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Earth Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the TinyTent AT?

Hundreds of miles in, with thousands more to go—one would think these two women would be nicknamed Blisters and Wails. Instead, Emily Sklar ’15 and Margaux Reckard ’13 are known along the trail as Giggles and Chuckles, respectively.

Hikin’ Hornets Emily Sklar ’15 (left) and Margaux Reckard ‘13.

The two laughing hikers are at this very moment somewhere along the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, hiking from Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine on an adventure that began on March 24. The adventures of Giggles and Chuckles are being recorded, step by step and with vivid photography, on their blog, Where the tinytent AT?

“My SIP [senior individualized project] is an exploration of the relationship between humans and their natural environment on the Appalachian Trail,” wrote Emily, a.k.a. Giggles, in early April, from a point near Springer Mountain, about 164 miles into the hike.  She is a biology major with an interest in ecological issues, and she started thinking about hiking the Trail while on her LandSea expedition at the beginning of her freshman year. Her interest in nature, biology, and ecology came together in her SIP plan.

My SIP will explore what people gain from their experiences on the trail.

“I am conducting interviews along our hike to discuss individuals’ experiences, and what people gain from their experience on the trail,” Emily said. “The trip thus far has been really interesting. I’ve met a lot of people. Everyone has a different story and comes from a different place. Folks come from different geographic regions, levels of fitness, and experience levels.”

Emily Sklar ’15 encounters a wild pony in Grayson Highlands, a portion of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail hike she is doing for her Senior Individualized Project.

New friends (and SIP subjects) include hikers with such trail names as The Captain, Grandpa Chops, Roadrunner, Hearsay, LAF and Slim.

Emily added: “I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the company that we’ve found at the camps, although the sites very over crowded our first week. There were around 20 tents a night at each campsite. The groups are beginning to thin now because folks either leave the trail or move at different speeds.”

The two hikers have at this point hiked through the state of Georgia, and yes, there have been blisters, and rain, and frustrations along with the laughter.

“The biggest frustration that we’ve met so far has not been the rain,” said Emily. “We’ve felt like we have something to prove, being women out here. A lot of folks in camp haven’t taken us too seriously, but as soon as they learn that we’re some of the most experienced hikers out here, that changes a bit. All in all, we’re happy. We’re a little bit sore from the recent increase in mileage, but we’re having a lot of fun, making a lot of friends, staying dry (for the most part), and laughing frequently. “

As the weeks go on, the miles accumulate, and the blisters heal into calluses, the two write on their blog that they are feeling stronger. The goal of reaching Katahdin in Maine, wrote Margaux, “feels more and more possible.”

Follow their adventures and view the photos of Giggles and Chuckles at Where the tinytent AT?

Blazer and Believer

It’s late afternoon, and De’Angelo Glaze mills about the Richardson Room Café in the Hicks Center, slapping high fives, giving hugs, laughing so hard his eyes close. A faux rabbit fur bomber cap frames a boyish face that can’t stop smiling. He seems to know everyone, and everyone seems very happy to know him.

De’Angelo played two years of football for the Hornets, and his program photo, though appropriately serious and fierce, belies the senior’s friendly and caring spirit.

In a way, he’s been wrapped up warmly here, swaddled in the comforting ebb and flow of college life—playing football for the Hornets, focusing on academics, surrounded by caring friends, professors, coaches, teammates.

It’s a far cry from the life in which Glaze, age 21, was steeped in the years growing up in a tough neighborhood just north of 8 Mile Road, a neighborhood where there is a predetermined path for many young men, one that doesn’t include study abroad and late night study groups.

In 2009, his cousin was shot dead over a dice game. Sometimes, while hanging out on porches in his Royal Oak Township neighborhood, De’Angelo would hear the crackle of gunfire break apart the night. Many of his peers—the ones with talent, potential, intelligence – would choose a life bound to the streets, he says, a future concerned with hustling, dealing drugs, pushing the edges of life, and flirting with an early end to it all.

Glaze blazed his own trail.

“It’s become clearer to me recently that we shouldn’t have to choose between these two paths because it’s a false choice,” he says. “No one really wants to choose a road that leads to crime, to possibly being killed. But for many it’s all they know. I wanted something different.”

