Campus News

Four New Designees for Endowed Chairs

An installation ceremony for endowed chairs, professorships, and staff on Nov. 14 in Herrick Chapel honored current endowed chairs and celebrated the naming of four new designees:

Shuchi Kapila, professor of English, assistant vice president for global education and senior international officer

Elaine Marzluff, professor of chemistry, Breid-McFarland professor of science

Daniel Reynolds, professor of German, Seth Richards professor in modern languages 

Erik Simpson, professor of English, Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal professor of humanities 

Kapila joined the Grinnell faculty in 2002. Her research focuses on 19th century England, 19th and 20th century British colonialism in South Asia, and literary cultural production in postcolonial South Asia. She is the author of the book Educating Seeta: The Anglo-Indian Family Romance and the Poetics of Indirect Rule. She served as chair of the English department in 2007-08 and 2015-16, as well as director of the Center for Humanities from 2011-16. She was elected to the Board of the International Organization, Consortium of Humanities Center and Institutes, where she represents liberal arts colleges across the United States. She is the assistant vice president and senior international officer at the Institute for Global Engagement. 

Marzluff joined the faculty in 1997. She has served as chemistry department chair, on the Executive Council and Personnel Committees and recently completed a term as chair of the faculty. She is co-director of the Grinnell Science Project and is interested in promoting access to science for all students. In addition to teaching physical chemistry, she has also been involved in teaching policy studies. Her research focuses on the structure and dynamics of peptides and proteins in both solution and gas phases. More than 60 Grinnell students have collaborated on her work. With a recent grant, she has developed modular curricular materials for physical chemistry that introduce students to kinetics, quantum mechanics, and spectroscopy using context-rich pedagogy.    

Reynolds arrived at Grinnell in 1998. He chaired the German department from 2007-09 and 2011-15, and is a past director of the Center for the Humanities. He wrote the book Postcards from Auschwitz: Holocaust Tourism and the Meaning of Remembrance, the research for which was supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. His current work explores the role of perpetrator photography in Holocaust memorialization. In addition to recent articles that blend his interests in Holocaust studies, memory studies, and tourism studies, he has also published on the topics of German modernism and postmodernism, postcolonial German literature, and the literary responses to German reunification. His interests in second language acquisition and place-based study have also made him a strong advocate for course-embedded travel. Since 2010 he has been taking students to Europe as part of multiple team-taught classes.

Simpson, who joined the Grinnell faculty in 2001, studies British and transatlantic literature of the Romantic period. He is working on two books: Literary Minstrelsy: 1770-1830 and Mercenaries in British and American Literature, 1790-1830: Writing, Fighting, and Marrying for Money. He is the principal investigator of the Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry, a partnership with the University of Iowa. His interests in computer programming and the digital humanities have led him to collaborate with Grinnell College students to create websites that feature student scholarship related to transatlantic 1790s and James Joyce's Ulysses. He is the co-chair of the planning committee for the College's new Humanities and Social Studies Center.  

New Admission and Financial Aid Building Taking Shape

The Admission and Financial Aid Center is under construction on Park Street, directly across from Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH). These images give you a glimpse of what it will look like when the building is complete in fall 2018.

See updates and project overviews on our Construction Central webpage.

Interior view of AFA, including the fireplace in the lobby

Interior view of AFA, including reception desk area

“Baby, She Had Sisters”

In 2014 Gina Clayton founded Essie Justice Group, and in 2017 she was awarded the $100,000 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. The Essie Justice Group creates “communities of belonging” through a nine-week “Healing to Advocacy” model to fight for an end to mass incarceration. While most attempts to find solutions to mass incarceration focus on men, Clayton instead focuses on the need and activist potential of the millions of women with incarcerated loved ones. As a woman with an incarcerated loved one herself and as a Harvard-educated lawyer, Clayton integrates both personal experience and professional expertise into her work. 

From idea to action: Founding Essie Justice Group

Sometimes, the solutions to problems are hidden in plain sight.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2010, Clayton joined the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem as a housing attorney. There, she came face-to-face with the problem that would define her career.

