K Professor Co-Edits Book on Women Who Knew George Washington

Cover of book on women in the life of George Washington
Professor of History Charlene Boyer Lewis is a co-editor
of “Women in George Washington’s World.”

Although women’s historians have written about women in the American Revolution since the 1970s, many people still think of the war as a men’s event. 

Women in George Washington’s World (University of Virginia Press, 2022) aims to be part of a new wave of efforts to reframe the American Revolution as a war that heavily involved women. Published this month, the book is co-edited by Charlene Boyer Lewis ’87, Kalamazoo College professor of history and director of the American Studies and the Women, Gender and Sexuality programs.  The book includes an essay written by Boyer Lewis on Peggy Arnold, the wife of infamous traitor Benedict Arnold. 

“For too long when people think of the American Revolution, they think of men, they think of soldiers and they think of the guys in Philadelphia who signed the Declaration of Independence,” Boyer Lewis said. “This is part of the project to rethink and re-present the American Revolution as a war that included women, a war that affected women, a war that women affected.”  

A 2018 symposium at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia about women and George Washington, where Boyer Lewis and her co-editor, George Boudreau, were both presenters, served as the inspiration for the book. 

“It’s a collection of essays written by academic historians as well as public historians,” Boyer Lewis said. “We have people who are out in the museum world and historical societies contributing to this as well as academics, so it’s a broad range of kinds of historians. They were all wonderful and the book turned out to be exactly what we wanted it to be.” 

Including public historians was part of an intentional effort to create a history book that was accessible to a general audience. Also key to that effort was a focus on story telling. 

Kalamazoo College Professor of History Charlene Boyer Lewis
Kalamazoo College Professor of History Charlene Boyer Lewis ’87

“Historians have to tell a good story along with a good argument or interpretation of the past,” Boyer Lewis said. “This was put out by an academic press and peer reviewed by scholars. Every essay meets scholarly academic standards, and at the same time, every single one of those chapters tell really good stories that I think people are going to enjoy reading.” 

The essays feature famous women such as Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Phyllis Wheatley, lesser-known women such as Elizabeth Willing Powel, and unknown women, including women enslaved by the Washington family. Boyer Lewis recounted a story of one such woman who ran away while Washington was president and was never caught despite his efforts to track her down. 

“It was important to us to look at a wide variety of women in George Washington’s world,” Boyer Lewis said. “Women who loved him, women who cared for him and also women who challenged him and frustrated him.” 

This is the first editing endeavor for Boyer Lewis, who is the author of two books, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) and Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860 (University of Virginia Press, 2001). She found the collaboration with Boudreau to be fruitful as they brought different strengths to the project, and the overall process to be surprisingly smooth. 

“Everybody said, ‘No, you don’t want to edit a book, it’s like herding cats,’” Boyer Lewis said. “My contributors were wonderful so it went a lot more smoothly than I had thought. There was a lot of passion and commitment to this work that made it easier.”

That passion and commitment proved key when the COVID-19 pandemic hit mid-project.

“George and I had all these plans of being together in person and working on the book, and that didn’t happen,” Boyer Lewis said. “There were lots of phone calls, lots of zoom calls. There were archives that people needed to go and do research in that were closed.”

Even without COVID restrictions, research for the book was a complicated affair.

“The archives of the time were meant to preserve the records of men,” Boyer Lewis said. “We’re dealing with small amounts or almost non-existent records of women. Even somebody like Martha Washington, whom you would think there must be copious amounts of sources—she burned everything. So even piecing together her life can be a challenge, let alone the enslaved women who worked for the Washingtons. That is real detective work.”

National Archives Museum
online book talk 

  • Tuesday, July 26 from 1 to 2 p.m.
    Women in George Washington’s World  
  • Co-edited by Charlene Boyer Lewis, Kalamazoo College professor of history and director of the American Studies and the Women, Gender and Sexuality programs, and George W. Boudreau, historian of early Anglo-America and public history. 
  • Co-editors Boyer Lewis and Boudreau will discuss their book, a collection of essays examining women at the time of the American Revolution who had complex relationships with George Washington and the roles those women played in shaping the nation, with Lorri M. Glover, professor of history, Saint Louis University. View on YouTube 
  • Women in George Washington’s World is widely available for purchase. 

