on the front lines of the of the social justice movement for transgender rights and inclusion.

“It’s different from outpatient psychotherapy. When I did that work, the social justice advocate part of me wasn’t activated. I wasn’t making the kind of changes I wanted to help make. When I do this work, I feel like I am really making a difference—and it feels awesome.”

She’s already been emotionally touched by her work.

She remembers a father who brought his 6-year-old natal male child into her office for feedback regarding how to manage the child’s preferences for clothing typically associated with girls. The child came through the door “all dolled up,” Wiener says, wearing a pink dress, bows in his hair and clutching a magic wand.

“Dad came in looking for direction, wondering what he should do. After a thorough assessment, I was able to assure the father he was doing the right thing by supporting the child in the child’s unique gender expression. The relief I saw on his face was incredible, just that simple bit of advice ended up helping them both.

“I get to be a part of a young person’s life and help them become who they truly are, removing barriers so they can be their authentic selves and connect them with what they need. It’s an honor to see people become themselves. It is so rewarding.”

Change Advocate Developed Organizing Skills at K

Community organizing had always attracted Jonathan Manuel Romero Robles ’13, and at K it became the most important skill he learned.

Photo of Jonathan Manuel Romero Robles '13 and former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

Jonathan (right) with former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell after signing the city’s resolution to join Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative in September 2015.

The son of Mexican immigrants living in South Central Los Angeles, Romero discovered at an early age that one’s social status greatly affects one’s education and access to resources. He was also keenly aware of how negatively the media portrays people like himself and his parents.

“It bothered me,” he said. “All that negativity was reinforced in school and at home. Then the media’s negative portrayal of us influenced policies that had detrimental consequences, such as decreasing our access to quality education, which in turn adversely affected our self-esteem. Media portrayals made it difficult for us to achieve our best potential and to do great things.”

Romero also learned that Latinos were survivors of a larger political landscape that was steeped in historical oppression.

“I didn’t have a name for that oppression in my early years, but I certainly felt it and was aware of it. It made me angry, but it also inspired me,” he said. “Supporting marginalized groups became what I wanted to do with my life. Later I learned that I could make change through organizing and advocacy work.”

Romero believes that Kalamazoo College gave him a positive foundation and several opportunities to lead by example.

He came to K as a POSSE Foundation scholar. POSSE administers one of the most comprehensive and renowned programs in the U.S. for college access and youth leadership development. It identifies, recruits and trains students from public high schools with extraordinary academic and leadership potential.

“Through the K-Plan I acquired a broad sense of what to do with my life, what that would mean, what I needed to learn,” he said.

He majored in political science and in philosophy, an academic combination he applied to stand up for himself and validate his own reality.

“If you can’t articulate injustices, some people will consider them valid,” said Romero. “K gave me lots of opportunities to call out injustices, through the Arcus Center mainly. Jamie Grant, Lisa Brock and other staff were always supportive of my organizing work on campus.”

In the summer of 2011, Romero obtained an internship at the Center for Progressive Leadership (Washington, D.C.) where he developed relationships with other young professionals and met with several congressional policymakers.

“It was the first time I envisioned myself as someone who could implement change,” he said.

That same fall, he had an opportunity to study away at the Philadelphia Center for Urban Studies. There he attended classes and secured an internship position with City Council Member Curtis Jones Jr. At City Hall Romero worked with the communications team during the Occupy Movement.

“The Occupy Movement made me examine the social hierarchies that oppress people on a variety of issues,” he said. “Never before was I prouder to be Latino, and I felt the need to make a point, to validate our experience.”

In spring of 2012 he studied abroad in Costa Rica and discovered immigration to be a global issue. It became clear to him, through observations of the media and various personal interactions, that Nicaraguans are a marginalized group in Costa Rica. Romero was painfully reminded that people too often react to people of color solely based on the color of their skin. It happened to him when he was prohibited from returning to Costa Rica after a visit to Nicaragua.

