Kaylah has been named to the White House Internship Program for Fall 2015. The program seeks “to make the White House accessible to future leaders around the nation and to prepare those devoted to public service for future leadership opportunities.” Interns work in one of several White House departments. Their responsibilities and tasks vary by department, but all interns are united through weekly events, including a weekly speaker series with senior staff members and small group meetings that explore different policy aspects of the Executive Office of the President through speakers, discussion and off-site field trips. Most importantly, the internship experience includes an emphasis on service, and interns participate in regularly scheduled service projects at schools and non-profit organizations in Washington, D.C. Kaylah is a junior at K majoring in theatre arts. She also is earning a minor in business and working on a concentration in media studies.
Jack died on June 29, 2016, following an automobile accident. Jack matriculated to K from Lakeland High School (White Lake, Michigan) where he was an outstanding athlete (football and baseball) and honor student. At K he was part of the 3/2 engineering program. He completed the requirements for his major in physics in his first three years, and he intended to complete the engineering portion of his degree at Michigan Technological University (Houghton). Jack also played baseball for the Hornets. He loved the outdoors–fishing, golfing and camping–and he loved music. Most of all he loved his family and friends. He is survived by his parents and his sister, three grandparents and many cousins, aunts and uncles.
Danny’s film “The Stories They Tell” was accepted to the inaugural Royal Starr Film Festival at the Emagine Theaters in Royal Oak Michigan. It screened there last October. In this feature-length documentary, Kalamazoo College students enrolled in Professor of Psychology Siu-Lan Tan’s “Developmental Psychology” course collaborate with first and second graders to write children’s stories together. As they create these whimsical, amusing and surprising stories, the connections they make with each other has a lasting impact not only in literacy and learning, but in understanding their past and future. More recently, the documentary was an official selection of the Made in Michigan Film Festival and screened in Frankenmuth, Michigan, on Sunday, February 5.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) announced in October 2015 that Sarah had been accepted into the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE Germany) for the summer of 2016. RISE Germany offers summer research internships in Germany (about 300 a year) for undergraduate students from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Students are matched with doctoral students, whom they assist and who serve as their mentors. Interns receive a monthly stipend. Sarah returned to Europe this past summer (she had studied abroad in Spain during the fall and winter terms of her junior year) to spend 12 weeks in Hamburg working on her Senior Individualized Project, the scientific focus of which is Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria. In Hamburg, the senior biology major maintained her own malaria cell cultures, no small feat given the difficulty of working with the parasites, which require about an hour or more of daily care and monitoring. Much of the time Sarah spent imaging the parasites, which is the basis of her project.
“I learned how to use two different types of microscopes, fluorescence and confocal, and the software to edit the images from them,” she wrote in her wonderful blog, “Sarah Goes to Hamburg.” “Typically, I could only image the parasites for about an hour before they become too unhealthy. I also had to wait for the parasites to be at the right stage to image them, which made collecting data a tricky and lengthy process.” However, the summer experience was not all work. Sarah learned to played Bubble Soccer and participated in a wattwanderung (mud walk), a fascinating three-hour trek across North Sea mud flats exposed at low tide. These adventures, including visits to Heidelberg and Copenhagen and other northern European sites of interest, are memorably described in her blog.
Sarah continued work on her SIP during her senior fall term. Its working title is “Myosin II localization in Plasmodium falciparum trophozoites suggests role in hemoglobin uptake,” and she will present her research at spring term’s Diebold Symposium. Sarah noted that she received two fellowships from Kalamazoo College–the Beeler Fellowship (through the Center for International Programs) and the Crittenden Fellowship (through the biology department). “They were very important in funding my experience, especially the flight to Germany,” said Sarah.
Scott is one of only 158 nominees nationwide for the 2015 Allstate/National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works Team. The award recognizes men’s college basketball players for their charitable achievements and community involvement. Scott is a senior captain of the Hornet men’s basketball team. He carries a 3.9 grade point average and is majoring in economics and mathematics. He does significant volunteer work for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, an organization dedicated to food security and food justice. He also helps coach Special Olympics teams and serves as a recess assistant at Woodward Elementary School. The 10 award winners will be announced this month. If Scott is in that group he will be flown to the Final Four tournament in April, recognized for his service, and he will participate in a community service project in the host city of Indianapolis.
Finneas Johnson ’20 died on December 4, 2016, shortly after his first full term at Kalamazoo College. At K he focused his considerable academic acumen in science and his athletic prowess on playing soccer for the men’s Hornet team (he started every game in his first year). Finn was passionate about soccer, science, family and friends. Finn delighted in the mental and physical aspects of soccer and thrived on its competitive nature. Most of all he loved being part of a team and treasured the relationships he formed with teammates and coaches. Finn had an intense work ethic, set high expectations for himself, and was driven to succeed in all of his undertakings. A 2016 graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School and the Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center (KAMSC), Finn earned many academic honors. He completed his first semester at K with a 4.0 GPA. He had hoped to eventually earn a doctorate in microbiology and pursue a career as a research scientist. Finn had a bright, inquisitive and quirky mind. He asked questions others might not and was often reluctant to settle for answers he found incomplete. His not-so-secret ambition was to become the first person to achieve photosynthesis, hence his nickname, “Photo Finn”. In every pursuit, Finn’s greatest achievement was his ability to connect with people. Only 18 years old when he died, Finn nevertheless knew that life was best lived in community. He is remembered for his sly wit, charming smile, and budding sartorial style. Above all, he was loved for his generous spirit, humility and kindness. Finn struck an imposing physical presence and yet had a tender inner spirit that was evident to all who knew him. His mom, Jennifer Hall (an alumna of the class of 1993), often compared Finn to the classic children’s literature character, Ferdinand the Bull: a gentle giant who often wanted to sit just quietly and smell the flowers. Finn’s father is Bruce “Frisbee” Johnson, an alumnus of the class of 1976.
