Kalamazoo College announced today it has received a $5.25 million gift in support of its Brighter Light Campaign from alumnus Larry Bell ’80.
This transformative gift will establish endowed funds to support the Center for Environmental Stewardship, a distinguished chair in American history, and food justice and sustainability programming. Additional funds will support both the Larry J. Bell ’80 Endowed Scholarship, which was established in 2017, and the Kalamazoo College Fund, which provides immediate funding toward financial aid and the student experience.
“I am proud to support Kalamazoo College with this gift and I look forward to seeing the resulting positive outcomes for K’s students,” Bell said. “I hope that the coming Larry J. Bell Library Foundation can be a help and resource to the history department in the future, and having an endowed chair there will elevate and strengthen this part of the College.”
As a student at K, Bell majored in political science before going on to found Bell’s Brewery Inc. in 1985. Since then, Bell’s has grown into one of the largest craft breweries in America, distributing to 43 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. In November 2021, Bell reached an agreement with Lion, an Australian-based brewer, for the sale of Bell’s. The move will see the Michigan-based craft brewer come together with Colorado’s New Belgium, which Lion acquired in 2019, aligning two great American craft brewers. Bell officially retired from the helm of Bell’s Brewery at the end of 2021.
Bell has long been an active supporter of the College. Along with the scholarship he established in 2017 for students with financial need, in 2006 he contributed to an endowment named for his friend and mentor, Paul Todd ’42. His funding to support K’s food justice initiatives over the last decade has been crucial to the College’s student-led programming through the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement, allowing the center to maximize the impact of this programming in the Kalamazoo community.
“Larry’s investment in Kalamazoo College has supported and will continue to support the College’s experiential education offerings, as well as faculty teaching and scholarship for years to come,” President Jorge G. Gonzalez said. “His gift to endow and name the Larry J. Bell ’80 Center for Environmental Stewardship, for example, will help us enhance the curriculum, integrate these curricular initiatives with student organizations and provide new ways for students to engage in environmental leadership efforts on our campus and throughout the greater Kalamazoo community. We are so grateful for Larry’s generous support and commitment toward expanding opportunities and access for our students.”
About Kalamazoo College
Kalamazoo College, founded in 1833, is a nationally recognized residential liberal arts and sciences college located in Kalamazoo, Mich. The creator of the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College provides an individualized education that integrates rigorous academics with life-changing experiential learning opportunities. For more information, visit www.kzoo.edu.
The Brighter Light Campaign is raising $150 million to provide endowed and annual support for students, faculty and staff, curricular and co-curricular activities, athletics and campus facilities. For more information, visit the Brighter Light Campaign page: www.kzoo.edu/brighterlight
For 20 years, the Mary Jane Underwood Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) has prepared students to build a more just, equitable and sustainable world, starting here in Kalamazoo.
Civic engagement takes place in courses and research, through student-led programs, and during summer internships, all involving long-term community partnerships. Within these interconnected programs and partnerships, students work alongside local residents and organizations to address complex and interrelated issues in food justice, educational and health equity, neurodiversity, reproductive rights, youth development, girls’ leadership and immigrant rights. Through thoughtful and ethical engagement, students gain skills, knowledge and critical perspectives that prepare them well for meaningful careers and a lifelong commitment to the public good.
Works with faculty to develop and support more than 20 community-based courses, offering logistical support, small grants and faculty stipends, pedagogy workshops and community connections.
Trains, guides and supervises students who get hands-on experience as paid civic engagement scholars coordinating ongoing community partnerships. They lead their peers—more than 200 students in a typical term—who work in Kalamazoo organizations that promote literacy, youth development and college attainment; food security and sustainability; immigrant rights and the arts. Students work every week and can earn their federal work study or serve as volunteers with programs that include Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo County ID and Juvenile Home, Goodwill Adult Literacy and other non-profits.
Administers the Summer Community Building Internships (CBIs) program that connects K students with at least 20 of the CCE’s local partners, from AACORN Farms to the YWCA of Kalamazoo. Interns, selected with assistance from K’s Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) and the Financial Aid Office, are on the job for 30 to 40 hours a week for six weeks while earning a stipend, meeting as a group with CCE staff for dinner and reflection once a week.
In the mid- to late 1990s, a national movement to connect communities and campuses inspired a small group of faculty, staff and community partners to do just that. Those who participated in these service-learning classes observed that they could be of reciprocal benefit to community residents, organizations, K students and the College itself. The College’s long commitment to experiential learning and the K-Plan made it receptive to these civic engagement initiatives, which are rooted in the liberal arts.