Each subject presented her own challenges. Poet Phyllis Wheatley left many poems but few letters or other records. Although Abigail Adams left copious correspondence with her husband, John Adams, using those letters to analyze her relationship with and thoughts about George Washington is convoluted. Contributors writing about enslaved women went through the most “mental gymnastics,” Boyer Lewis said, to “sift through and find two sentences in a letter where a white slave owner is talking about the enslaved woman and get as much out of those sentences as they can. 

“This book highlights how difficult women’s history is to do, yet how successfully it can be done.” 

As a women’s historian, Boyer Lewis found the completed work reaffirms what she has known and taught for years—that women are an important part of history. 

“When you use George Washington as the connection, and then you start looking at the women all around George Washington, it seems simple to say, but women are everywhere,” Boyer Lewis said. “They’re everywhere. Washington lived his life surrounded by women, and surrounded by women he listened to, who he was willing to be advised by. If we can show how much women mattered in George Washington’s life, then it will be a lot easier to make it clear how much women mattered everywhere else. If George Washington is having his life affected by women constantly, for better and for worse, women who worked with him and women who thwarted him, so did everybody else. It was just wonderful to have that reaffirmed for me that women are everywhere and they’re mattering everywhere.” 

Science Society Honors K Professor with Teaching Award

Regina Stevens-Truss Holds a Test Tube While Teaching Two Students for Science Society Award
Regina Stevens-Truss will receive the 2023 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education.

Regina Stevens-Truss, Kalamazoo College’s Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is the recipient of the 2023 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education.

The ASBMB is a professional organization of science, one of the largest of its kind in the world. The award, instituted in 2005, credits an individual who encourages an effective teaching and learning of biochemistry and molecular biology while demonstrating a commitment to pedagogical engagement and teaching innovation. As one of 14 professionals from around the world being honored by the ASBMB, Stevens-Truss will give a presentation about her teaching and learning trajectory at the society’s 2023 annual meeting, Discover BMB, in March in Seattle.

“Being selected for this honor surfaces all of my humble bones,” Stevens-Truss said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I foresee being nominated and even less being selected for this award. My imposter syndrome persona is in full bloom right now, and I can hear all of the voices that tell me regularly ‘accept a compliment, Regina.’ This award means the world to me, I am honored and humbled, and can’t believe the list of pioneers that my name will be listed with.”

Stevens-Truss served on the Minority Affairs Committee (MAC), now known as the Maximizing Access Committee, as well as on the Education and Professional Development (EPD) Committee of the ASBMB, where she was part of the steering committee that created the concept-driven teaching strategies that laid the foundation for the organization’s certification exam. She also was the principal investigator in 2012 of a National Science Foundation grant that supported a STEM K-12 outreach initiative by the society called Hands-on Outreach to Promote Engagement in Science (HOPES – see pages 37-38 at this link).

Since joining the faculty at K in January 2000, Stevens-Truss has been teaching Chemical Reactivity, Biochemistry, Medicinal Chemistry and Infection: Global Health and Social Justice. Current research in her lab focuses on testing a variety of compounds (peptides and small molecules) for antimicrobial activity. She is also the College’s director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant, which was awarded to K’s science division in 2018. In 2016, she received K’s highest teaching honor, the Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching.

Stevens-Truss earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry from the University of Toledo. She held two fellowships at the University of Michigan between 1993 and 1999, one of which was a lectureship in medicinal chemistry.

“I joined the faculty at K in a department with the BEST team of educators and students that I could have asked for,” she said. “From day one, my chemistry and biochemistry department colleagues have supported every hair-brained idea I have come up with. They make me think hard about teaching by always keeping our students front-and-center in our conversations on this topic. My students have pushed me to be better, to care more, to guide them through their journey of learning and growth.  And, without all of these folks, this award would not have happened. This award is not just for me, but for all who have been in my life in the last 20-plus years. You know who you are!”

Film Depicting Indigenous Struggles Has U.S. Premier at K

Movie Poster for Minga Voices of Resistance Film Premier
The documentary film “Minga” Voices of Resistance” had its U.S. premier at K’s
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

A documentary film that had its U.S. premier at Kalamazoo College’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership is illuminating the struggles of indigenous people from Patagonia to Mexico.