“My clients were the mothers, the grandmothers, the sisters, daughters, wives, and girlfriends of people who were arrested, charged, and incarcerated,” says Clayton. Often the women she represented felt so isolated and embarrassed by their association with someone who had run afoul of the law that they weren’t preparing for a fight, says Clayton — they were preparing to surrender. 

Clayton felt the need to address the root cause of the problem she was seeing, instead of continuing to work within the confines of an inherently oppressive system. She wanted to end the suffering and shame of women with incarcerated loved ones, and ultimately, mass incarceration itself. So, Clayton says, “I went to where I knew the ailments of our people suffering have always been found. I went to our matriarchs.”

The matriarch of Clayton’s family was back home, in California. Clayton’s grandmother was the daughter of a woman who left a Jim Crow-era Louisiana sharecropping farm in 1938 to come to California, working three jobs and raising three children as a single mother in a new city. She did this to provide herself and her children with better opportunities, and she succeeded.

Clayton wanted to know how her great-grandmother had done it. How had Essie overcome poverty, isolation, sexism, and racism? How had she persevered? Clayton’s grandmother appeared surprised that her granddaughter didn’t already know. “Baby,” she said, “she had sisters.”

Sisterhood as innovation

“We are living in a society that has bought into the myth that every person with a conviction and their children and their spouses are unworthy, unredeemable, and unlike any of us,” says Clayton. At a time when we so often look to Silicon Valley for “innovative” solutions to the world’s problems, Clayton recognizes that, when doing social justice work, innovation is found by “creating movements for change that are led by the people directly affected.” 

After Clayton visited her grandmother, she set to work trying to figure out how to build a sense of sisterhood among some of the most isolated women in the country. What she came up with was Essie Justice Group’s signature nine-week Healing to Advocacy program, currently operating in the California Bay Area and soon to expand to a second location in Florida. 

Incarcerated men and women nominate women in their lives who are helping them by providing financial support, driving hundreds of miles to visit, taking care of their children, or advocating for their rights when they cannot. Clayton or another woman with an incarcerated loved one then personally calls each woman and reads her loved one’s nomination letter. “That is our first programmatic isolation-breaking touch,” says Clayton. 

The women nominated are invited to attend nine sessions that focus first on healing, then on advocating for themselves and their loved ones. So far, approximately 50 women have graduated into the “Essie Sisterhood,” ready to become anti-mass incarceration advocacy leaders.

In the spring of 2017, Clayton received a personal phone call of her own. What she had expected to be an interview turned out to be President Raynard S. Kington calling to inform her that she had won the Grinnell Prize. Now, after fine-tuning her process, Clayton can start expanding her vision. “The Grinnell Prize is helping make my dream of building in Florida and two additional states in the next three years possible.” 

Communities of belonging and the liberal arts

The value of the Grinnell Prize, however, goes beyond the monetary award itself. Clayton and two other representatives from the Essie Justice Group spent a week on campus in October participating in workshops, panels, and class visits. Clayton clearly found her time with Grinnell students exhilarating (and after a week of a fully-booked schedule, more than a little exhausting). 

“The experience of being here and being fully integrated for a week with the fantastically deep, curious, and passionate Grinnell community has been like nothing that I have ever experienced before,” says Clayton. “It is so deeply meaningful to have a group of people that I have such tremendous respect for have such faith in this vision. I’m beyond moved.”

Throughout the week, Clayton showed how much respect she had for Grinnell students and their willingness to engage. She challenged them to brainstorm ways that the Essie Justice Group could improve and to think about building community in their own social justice efforts. “Creating communities of belonging in this climate is resistance work,” she says. “This is how movements happen.”

Grinnell is the type of place that is catalytic to social justice movements. It provides resources to fund justice work, opportunities for students to engage with current innovators, and a space in which students are constantly asked to question and challenge the status quo.

“It has become clear to me that this is a community where social justice belongs,” says Clayton. “And it feels like home.” 


