Campus News

Senior Wins Prize in France on Campus Award Competition

Taylor Watts ’16, a French and anthropology major, recently received second prize in the 2015 France on Campus Award competition, sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. 

 “The France on Campus Award competition is open to all U.S. colleges and universities, so Watts’ second prize is proof of the strength and creativity of her proposal,” says David Harrison, professor of French. 

Applications for the France on Campus Award were evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Demonstrated interest in expanding the reach of France and French culture on campus.
  • Originality and creativity of the project.
  • Potential to reach a broad audience, including university students, professors, and other organizations on campus and beyond.

Watts’ proposal, “A Choreographic Exploration of the ‘commerce triangulaire,’”combines her study of dance with her study of French literature. The choreographic piece is inspired by, and set to, a series of texts in French that discuss the impact of slavery on the Caribbean. 

 “Subjects such as these need to be brought to light because they continue to affect the world today,” Watts says. “I believe knowledge and understanding are the only ways to move forward.”

To design and develop the choreography for her proposal, Watts is completing a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) under the direction of Celeste Miller, assistant professor of theatre and dance.

 “Taylor’s ‘Choreographic Exploration’ is a rich example of how dance, because of the undeniability of the body, can be a powerful and visceral use of the arts to examine complex and difficult topics,” Miller says. “It is a choreographed embodiment drawn from research into both her topic and the aesthetic of the art form of dance.”

Watts’ project draws from her off-campus study experience in Nantes, France, once one of the most important slave-trading ports in Western Europe. The methods she is using for her choreographic approach began with a summer MAP in Atlanta, also directed by Miller, working with theatre and dance companies whose work addresses social justice issues.

Watts studied Nantes’ role in the French slave trade, then took a seminar at Grinnell about French Caribbean literature from Gwenola Caradec, assistant professor of French. The works read in this seminar inspired Watts to transform the words into movement with a cast of Grinnell students.

Watts says she also was inspired by the campus visit of choreographer Olivier Tarpaga, hosted last winter by Miller. Tarpaga, from Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, incorporates historical speeches and other spoken words into his choreography to explore the history of decolonization in Africa.

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy, in partnership with Kickstarter and OrgSync, have established the France on Campus Award, under the patronage of film director Wes Anderson, to discover, celebrate, and support initiatives that explore France in new and creative ways. 

Watts will perform her work at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, in Flanagan Studio Theatre in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. As part of her award, she also will receive mentoring from the French Embassy and from Kickstarter to raise funds that will enable her to perform the work on other U.S. college campuses. 

Grinnell Takes Student Well-Being to the Next Level

In the midst of the national outcry about student safety on college campuses, concern about alcohol, drugs, and sexual assault is central to many conversations surrounding student well-being. While it’s clear that students on every campus are facing these issues, it can be difficult, from the outside, to see what steps are being taken to increase student safety. What is Grinnell doing to address these problems? One of the most promising answers, according to Jen Jacobsen ’95, wellness director, lies in the College’s active bystander training.

“Active bystanderism is an opportunity to empower people to interrupt a situation that looks like it might be harmful, to find out if they can change the direction of that situation,” says Jacobsen.

This intervention can be as simple as offering to walk someone home from a party if they seem like they’ve had too much to drink. But direct intervention isn’t the only thing active bystander training encourages. Students learn about campus resources they can turn to in case they feel uncomfortable addressing a situation themselves. For example, a student with a roommate who hasn’t been to class all week may not know how to start a conversation directly but can alert the on-call residence life coordinator (RLC). 

The most compelling and unique part of Grinnell’s active bystander program is the intense amount of student involvement. Training sessions are often run by student mentors, and the students receiving the training have input into what scenarios they learn about. 