“. . . 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.
During summer 2014 rising senior Andrea Johnson completed her third legal internship—this one at the United States Bankruptcy Court in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her reflections on her experience explore the relationship between doubts, misgivings, mistakes, professional and personal growth, and the freedom to fail.
From the very first day at this internship I made mistakes, and mistakes made me—though the truth of that second part took some convincing.
During my initial introduction to my supervisor, Matthew Harte ’07, I learned I had parked in the wrong parking lot. I feared I had made an embarrassment of myself as a directionally-challenged intern. It was not the first impression I had hoped to make. Matthew said it was a non-issue, though I felt like I had failed already, and it was only the first day.
Every endeavor I had undertaken in my life, from athletics to academics, had stressed that failure was not an option, nor could it be accommodated. Failure was a lack—lack of preparation or lack of will power or lack of both. It was the opposite of success in a polarized world—the (very) “wrong” road diametrically opposed to the one-and-only “right” path.
And, I believed, in order to prevent failure, one had to always be anticipating how one’s present choices and decisions would impact the future. In that way, one’s present and future are inextricably—and linearly— linked. Thus, foresight is essential to forego failure and continue moving forward toward future goals.
So, on this first day, nothing could have been more overwhelming to me than what I was told: mistakes were essential; mistakes were expected. What? It seemed counterintuitive to make mistakes since I wanted to make a good impression. I did not have to reflect long on my first mistake (the parking lot) when I made my second: I got lost returning to my apartment.
The perfectionist in me was rebelling against this notion of mistake-making. I am probably a typical K student in that way. Accepting the notion that failure is necessary is quite difficult for me. Even more challenging is trying to unlearn my constant need to know how every experience will affect my future. Failure is expected? Failure is normal? Were there “right” and “wrong” ways to fail? If so, then I wanted to fail properly.
In the first week, I made my third “mistake”: wearing pink in the courtroom. That neutral colors in such a setting is more of an implied rather than explicit rule in no way mitigated my embarrassment. I stood out like a pink jelly bean in a sea of black and grey. Interestingly, this mistake fueled my interest in understanding gendered appearance within the legal field. My Senior Individualized Project—“‘Forsake the Self or Forsake the Law:’ A Study of Women Lawyers and Subtle Gender Inequity in the Legal Field”—built off of some of my experiences, such as clothing expectations for women lawyers and other observations at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. While none of these small mistakes jeopardized my learning experiences, they forced me to reevaluate my definitions of failure and allow myself more room to grow.
After a few weeks I became accustomed to the basics of bankruptcy law and felt comfortable in my environment. The security guards recognized me by name. Judge Hopkins’ staff checked on my progress, and they were always willing to answer my questions. I could find cases and use Westlaw without major problems, and I knew the general schedule of the court. Basically, I felt comfortable enough to make microscopic mistakes.
However, when Matthew handed me a copy of a current case and requested I write a summary memo, I panicked—even though this exercise, like so many other rewarding experiences at the court, gave me the freedom to make mistakes. I could learn without the pressure of a “grade” or judgment. And yet I still didn’t feel at ease. Instead I looked for anything that could act as a guide or an example because I did not want to fail or disappoint people I respected. Ironically, the “right” way to do this assignment was to “fail” repeatedly, accept constructive criticism, and correct my mistakes. And, in doing so, I would be introduced to proper legal research, thinking, and judicial decision making.
In the two weeks that I researched and drafted that first memo, I had to confront my own expectations and accept that my first and subsequent drafts were not going to be perfect. After plunging me headfirst into the depths of legal research and writing, Matthew and Judge Hopkins spent a lot of time on the extensive editing process, teaching me the “treading water” phase of legal research and writing. I started to become more comfortable with the discomfort of not having a structured path to follow.
After at least four drafts, my initial memo was hardly my own, but that did not matter because I had completed my assignment and had kept my head above water. About a week later Matthew gave me a new memo assignment for a different judge. This memo became my main project for the remaining three weeks of the internship. Even though the topic was more complicated, the assignment was exponentially easier to complete because I had accepted that I would make mistakes. I crafted a stronger initial draft, one that I was proud to call my own. My final memo assignment taught me more about myself and the law through the countless drafts, checking Westlaw hundreds of times, working constructively with my supervisor and the Judge, and finally reaching a finished product worthy enough to be used as a decision of the court.
Researching and writing legal memos helped me confront my own fear of failure and making mistakes. I also had many other memories that made this internship both professionally and personally rewarding. From Judge Perlman’s rendition of “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” to stimulating conversations with women lawyers interested in my thesis topic, to running for coffee and Grater’s Ice Cream with Matthew and discussing our different K experiences, I learned and laughed more in six weeks than I ever thought possible.
By the end of the internship, the city of Cincinnati and the bankruptcy court felt like home. Through this experience, I had come to define “home” as a place where one is challenged, has room to grow and, most importantly, to make mistakes. The people at the court—Patricia Francis, Richard Jones, Matthew Harte and Judge Jeffery Hopkins—made my experience extraordinary because of their instructive and patient explanations and their insights about law and life. They helped make a welcoming and comfortable environment where I could thrive. I made many mistakes at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and the mistakes made me…more competent, more confident, and “more free” to make more mistakes in the future.