A religious studies scholar and finalist for the 2021 National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish studies will visit Kalamazoo College at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, in the Olmsted Room.
Rachel B. Gross, an assistant professor and the John and Marcia Goldman chair in American Jewish studies at San Francisco State University, will deliver a lecture titled “Feeling Jewish: Nostalgia and American Jewish Religion.” The talk, sponsored by K’s Jewish studies program, will delve into the nostalgia on American Jewish material culture, foodways, education and naming practices. Her presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer discussion with the audience.
Gross studies 20th and 21st century American Jews and is the author of Beyond the Synagogue: Jewish Nostalgia as Religious Practice. She received an honorable mention in the 2021 Saul Viener Book Prize, given by the American Jewish Historical Society, and is currently working on a religious biography of 20th century immigration writer Mary Antin.
The event is free and open to the public, though, visiting attendees must register in advance and provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations and a booster, if eligible, at the door. To register or watch the livestream, visit the event’s page at our website.
For more information, contact Professor of History and Religion Jeffrey Haus at 269.337.5789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kalamazoo College students, faculty and staff are invited to participate in National Denim Day on Wednesday, April 27, to support survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence.
The Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy will provide information from the Kalamazoo YWCA, the College’s Counseling Center, Planned Parenthood and the Sexual Peer Educator Alliance at Kalamazoo College (SPEAK), in addition to resources on victim services and Title IX, from 6:15 to 7 p.m. on the Quad. At that time, people who have been touched by sexual violence are invited to participate in the Clothesline Project by decorating a t-shirt. The t-shirts become visual displays of expression and bearing witness.
Then, hear stories of survivorship from gender-based violence through survivors and allies in a Take Back the Night Speakout. Anyone interested can join the rally at the Quad, and throughout the day, Instagram users are encouraged to share pictures of themselves wearing denim using #DenimDayatK and by following SPEAK’s account @kc_s.p.e.a.k.
The events are sponsored by the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy. Learn more about its efforts during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, at sexualsafety.kzoo.edu.
Denim Day started in 1999 when Patricia Giggans, a Los Angeles-based activist and executive director of Peace Over Violence, responded to an Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape conviction. The court ruled that an 18-year-old woman who brought rape charges against a 45-year-old driving instructor must have consented to the assault because her jeans were tight. In other words, it was assumed that the assailant could not have removed her jeans without her help.
The absurdity of the decision prompted women in the Italian Parliament to wear jeans the next day to stand in solidarity with the survivor. Although the ruling was ultimately overturned, the annual Denim Day campaign has continued to raise awareness of sexual assault and violence.
Tom Massura, an instrument technician in both the physics department and chemistry and biochemistry department at Kalamazoo College, is this year’s recipient of the Lux Esto Award of Excellence. The award, announced Friday to celebrate Founders Day, marking the College’s 189th year, recognizes an employee who has served the institution for at least 26 years and has a record of stewardship and innovation.
The recipient—chosen by a committee with student, faculty and staff representatives—is an employee who exemplifies the spirit of K through excellent leadership, selfless dedication and goodwill. Massura started at the College in 1987. Today, he maintains more than 50 machines used exclusively in the College’s Science Division while managing general science instrumentation and setting up physics labs.
Massura’s “kindness, patience, quick wit and positive attitude brighten the days of everyone he interacts with,” Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez said in presenting the award. “Nominators noted how helpful, dedicated and easy to work with he is with a sense of humor that helps days move along even when they’re challenging. His considerable technical expertise has helped generations of science students.”
In accordance with Founders Day traditions, two other employees received individual awards. Assistant Professor of Music Chris Ludwa was given the Outstanding Advisor Award and Associate Professor of Chemistry Jennifer Furchak received the First-Year Advocate Award.
Ludwa is the director of K’s College Singers, the Lux Esto Chamber Choir and the Kalamazoo Bach Festival. Before arriving at K, he served as the director of music at the Federated Church Cleveland, where he led four ensembles, presented an annual concert series and maintained a voice studio for exceptional singers enrolled in performing arts academies and high schools.
Nominators for the award said Ludwa is always a thoughtful and kind source of advice and encouragement, and Gonzalez added Ludwa is being honored for his “caring commitment and dedication to the growth and well-being of our students.”
Furchak teaches courses in chemical composition and structure, analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis. Her research interests are in analytical separations and spectroscopy.