Rarely does one get out alone. There’s almost always an encouraging believer, a loyal and loving friend or relative who sees something in us and pushes us to see it, too, to imagine ourselves in a better spot.

For Glaze, a business major, that encouraging believer was his mother.  That Glaze would go to college was a foregone conclusion in her eyes, he says. The way out— the way to making a better life—was through education. He will be the first in his family to graduate from college.

“I didn’t see anyone do this. It was trial and error. I didn’t have any one in front of me,” he says. “I had to pave my own way. But people pushed me because they saw something in me. My mom always said, ‘Education is the key.’”

Not everyone was so involved. One afternoon, Glaze was sitting on his front porch with a few friends when his father drove by. He stopped the car, rolled down the window and shouted to his 13-year-old son, a boy with whom he had scarcely been involved.

“He said, ‘They won’t give me a blood (paternity) test for you. You’re not my son,’” Glaze says. “Then he drove away. I don’t remember what I felt at the time. I was in shock. It rattled me.”

Still, he sloughed it off, tried to stay strong, for himself and for his mother and little sister. He’d need to.

A few years later, his mother developed an ovarian cyst, and had to quit her fulltime job at an auto parts manufacturer to focus on her treatment. The loss of income meant that the family lost nearly everything except their house. She found part-time work at Target, but it was barely enough.

For a year, the family fought a monthly battle to keep the gas on. The house routinely had no heat or hot water. To get to sleep that winter, they huddled under mountains of blankets in rooms warmed with space heaters. Pinching pennies, they would store bulk food in a chest freezer in the basement. It was a dark year, the lights turned off whenever they could be. But something burned bright in him, a fire to keep going.

“I had to be the man of the house,” Glaze says. “I had to take care of my mom and sister. I learned a lot at a young age, I guess.”

That Christmas, his mother told her kids that there wouldn’t be many gifts. Times were simply too thin.

“Right then I said, ‘Don’t buy me any gifts.’ I still say that. I’ll take care of my own responsibilities. My motivation in almost everything I do is so my mom doesn’t have to work hard ever again. She sacrificed for me. She gave up a lot so that I could have what I have. Getting a job, making some money for her, that will make me feel like I’m playing my role.”

Glaze was developing a maturity seen in few teens, but he was still a high school kid, still needed the outlets through which the pulse of youth surges. In sports, he found his spark.

At Ferndale High School, he was a multi-letter athlete: an all-state shot-putter, MVP of the boy’s track team, captain of the football team. His talents on the gridiron caught the attention of Jamie Zorbo, head coach of the Hornets football team, who recruited Glaze.

His college choices came down to Michigan State University and K. He saw himself succeeding at either institution, and in the throes of trying to decide talked it over with a calculus teacher.

Having an opportunity like I did shouldn’t come down to luck.

“She told me, you can have relationships at school anywhere. It’s the ones you develop with other athletes that will last forever,” Glaze says. “The next hour I finished my application to K.”

He toiled in the trenches, on both the offensive and defensive line, for two years. Then he decided football wasn’t for him anymore.

“My time with football had passed,” he says. “It was taxing more than fun. It was time to move on from it.”

And Glaze made the most of the time he gained after leaving the sport. If anything, life might have gotten busier.

He became a resident assistant, became involved in a host of student activity groups, and spent spring term 2013 on study abroad in Bonn, Germany, an experience that taught him “a sense of being adaptable to any situation, of being able to be independent in a different culture with different people.”

“In many ways, De’Angelo represents the liberating power of the liberal arts,” says Sarah B. Westfall, vice president for student development and dean of students “He’s an intelligent, bright, curious, enthusiastic young man who has the freedom to make a range of choices and think broadly about who he is and what his life can be. All of that is exactly what a superb liberal arts education helps a person do. It’s about freedom.”

De’Angelo Glaze (right) and friends (l-r), Alex Dietrich ’15 and Cameron Goodall ’15, took time to display some Hornet pride during study abroad in Europe.