“Despite my U.S. passport, they wouldn’t let me back in. My peers who were ahead of me in line were let through, but not me.”

His Costa Rican experience inspired him to write his very first Spanish language poem, which he shared at K during a visit of Yosimar Reyes, a nationally acclaimed poet. He also decided to write his Senior Individualized Project (SIP) in the philosophy department arguing why undocumented immigrants should not be deported from the United States.

Photo of Jonathan Manuel Romero Robles '13 with student activists in Washington, D.C. at a rally to save the federal Pell Grant program.

Jonathan joins other student activists in Washington, D.C., at a rally to save the federal Pell Grant program.

“I think about the intersectionality of people’s experiences and how oppressive systems win unless those at the bottom take a seat at the table, leading and promoting their own interests,” said Romero. “So my work has been centered around proposing new ideas and innovative ways of handling this oppression among Black people and Latinos.”

Romero is very excited about his current position as jobs coordinator for Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) in South Central Los Angeles. SCOPE has been in existence for 24 years. It builds power in the community by training ordinary people to lead by example in campaigns and lobbying opportunities and in neighborhood canvassing. SCOPE’s organizers have learned how to cultivate movements in which everyone takes the lead.

“That is the essence of democracy,” said Romero. “We have to use the system to do the best we can for marginalized groups who have been left out.” he said.

Romero serves people who want to work and to contribute to the community but who face a variety of problems including the lack of legal documentation, limited English proficiency, and discrimination based on LGBT status and nonviolent criminal records.

“At SCOPE I identify and advocate for job opportunities,” he says. “For example, we’ve pushed for civil service jobs at the City of Los Angeles and on-the-job training programs at the Department of Water. These targeted local hire programs are providing proof that our community faces significant barriers to employment and that the situation must change.”

SCOPE sees what South Central LA can be and works for the change that can make that vision a reality.

“Our current system is designed to keep certain people out in order for other people to benefit,” said Romero. “The question for those on the lower rungs of the social hierarchies is how and when will they push back against a system that minimizes their dignity and humanity.

“I help my community identify, articulate and call out systems rigged to oppress us. What I do has policy implications, and it provides a channel for change. The work is an awesome responsibility, and a privilege, too.”

Just Fight

When the stresses of the day get to be too much, Mia Henry gets into the gym and kicks. She kicks hard. She’s a kickboxer.

“I joined the gym to work out my frustrations, and I thought it was better to punch and kick a bag rather than channel them elsewhere,” says Henry. And then she smiles, her face lighting up with kindness.

Mia Henry in her office at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Mia enjoys the brave new space of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

Henry is the executive director of Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College (ACSJL). She took the position in a little over a year ago, after Kalamazoo College conducted a national search for a leader to follow Jaime Grant. Henry’s character combines tough empathy with the ability to fight for justice, a perfect combination for a social justice leader.

“I often use the metaphor of boxing when I speak about social justice,” Henry says. “Boxing is difficult, challenging but cathartic. I couldn’t land a solid hit until I got into shape. Freedom fighting is still fighting: you need training first. You need technique and you need to know your strategy in order to achieve change.”

When a recruiter contacted Henry about the Kalamazoo College position, she was intrigued.

“So many social justice organizations are focused on a single political issue or one specific cause,” Henry says. “ACSJL is able to look at the big picture and reflect on what leadership looks like.”

Henry’s road to Kalamazoo has taken many turns, with a starting point in the Deep South.

“I was born in Florida, grew up in Tennessee and Alabama,” she says. “I moved around a lot growing up. My family is mostly in Alabama now, but when I got older, I wanted nothing more than to teach in the big city. I wanted to live in a place of diversity and teach social studies, so I sent out résumés to all the high schools in the most diverse areas of Chicago and drove up with a friend who also wanted to teach.”

Arriving in her goal city, Chicago, Henry walked into one high school after another on her list, applying for teaching jobs. She was hired as a social studies teacher at Roald Amundsen High School.