“This work grew straight out of the College’s mission and history,” said Alison Geist, the director of the CCE and K’s Community and Global Health concentration. “It is a renewal and recommitment to K’s fellowship in learning, not just on campus but in Kalamazoo. For more than 50 years, K had been sending students across oceans to study. What about encouraging students to cross the street to learn from our own community? So K was ready to support the idea of students engaging locally through courses and then on an ongoing basis.”
Among their first course-based partnerships were two that remain vital today. Building Blocks, an organization supporting low- to medium-income neighborhood-association projects, was founded in 1995 through a sociology course at K offered by Professor Emeritus Kim Cummings. In addition, a partnership with Woodward Elementary, a Kalamazoo Public School two blocks from campus, was seeded when Kenneth Mulder ’92, who was teaching in K’s math department at the time, arranged for students in his calculus class to tutor there.
The success and the potential of these initiatives, for both K and its partners, inspired Ronda Stryker and Bill Johnston to endow the Center in 2001 with a $1.5 million gift that honors her grandmother, Mary Jane Underwood Stryker, a schoolteacher; and Stryker’s friend, Marilyn LaPlante, a former dean of students at K. This endowment and vote of confidence, along with grants from national and local organizations, enabled the CCE to expand its programming and gradually grow. With anonymous donations, endowments from alumni and space in Dewing Hall, the CCE took its place among the College’s Centers for Experiential Learning, and today works with about 45 community partners.
If the last 20 years is an indication, the CCE will keep changing and growing.
“Civic engagement is necessary for democracy to thrive, and like anything we study, it takes both theory and practice to learn,” Geist said. “Ideally, learning from communities should be woven throughout the curriculum and into the lives we lead after K. That’s why we’re developing new ways to intertwine and integrate community-based learning on and off campus across disciplines and boundaries and connect alumni and current students to inspire one another as they work on compelling contemporary issues.”
Alumni Praise Their Civic Engagement Experiences
The CCE kicked off its platinum anniversary this fall with a party at Homecoming 2021. More than 150 alumni, students, faculty, staff and community partners reunited to share stories, photographs and the accomplishments of thousands of students and dozens of community partners who have collaboratively contributed to the city we call home.
The event was held in a tent next to the campus Hoop House, a CCE-led initiative imagined, built and maintained by students in the Just Food Collective, and their staff mentor, Amy Newday. At the event, the CCE presented video testimonies from K alumni who have participated in its programs over the past 20 years to mark its anniversary. Among those who credit the CCE with influencing their pathways and passions is J. Cooper Wilson ’11, a teacher in New York City Public Schools, who volunteered to tutor non-native English-speaking students in Kalamazoo schools during his time at K.
“When you become a Civic Engagement Scholar, you are the leader who runs your program,” Wilson said. “It’s a combination of student leadership and a comprehensive vision of social change that makes the CCE really special.”
Sashae Mitchell ’13 learned of the CCE during her first weeks on campus, shortly after arriving from her native Jamaica. She ended up participating in a couple of CCE programs, including Community Advocates for Parents and Students (CAPS) as a tutor. The program, founded by Kalamazoo educators, offers enrichment programs for youth who live at Interfaith Homes Neighborhood Network Center, making it accessible for the youth and their families who live there.
“I fell in love with CAPS, I fell in love with the students, I fell in love with the people in charge of CAPS, and I felt like that was my thing,” Mitchell said. “It was my niche. Sometimes at K, I didn’t feel like I belonged or that it was my space. Interfaith Homes gave me that sense of belonging.” Mitchell, who also worked as a staff member in the CCE for a year after graduation, now runs her own math education business in Jamaica.
Arianna Schindle ’08 chose Columbia University in New York over K when she began her journey in higher education. At the time, she worked for a conflict-resolution group called Seeds of Peace. However, she desired more opportunities to pursue social justice within community engagement.
Schindle reapplied and transferred to K. Today, Schindle is the founder of the Rhiza Collective, a women-led group of cultural workers and facilitators using storytelling, healing, organizing and research to support social transformation and environmental justice.
“I think community engagement is something all colleges and universities should do,” Schindle said. “It’s taking learning and putting it into action. You transform the community with every lesson you learn. It’s seeing learning as something that lives outside our classrooms. It connects people in the community with some of the vital resources universities can offer, including students, energies, time and new learning.”