His K educational experience has also been about friendships based on reciprocal love and a deep desire to serve. For four years, Glaze has been deeply connected to K in part through friendships with students from Los Angeles. Many students from LA attend K as Posse Scholars, a scholarship program that supports public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential often overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Each year during winter quarter the Posse Foundation-Los Angeles convenes a “working retreat” of all the K Posse Scholars and their invited guests. The latter include fellow K students, faculty, staff, and, every year he’s been here, De’Angelo Glaze—a testament to the depth and breadth of his friendships on campus.

Serving others is important to Glaze. “De’Angelo, or any other student from a challenging background, adds unique perspectives to class discussions,” says Amy MacMillan, the L. Lee Stryker Assistant Professor of Business Management, who has had business majors in several classes. “There is a desire in many of these students to give back.  I’m moved by how much I see this desire in De’Angelo. He is an excellent example of the social justice spirit that makes K so special.”

Glaze has seen different sides of the education system, from the resource-thin environment of an urban school system to a college like K, where students are free to focus on developing their potential because their needs are consistently met.

“Education is the only way out,” he says. “Supposedly everyone has equal rights, but that’s not so as far as opportunities. Your background has a heavy influence on that.

“I feel like there are an endless amount of opportunities because I went to K. I can talk to different kinds of people, adapt to different situations, learn from others who are not like me. Going to school here awakened me to a lot of hidden abilities. But I know that in a way I’m lucky. And having an opportunity like I did shouldn’t come down to luck. It should be a right for anyone who has talent, ability and a desire to work hard.”

When Glaze graduates this June, his mother and sister will, of course, be in attendance. And when he looks out to see them, in some ways, he says, he will be looking back as much as forward, thinking about challenges met, sacrifices made.

“It will be an emotional day full of tears of joy,” he says. “There will be a sense of accomplishment, I’m sure. But it really will be about knowing that this is the beginning of where my life’s heading. It’ll be a day when I can say that I came a long way, but have a lot further to go.”

Jewish Life at K

When Associate Professor of Religion and History Jeffrey Haus came to Kalamazoo College nearly a decade ago, the Jewish Studies program was almost non-existent.

Associate Professor Jeffrey Haus with students.

With just a handful of classes that focused on Jewish faith, culture, and history, Haus got to work building a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary curriculum from the ground up. Today, he directs a Jewish Studies program that boasts 14 classes, ranging from beginning and intermediate Hebrew language courses to “Women in Judaism” to the “American Jewish Experience.”

“I’d like to say it’s all been my doing,” jokes Haus, who came to K from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “But you can’t start a program if nobody cares. The College made a commitment to support the program; the administration made a commitment, too. There’s an openness on the campus to Jewish students.

“It’s indicative of how K has changed over years and become more diverse. The Jewish Studies program is part of that change for the better.”

It’s hard to pin-down exactly how many Jewish students there are at K, Haus says. The College does not ask students their religious affiliation and doesn’t keep track of such information. But his best estimate puts the number somewhere between 100 and 150 students.

It’s a demographic that has more opportunities than ever before on campus to celebrate their faith, engage with other Jewish students, and feel a sense of inclusiveness.

“I have heard from Jewish alumni from the ’70s and ’80s who said when they were students here, they didn’t feel out of place, but there was no real organized Jewish life.” says Haus. “It’s different when you know you have a critical mass of Jewish students to support one another and create some cohesion.”

The history of Jews is a history of extraordinary communal creativity ….

During the 2013-14 academic year, six students (Jewish and non-Jewish) signed up for the Jewish Studies concentration. As the program continues to grow, its deepening reach bodes well for the College in many ways. In addition to increasing awareness of and appreciation for the Jewish history and traditions, the concentration’s courses provide an arena for discussing issues of identity, power, and social justice.

“Jewish Studies,” says Haus, can therefore “serve as a nexus where K students can connect different parts of a liberal arts education. Studying Jewish history and religion, they can apply lessons learned from other subjects.”

In addition, the College’s curricular emphasis on social justice increases the relevance of Jewish Studies courses. “Social justice, human rights, and the relationships between majorities and minorities are central themes in Jewish history, religion, and culture,” Haus says. “Jewish communities the world over have always been committed to caring for the less fortunate. The history of Jews is therefore a history of extraordinary communal creativity in areas such as education, economics, and charity.”

