‘Reckoning’ Examines K’s Past to Build a Better Future

Reckoning book at the K bookstore
Copies of “Reckoning: Kalamazoo College Uncovers Its
Racial and Colonial Past” are available on the shelves at
the Kalamazoo College Bookstore and on the
Bookstore’s website.

Anne Dueweke ’84 believes we cannot understand where we are unless we understand where we’ve been, especially when it comes to the racial climate of the United States and, closer to home, Kalamazoo College.

With her newly published book, Reckoning: Kalamazoo College Uncovers Its Racial and Colonial Past, Dueweke hopes to supplement existing histories of K with a racial and colonial history, sharing experiences of people of color at K and examining the role American colonialism, racial history and attitudes toward race have played in the founding and development of K through the years.

Reckoning begins with the founding of K in 1833 on land that was home to the Potawatomi people during the era of Indian Removal. It takes a close look at the events and attitudes affecting racial climate, both in the U.S. and at the College, through the Civil War, long periods of stagnation, the popularity of minstrel shows, the Civil Rights Movement and Black student activism on campus, right up to the recent activism of the changing student body and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by recent College administrations.

“K’s story is not a unique story,” Dueweke said. “It reflects what’s happened in the country and reflects what’s happened in a lot of institutions of higher education. It all plays out here. … Sometimes the College would be ahead, sometimes it would be behind and sometimes it would be right there with the rest of the country.”

Most histories, told from the perspective of powerful white men, have felt unsatisfactory to Dueweke as a woman. “They also didn’t explain why we still have such stark racial disparities,” she said. Reading histories focused on race and colonization, such as A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi and An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, helped her understand. “I hope this book plays a similar role for the College, that it helps explain why things are the way they are, why many students of color don’t feel comfortable here.”

Myers Education Press is publishing the book and marketing it to higher education institutions for use in courses on topics such as social justice and history of higher education.

“If people here found it useful that way, I’d be really happy,” Dueweke said. “It was a hard project. I could never have done it if I hadn’t been completely engrossed in it, and I wouldn’t be completely engrossed if I wasn’t so invested in this institution. I really feel that this institution has the potential to go much further in achieving equity with how the campus is experienced and how the educational programs are delivered in terms of race and ethnicity.”

‘It Was Hard for Me at First to Understand What the Issues Were’

Portrait of Author Anne Dueweke
Anne Dueweke ’84

Dueweke graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School and chose to attend Kalamazoo College because it had a small student body, robust study abroad program, good academic reputation and beautiful campus.

She studied abroad in Madrid, performed a career internship in the publicity department at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and completed an oral history project and biography with a local artist and poet named Ben Tibbs for her Senior Integrated Project.

“I had a great education and experience here,” Dueweke said. “It was transformative, it was challenging, it was very mind expanding in so many ways, I made a lot of good friends.”

After earning her B.A. in English in 1984, Dueweke earned an M.A. in Spanish literature from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She became a mom and did some free-lance work before starting work at K as director of the Academic Resource Center in 1998. In 2000, she became director of faculty grants and institutional research at K, a job she held until 2019.

At the time, Dueweke was unaware she was joining the College staff after a period of turmoil and tension over multicultural efforts. She started in student development at a time when racial issues were a frequent topic of discussion, often framed as lack of diversity.

“I thought, ‘I wonder why this is such a difficult place for Black students and other students of color,’” Dueweke said. “As a white person, it was hard for me at first to understand what the issues were.”

Dueweke had always considered herself an advocate for students. After helping to conduct multiple student-led focus groups on students’ experiences with racial climate in 2013, she saw a need for her advocacy to involve more engagement with diversity, equity and inclusion work.

For the next two years, Dueweke incorporated leading DEI committees into her work at K. Then, in January 2015, she was participating in an anti-racism training for faculty and staff at the Arcus Center with local non-profit Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equity (ERACCE).

The training began with the history of the United States told through the lens of race and colonization, with a timeline crossing the whole room.

“When I was looking at that timeline, I was really struck that the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830, which was right around the time Kalamazoo College was founded in 1833,” Dueweke said. “I wondered how the founders interacted with the Potawatomi and other indigenous people, what they thought about the Indian Removal Act, and what the impact was of their being here. I began to think it would be interesting to write the story of the College by focusing on issues of race and colonization as a way to better understand why the College is where it is when it comes to these issues.”

Reckoning, Celebrating, Showcasing

Dueweke applied for and was granted an Arcus Center Fellowship for 2015-2017 to support her project to examine the College’s history through a social justice lens.

“The increasing diversity of our student body … represents the future, yet the College’s structures, practices, policies, systems, norms, and values have been shaped by 180 years of serving a predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class, Midwestern population,” Dueweke wrote in the application. “This work will involve placing the College’s story within the larger context of U.S. history … paying close attention to the effects of colonization, racism, … including how the College has both perpetuated and fought against these societal forces. As a result of this work, I hope that the College can come to terms with threads of racism … and other ‘isms’ woven through our institutional history, celebrate themes of social justice that characterize the College’s past and present, and showcase the stories of people in Kalamazoo College’s history who have been marginalized and silenced.”