The United Nations can count on a Kalamazoo College student group along with its networks and outgrowing nonprofit organization to embody the spirit of Human Rights Day—which is every December 10—on any day of the year.
The U.N. observes the day to mark the anniversary of the General Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The declaration proclaims a series of inalienable rights to which everyone is entitled regardless of one’s race, color, religion, sex, language, opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. According to the U.N., it’s the most-translated document in the world given that it’s available in more than 500 languages.
This year’s theme for Human Rights Day is “Equality: Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights.” Equality includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies including women and girls, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, the LGBTQ community, migrants and displaced people, and people with disabilities, among others.
Within those groups of vulnerable people, those who face displacement have advocates in the Refugee Outreach Collective (ROC). The group, first organized as Refugee Outreach Kalamazoo at K in 2017, has since grown to seven campuses in Michigan—including Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University—and has even become a full-fledged nonprofit organization with national and international reach.
Emily Worline ’19, who is now in law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, was the founder of ROC at K and still carries out official duties as the full organization’s chairperson. She’s been inspired to extend her work with ROC as a result of witnessing first hand the conditions at refugee camps around the world.
“The unifying factor at all of these camps is that no one wants to be there,” Worline said. “ROC works to shake the narrative that encampments are normal places to house people by organizing advocacy efforts and leveraging networks to alleviate the injustices people face while living there.”
In staying involved, Worline oversees ROC’s Global Classroom, a program that helps displaced individuals from the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, Africa, get access to university-level educational opportunities through digital courses at Michigan campuses, such as Northern and Central Michigan universities, while offering one-on-one tutoring assistance. The courses combine theory and practice to create space for students to challenge themselves intellectually and learn skills. The first cohort of students is working to receive their associate’s degrees.
“One hope is it will bolster their asylum claim and provide a better chance to resettle somewhere,” Worline said. “Oftentimes, when people are able to prove they have network connections, that can also help the process of resettlement. The other hope is that they can get a job in Malawi with a recognized, accredited associate’s degree.”
Currently at K, ROC amplifies narratives involving migrant and displaced communities through alliance and relationship building. In other words, it collaborates with local organizations in its efforts to make the Kalamazoo community a more welcoming and inclusive place for students and families of diverse backgrounds. Maddy Harding ’22 serves as the organization’s president.
“We have the chance to work directly with people at refugee camps overseas, but additionally, we’re able to have volunteer programs that help recently resettled refugees in the Kalamazoo area,” she said. “I think that’s pretty unique. When I first started with ROC, we had a family partnership program in which I would go into recently resettled refugees’ homes and help out the family in any way I could. I’ve learned how to interact with people who have cultural differences from me and I love that.”
One of these programs is the Homework Champions Tutoring program, which was developed in partnership with K’s Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) and the local ROC. The tutoring benefits displaced students in Kalamazoo Public Schools. Katia Duoibes ’23, a civic engagement scholar, helped the program start virtually during the pandemic.
“There previously was an afterschool program that I joined at Maple Street Middle School with Emily Worline,” Duoibes said. “When the pandemic hit, I was close with all of those students. I was contacting them and we were still working together virtually because all of their support systems and the support they received completely stopped. That spring, it was me and some other tutors who were doing that program just informally, helping them virtually with their homework.”
That effort continued through fall 2020 as she and Worline reached out to Samaritas, a Michigan social services nonprofit, which helped ROC connect with more resettling refugees. Afterward, about 20 tutors were paired with students who needed help through winter.
The program kept growing when Duoibes and Worline later connected the local ROC and Western Michigan University Professor of Educational Foundations Dini Metro-Roland to make the tutoring a service-learning component for the professor’s introductory education course, allowing 50 WMU students to join their efforts.
“Emily and I quickly realized that we needed a lot more administrative instructional support to keep the program growing and improving, so I was connected with the CCE,” Duoibes said.
CCE representatives including Associate Director Teresa Denton were ecstatic to add this program to the its previous initiatives working with the English as Second Language programs at Kalamazoo Public Schools. Now, Duoibes and Sydney Lenzini ’24, another civic engagement scholar, are working to restart the tutoring program’s in-person components.
“I’m inspired by educational equity, especially in public education,” Lenzini said. “Growing up in Chicago, I saw very unequal opportunities in the public-school system. Some kids got a lot of resources and others didn’t. I feel that can be internalized, and then create a lot of problems down the road. In the realm of public education equity, I feel like all students can succeed. Some students just need different support systems, and public-school systems often can’t or don’t want to provide those supports. I feel education is powerful. I think addressing educational inequities is a big step because education and access to it is like freedom.”