Furchak has, through her first-year seminar, “not only illustrated how scientific work needed to evolve into a more equitable and inclusive form, but how our own work will contribute to this institutional shift and real, tangible benefits,” Gonzalez said. “Her instruction illustrates the importance of being one’s authentic self while pursuing one’s aspirations, scientific or not.”
Student soloists Julia Ghazal and Sophia Merchant also performed and, in a special appearance, State Rep. Julie Rogers attended Founders Day to present an honorary certificate to the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement to recognize its 20th anniversary. The certificate was signed by all the state representatives and state senators from Kalamazoo County, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.
“In looking back over 20 years of the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement’s history, it’s clear that the hard work of the faculty and students has impacted many,” the certificate says. “Through thoughtful and ethical engagement, students gain skills, knowledge and critical perspectives that prepare them for meaningful careers and a lifelong commitment to the public good.”
Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian ’99 is the chief medical executive for the State of Michigan, where she provides overall medical guidance as a cabinet member of the governor. The public is invited to hear from her at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, in the 2022 William Weber Lecture, delivered through Zoom and presented by the Department of Political Science.
For the past year, Bagdasarian has served the State of Michigan in the role of senior public health physician with the Department of Health and Human Services, where she oversaw the COVID-19 testing strategy for the state and helped bring rapid testing technologies to vulnerable populations. Since early 2020, she has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), providing technical guidance on outbreak preparedness and COVID-19. When the pandemic first emerged, Bagdasarian was working as an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at National University Hospital in Singapore, where her job involved outbreak response, surveilling infections and contact tracing for contagious illnesses. The title of her lecture will be “The Future of Public Health: Regaining Public Trust.”
The William Weber Lecture in Government and Society was founded by Bill Weber, a 1939 graduate of Kalamazoo College. In addition to this lectureship, Weber founded the William Weber Chair in Political Science at K. Previous speakers in this series have included civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, political commentator Van Jones and author Tamara Draut.
Spring break is just around the corner and will be quickly followed by casting for the last show in the Festival Playhouse at Kalamazoo College’s 58th season, themed “Black is Beautiful: An Ode to Black Life, Love and Strength.”
Auditions for Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29 and 30. Ten students of Color are needed to tell this coming-of-age story of a young gay man in the Louisiana projects days before Hurricane Katrina strikes.
Assistant Professor Quincy Thomas talks about Marcus, what it means to take part in art that reflects and celebrates your experiences, and how the theatre department is working to create a safe space for all students.
Q: What can you tell me about the play Marcus and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney?
This play is really powerful. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s about sexual identity and personal identity and tradition and family. McCraney’s voice is so multidimensional and new and fresh and he is very much about poetry, the beauty of the voice and music, lyricism. He does all of this to create a space for voices that have historically been silenced or pushed to the margins. This is the story of a young boy right before Hurricane Katrina, and his community and the way that shifts, and his own sexual identity and personal identity. It’s a story many Black men have dealt with, particularly figuring out your identity in our country. But it’s a story many people have not heard or do not know because it’s not a traditional Eurocentric story. For me as a Black man and as a father, the story of young men coming of age in our country is so important.
Q: What do you know about director Anthony Hamilton?
I know he has connections to the Kalamazoo arts community. He is another one of those young, bright voices. I believe he’s going to be able to capture the nuance and the poetic power of this piece. He will not only do this story justice, but also teach our community that is predominantly white about these kinds of stories.
Q: What is important about this story? Why is this a story that needs to be told here?
On a broader platform, Black stories need to be told. Art is the way we look at the world and the culture we’re in. If you want to know what’s important to a community, all you have to do is look at the art they create. When you do not see yourself in those things, that tells you that you are not important to that culture. Traditionally, theatre has been a white pastime, it’s been very Eurocentric. Despite the progress we’ve made, and how far we’ve come, theatre is still very, very white. Without the presence of Black people and people of Color in an artistic culture, not only are you saying something to the people who are absent, you’re saying something to the people who consume that art about who is important.
Black people need to see themselves on stage. It’s also important to non-Black audiences being able to see the world and culture without stereotypes. There are still so many aspects of the Black experience that people don’t know, that people have never seen and that shapes the ways in which Black people are perceived and interacted with in the world.