“No matter what job I’ve held since, I still think of myself as an educator,” Henry says.

Interior of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

The iconography of the ACJSL is a study in collaboration and equality.

Her position at ACSJL will include maintaining and augmenting the vision for the Center; developing programming and partnerships with local, national, and international organizations; raising the profile of the Center and the College nationally and internationally; and working with K faculty, staff, and students on innovative projects and practices in social justice leadership. The Center is on the very threshold of its second biennial Global Prize for Transformative Social Justice Leadership.

“I liked that here the interdependence and contexts of social justice issues are stressed and studied,” she says. “That’s rare.”

In her first months at ACSJL, Henry listened carefully to the Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo College communities. She placed herself first in the role of student, learning, absorbing, considering carefully what she has heard.

“Freedom fighting is still fighting: you need training first.”

“People here have been very open with their discomfort,” she says. “No one thinks we can solve everything. Students have said to me, ‘Mia, we’ll never get rid of racism!’ But then I tell them to think of what we do here as medicine to fight disease. There will always be disease, and we will always have to fight it.”

As a girl, Henry listened to her mother tell stories of segregated schools in the Deep South. Her mother was one of only seven African-American children attending an otherwise white school.

“My mother would show me her school yearbooks, and she could still remember, point out each photo, this child treated her well, this child did not,” says Henry. “It was from my parents that I learned the values of justice, and that revolution begins at home, by treating people well. I was fortunate to have a family willing to have those hard conversations with me and tease out ideas about how we might change the world.”

From her parents Henry learned to admire people who were kind and who lead with love, she says, even while being angry at the injustices in the world.

“It’s the injustice that makes me angry,” she says, “more than the people behind it. I believe in the human capacity for change.”

With the building that houses ACSJL being so new and unique (it is the first architecture in the world designed specifically to reflect a mission of social justice leadership), Henry has assigned to herself the mission to help the community embrace ACSJL as its own.

“I want people to understand that ACSJL belongs to them,” she says.

Although what attracted Henry to ACSJL was its generalist approach to social injustice, she acknowledges a place in her own heart for one particular cause.

“Mass incarceration,” she nods. Along with several other boards, she serves on the board of directors for Community Justice for Youth Institute in Chicago, an organization that works to develop alternatives to incarceration. The profiling, she says, the disproportionate arrests, and the treatment that people receive when incarcerated—these are the causes that move her most to work for change.

As part of her personal work for her chosen cause, Henry visited an Illinois prison and learned about abuses within the prison system, including torture.

“It’s hard to hear about these kinds of things,” she acknowledges. “We don’t want to believe this about ourselves. But it happens.”

Hearing the ugly stories, having the difficult conversations, however, are a part of what leads to positive change, she says.

“My approach to my work at Kalamazoo College comes from a place of love. I love people, all people, enough to fight for them. One person’s values don’t have to be at the expense of another’s values.”

Embracing the call for leadership is liberation, Henry says. “Here, I want to nurture leadership. My hope is that at Kalamazoo College every student, staff and faculty has the tools to apply a social justice lens to their work.  Doing so is critical for enlightened leadership and thus deeply embedded in the Kalamazoo College mission.”

The Training of a Champion
ACSJL requires a special kind of leadership. Mia Henry had the rich and varied work experience Kalamazoo College sought for its commitment to social justice leadership, and she has since proved to be the perfect fit.

•    Henry has served on the national leadership team for Black Space, an initiative of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs). SPACEs supports intergenerational groups of community leaders working for racial equity across the United States.
•    Henry was associate director of Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit in Chicago working with 50 area high schools that involves young people in the political process through action civics.
•    Henry worked as a senior consultant for youth development at the University of Chicago. She taught youth development classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was a program coordinator for City University of New York, monitoring college enrollment, student achievement, and parent outreach initiatives.
•    Henry worked with the Chicago Freedom School (CFS), an organization that provides training and education opportunities for youth and adult allies to develop leadership skills through the lens of civic action and through the study of the history of social movements and their leaders.
•    Henry founded Reclaiming South Shore for All, a grassroots group committed to institutionalizing systems that promote peace, youth leadership, and political accountability. She also owns and operates Freedom Lifted, a small business that provides civil rights tours.