Tony Nelson, the assistant director of student engagement in the Center for International Programs, hosted the showing last month of Minga: Voices of Resistance, an international production by Pauline Dutron and Damien Charles. Together, the acclaimed co-directors help denounce the destruction of indigenous territories, spotlight cultural heritage and show how indigenous peoples are organizing themselves to inspire solutions.

The film, Nelson said, does an excellent job of raising awareness around two issues: the strategic and patterned violence perpetrated against indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and worldwide, and the resistance of those peoples, while calling for others worldwide to take up the fight against it.

“Sometimes intentionally, and sometimes accidentally, we don’t hear enough from people who have been marginalized historically and economically,” he said. “The more we can give amplification to the voices of folks who are being strategically ignored, censored or silenced, the better, in my opinion. I hope documentaries like this, as well as testimonies from students, can make those voices louder so more people are aware and more people get involved.”

For seven and a half years, Nelson ran a study abroad program in Chiapas, Mexico, where he met the filmmakers.

“They were in San Cristobal for a particular event called the National Indigenous Congress, so I got to meet them when they stayed at my friend’s house,” he said. “They had traveled from Belgium all the way to the southern tip of Chile and South America via sailboat by volunteering to work the sailboat, and then traveled only by bus all the way up to Mexico.”

Nelson said that while he was skeptical at first of the filmmakers’ intentions, he’s impressed with the end product.

“I was nervous about them accessing indigenous communities in a way that might feel exploitive, but I stayed in contact with them,” he said. “They spent a year transcribing all of their interviews, and then a year translating all the different languages into Spanish and English. I saw the film and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. They really did this. They did an amazing job.’ They did all these travels, and stayed focused on the voices of the communities in a way that centered voices that don’t get amplified often.”

The film is now available to anyone through a Creative Commons license, which allows it to be shown for free, although it was special to have the premier at K.

“The film is moving and well done,” Nelson said. “Regardless of my involvement or even knowing the filmmakers, I would have been speaking to people about it to raise awareness. They’re activists in Belgium, and they have a long-term goal of trying to inspire more people to resist and stand up for what’s right.”

Co-director Charles, speaking from his home in Belgium, said he wanted to share something important in the world through Minga, a film that took more than six years from concept to completion.

“When I came in contact with these communities, I saw their point of view,” Charles said. “It’s not just the idea, ‘We have this territory we depend on and if someone wants to destroy it, we want to defend it.’ Of course, they want to defend it, but it’s much deeper than that. It also talks about how the Western world imposes its views of ‘development’ on communities that have other projects for their diverse societies. These deeper goals really impacted me and made me question a lot of things about our way of life, about our society and about the way we see the world around us. I wanted to share that experience of being in contact with people who actually have a different vision of their place in the world. I think being in contact with something so different makes you understand yourself better.”

Nelson hopes many will see the film, understand themselves better and be inspired to act alongside voices that are traditionally marginalized or silenced.

“In my opinion, change can only come with serious pushback and pressure,” Nelson said. “That’s why, I think, they’re highlighting the communities they are. I hope people draw motivation from this and see that these incredibly repressed communities have found a way to fight, stand up with dignity and stick up for their rights, even if it means going up against a Goliath like Chevron or Coca-Cola. These companies are picking fights and threatening these people’s livelihoods; threatening their way of life. If they can stand up for themselves, we can definitely fight against the XL Pipeline or communities being redlined. There are many struggles we can join with in fighting the systems that are threatening us, our neighbors, and loved ones.”

Three Faculty Members Earn Tenure at K

Three Kalamazoo College faculty members from the history, sociology and physics departments have been awarded tenure.

The tenure milestone recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and service to the College, and signifies its confidence in the contributions these professors will make throughout their careers.

The following faculty members were approved this spring by the Board of Trustees for tenure and promotion to associate professor:

Christina Carroll Earns Tenure
Assistant Professor of History Christina Carroll has
earned tenure and will be promoted to associate professor.

Assistant Professor of History Christina Carroll

Carroll is a historian of modern France with research and teaching interests in empire, memory and nationalism; she teaches a variety of classes at K on modern Europe and its empires, along with a class on the modern Middle East.