Specifically, this is an important story to tell on a college campus because it’s the coming-of-age story of a person trying to figure out who they are and what it means to be a man. The kind of people we need to be, who we want to be, the things we might be afraid to embrace because of cultural pressure. Those are things students are grappling with. Who am I now? I’m not the person I was. Who am I becoming?
We don’t have a shortage of coming-of-age stories. There are a lot of these stories about white people. Where are those beautiful stories about Black joy and heritage and history and legacy? Where are those stories that tell a Black person, this is who you are, this is your past; you may need to challenge that, you may need to muddy that, you may need to change that. Who do you need to be for your community and for yourself?
Q: What is the value of telling Black stories in the context of theatre?
One of the challenges to any theatre right now that wants to do diversity, equity and inclusion work is that we have to remember that it is not work people are used to seeing, particularly in a sustained fashion. We all need to create a new culture where people of every race, color and creed say, this is theatre for everyone. We are not at the place yet where Black actors trust that those shows are going to be handled in the right way, cast in the right way, not told from a Eurocentric lens. We have to establish trust in our community so that BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of Color] actors, BIPOC crew, BIPOC stage managers feel welcome. That has not happened yet. We need to continue telling those stories whether we have trouble casting them or not. That is anti-racism work and that doesn’t stop. As a Black artist, there have been plenty of times where I haven’t auditioned because I know that I’m going to read to a bunch of white directors, words written by a white person, for a role intended for a white person. If I’m being cast for diversity clout, I may not go. If I feel like they just want me because it’s February, I’m not interested in that. It’s not enough to just do a play. We have to create a culture.
I wholeheartedly believe the K theatre arts department has the desire to make change happen. That means we’re going to have moments like this. This is the season of Black joy. We need more than a season, but the cool thing is, when we sit down and talk about the future, next year, we’re talking about shows about people of Color. We’re going to continue to do shows about people of Color. We’re going to tell those stories. We’re going to do it beyond a season of Black joy. And that is the work that needs to be done. We’re not just interested in putting non-white actors on stage. We also want to get more BIPOC designers, BIPOC crew, BIPOC costume designers. If you’re a Black woman in a play, who’s doing your hair? Who knows how to light you? Skin tones are different, being lit on stage is different. These are things a lot of people don’t consider, what it means to put a Black body on stage. This department is looking to understand all those things.
We are committed to creating change and theatre that is proactive and for everybody.
Q: What do you see as the value of the experience for students?
It is more than getting up on stage and saying lines. Experiential learning is very important at K and the things you learn when you’re involved in a production translate to all kinds of different jobs. Public speaking, textual analysis, team building, communication, time management are all valuable lessons learned in a production process. If you are a student of Color, you more than likely have not had that many opportunities to create art that looks like you, to partake in art that speaks to who you are. Anytime you get to create art, it’s a privilege. So rarely do students of Color get an opportunity to create art for them, art that talks about their world, their trauma, their pain, to go through the process that enables you to give the world a view into the culture and community that is a part of your life and is your identity. When you’re in college, you may or may not have that opportunity. After college, the opportunity to do that kind of work dwindles dramatically. An opportunity to have a voice, to be heard, to have that voice guided by a fantastic director who understands Black art. The opportunity as a person of Color to be able to tell your story, showcase your identity, while being directed by a person who has walked a version of that walk, that is an opportunity you may never have again in your entire life. That is an opportunity you jump at, particularly if you care about creating art that makes a difference.
Q: In your experience, why don’t many Black students get involved in theatre at K?
I believe it is wholly, singularly about trust. People of Color in theatre, unless they’re coming from a historically Black institution, all have horror stories about the way they’ve been treated in costume shops, in makeup chairs, while their hair is getting done. A lot of university theatre departments will talk a big game and not follow up. For Black students in my experience, reluctance to audition generally comes down to, “I would love to do that play but I don’t want to be mistreated.”
I personally will do everything in my power to ensure they are supported and feel safe. I can’t speak to how it was before, but I personally am committed to doing the work to ensure that Black artists are safe in our spaces. And if something happens that they are not, it will be handled. If students speak up, report, they will be supported. We can’t get the work done if students are being mistreated.
Q: What would you say to Black students about this opportunity?
I know this has happened to you, I understand the fear that you have in doing the thing, but I promise you that we’ll keep you safe. You will have a voice. This is a collaborative process.