The CCE will couple its efforts with the Homework Champions Tutoring program with a service-learning course at K next term that will help more KPS students whose families are new to Kalamazoo. Plus, the ROC nonprofit will continue its international outreach with open-to-the-public events and fundraising for the sake of advocacy, outreach to people subjected to poverty and socio-political constraints such as refugee camps, and connecting individuals to job opportunities, internet access, healing circles and more through its existing networks of people and organizations.
“ROC’s biggest focus right now is on education,” Worline said. “We’re opening doors to making educational spaces more accessible. With every camp I visit, whether that be at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Greece and Serbia, or in Malawi, it’s very obvious that displaced people are being pushed to the very margins of society. They’re excluded from participating in various political processes. They’re excluded from attending college. Their movement is restricted. And to me, the idea of just excluding an entire 84 million people from the rest of society is a huge violation of human rights. I think ROC efforts are placed in reversing that and trying to make it so people aren’t so excluded.”
Kalamazoo College eclipsed national averages for voter turnout in 2020 as 83.7 percent of the student body cast ballots in last year’s presidential election. For that achievement, the Institute of Democracy and Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University has awarded K its platinum seal in the All-In Democracy Challenge, marking the colleges who achieved voter-participation rates of 80 to 89 percent.
K is the only campus in Michigan and one of 48 out of about 1,200 participating institutions nationwide to receive the honor. That puts K in the top 4 percent of colleges and universities in the country for its voter turnout among the institutions reporting. The primary cause for the outstanding benchmark at the polls, according to IDHE, is unclear. However, Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) Director Alison Geist credited K Votes, the CCE’s non-partisan coalition to inform the College’s students, faculty and staff members about voting and civic engagement, for its efforts in boosting the College’s voter participation.
Based on a look at incomplete data for 2016, K’s student voting rate was estimated at 54.1 percent, which was in line with that year’s national average. But in 2020, K Votes representatives worked in partnership with their student peers, the local League of Women Voters and the national Rock the Vote organization, which is led by Executive Director Caroline DeWitt ’04, a K alumna. Those partnerships helped K Votes provide services such as new-voter registration, the mailing of absentee ballots, rides to the polls, and the distribution of candidate information and maps to local polling places.
“I am proud of K’s students, especially the CCE’s K Votes Civic Engagement Scholars, Kaitlyn Dexter and Mahum Khan,” Geist said. “They were so ably led by then-Assistant Director Emily Kowey ’17, whose dedication and creativity, in the midst of a pandemic, drove the College’s impressive turnout and registration rates in the 2020 election. Voting is but a small part of what we mean by civic engagement, but it is essential to our communities and democracy, and it seems particularly so as voting rights are increasingly under siege.”
The IDHE’s report, titled the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), notes the national average of voting rates was 66 percent this year, putting K well above it. However, the report also shows K must continue to encourage students of color to vote, as their participation rates generally trailed those of white students. About 53 percent of K’s Asian students, and 66 percent of Black and Hispanic students voted in 2020 compared with 88 percent of white students.
The NSLVE is the nation’s largest study of college and university student voting. It measured voter turnout at campuses ranging from community colleges to research universities, women’s colleges, historically Black colleges, state universities and private schools. The dataset reflects all 50 states and the District of Columbia, includes 49 of the nation’s 50 flagship schools and tracks nearly 8.9 million voting-eligible students.
“That students, often younger and first-time voters, turned out at rates commensurate with the general public in 2020 is nothing short of stunning,” IDHE Director Nancy Thomas said. “We attribute this high level of participation to many factors, including student activism on issues such as racial injustice, global climate change and voter suppression, as well as increased efforts by educators to reach students and connect them to the issues and to voting resources.”
As an aspiring librarian, Nionni Permelia ’22 knows much of her job one day will involve community engagement.
“You have to know so much about literature, but you have to know so much about your community as well,” said Permelia, an English major from Battle Creek. “People might come in to a library for résumé help or to learn how to print and fax. They also might come in because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They might ask, ‘I don’t know where I can go to get fresh food. Can you help me?’ Being a librarian means you have to know a lot about everything around you so you can give people those resources.”
That idea made a Community Building Internship (CBI) this summer an ideal opportunity for her. Permelia was among the K students who worked at local organizations from AACORN Farms to the YWCA of Kalamazoo in CBIs through the Center for Civic Engagement and the Center for Career and Professional Development. The positions, offered each year, last about six to eight weeks, and interns are on the job for 30 to 40 hours a week while earning a stipend.