In her new book, The Politics of Imperial Memory in France, 1850–1900, Carroll examines how the memory of European imperial conquest under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte shaped French debates over colonial expansion during the second half of the 19th century, and explains how and why French Republicans embraced colonial conquest as a central part of their political platform. She is now beginning a second book project, which focuses on historical figures who were transported from one colony to another, or from the French metropole to a colony, for political crimes.

Carroll holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina and a bachelor’s degree in history and English from Vassar College. She was a visiting assistant professor of history at Colgate University before arriving at K in 2016. She also served a three-year appointment at K from 2018–2021 as the Marlene Crandell Francis Assistant Professor of History.

Francisco Villegas Earns Tenure
Arcus Social Justice Leadership Assistant Professor of
Sociology Francisco Villegas has earned tenure and will
be promoted to associate professor.

Arcus Social Justice Leadership Assistant Professor of Sociology Francisco Villegas

Villegas specializes in the topics of immigration, citizenship, social movements, deportability and illegalization, and teaches courses in these areas along with qualitative research methods.

In the community, Villegas serves as advisory board chair with the Kalamazoo County community ID program, which began in 2018. The program allows residents to obtain an ID issued by local government regardless of their ability to obtain a state ID. He is also one of three K faculty members—joining Associate Professor of English Shanna Salinas and Professor of English Bruce Mills—behind a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant provides new learning opportunities for K students and faculty seeking solutions to societal problems and promotes the critical role of the humanities in understanding and responding to social problems. The $1.297 million three-year grant funds the College’s Humanities Integrated Locational Learning (HILL) project, which is building student coursework rooted in K’s commitment to experiential learning and social justice to address issues such as racism, border policing, economic inequities, homelessness and global warming, while examining history, how humans share land, and the dislocations that bring people to a communal space.

Before joining K, Villegas was a sociology lecturer at the University of Toronto Scarborough from 2014– 2016. He has a doctorate in sociology in education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, a master’s degree in Mexican American studies from San Jose University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social behavior from the University of California Irvine.

David Wilson for tenure
Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Assistant Professor of
Physics David Wilson has earned tenure and will
be promoted to associate professor.

Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Assistant Professor of Physics David Wilson

As a biophysicist who studies virology, Wilson first arrived at K as a visiting assistant professor in 2014. During his time at K, he discovered that all spherical viruses place their protruding spike proteins in a common set of locations. That work later continued in three publications, including one with Danielle Roof ’22, titled Viral Phrenology.

Wilson was a visiting assistant professor at Albion College in 2015–2016 and Grand Valley State University in 2016–2017 before he returned to K in the same role in 2017. He became an assistant professor of physics at K in 2018. He has taught courses including quantum mechanics, applications of physics in the biosciences and introductory physics, and often generates 3D printing in his research.

Wilson has been invited to share his work at Calvin University, Northwestern University, Denison University and soon at the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) Virus Structure and Assembly Conference in Southbridge, Massachusetts. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Michigan, where he also was a postdoctoral research scientist in chemistry from 2010­ –2013. He spent two years at the University of Washington doing master’s work before transferring to the University of Michigan. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Michigan Technological University.

To date, Wilson has worked closely on research projects with more than 34 students at K from biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and mathematics.

Alumni Reflect on the Advice They Would’ve Given Themselves

Students, faculty and staff practice the procession for Commencement on the Quad
Graduates-to-be on Thursday rehearsed the processional they will execute during
Commencement on the Quad at Kalamazoo College.

Spring term finals are over. Kalamazoo College’s faculty and staff are preparing for Commencement. And seniors, through a traditional rehearsal, have received their last instructions for Sunday’s ceremony. To help smooth the students’ transitions away from undergraduate life, we asked some faculty and staff who are K alumni themselves to share what advice they would go back and give themselves as they graduated.

Here’s what they had to say of that advice. We hope it will be valuable for the class of 2022.

Professor of History Charlene Boyer Lewis ’87

“Remember that no matter how carefully you plan for the future, something is going to come along to change your plans—and sometimes that change will be amazing!”

Enrollment Systems Manager Dan Kibby ’91

“Looking back, I cannot remember a single instance where I later wished I’d been less kind.”