We can have all the great intentions in the world, but if we are not creating the space, then students can’t fill the space. I’m committed to creating spaces for these students that are better than they’ve been for me. There’s not a reality where I’m going to allow any student to be mistreated in our department. It’s personal for me. They have my word, and if something goes down, I would involve myself. You have to protect these students, and traditionally, education has not done a very good job of it. It’s not students’ responsibility to create safe spaces. It’s our responsibility.
Q: Why should Black students audition for this show?
There’s a risk. There’s a gamble in auditioning. It’s not easy work, but when you are an artist of Color and you actually get to do the thing … when you have a story about people of Color and you have artists of Color and directors of Color, that personally affects you, changes you. You come out the other end of that process a person who understands their own world and the larger world in a better way. Theatre is the world through a particular lens. When that lens looks like you, there is something remarkably empowering about that. When there are people dedicated to telling important stories about people like you, that is healing, affirming, life changing, even if you only do one show. There are shared languages, shared moments, moments of trauma only the cast and director you are with are going to understand. You will come out the other end of it feeling empowered, feeling you have been heard, your voice matters.
Feeling you’re not just screaming into the void is very important. It is a wholly valuable experience. It’s never going to be a perfect experience, because there isn’t any such thing, but it is going to be invaluable.
Auditions for Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet
Written by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Anthony Hamilton
Festival Playhouse at Kalamazoo College (at the back of the Light Fine Arts building, near Dow)
Casting 10 students of Color
Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29 and 30, at 7 p.m. Please arrive by 6:45 to fill out an audition form.
Callbacks will be Thursday, March 31, and the show will run May 12-15.
Take a break from the last week of winter classes with an International Percussion ensemble concert.
The performance is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, at the Dalton Theatre, Light Fine Arts Building. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for children and free for K students. The ensemble will feature East African and Taiko drumming as well as guest instructor and percussionist Samuel Nalangira.
A native of Uganda, East Africa, Nalangira is a folk/world musician, dancer and choreographer, according to his website. He has been performing since childhood and teaching since the age of 15. Nalangira has performed and led workshops at universities, schools, community centers and festivals across the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe.
Wednesday’s performance will include new ensemble pieces and Nalangira’s Ugandan arrangements of traditional drum songs.
The Kalamazoo College Department of Music has two upcoming concerts scheduled featuring renowned guest artists.
First, the Kalamazoo Philharmonia will feature a pianist and a piece she recorded with the Philharmonia that is included in an upcoming independent film. Together, they will perform Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, which was chosen for Sounds of Silence, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Dalton Theatre.
The film, due out later this year, revolves around a pianist at an international competition and her struggles with the pressures of her art. The concerto was chosen for the movie because it was the first work of Rachmaninoff after a long compositional drought brought on by bad reviews of his First Symphony, mirroring the struggles of the character herself.
The Philharmonia, with Conductor and Music Department Chair Andrew Koehler, unites students, faculty, amateur musicians and professional musicians of a variety of ages to perform symphonic music. Tickets for this concert will be available at the door. Students are $2 and adults are $5. Kalamazoo College students will be admitted free.
The second guest concert will feature Spektral Quartet, a three-time Grammy-nominated group known for interactive concert formats in up-close atmospheres. The group will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Stetson Chapel.
The performance will spotlight nine new works: a string quartet composed by Bernard Rands, plus a series of short pieces written by Chicago Composers’ Consortium (C3) members in response to Bernard’s new work. C3 composers include Larry Axelrod, Kyong Mee Choi, Timothy Dwight Edwards, Kathleen Ginther, Martha Horst, Timothy Ernest Johnson, Laura Schwendinger and Elizabeth Start.
Attendees can purchase tickets on the Connecting Chords Music Festival website and at the door by paying what they can with suggested pricing of $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $5 for ages 25 and younger. All seats are general admission.
Masks and proof of vaccination will be required for admittance to both performances. For more information, email Susan.Lawrence@kzoo.edu or call 269.337.7070.
Characters such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Michael Jackson and members of the Black Panther Party will help the Festival Playhouse at Kalamazoo College address themes such as racial stereotypes, beauty ideals and relationships in a staged reading of a comedy coming this week.
Kevin Renn, a playwright from New York City, will be among those observing his latest work, BLACKS+PHATS, a show that he has designed to give Black people and full-bodied people the last laugh at the end of the day as it premieres Thursday and runs through Sunday.