Henry’s experience has provided her a tool kit of empathy and understanding as well as the hands-on experience that has honed her ability to know what works and what doesn’t. She has worked with youth and adults, helping them to approach and solve their problems, personally and academically.

Henry earned a B.S. degree in sociology and criminal justice from Rutgers University and an M.S. Ed. degree in secondary education from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

WOWed

Holly Hughes

Holly Hughes reads at the launch party for Memories of the Revolution. Photo by Mona McKinsry

The women who performed at the WOW Café Theatre on the Lower East Side of New York City sometimes called themselves the Uncooperative Cooperative. Holly Hughes ’77 was one of those women. She has also said, more than once, that WOW saved her life.

WOW, or Women’s One World, a feminist theatre space started in the early 1980s, was (and still is) a place where many gay women like Hughes found themselves and their art. WOW became the safe place where women who had long felt themselves on the margins of society could express themselves as rebels even while developing lasting bonds of friendship and support with each other. Their uncooperative selves found cooperation in each other.

Hughes is a contributing editor to Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theater (co-edited with Carmelita Tropicana and Jill Dolan). The book, published by University of Michigan Press in 2015, is a collection of memories, play scripts, and photographs of WOW’s first decade. Authors, along with Hughes, include playwright and actor Lisa Kron ’83; Carmelita Tropicana from the theater troupe the Five Lesbian Brothers; and actors and playwrights Peggy Shaw, Lois Weaver, Deb Margolin, and others.

“WOW was so warm and welcoming,” she says. “It was my sorority. They were breaking the rules. I was looking for that kind of sense of community. Particularly a feminist sort of community.”

WOW was different than other theatre groups in that no play was censured, no auditions were required, any play got the stage. Whatever members wrote was performed, no questions asked.

“The idea that was implicit in this was that people get better by doing the work,” Hughes says.

Having that kind of acceptance, Hughes found, fostered a daring creativity. She had expected to work the back stage, but the Café was too small—“I think maybe it was 12 feet across,” Hughes says—to have a back stage. She instead found herself performing and writing plays of her own. And she found she liked it.

“When I say now that WOW saved my life—I came of age in a place where I couldn’t access a feminist and LGBT movement. And while I loved K, and I have fond memories of my time there, it was at a time before we had women’s studies, for example. I was really struggling with trying to figure out who I was in the world, and it wasn’t just personal questions about my sexuality. It was larger questions about identity and a larger political landscape, about feminism and what was then known as the gay liberation movement. WOW helped put my personal struggles into a larger political context. That helped me enormously.

“At WOW, I was able to have conversations with women that didn’t make me feel crazy,” Hughes adds. “Working on this book, I realized a lot of women coming of age at the same time I did, in the 70s and 80s, the way that they experienced their gender, their sexual identity, was with the feeling that they were crazy. Their sense of injustice was made to seem like a psychological problem. Looking back, I realized how adrift we all felt. But here at WOW we found affirmation.”

Hughes found her voice as a performer and as a playwright. Her work has earned her critical praise, including two Obie Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (one of which was recalled when her art was discovered to have a gay theme), Creative Capital, and others.

Hughes studied visual art at Kalamazoo College. “And I took a lot of English. I loved it. I wasn’t an English major, but I was very interested in writing, but still thinking of myself as a visual artist. This was the world of which I wanted to be a part.”

In art and theatre, too, Hughes says she has seen a huge shift in work by and about women and groups at the margins who have not always found venues for their art.

“In my more than 30 years working in theatre and performance art, I’m seeing incredibly thoughtful, innovative, provocative, confusing work done about gender and sexuality and race. We are moving away from the stereotypes. Things are starting to shift, they are starting to break open. And audiences are asking for it. Audiences want to be challenged.”