Kalamazoo College Chaplain Liz Candido ’00

Two male faculty and a female grad-to-be on Commencement stage during rehearsal advice
Graduates-to-be Thursday were advised they will
shake hands with President Jorge G. Gonzalez, receive
their diploma, move their tassel and have their picture
taken while crossing the stage.

“Be imperfect. Some of the best things in my life have come as the result of some screw-up or mistake. Lose your fear of doing it wrong or incorrectly, and let yourself blunder into something unexpected and wonderful!”

Web Content Specialist Martin Hansknecht ’20

“Know that the skills you developed while at K are deeply transferable across industries, and be open to the curve balls life throws at you. But before that, take time to celebrate all you have accomplished during your four years at K—even though it may feel self-indulgent to celebrate anything positive during the dawn of a pandemic.” 

Admission Counselor Lezlie Lull ’20

“Say yes. Visit your friends. Enjoy your weekends. As you transition into a new life stage, take your time and enjoy the small moments, and don’t forget to visit your parents!”

We’re excited for the class of 2022 to join the ranks of our alumni!

Book Examines France’s Historic Thirst for Conquest, Empire

Christina Carroll New Book Defines Empire
Assistant Professor of History Christina Carroll has a
new book titled “The Politics of Imperial Memory
in France, 1850–1900.”

Historians and advanced college classes soon will be reading a new book by Christina Carroll, an assistant professor of history at Kalamazoo College.

The Politics of Imperial Memory in France, 1850–1900 examines how the memory of European imperial conquest under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte shaped French debates over colonial expansion during the second half of the 19th century, and explains how and why French Republicans embraced colonial conquest as a central part of their political platform.

The book, released last week by Cornell University Press, explores the meaning and value of “empire” in 19th-century France. For much of the period examined, French writers and politicians didn’t differentiate between continental and colonial empire. However, by employing a range of sources, from newspapers and pamphlets to textbooks and novels, Carroll demonstrates that the memory of older continental imperial models shaped French understandings of and justifications for a newer colonial empire. She shows that the slow differentiation between the two types of empire emerged because of a politicized campaign led by colonial advocates who sought to defend overseas expansion against their opponents. This new model of colonial empire was shaped by influences such as political conflict, international competition, racial science, and French experiences in the colonies.

Christina Carroll Book Cover
“The Politics of Imperial Memory in France,
1850–1900″ examines how the memory of European
imperial conquest under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
shaped French debates over colonial expansion during
the second half of the 19th century, and explains how
and why French Republicans embraced colonial
conquest as a central part of their political platform.

“I’ve always been interested in this question of how different people define empire, which is one of the questions that’s really at the center of the book,” Carroll said. “For me, that interest dates back to some of the arguments circulating in the early 2000s about whether the U.S. war in Iraq should be seen through an imperial framework, and about how we think about empire in the context of the present day. Like their 21st century American counterparts, 19th-century French republicans were reluctant to describe France as an empire—a term that they negatively associated with both Napoleon and his nephew Napoleon III—but at the same time, they were deeply committed to colonial expansion. So they were trying to differentiate between different imperial structures to argue that even though Napoleonic empire was autocratic and violent and problematic, republican colonial empire was not. They used this rhetoric to try to efface the inherent violence of the colonial project.”

Carroll, who holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina and a bachelor’s degree with honors in history and English from Vassar College, is beginning a second book project, which focuses on historical figures who were transported from one colony to another, or from the French metropole to a colony, for political crimes. It will examine deportation and carceral institutions and how they intersected with imperial structures. In the meantime, she will be a guest on literature and history-focused podcasts while copies of her first book reach reviewers across the country.

“My hope would be that this book would speak to my students and that it would resonate with themes we’ve discussed in class, especially for upper-level students who’ve taken some of my courses on imperialism,” Carroll said. “I hope that they would find it interesting and accessible. We spend so long as historians in the archives working through things by ourselves. For me, the book will be a success if readers engage with it and build on its ideas in their own work.”

Student’s Research Leads Faculty Member to Fulbright Program Nod

Associate Professor of Biology Santiago Salinas

The Senior Integrated Project (SIP) of Grace Hancock ’22 has encouraged Associate Professor of Biology Santiago Salinas to extend Hancock’s inquiries overseas.