“I was always horrifyingly fascinated with stereotypes, how people see others in certain ways, and how that affects society,” Renn said. “I wanted to take these stereotypes along with people’s biases, and flip them on their head or stretch them to the ridiculous to point out to people how insane they are.”
Renn has written essays for the New York Times and is known for productions such as Showcase: A Rehearsal Musical, which details a challenging final practice session for a group of theatre students the night before a college showcase performance; Mulatto Boy, about the only student of color at a private school where he runs for student body president; and Jungle Juice, addressing six friends who celebrate their college graduation and end up confronting their uncertain futures and a troubling secret. BLACKS+PHATS, however, focuses on the similar ostracism and isolation both Black people and full-bodied people face and how they can help each other.
“When I think about the heart of this play, it is a stripping down of everything to a common core,” Renn said. “It’s children. It’s this idea that the fat kids get picked on and bullied a lot. I saw that growing up. I also understand what it means to be a Black kid in a white space and be picked on, bullied and ostracized in that way. When you strip it down to that, that is the simplest element in which they can connect. It’s how they feel left out and pushed aside, and in the manner that they’re pushed aside, they find each other. They can then find strength in each other to lift and build up each other.”
Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas takes on multiple roles within the BLACKS+PHATS vignettes.
“Theatre is a space where we see the world through different lenses,” Thomas said. “I would hope that the audience walks away from this understanding the insidious ways in which popular culture, the media and even movies have marginalized and pushed blackness to the outskirts of society, the outskirts of our culture, particularly in the areas of honest representation. I hope the audience walks away understanding the ways in which the representation of blackness has been wrongfully shaped, formed and monetized.”
Tickets for BLACKS+PHATS, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday–Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, are available online. The Thursday production includes an audience talkback after the show with Renn. Tickets for adults are $15, seniors $10 and students $5. Kalamazoo College students, faculty and staff are admitted free. Please note that proof of vaccination and masks are required for admittance to the theatre.
“The coolest thing about this production is that it’s a new work,” Thomas said. “The playwright has a young, vibrant, wise voice, and it’s an honor to deliver his message. It’s really exciting to spend time with him and talk with him about his motivations and his process.”
A playwright from New York City will conduct a free and open-to-the-public community discussion at Kalamazoo College days before his latest show, Blacks+Phats, is presented at K’s Festival Playhouse.
Kevin Renn will discuss his experiences as a Black playwright at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 22, at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, 205 Monroe St. Renn is known for productions such as Showcase: A Musical Rehearsal, which details a challenging final practice session for a group of theatre students the night before a performance; Mulatto Boy, about the only student of color at a private school where he runs for student body president; and Jungle Juice, addressing six friends who celebrate their college graduation and end up confronting their uncertain futures and a troubling secret.
Blacks+Phats uses characters such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Black Panther Party and Michael Jackson to take a satirical look at Black cultural issues, body image, fetishism and their representation in modern society. The play will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 24–Saturday, February 26; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, February 27, at the Festival Playhouse, 129 Thompson St.
Tickets for Blacks+Phats are available through the Festival Playhouse online box office. Adults are $15, seniors $10 and students $5. K students, faculty and staff are admitted for free. The Thursday production includes a talkback session with Renn and Director Janai Lashon. Please note the play includes potentially triggering references to sexual assault and eating disorders, and masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccinations are required for admittance to the theatre.
A traveling museum and lecture dedicated to the history and legacy of a Black woman who has been key to multiple medical breakthroughs is coming to Kalamazoo College on Thursday, February 17.
Jermaine Jackson, Henrietta Lacks’ great-nephew and a Kalamazoo resident, will provide a lecture and question-and-answer session exhibiting the Henrietta Lacks Traveling Museum from 6–8 p.m. at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.
Johns Hopkins Hospital was treating Lacks for cervical cancer in 1951 when her cells were sent to a nearby tissue lab without her consent. At that lab, doctors found her cells to be unlike anyone’s they had ever seen. Instead of dying, her cells—later called HeLa cells—doubled every 20 to 24 hours.
Although Lacks died of cancer on October 4, 1951, at age 31, her cells continue to benefit the world. HeLa cells are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. They’ve also been used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome and learn more about how viruses work, playing a crucial role in the development of the polio and COVID-19 vaccines.
Lacks’ story speaks to issues such as global health, scientific research, bioethics, patient rights and equity. The event is free and open to the public.