Making Life Visible: Art, Biology, and Visualization

Feb. 2–June 10, 2018


Curated by Jackie Brown, professor of biology, and Lesley Wright, director of the Faulconer Gallery, Making Life Visible explores the processes of visualization and description in art and biology by featuring work by 17 contemporary artists and scientists, as well as historical material from the 16th to 19th centuries. In the past, biologists and artists had similar training in observation and drawing. Although the fields have diverged, individual practitioners on both sides continue to draw inspiration from one another, finding new ideas in the process of creating images. The exhibition asks: What do artists and biologists see, and how do their ways of seeing challenge and stimulate one another? Subjects addressed in the exhibition range from molecules and cells to organisms and ecosystems and the artists’/scientists’ work in labs, studios, museums, and in the field. 


Global Cosmologies of Vodou

Jan. 26–March 18, 2018

This year’s exhibition seminar, led by Fredo Rivera ’06, assistant professor of art history, explores the work of Haitian American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié and builds an exhibition around four of his paintings. The nine student curators will draw from the Grinnell College art collection and the Waterloo Center for the Arts — the largest public collection of Haitian art in the world — to develop an exhibition and catalog that places Duval-Carrié’s work in dialogue with diverse objects. Given the insularity with which Haiti is often seen, the curators hope to explore cosmological and cultural connections that reconfigure understanding of the world’s first black republic.

Alumni Couple Gives $1.158 Million to Grinnell College

Alumni Michael ’74 and Virginia Munger Kahn ’76 have established an endowed fund for career advancement with gifts totaling $1.158 million. 

The fund will support participation by Grinnell students in “high-impact” experiences, including supplementing unpaid and low-paid domestic and international internships in any sector of the economy, job-shadowing, interviewing and networking, and attending career-oriented, professional development conferences.

“Michael and Virginia understand that the priorities and resources of the College’s career initiatives will evolve over time, and they have created a funding mechanism to accommodate programs and ideas beyond their present scope,” says Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service. 

“Ginny and I both share a deep passion for supporting career, service, and life ambitions of Grinnell students, for furthering the international experience of students, and for supporting students with demonstrated financial need,” says Michael Kahn. “We also think it is important to strengthen and expand the College’s reputation among, and relationships with, employers in the for-profit, nonprofit, and government sectors.”

Michael and Virginia Kahn met while students at Grinnell and have maintained a lifelong affinity for the College, serving it in many ways. In 2015, Michael was elected to the Grinnell College Board of Trustees. As he has done throughout his career at TIAA in New York City, Kahn annually hosts as many as three student interns in various positions and locations throughout TIAA. Several of those internships led to full-time employment with TIAA following students’ graduation from Grinnell. 

Empowering Latinos to Serve in Elected Office in Iowa

Robert X. Barron ’02, who co-founded the Latino Political Network (LPN), recently received the College’s Joseph F. Wall ’41 Alumni Service Award. Barron plans to use the $30,000 award to hire a full-time staff member for LPN. 

A nonpartisan organization, LPN strives to educate and empower Latinos to serve at all levels of elected office throughout Iowa. Iowa continues to become more diverse, but the elected leadership does not yet reflect this diversity. 

LPN is the only group in Iowa committed to the organization and civic empowerment of Latinos, Barron says. 

“This award gives the LPN a transformational boost for our work to educate and empower new leaders in Iowa,” he says. “As a proud alumnus, I am thankful to the faculty, staff, and my fellow students for providing me with a learning environment that was both challenging and nurturing. My work since graduation is a testament to their impact on me.” 

He brings extensive political expertise and experience to LPN after working for many years for former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

In addition to co-founding LPN, Barron is special assistant for government and community relations to Grand View University President Kent Henning. In this role, Barron represents Grand View before elected officials and works to build relationships with the community on behalf of students, faculty, and staff. A native and resident of Des Moines, Barron has served on the Des Moines School Board since 2013 and recently was elected to a new four-year term. 

Lizeth Gutierrez ’12: First Mellon Mays Fellow to Earn Ph.D.

Lizeth Gutierrez ’12 is the first Grinnell College Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) fellow to complete her Ph.D., graduating with a doctorate in American Studies from Washington State University in 2017. Grinnell developed its MMUF program in 2009, and Gutierrez was accepted into its second cohort in 2010.

Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English and Grinnell’s MMUF faculty coordinator, invited Gutierrez back to Grinnell in September as the program’s kickoff dinner keynote speaker. “Having Lizeth there as an example of persistence and belief in oneself … I can’t imagine having anyone else,” says Benjamin.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s goal in funding MMUF programs across the country is to diversify the professoriate by providing fellows with a set of tools — including strong mentors, financial support, and research and time management skills — that can be harder to access for students who feel like outsiders in the academic sphere. 

Funding supports an average of five new MMUF fellows at Grinnell each year. Fellows design a two-year research project with a faculty mentor and receive student loan debt forgiveness up to $10,000 if they enroll in graduate school. MMUF also sponsors travel to regional networking events, connecting students with a vast network of peers and mentors to help them through the graduate school application process and beyond.

The importance of networks based on shared experience is central both to Gutierrez’s success in academia and to her own research. Currently a postdoctoral fellow at Macalester College, Gutierrez, who majored in Spanish with a sociology concentration at Grinnell, is studying how chisme (roughly translated as “gossip”) among Latina women working in the domestic industry functions as a tool of survival, helping them navigate their economic conditions and negotiate their rights.

 “I don’t think I would have survived my time at Grinnell if it wasn’t for the mentorship I received,” she says. “Grinnell College is very lucky to have [MMUF].”


Construction Zone

The South Pavilion of the new Humanities and Social Studies Complex (HSSC) took shape on central campus during the summer.

Construction site of Humanities and Social Studies Complex, boarded up windows on ARH, steel beam structure in place

Another view of the construction, looking south across Eighth Avenue, at the HSSC construction northwest of Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH).

Two-story house on the back of a flat-bed truck that's turning the corner onto Park Street, looking southeast at ARH

Three language houses on Park Street across from ARH were moved one block north during the summer. They will be ready for students to occupy this fall. The houses were moved to make way for the construction of a new Admission and Financial Aid building on the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and Park Street.


Board of Trustees Election

Jeanne Myerson, Sheryl Walters, Odile Disch-Bhadkamkar, Julie Gosselink, Patricia Jipp-Finkelman, Peter CalvertThe College Board of Trustees recently elected four new members: Jeanne Myerson ’75, Sheryl Walter ’78, Odile Disch-Bhadkamkar, and Julie Gosselink

Myerson is a real estate industry leader with three decades of experience in commercial real estate investment. Most recently she served as CEO of the Americas region of the Urban Land Institute, an interdisciplinary research and education institute dedicated to leadership in land use and creating thriving communities worldwide. She founded The Belgrave Group, an independent consulting firm, in 2015. 

Walter has worked in all three branches of the federal government for more than 25 years. She is general counsel of the administrative office of the U.S. Courts, the first woman to hold this position. During her time on Capitol Hill, she worked for then-Sen. Joe Biden Jr. and the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  

Disch-Bhadkamkar recently retired from Stanford University after 23 years in finance administration. Before joining Stanford she was a vice president at JP Morgan Chase & Co. in the corporate finance division. She and Neal Bhadkamkar are parents of Ishan Bhadkamkar ’13.

Gosselink is president, CEO, and chair of the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation, which was established by her grandfather. She has worked for the Ahrens Foundation since 2001 and has served as a director for several other Grinnell organizations, including the Galaxy Youth Center, Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, Grinnell Regional Medical Center Foundation, Iowa Council of Foundations, and Mayflower Community Foundation. 

Peter Calvert ’79, who was elected Alumni Council president for 2017–18, will serve as an ex-officio trustee. He works as executive director of Ethical Metalsmiths, an organization that leads jewelers and consumers in becoming informed activists for responsible mining, sustainable economic development, and verified, ethical sources of materials used in making jewelry. 

The board re-elected Patricia Jipp Finkelman ’80 to a second term as board chair. She has been a member of the board since 1998 and a life trustee since 2014. The board also re-elected Barrett Thomas ’97 and Matthew Welch ’96 to new terms.

Trustees Anne Campbell Spence ’66 and Clinton Korver ’89 recently retired from the board. They both joined in 2001 and completed four terms each. Korver also served as board chair from 2011–15.

See trustees’ full biographical profiles