Salinas has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award, allowing him to go to his native Argentina this fall. There, he will study whether global warming could threaten fish with temperature-dependent sex-determination. In these species, cold waters tend to produce more females, and warm waters tend to produce more males.

Hancock, in Salinas’ fish ecology lab, studied temperature-dependent sex-determination in the Atlantic silverside, which are saltwater foragers that grow to be no longer than 6 inches in length. Salinas, in a similar way, will research Argentine fish such as pejerrey, which are freshwater residents.

“I’m excited to go and expand my professional network, and without Grace, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity,” Salinas said. “I was not really working on temperature sex determination until she wanted to.”

In addition to Hancock, Salinas credited K faculty members such as Professor of Romance Languages and Literature Enid Valle, Professor of Biology Ann Fraser, William Weber Chair of Social Science Amy Elman, Wen Chao Chen Professor of East Asian Social Sciences Dennis Frost, Margaret and Roger Scholten Associate Professor of Political Science John Dugas, and Jo-Ann and Robert Stewart Professor of Art Tom Rice for offering their application assistance and sharing their previous experiences in successfully seeking Fulbright honors.

“I’ll be interacting closely with Latinx biologists, and one of my hopes is to set up a network whereby scholars there who struggle with English can connect with classes here at K,” Salinas said. “My students would help with the scientific writing and offer advice to the biologists in a real-world way.”

The opportunity also is expected to begin a long-term collaboration with a faculty member at the Instituto Tecnológico de Chascomús, create a course on evolutionary ecology for that institution’s undergraduate and graduate students, and establish connections that would allow Argentine biologists to serve as potential research mentors for K students.

Salinas is one of about 800 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research or provide expertise abroad for the 2022-23 academic year through Fulbright. Those citizens are selected based on their academic and professional achievement, as well as their record of service and demonstrated leadership. The awards are funded through the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s international education-exchange program designed to build connections between U.S. citizens and people from other countries. The program is funded through an annual Congressional appropriation made to the Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also support the program, which operates in more than 160 countries.

Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has given more than 390,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals in a variety of backgrounds and fields opportunities to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute solutions to international problems.

Thousands of Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 61 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 89 who have received Pulitzer Prizes and 76 MacArthur Fellows. For more information about the Fulbright program, visit its website.

Houseless to Benefit from K Team’s Work

A Kalamazoo College faculty member and three of her students are among the people looking to help local houseless women and their young children achieve housing and health equity.

Visiting Assistant Professor of
Psychology Jennifer Mills is the grant
writer for the Home Start Initiative, a
local project that aims to help
houseless women and their children.
Playgrown CEO Michelle Johnson
Playgrown CEO Michelle Johnson

Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Mills—with visionary assistance from Playgrown CEO Michelle Johnson—is the grant writer for the Home Start Initiative, a Kalamazoo County-backed project that will build a development of 10 homes with a park, parking area, community courtyard and more near a former makeshift houseless encampment next to the Kalamazoo River at Ampersee Avenue.

The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners awarded the Home Start Initiative, a collaboration between Playgrown and the Institute of Public Scholarship, more than $318,000 in April for the sake of addressing a local shortage of affordable housing. Specifically, it will help people living at or below 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI) eventually achieve ownership of the homes in the project.

Mills, an expert in the social determinants of health, said the most exciting part of the project for her is that the initiative is partnering with Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine as well as the health department and Healthy Babies Healthy Starts in Kalamazoo County to ensure that women and their children will obtain at least five of those homes. Her students then will build a research agenda around the partnership and track health outcomes.

“We know in public health that a relationship exists between housing equity and health outcomes,” Mills said. “We’re trying to intervene early to give children some of the stability that can impact those social determinants of health. We’ll be working closely with the medical school and the public health department to identify all the measures we want to track.”

A groundbreaking is expected this fall. In the meantime, students such as Janet Fernandez ’25 and Natalie Pineda ’25 will interview the houseless community from the same area at Ampersee and Hotop avenues, where they conducted interviews in a previous first-year seminar.

Natalie Pineda ’25

The day they first showed up for those first-year seminar interviews, Fernandez and Pineda saw community members hurrying to pick up their belongings and worrying about where they could go next with the encampment being shut down.