Currently, there are two study abroad sites in Israel for K students—one at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the other at the Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, located in the Negev, a starkly beautiful desert region in the south of the nation. Both sites have their advantages, Haus says, but the Be’er Sheva site might provide a bit more authentic experience—and a better deal.

“Jerusalem is where the action is, but it’s also more expensive, and there are more limits when it comes to course offerings,” says Haus. “There are also many more Anglophones in Jerusalem, and you can get by just speaking English. In Be’er Sheva, you have a little more diverse course offerings and it’s a bit more cost effective. There are also more chances to use and learn Hebrew and hang out with Israelis. You can get by with English, but you need to use Hebrew.

“I think that no matter how many Jews there are on campus, there’s never been a better time to be a Jewish student at K,” adds Haus. “Between the strong support from the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, strong support from the administration, and growing number of Jewish activities on campus, as well as this program, it’s leaps and bounds better than what was seen here decades ago. It’s great to have that in a liberal arts setting.”

Jewish students looking for a sense of belonging have traditionally become a part of the Jewish Student Organization, which is open to Jewish and non-Jewish students and has been on campus for decades.

Claire DeWitt '14 prepares for the Passover Seder.

Claire De Witt ’14 is deeply rooted in K’s Jewish student culture and community. The East Lansing native and double major (history and religion with a concentration in Jewish Studies) is the president of the JSO.

About 10 to 15 students are part of the JSO each year, De Witt says, and they are involved with organizing campus-wide events for Jewish and non-Jewish students, faculty, and staff. Many events center around Jewish holidays, when traditional meals are prepared, such as baking hamentashen for Purim. Other activities include building a sukkah on campus for Sukkot and donating trees to Israel for Tu Bishvat.

The biggest event the JSO organizes is a Passover Seder, with a full dinner and service put on by student members. About 60 K community members annually attend the Seder, De Witt says, a time when JSO members can educate other College members about the Jewish faith.

“I enjoy JSO because of the community I am able to cultivate through our events and weekly meetings,” says De Witt. “We are a close-knit group that enjoys movie nights and cooking events together throughout the year.  As a Jewish student I truly appreciate having a safe space to gather, celebrate, and share the cultural heritage with which I so strongly identify.”

JSO isn’t the only group that has become a support network for students of the faith.

“Even six years ago, you didn’t have an option about what kind of Jewish student you wanted to be on campus. Today we have Jews from many different traditions,” says K Chaplain and Director of Religious Life Elizabeth Hakken Candido ’00. “There is more diversity among Jews. JSO used to be the primary vehicle for support, and in the past there was a feeling that if you were Jewish, you needed to be involved with JSO. There is enough room now to not have to be in JSO, if you don’t want to, and still feel supported.”

Madeleine Weisner and Jennifer Tarnoff feel that sense of belonging. The two seniors will graduate in June and have seen the campus become more inclusive and supportive of those who share their faith.

Several days a week, you can find Weisner, from Minneapolis, and Tarnoff, from Chicago, in the basement of Stetson Chapel in a cozy, albeit cramped, space called “The Cavern.” It’s a safe spot for sharing stories, hanging out and sampling free cookies and tea, or picking up “George,” the Cavern’s communal acoustic guitar. Although not tied to any particular religious tradition, there is an element of faith that permeates the space.

Currently, there are eight Jewish student chaplains, the most ever, Hakken Candido says. Student chaplains are the primary volunteers who help organize activities for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Haus recalls that when he arrived at the College there were no Jewish students in those roles.

Tarnoff is a student chaplain, while Weisner works a paying job as a chapel intern.

“My dad wanted me to look at big state schools that had Hillels (a well-known Jewish campus organization),” Tarnoff says. “But I wanted to find a school that could continue the community feeling I had growing up Jewish. There were many other things that trumped going to a big school. There’s a lot of Jews at K. There’s definitely a community here.”