Permelia worked for Zoo City Farm and Food Network, a nonprofit organization founded and operated by Black women, that centers Black women’s voices and experiences while designing a comprehensive, responsible and sustainable food-industry ecosystem that is beneficial for everyone. In other words, they want everyone to have access to fresh, healthful food regardless of who they are and their economic status.
“Fresh food should be a human right for everyone,” Permelia said.
On a regional level, the organization nurtures food sovereignty by expanding food systems literacy in communities that have little to no education on the food ecosystem, primarily in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. Outside Michigan, Zoo City wants to make its model accessible for communities across the country. While its model is designed with Kalamazoo and Battle Creek in mind, the organization welcomes partnerships with cities around the U.S. that could benefit from initiatives that champion food sovereignty.
“In the inner city of Battle Creek, there are no grocery stores. Battle Creek sits in a food desert,” Permelia said. “My work with Zoo City and their Food and Farm Network helps them create a framework for how places like Battle Creek could eliminate their droughts in food systems.”
Permelia used her writing skills to develop email templates for Zoo City that will allow the organization to approach volunteers about its initiatives and how they can help. One of those initiatives helps farmers and small businesses sell the food they make at a farmer’s market in Kalamazoo.
“Zoo City purchases the booth, and local businesses who might not be able to pay for their own booth take it over,” Permelia said. “The community gets access to fresh food that way, and hopefully, the businesses and farmers will have more people visiting them outside the booth.”
Permelia also performed research for the organization’s Zoo Syndicate, a visual editorial that will show local residents how food is connected to everything.
“I helped them do research on graffiti art and urban interventionism, which are very different to, yet very similar to Zoo City’s core values,” she said. “Graffiti art connects to their initiative of urban farming because it usually happens on vacant property. The idea is that even vacant parking lots can become safe places for neighborhood activities. Instead of figuring out how we can make money off of it by developing houses the neighborhood can’t afford, why not grow food there? It might prevent higher taxes and living costs that make the neighborhood unlivable because people can’t afford it anymore.”
As a result, in addition to the job experience relatable to her future career and the opportunity to be involved in the community, Permelia learned about the administrative roles of people such as Zoo City co-founder Remi Harrington, making the internship beneficial on multiple levels.
“I thought I might be gardening and growing food, but I got to see the admin side of things,” she said. “That inspired me. I saw how people’s ideas to help others can actually come to life. It was amazing to see people like Remi writing all of her plans on a board, before I got to go to a farmer’s market or neighborhood event to see it happen. It was amazing to see it come to fruition.”
She adds, “I’d never worked for an organization owned by Black women before, which is really sad, yet this showed that I could have an opportunity to do it. Getting to see a Black-women led organization helped me to realize that I am also able to bring my writings and ideas to life. Not only that, but it’s possible for me to lead. It’s possible for all Black women to lead and see their imagination become reality. Remi has so many beautiful ideas for Zoo City. I am so happy we all get to witness her work and continue to see her vision unfold.”
A Kalamazoo College student organization is showing local girls that they don’t have to assimilate to anyone’s standards to see themselves as beautiful.
Sister Circle, a supportive group dedicated to young Black women, reached out to local schools this spring to propose natural-hair programs and workshops that encouraged children to embrace their diversity and celebrate each other’s distinctive appearance.
“I wanted to address some issues that we faced when we were children that weren’t really addressed by our parents or our education system,” said Udochi Okorie ’22, who founded Sister Circle in her sophomore year. One of these issues is the pressure to conform to societal norms or standards that don’t include or specifically ban natural styles.
“We felt natural hair wasn’t socially acceptable and that can cause trauma for African American women,” she said. “We wanted to get into the community and do an event for elementary, middle and high school students that centered around loving their natural hair. That was a dream of mine and we were able to do it this spring. We got such a great response from the community.”
On campus, Okorie and other members of Sister Circle seek support from fellow women of color in a safe, affirmational place.
“We recognize there aren’t a lot of spaces on campus where we’re able to express ourselves, and not just because we’re at a predominantly white college,” Okorie said. “There have been higher-education spaces where we felt like we were ignored, undervalued or spoken over when we spoke up.”
In coming together as Sister Circle and as a Black community, they have found affirmation that helps them navigate these challenging higher-education spaces. And now, they’re taking that off campus to support the next generation through the Love Your Natural Hair Program.