While Dueweke initially thought she could complete the history in three years, working on it in addition to her full-time job ended up taking more than six years. She was grateful to be able to extend her fellowship, even after she left her job at the College in 2019 and started working as a resource developer for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi in Dowagiac.

In addition to reading many U.S. and regional histories, her research involved archival work and oral histories with alumni of color. The Arcus fellowship provided funds to hire student assistants, buy books and travel to interview alumni or visit archives.

“The oral histories were all compelling,” Dueweke said. “One thing I really struggled with, doing this as a white person, is not trying to tell the stories of people of color for them. I did want to relay their experiences, so I relied a lot on their own words from the oral history interviews, and then from people who are no longer alive, from published writings or interviews that they had done.”

Online, Dueweke found the petitions for federal recognition filed by the three local Potawatomi bands, in which the tribes tell their history. That proved vital for the beginning of her book. Fortunately, one of the first known African American students to attend K, Rufus Perry, went on to be a prominent and prolific writer so Dueweke was able to draw on his own words in sharing his story.

“It got much harder to write as it reached the point where people will have their living memory of the recent history, especially the last chapter,” Dueweke said. “There will be a lot of people who remember those years who may or may not feel the same way, people who have their own interpretation of those events.”

‘The Shape of Things’

Reckoning opens with the time of the Native American displacement and the founding of K by Baptist missionaries.

The book relates some experiences of Rufus Perry, the first known African American student at K. He escaped slavery as a young man and went on to become a well-known minister, scholar, writer, newspaper editor and advocate for Black people.

It delves into the impact of the first president, James Stone, and his wife Lucinda, who were progressive and abolitionist. As forward-thinking as they were, Lucinda Stone’s published writing still demonstrates the paternalistic and assimilationist thinking common among white progressives at the time.

The third chapter, “The Shape of Things,” covers the period of time from after the Civil War until the end of World War II.

“That was a long, long time period, and it was a period of real stagnation in how people thought about race in this country,” Dueweke said. “I think that shape is still there; that shape is still very strong. There’s been progress since then, certainly, yet there’s still white supremacy, the country is still run by white people. That really affects how white people think and operate and it has a huge effect on people who are not white.”

The book goes on to address the racial climate at K in the ‘50s, with blackface performances remaining popular on campus despite community objections, and the slow rise of some awareness as K attempted to engage with a broader world, implementing the K-Plan in the early ‘60s. The Black Student Organization formed soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 to advocate for the institution to make itself relevant to Black students.

The College took steps forward and back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s as calls for diversity and action were met with opposition or were overshadowed by other challenges on campus. Progress often seemed to move at a snail’s pace.

In the conclusion, Dueweke addresses some of the positive progress in racial climate at K in the past 15 years along with some of the continuing struggles. She is aware she could face some criticism for her work from those who feel she did not get it right.

“Race is a really fraught topic,” Dueweke said. “You can’t really work in areas of race without getting into the fray.

“I see this book as a first pass. If other people find portions of the history they would want to elaborate on more, delve more into—that would be really wonderful if people got involved in expanding it.”

Support for Reckoning from K

Dueweke said she received a huge amount of support, encouragement and guidance from Mia Henry, former executive director of the Arcus Center, and Lisa Brock, former academic director of the Arcus Center, among many other people. The current leadership has also been supportive and contributed to publication.

“It’s been really wonderful that they’re willing to embrace a history like this,” Dueweke said. “There are other histories of the College and I see this as a supplement to them. It tells the story from a different perspective.”

Provost Danette Ifert Johnson said it has become apparent over the past few decades that most history is based on a subset of people’s experiences.

“It’s important for us to get that broader knowledge that includes all the perspectives and not just the perspective of the group that’s had the privilege and been in the position of being able to dominate the narrative,” Ifert Johnson said. “It’s important for us, from an institutional perspective, to understand that as much as many of us love K, it doesn’t mean that the same kinds of things that happened in a lot of other places in society over the past almost 200 years didn’t happen here. It’s important for us to be honest about that, to know where we’ve been, because it does inform where we are and where we’re going.”

Ifert Johnson said K has come a long way in terms of diversity—32 percent of the student body at K are domestic students of color—and the administration’s current focus is on inclusion.

“Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” Ifert Johnson said. “Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean that people feel fully included and like they belong in all parts of this community. How do we make sure that all of our students, all of our faculty, all of our staff, all the members of our campus community really feel like this is their place and their voices are valued, their experiences are valued? That’s something we’re working on. I don’t think it’s as fast as any of us would like, but we’re continuing to move forward.”

The College ordered 100 copies of the book, some of which will be available at the library. Plans are still in development for how best to share and distribute the rest. The book is also available at the Campus Bookstore.

“I think there are a number of different ways that it can be integrated into the College and I hope that it will be,” Ifert Johnson said. “I hope that people do read it when they get a chance. I think it’s really informative. It provides a different perspective on the history of the College and one that is important for us to know and understand and acknowledge.”

Reckoning: Kalamazoo College Uncovers Its Racial and Colonial Past 

By Anne Dueweke ‘84 

  • Book launch event 
  • 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7
    Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership 
    205 Monroe Street 
    Kalamazoo, MI 49006 
  • Details: About 25 copies of the book will be available and dinner will be provided. Dueweke will speak about the book, do a reading, and answer questions, followed by an informal reception.