All too often, the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur occurs during orientation and move-in week. Although there is not an official College policy for them to do so, many professors and teaching staff will let Jewish students out of classes to attend services if they wish to, Hakken Candido says, and her office works with JSO to provide free rides to the synagogue of their choice. There are two synagogues in Kalamazoo—the Congregation of Moses, affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Temple B’nai Israel, a Reform temple. Similar efforts are made for Rosh Hashanah, which also takes place in the early part of fall term.

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life also hosts a “Break the Fast” dinner after Yom Kippur for new and returning Jewish students. The event is a great opportunity for freshman Jewish students to meet their older counterparts on campus, develop connections, and find out about Jewish life at K right at the beginning of the year.

“I didn’t grow up perhaps as religious as Jennifer. I didn’t really seek it out,” Weisner says. “But as my college life went on, I looked into my faith more. Having the college support me meant that I had room to grow in my own spirituality.”

Ghost Voice

You know you want to. Go ahead, do it. Just don’t get caught.

Sneak into your sister’s room while she’s out to the party, fish under her fluffy ruffled pillow—and there it is, with its tiny gold key attached by a thin orange and black ribbon. Read her diary under the bedcovers at night, using a flashlight to skim her rounded handwriting. All her secrets …

A picture of Claire Wight Payne from the scrapbook of her classmate, Lydia Buttolph ’16.

It’s a lot like that. Only these diaries are one hundred years old, they’re available online, and the girl sharing her secrets on the written page is Claire Wight, Kalamazoo College Class of 1916. She’s a student (and athlete) at K, walking the Quad with her boyfriend Ralph, tennis racket under her arm, telling him how she’s pretty darn sure that “Tuffy,” her math professor, is going to flunk her this time.

Some things change and some never do.

The diaries, nine of which may be viewed by appointment at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, are dated between 1909 and 1938. In 1909, Claire Wight is 15 years old and attends Kalamazoo Central High School. “Mamma gave me a lovely new diary,” she writes. And she writes in her diary most every single day.

“She’s at the stage of figuring out who she is, what love is, what she wants to do with her life,” says Lisa Murphy ‘98, College archivist at Upjohn Library Commons. Wight’s diary entries about her years  at K begin with 1913. Her entries for the year 1912, when she was a freshman in the fall, are missing.

September 17, 1913:

“College opens! It seemed good to see all the students back and it was regular ‘pandemonium’ with them all talking at once.  I have a very stiff program. The hardest there is and I don’t know how I will come out with it. I have 7:55 math, 9:15 german 10:15 public speaking, 11:15 history 1:30 Chemistry besides Lab work gymnasium etc. I have Prof. Williams, Prof Bacon, Prof Dagistan, Dr. Balch, Prof Smith, This P.M.  E & I went down town and got our books then came home & went over to the gymnasium & practiced tennis against the brick wall Oh I hope I can beat Miss Gregg, It was quite fun watching the Freshmen and helping them out of their dilemas [sic]. This evening I studied a while then Ralph & I went walking through town out onto East Main got some ice cream & candy then came home.”

Murphy has been in close contact with Paula Metzner, assistant director for collection and exhibit services, who has been meticulously transcribing the diaries to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum website, entry by entry, with spelling and grammar mistakes intact for authenticity. In the Kalamazoo College archives (third floor of Upjohn Library Commons) are collections of photographs, programs, notes and various mementos from Claire Wight and from her school years at K in general.

Reading these diaries is a great way to get an idea what K was like a century ago.

“Claire Wight was the daughter of a Baptist minister, Rev. Wallace Wight, who also went to K and graduated in 1892,” says Murphy. “The Baptist roots of Kalamazoo College were very strong during that time, so it makes sense that she came here. Women had few career choices back then—maybe teachers or nurses—but a minister would have thought it was important for a young woman to be educated.”

Students back then, explains Murphy, would not have declared majors and minors, but rather designated a course of studies. It appears Claire Wight studied chemistry along with Latin and German, and other general courses, including what was then known as “hygiene class.”

“Hygiene class promoted health and efficiency,” says Murphy. “It would have included gymnastics, dancing, graded physical training, and games.”

Claire Wight ’16 donated her many MIAA tennis medals to the K archives.