Sister Circle members including Okorie contacted the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement, who introduced Sister Circle to local elementary schools El Sol and Woodward. When Sister Circle described their goals for a natural-hair program, school administrators jumped at the offer.
“Luckily, we had people who also experienced issues with beauty standards, whether they were people of color or just administrators who recognize the differences between their students,” Okorie said. “A lot of people were really welcoming and said, ‘Yes, I recognize that this is something we need at my school.’”
The issue of learning to appreciate natural hair has always been close to her heart and sharing that issue with Kalamazoo children has been rewarding.
“In the last workshop, we did some affirmations,” Okorie said. “We talked about different types of hair and what products to use, which can be really hard when a lot of the products are not meant for your hair type. We talked about how to manage your hair and we drew pictures and asked the kids what they like about their hair. The students really enjoyed it and said it was effective, and we got a really big response from parents. During the event, I almost cried because of how the girls were responding and how their perception of their natural hair is changing.”
Further, Okorie hopes that outreach will continue long after she graduates so more girls will know the appreciation for natural hair that she has and the self-confidence it’s brought her.
“I hope Sister Circle and the Love Your Natural Hair Program are my legacy at K,” Okorie said. “I want natural-hair appreciation to be something that’s shared, especially in kindergarten through 12th grade, so every student can recognize the beauty of it.”
Through the departmental partnership, another group of qualified students worked at local organizations from AACORN Farms to the YWCA in Community Building Internships. The positions, offered each year, lasted about six to eight weeks, and interns were on the job for 30 to 40 hours a week while earning a $4,000 stipend.
Upon its founding, the organization wanted to provide community organizing experience for students while supporting the efforts of neighborhood associations in low- to medium-income neighborhoods. Bolton followed that mission by working as a volunteer coordinator and performing roles similar to a construction facilitator, helping to coordinate home improvement projects and expanding the organization’s bandwidth in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood.
“Our guiding philosophy at Building Blocks is that we empower residents to do community building themselves, whether that’s to improve a yard, plant flowers or pursue neighborhood cleanups,” Bolton said. “They hadn’t done a lot of construction recently. But I’ve taken on the role as the new liaison on the Northside, where Building Blocks hadn’t done any programming for a couple of years.”
In summer 2018, Bolton worked with the Appalachia Service Project evaluating a home’s renovation needs as a volunteer coordinator. He also obtained experience as a volunteer organizer through First United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo where his mom, Julie Kline, serves as the senior pastor. Bolton then transferred that experience into what he did with Building Blocks, allowing the organization to pursue projects that benefited homeowners who couldn’t pursue projects themselves. Projects included securing porches and hand rails, replacing treads leading to a porch, painting, replacing windows and even fixing bullet holes in doors.
In Bolton’s words, the volunteers repaired the violence and the trauma that had been at houses as they created connections between volunteers and residents.
Building Blocks “was running into problems we don’t necessarily find in other areas of Kalamazoo, where we encounter people who are disabled or can’t work on their own homes,” Bolton said. “That’s when we started bringing in volunteers from different churches in the area. I have connections with the churches and that’s the model I’ve been developing.”
Most of the time, Bolton was preparing for a job the volunteers would tackle on the following Saturday, figuring out what projects would be done, which volunteers were available, and what materials and tools were needed. Others in the organization rarely were available to address such issues, making Bolton a valued asset.
The following Saturday, Bolton took the volunteers around the worksites, gave them a breakdown of what they were doing at each site and connected them with neighborhood residents.
“That’s my favorite thing: Creating connections between these volunteers who might attend a primarily white church and those who can give first-hand witness to some of the effects of systemic racism in our neighborhoods,” he said. “I see that in our introductions and casual conversations, and we push for that community interaction.”
Going into these projects, Bolton was hoping for a career pursuing political science on a global scale. Now he’s not so sure.
“I’ve been studying politics and international studies and these larger scale things,” he said. “But I’ve been having such a good experience learning how to engage in local politics and work in my local community, it feels so much more tangible. I can see what I’m doing and I really like that. I learn so much from all the residents.”
Regardless of what he chooses, Bolton’s experience at Building Blocks came as a blessing in disguise.
“When we applied for these internships, I applied for several, although Building Blocks wasn’t one of them,” he said. “I didn’t even know what it was. I applied for all these other internships and Building Blocks found me, and asked me to be a part of their team. For Building Blocks to turn out to be such a wonderful thing for me was a blessing. I’m proud of that organization because it’s been devoted to justice even with the pandemic. To not be stagnant in this time is very cool to me.”