“I think their stories are really important because they’re often just seen as being ‘the homeless,’” Pineda said. “If we’re acting as a community of Kalamazoo, and if we’re trying to provide better housing for people who live here, the most important place to start is with their stories and asking what their needs are because they’re the ones who are living that situation.”

Taking those stories and providing equity is an important part of sustaining the community, Fernandez said. Both Fernandez and Pineda are from communities, Chicago and Los Angeles respectively, where significant numbers of people are houseless. It’s nothing new to either of them. Yet the Home Start Initiative represents the first time Fernandez has seen a project of its kind.

“We have institutions and places in our cities where houseless people can go and sleep overnight,” she said. “But you’ll never see a program like the one we’re working on, where people get to live in a house and eventually own it. Trying to build that generational wealth is incredibly important.”

One of the first measures of success for the Home Start Initiative would be improved reading scores for the children involved over the next few years.

Skyler Rogers ’23

“Within the first few years of life, a lot of the social determinants of health begin to play a role in how a child’s brain develops and how different processes in the body take place,” said Skyler Rogers ’23, a third K student participating in the project.

“Having a stable, foundational childhood can change things drastically. It can impact a child’s cognitive abilities from a young age, and that’s where third-grade reading levels come into play. By the time a child reaches third grade, you can estimate their likelihood of graduating from high school and moving forward in life.”

As their work progresses, all of K’s representatives contributing to the Home Start Initiative are taking pride in their work. It’s a big investment that might not always represent what some in Kalamazoo believe is a top priority in addressing the issue of houselessness, but Mills and her students aren’t just assuming what the houseless community needs to provide a bare minimum of support. Instead, they’re talking to people to determine their exact needs.

“It feels amazing to see this,” Pineda said. “The amenities provide lifestyle help and can really ground a person to help them get back on their feet. Any other homeless shelter can provide you with a roof over your head for one night. But this project is helping people stay stable for a long period of time. It can help you get a job. If you have children, they provide daycare. All those aspects are important and add to these stories. It’s easy to think the homeless just need somewhere to sleep. But these are people, too, who will get a chance to start their lives again with this project.”

Alumna, Professor Emerita Earns Pulitzer Prize

Pulitzer Prize recipient Diane Seuss
Kalamazoo College alumna and
Professor Emerita Diane Seuss has received
the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for “frank:
sonnets.” Photo by Gabrielle Montesanti
Book Cover for Frank:Sonnets by Diane Seuss
Diane Seuss ’78 published her fifth collection of
poetry, “frank: sonnets,” in 2021.

Kalamazoo College alumna, Professor Emerita and former writer-in-residence Diane Seuss ’78 is celebrating more recognition for her latest poetry collection, and this honor is the most prestigious yet. 

Seuss was granted a 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry on Monday for frank: sonnets, a collection of poems that discuss topics including addiction, disease, poverty and death. The collection previously received the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and the LA Times Book Prize for poetry. 

The Pulitzer Prize committee described frank: sonnets as “a virtuosic collection that inventively expands the sonnet form to confront the messy contradictions of contemporary America, including the beauty and the difficulty of working-class life in the Rust Belt.” 

“This is nothing that I would ever, ever, ever have expected of life,” Seuss said of the honor in an MLive interview. “It’s hard to feel these things beyond kind of shock and awe.” 

In previous honors, Seuss received the John Updike Award in 2021 from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The biennial award recognizes a mid-career writer who demonstrates consistent excellence. Seuss also joined a prestigious group of scholars and artists who have received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation as a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow. The fellowship helps honorees slate blocks of time during which they explore their creative freedom. The Foundation receives about 3,000 applications each year and awards about 175 fellowships.  

Seuss retired from K in 2016, the year she was a Pulitzer finalist for Four-Legged Girl (Greywolf Press, 2015), a poetry collection the Pulitzer committee described as “a richly improvisational poetry collection that leads readers through a gallery of incisive and beguiling portraits and landscapes.” Her other collections include Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the LA Times Poetry Prize; Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), which received the Juniper Prize; and It Blows You Hollow (New Issues Press, 1999). 

“For me and others like me, people in the margins for whatever reason, such recognition is an encouragement,” Seuss said of her recent success in a Kalamazoo College news story last month. “It’s saying, your work has worth. It makes all the difference to be seen and heard and acknowledged.”