Wight made her mark most, however, in tennis. She won eight MIAA medals in Tennis Women’s Singles throughout her years at K, one silver and seven gold, all but one of which are in Kalamazoo College archives. She credited her father with teaching her how to play and notes elsewhere that he was “an instigator” of building the tennis courts at Kalamazoo College.

Lillian Claire Wight was born in South Dakota in 1894, but moved to Kalamazoo, where she lived on Ingleside Terrace with her parents when her father was appointed to minister at First Baptist Church and later Bethel Baptist Church.

“Women lived in the Ladies’ Hall at that time,” says Murphy, “but Claire would have lived at home since she was from Kalamazoo. The men lived at Upper Hall.”

During Wight’s years at K, Herbert Lee Stetson was president; she writes in her diary at times about her friendship with his daughter, Elizabeth, who was also a student at that time. The student body included 253 students; some 22 were women members of the senior class. A master’s program was available, but with only one graduate student attending. Two students from Egypt attended Kalamazoo College during the same years.

“Reading these diaries is a great way to get an idea what K was like a century ago,” Murphy smiles. “I can identify with some of the pressure she feels about doing well in class, her panic over exams, and how busy she is. Like Claire, I had a professor tell me that I can do better.”

In an entry dated December 6, 1913, Claire writes:

Claire often alluded to her math professor, C.B . Williams, as “Tuffy” in her diary entries.

“Well diary I’m going to College and we do have the parties and spreads and receptions and stunts that you read about and I guess I’m in my share all right but somehow it’s different from what I supposed it would be. I think the books of college stories hide the hard work of college life too much because really most of the time we’re working away at our books and recitations and then too [it] isn’t just having a banquet but we have to get busy and wash the dishes same as ever and sometimes I get so tired out that I feel like the old woman… but I love college just the same and we do have grand times.”

All in all, Claire seems to have done well in her studies, although she was not beyond playing occasional hooky. She was also apparently popular with the boys, although one in particular, Ralph Payne ’15, was most attentive and persistent. Claire wrote about his frequent attentions, as he often asked her to go walking with him, or to attend various events or parties.

“She kept writing in her diary that she had doubts about her feelings for Ralph,” Murphy concedes, “but as often as she went walking with other boys, she kept coming back to Ralph. Eventually, in July 1917, she married him, and she writes in a note later that they had a good marriage for 59 years.”

The diaries illustrate a time very different from today in terms of women’s rights and choices of lifestyle. Claire writes on February 11, 1914:

“This evening Helen and I and Mother and Gene & Mrs. Weaver went to a woman’s meeting at the 1st Baptist Church and heard Evangelist Drum speak on the subject ‘How to chose[sic] a husband.’ It was a fine address but I thought it was more of a womans duty than a man’s to talk of such things and while the address was helpful and good I wish a woman had given it. I’ll jot down some of the points that appealed to me. Have the home tidy when your husband returns. Always be tidily dressed and dress young and wear a bit of color. Get what you want done by your husband by indirect suggestion. Don’t tell your Mother the faults of your husband. After the lecture Mother & Helen & I stayed down town to see the new gas lighting system, chester lights, turned on. It was beautiful and a pine tree in the park was all wired with red, white and blue lights and flooded with water so it was just a mass of sparkling icy crystals when it was turned on   the display of soft and sparkling light was beautiful and wonderful.”

While writing that she worried if it was “sinful” to attend the theatre, Wight several times remarks, “but it doesn’t feel sinful.” She took roles in several plays staged at Kalamazoo College. Murphy has found her name listed on theatre programs, including playing the part of Queen Elinor in a production of “Sherwood” in 1916, staged in the woods rather than on a stage.

In an alumni survey, to the question “Who was the most significant and influential College person in your own Kalamazoo College experience?” Wight answered: Lemuel Fish Smith, a chemistry professor.  She writes of other transformative experiences, too, such as hearing Helen Keller speak, attending many concerts, and enjoying many cherished friendships with fellow students.  And pranks, too …Wight relishes writing about freshman boys who crawl through stealthily opened windows to steal ice cream from school freezers, and sophomore girls who sneak into the dorm rooms of freshmen girls to steal all of their clothes.