The election is important, and if you have questions about the voting process, Kalamazoo College has a place for you to get answers regarding voter registration, voting deadlines, voting rights and the candidates.
K Votes is a non-partisan coalition through the Center for Civic Engagement that informs K students, faculty and staff about the voting process. If you’re from a state other than Michigan and you’re not sure how you register to vote here, K Votes can help. If you’re not sure where to go on Election Day, K Votes can tell you. If you need a ride to the polls, K Votes will get you there.
“K Votes is committed to providing all with the resources to be civically engaged,” said Assistant Director for Innovation in Civic Engagement and Experiential Education Emily Kowey ’17, who oversees K Votes. “We want to make sure that everyone in the College community has the tools they need to be informed about their vote, how to vote and what it means.”
The students who volunteer for the group are enthusiastic about the work they do and the importance of helping others overcome barriers to voting.
“I am thrilled to work with a group of dedicated K students who are passionate about registering their peers to vote and providing them the information and resources to vote in the upcoming elections,” Kowey said. “Having students, faculty and staff at the forefront of our volunteer efforts shows everyone that this campus is serious about supporting students in voting and civic engagement.”
In her second year with K Votes, Kaitlyn Dexter, a sophomore from Duluth, Minnesota, said she was gratified to see a 28.6 percent increase in K’s voter turnout during the 2018 midterm election over the 2014 midterm, a lift she attributes at least partly to K Votes. About 40.4 percent of K eligible voters cast ballots in the 2018 midterm.
“That was fantastic and I would love to have a high turnout for this year’s primary, too,” she said.
According to its website, K Votes registered more than 130 student voters before the 2018 midterm. It also collected and mailed more than 30 absentee-ballot applications and transported 110 students to local polls.
“Through K Votes, we make sure that everyone knows how to register, request an absentee ballot, learn about the candidates and vote, while being aware of each deadline,” Dexter said. “Gathering all this information takes a long time for people to do by themselves, so I think removing that time barrier is really beneficial, especially for college students.”
Kayla Carlson, a sophomore from Hastings, Michigan, said her desire to nurture voter participation through K Votes came naturally. She was a community volunteer in high school, and Rock the Vote President Carolyn Dewitt ’04 is a graduate of Carlson’s high school and K.
“I have been fortunate enough to talk to Carolyn and she has inspired me,” Carlson said. “K Votes was one of the first engagement programs I had heard of on campus and it was an initiative I believed in.”
Carlson recently was also chosen to be a regional ambassador for Rock the Vote. That means there’s a second organization for which she volunteers to encourage her peers to vote.
“Rock the Vote is nonpartisan, just like K Votes, and that’s important to me,” she said. “I think everyone from every background should be able to vote.”
Hope Miller, a sophomore from Manistee, Michigan, was one of 33 students from two-year and four-year higher-education institutions across Michigan to serve on the Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force selected by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The group was asked to recommend ways to help other college students overcome their barriers to voting.
Miller was the only student from a private college to serve the task force. Its recommendations included suggestions surrounding voter registration, absentee voting, logistics and transportation, voter education and state laws, issues that also are important to K Votes.
In the time since the task force made those recommendations, Miller — like Carlson — has become a regional ambassador for Rock the Vote, though K Votes is the organization where she’s spent the most time.
“I’m really excited to see what we can do in the future and I hope we can get more people involved with K Votes,” Miller said.
The last day to register to vote for the Michigan primaries, other than in person at Kalamazoo City Hall on the day of the election, is Monday, Feb. 24. K Votes will help the K community with registering to vote and absentee ballots through that day. Its last tabling session will be from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Feb. 24 at Hicks Student Center.
For students who are registered to vote through their campus address, a shuttle will drive students to their polling location at the Douglass Community Center on Tuesday, March 10. A separate shuttle will drive students to City Hall where they can register to vote in person.
Students interested in volunteering for K Votes may fill out this form on the Center for Civic Engagement website. Students may select dates and times based on their availability. Those with questions about volunteering or K Votes as a whole may contact Kowey at email@example.com.
If increasing voter participation among young adults in Michigan is the goal, Kalamazoo College could be a part of the solution thanks to Hope Miller ’22.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has chosen Miller, of Manistee, as one of 33 students from two-year and four-year higher-education institutions across the state to serve on the College Student Advisory Task Force. The group is charged with recommending ways to help other college students in Michigan overcome their barriers to voting.