As a professor today in theatre and drama, at the Stamps School of Art and Design, and of women’s studies at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Hughes strives to teach the upcoming generations to think about the differences in people in a new way. Sharing the manuscript of Memories of the Revolution while still in manuscript with some of her students, she found that the material and the experiences recounted drew interest.

“I’m really interested in uncovering what my students want to say,” Hughes says.  “What their desires are, what’s burning and big inside them. I want to help them put that into a larger context.”

While some of the questions with which Hughes grappled in her earlier years on the stage are less demanding today, she finds that some of her students have questions of their own, ones that fit the context of their times and that require a voice that is just as personally defining.

“My students who are not white, who are not male, who are not cisgendered, students who come from poverty or other experiences of marginalization—there’s a process of finding a voice that you feel can be heard and respected,” Hughes says. “I can help them find that voice.”

Grace Work

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.

Amy Jimenez helps a baby in her public health work in Haiti

Amy Jimenez ’14 helps weigh a baby during public health work in Haitian communities.

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.

Roxann Lawrence poses with a friend

Roxann Lawrence ’14 (right) and friend.

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.

“[It is important to] not just impose your own style on other cultures.”

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.”

Suzanne Curtiss and Keith Mumma in ICC’s Kalamazoo office

Suzanne Curtiss ’14 and Keith Mumma in ICC’s Kalamazoo office.

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.”

Care and Community

For many people, growing up means changing one’s mind about prospective vocations. One day the plan is to become a policeman, the next day a doctor, the next year a teacher.

Others know from an early age exactly what work they want to do when they become adults. Caroline Barnett ’15 is such a person. Since she was in her teens she’s set her sights on one goal—becoming a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. In just a few more years she fully expects to be one.

Caroline Barnett ’15 (second from right) with fellow 2015-16 interns of Washington D.C.’s Sojourners.

Caroline Barnett ’15 (second from right) with fellow 2015-16 interns of Washington D.C.’s Sojourners.

While growing up in Prairie Village, Kansas (near Kansas City), Caroline became active in the church, particularly youth groups, where she spent “every free hour I had.”

When she attended high school her involvement “became more meaningful. I came to really respect our pastors. That’s when I decided I wanted to become one.”

Consistent with that goal, Barnett graduated from K with majors in religion and what she believes is a related field, anthropology and sociology.

Her passion has recently led her Washington D.C., where she has joined the Christian-based Sojourners internship program.

“We publish a magazine once a month and have an active website with articles,” Barnett explains. “I have written some on-line articles, but my position is editorial assistant, mostly as a fact-checker for other articles. I’ve never done much in journalism before, so this is a real learning experience for me.”

Sojourners began during the Vietnam War era. It encourages Christians to put their faith into action in pursuit of social justice, peace and environmental stewardship. The organization engages in advocacy on issues such as hunger, poverty and immigration. It is nondenominational, with a membership that is equal parts Evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic.

To assist in its efforts, Sojourners brings in an intern class of about 10 men and women each fall. They remain for a full year and work in one of several departments. The program, now in its 32nd year, offers a holistic integration of life and faith through professional development, spiritual guidance and intentional Christian community.

All of the interns live in a house provided by Sojourners, which also offers meals, healthcare, local transportation and a $100 monthly stipend.

“It’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed the experience,” Barnett says. “It’s a little bit like college in that there are always people around, ready to do fun things. But it’s easy to get burned out living with the people you also work with, so we’ve really made efforts to constantly check on how we are all doing. Do people need more time to themselves? Are they having a rough time at work and need to talk about it?”

When her year with Sojourners is complete Barnett intends to take the next step in her quest to become a minister: attending either a seminary or a school of divinity.

“Religious communities can be incredibly special places,” she says. “They can be systems of support during hard times, places of celebration during happy ones. They can act as instruments of change for social justice. Of course, churches can also be messy, full of interpersonal politics and resistant to change. It’s the reality of both of these versions that leads me to wanting to be a pastor.

“For me, the Presbyterian Church is my home. It’s shaped who I am.”

Some of that shaping took place during her time at K.

“My four years there went really well. I came to love the study of religion. All of my professors were fabulous. Carol Anderson was one of my favorites. So was Shreena Gandhi, who was my advisor for my SIP [Senior Individualized Project]. I can’t praise the department highly enough. I really never had a bad class.”

One aspect of campus life that Barnett credits for helping her grow as a person was the diversity of faiths she encountered. In Kansas many of the people she knew were Presbyterian, but at K she interacted with a wide spectrum of beliefs.

“I enjoy talking about religion, so I tend to bring it up in conversation.”

Some of those conversations took place at K’s chapel. “They had a program there that allowed me to interact with people with different beliefs. It helped me understand others, and myself, better.”

She then adds with a smile, “And it was nice that there were usually tea and cookies available.”

One of the persons who guided Caroline’s spiritual path at K was Elizabeth (Hakken) Candido ’00, the College’s chaplain and director of religious life.

“Caroline served as an elder and really helped invigorate our Christian group, which was great because it had sort of fizzled out in the years before she arrived,” Candido recalls.

“She was clearly smart enough to handle the academic challenges, but to pursue actual ordination one has to be a leader and know how to handle the tough issues. I helped her with some of that, such as public speaking. But Caroline is the sort of person who tackles a challenge head on, so she really grew as a person while she was here.

“She is just so kind and thoughtful,” Candido adds. “And she’s incredibly tolerant of other faiths. Some of that probably came from the fact that she’s from a mixed faith family. Her father is Jewish and her mother Presbyterian.

“Many of our students are tolerant; they’re at a point in life where they’re in transition; they’re deciding how much of their parents’ faith they want to stay with. When they hear others talk of their faiths, their reaction might be ‘That’s not at all what I want,’ but it also might be that they feel an attraction.”

Part of Candido’s role on campus is to provide what she describes as “pastoral services” to those in need.  “I tell our students that if they see someone who seems to be having a rough time, maybe someone crying, don’t ignore them. Talk to them, or send them to me.”

Candido also helps connect K students to area churches. “We don’t do services at the Chapel, but we have connections with many churches. Some are close enough that the students can walk. If they’re further away the churches are usually able to provide transportation; they’re always thrilled to get a college student to attend.”

While Barnett’s fellow K students exposed her to different religious beliefs, that opportunity paled in comparison to what she experienced during her study abroad experience.

“I went to West Africa, to Dakar, Senegal. It’s 97 percent Muslim. I lived with a host family, which provided me with a wonderful opportunity for conversations about faith.

“I enjoyed my time there. It gave me a chance to improve my French. I liked going to the markets, although sometimes the merchants would raise their prices because they knew I was a visitor. Dakar is a huge city, with over a million people, and I liked exploring it. There were times, though, that I got some place, looked around and wondered, ‘What am I doing here? How is this a good idea?’

“Senegal is certainly the hottest place I’ve ever been. It was a great experience.”

The experience she hopes will be greater still is when she is finally ordained in the Presbyterian Church.

“While there are things about being a pastor that interest me—public speaking, for example, and the opportunity to study things I find interesting—at the core of my desire is to be a part of a community, and to teach and care for it.”

Prize Inspiration

They arrived as friendly competitors. They left as collaborators and comrades. And that was kind of the point.

Inspiring one another and working together was the spirit of the 2015 Global Prize event.

Inspiring one another and working together was the spirit of the 2015 Global Prize event.

It’s only been two short years since the inaugural Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership Global Prize competition in the fall of 2013, but the event is fast becoming a sought after platform for grassroots social justice organizations from the United States and around the world to showcase their work and learn from like-minded organizers.