Participants will recommend a series of programmatic, administrative or policy changes to address those barriers through diverse perspectives as the Michigan Department of State works to implement the Promote the Vote constitutional amendment passed by voters last November.
“Young people are the future of our democracy, and this task force is an important step toward ensuring their voices are heard on Election Day and beyond,” Benson said in a news release. “I look forward to working with students, faculty and administrators in the months ahead to empower the next generation of voters.”
Miller said she is thrilled to be a part of the task force.
“Secretary Benson is incredible, and to be one of just 33 students from Michigan chosen to serve for her is such an honor. I think she’s doing great things by offering students an outlet to get their ideas straight to the individuals that can help make them a reality.”
The task force met in September and will meet two more times this fall before applying their ideas at their respective campuses and reporting back to Benson regarding what was successful. Miller, for example, says strategically placed satellite offices for the Secretary of State on college campuses might help the cause.
“I am super interested to see what we can do regarding satellite offices on college campuses, as well as making voting more accessible to everyone,” Miller said. “I think that Secretary Benson is leading the way for what all states should be doing. For us to be able to raise voter turnout in the United States, we need to be able to identify barriers to voting, and talk to the individuals directly affected by those barriers.”
It’s common for people with K ties to seek increased voter participation, especially among young adults. K alumna Carolyn DeWitt ’04, for example, is president of Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to building the political power of young voters; and Emily Kowey ’17, the assistant director of K’s Center for Civic Engagement, helps power K Votes, a non-partisan coalition that informs K students, faculty and staff about voting and civic engagement.
Miller, though, credits Assistant Professor of Political Science Justin Berry and his class on voting, campaigns and elections for preparing and inspiring her to join the task force.
“Dr. Berry has been an enormous help, teaching me the barriers to voting, how to read and analyze voter turnout stats, and how to effectively draft solutions to the issues faced by voters,” Miller said. “I am super excited to see what we come up with at our second meeting, and how our ideas will change voting at K.”
When artists create, they express a piece of themselves. Art, therefore, can provide an outlet for underrepresented people to communicate their feelings, struggles and realities with those who will listen. That makes ARTifact, a program offered through Kalamazoo College’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), an empowering resource.
ARTifact, fueled through K students serving as civic-engagement scholars, is a weekly studio-workshop series for high school students interested in visual art and social justice, while otherwise having limited access to art instruction. The program creates a space in which participants communicate about complex social issues and express their identities through art.
The program, including the cost of materials, is offered at no cost to participants thanks to the CCE. Since its founding, the CCE has provided service-learning courses, research opportunities, internships, and student-led programs, engaging more than 10,000 K students in partnerships that foster academic learning, critical problem-solving and a lifetime of civic engagement. Through the CCE, students, faculty and staff have worked with thousands of community residents, more than 50 organizations, and in more than 30 community-based courses across K’s academic disciplines.
The CCE employs 25 civic-engagement scholars including Angela Pastor ’21 who are student leaders facilitating programs with community partners in which they and their peers learn from communities. The scholars are supported by generous endowments and grants.
The culmination of the ARTifact workshops for the academic year came in an exhibit at the June 7 Art Hop, a fun evening of art exhibits and events in and around Kalamazoo, sponsored by Arts Council Kalamazoo, that takes place during the first weekend of every month. ARTifact’s exhibit during Art Hop was stationed at the Park Trades Center, a former manufacturing facility on West Kalamazoo Avenue that houses a creative community of more than 100 designers, entrepreneurs and small business representatives.
The ARTifact workshops gathered participants for three hours every Saturday, where they created art, physically crafted their displays and created advertising posters before spreading word of its Art Hop show.
“It’s an honor to be able to provide this experience,” said Pastor ’21 of Los Angeles, a Posse student at K who also benefited from participating in a similar experience as a high school student. “When I went through it, it taught me a lot about what I could create. I know high school is a time for questioning for a lot of people. Art, I think, is a way to figure out yourself.”
Pastor said she enjoyed ARTifact week to week, although long term success would mean expanding the program to more high school students by getting more K students to volunteer. That would also mean realizing ARTifact’s full potential.
“I know some of the high school students explore their identity through sexuality or mental health,” Pastor said. “It’s a way to use art as a tool that educates and helps students explore their identity. It can be used to support their social justice issues and anything they’re passionate about. There was one workshop where we used only recycled materials. We also talked about what makes art worthy of being exhibited and we questioned what art is and what it can be. It makes me feel proud (the high school students) were able to learn about art and have all these experiences.”