For a weekend this past October, 10 finalists from five counties, including the United States, gathered at the ACSJL on the Kalamazoo College campus to present their projects to a panel of judges comprised of social justice advocates from the local K community and leaders in the movement, each vying for the $25,000 Global Prize. Almost 90 social justice organizations submitted their projects to be considered as a finalist.

Projects ranged from a Ugandan group working to empower youth and reunite them with their tribal pasts by using elements of modern, popular arts and culture, to a Chicago-based organization trying to expose the darker sides of the foster care system, to a grassroots effort in India seeking to protect the language and way of life of indigenous people from the steady march of technology and industrial-based progress.

But there could be only one winner, and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation, the only national LGBTQ Latino organization that focuses on racial justice through a trans and queer lens, took home the prize of $25,000. For Jorge Gutierrez, national coordinator with the Los Angeles-based organization, the award was less about the money than the exposure and cooperation seen at the biennial global prize event.

“These spaces are needed – global or not – to showcase the work that’s being done,” says Gutierrez. “There are big obstacles in front of groups like those who attended the competition. They don’t have the big name connections or access to millions in funding or staff with the grant writing skills that many large, non-profits do. Events like the Global Competition level the field.

“The weekend provided a platform where everyone could be seen – even small, grassroots groups like ours – and showcase the fact that important work is being done by social organizations that are not in the headlines.”

Of course, the money helps, he says.

Jorge Gutierrez and Jennicet Gutierrez accept the ACSJL Global Prize on behalf of Familia.

Jorge Gutierrez and Jennicet Gutierrez accept the ACSJL Global Prize on behalf of Familia.

The prize money means that Familia will be able to hire more fulltime staff and broaden their reach in to the communities they serve, while at the same time leveraging the award as a means to raise more funding.

“These types of events are vitally important for grassroots social justice groups, which often do not have a fundraising department or dedicated staff tasked with drumming up money,” Gutierrez says.

Two organizations won an Audience Choice Award of $2,500 each: Mujeres Lucha y Derechos Para Todas A.C. (MULYD, “Women, Struggle, and Rights for Everyone”), a Mexican-based organization that works to educate and empower indigenous women about health and reproductive rights; and the Association of Injured Workers & Ex-Workers of General Motors Colmotores (ASOTRECOL), a group working to draw attention to the plight of employees injured at a GM plant in Colombia.

In an example of the cooperative spirit nurtured at the conference, Gutierrez – who had become close with representatives of MULYD during the weekend – announced that Familia would donate $5,000 of its prize to the organization.

“We were inspired by their work,” he said. “We have been helped by the award, and in a way, it’s our responsibility to help others, too.”

Frank Hammer is the lead organizer with ASOTRECOL, a group of injured GM workers who for years have lived in tents outside the U.S. embassy in Bogotá to shed light on the unfair treatment of workers at the auto plant there. Some have sustained work-related nerve damage; others suffer with spinal, hand or shoulder injuries. The workers have undertaken four hunger strikes, some even sewing their mouths shut with needle and thread to protest GM’s treatment of workers at the plant. Some hunger strikers endured several months without food.

“The Audience Award helped stabilize our financial needs and sustain the direct actions of the guys in tents,” Hammer says. “It’s so hard for us to keep fighting. We have so much gratitude for the award we received. The guys in Colombia are ecstatic.

“Such a unique event,” he adds. “It’s our version of the Oscars. It’s not a competition against each other, but rather a competition to excel. Even if there was not a dime to be won, we would still have attended. It was such an elevating event. It was award enough to be around so many inspiring people.”

In many ways, that was the main point: the value of the cooperative spirit that emerged from the weekend, as well as the wellspring of mutual inspiration.

“It’s less about the money and more about the visibility. It’s about giving social justice advocates a platform for their work and to celebrate them,” says Lisa Brock, academic director of the ACSJL. “There is an energizing atmosphere at the competition. It’s a special event where like-minded people gather  to learn from one another. Opportunities for collaborating emerge organically.

“The quality of the groups and their work is what we value at the Center. They get exposure, and the Center is better known in the social justice community.”