Students talk in groups about situations they’ve encountered where they wished they’d known how to help — for instance, how to talk to a friend who’s obsessing over a final paper about taking it easy and making time for wellness. Another common concern is how to act when seeing someone who is drunk leaving a party to “hook up” if it seems like he or she might not be safe or able to give consent. Understanding that students are dealing with these kinds of situations and are unsure of how to navigate them helps Jacobsen tap into what really matters to students.

“The greatest learning comes from that discussion where the students talk among themselves about what scenarios they’ve encountered, what they have seen, what they think someone should do,” Jacobsen says. “It also gives me a good pulse on what’s actually relevant and happening on campus.”

Grinnell students are eager to learn how they can be active bystanders in their community, likely due to the self-governance ethic of campus culture. When asked whether they would like information on how to help others in distress on campus, 83 percent of Grinnell students responded that they would, compared to only 56 percent of the national undergraduate population. Furthermore, 96.7 percent of Grinnell students see active bystanderism as important to the success of self-governance.

Colton Silvia ’17 has been so involved in active bystander training on campus that he presented alongside Jacobsen at the Heartland Safety Summit last November. His knowledge and confidence impressed many of the student affairs and violence prevention professionals from other schools who attended the conference, and Silvia walked away with some important takeaways as well.

“The thing that really struck me was the importance of being intentional about how you reach certain communities, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing,” Silvia says. “The experience spurred me to keep pushing to revive the group Real Men, because men teaching men about gender-based violence has proved to be really effective.” 

Student organizations like Real Men target specific groups on campus to provide them with training and role models that will most effectively teach and inspire them to participate in harm reduction on campus. Jacobsen, who is also assistant track and field coach, has developed training sessions that provide targeted examples to athletic teams, who have been campus leaders in engaging in active bystander workshops, faculty, and other groups on campus to make sure that the training has the biggest possible impact. 

Bakopoulos Receives 2016 NEA Fellowship

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded individual creative writing fellowships of $25,000 each to 37 fiction and creative nonfiction writers, including Dean Bakopoulos, writer-in-residence at Grinnell College. 

Dean Bakopoulos headshot

The NEA selected Bakopoulos from among 1,763 eligible applicants evaluated by 23 readers and panelists. This is his second NEA fellowship, a rare accomplishment. Fellows must wait 10 years before applying for a second fellowship. Bakopoulos won an award for fiction in 2006; the 2016 award is for creative nonfiction.

“I’m so grateful to the NEA for recognizing my work for a second time,” Bakopoulos says. “This is an important boost for me on many levels, not just financially, but also emotionally. I’m finishing a difficult and somewhat perplexing book, and this fellowship has given me the courage to keep working, to finish the manuscript I was very close to throwing away.

“The nonfiction manuscript, titled Undoings, is a book-length meditation on the way things fall apart, and how we, as individuals, as families, as artists, often become undone by our own obsessions and our own pasts. I wrestle with many demons and blessings in that book: marriage, divorce, and parenthood; my own family’s history as war refugees and the long shadows cast by war trauma; as well as everything from country music to fast food to the role of religion in clinical depression. Right now, it’s a mess of a book, and this fellowship gives me the time to give it the focus it needs.” 

Bakopoulos, who teaches fiction and creative nonfiction courses at Grinnell, is the author of three novels — Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, My American Unhappiness, and Summerlong. The film version of his first novel, co-written by Bakopoulos, wrapped shooting in January and stars James Franco, Rashida Jones, and Jeffrey Wahlberg. The film version of Summerlong, also adapted by Bakopoulos, is in the works. In addition to his two NEA awards, Bakopoulos is the recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship. 

For Love of Opera

During Grinnell’s weeklong fall break, 11 students in Opera, Politics, and Society in Modern Europe left the classroom for San Francisco with Kelly Maynard, assistant professor of history, to get an up-close look at how politics and culture influence the development of modern opera. 

The idea for the trip began years earlier, when Maynard met Craig Henderson ’63, an opera enthusiast and Grinnell College trustee, on the ride back from the interview for her position at Grinnell. Discovering their shared interest in the world of opera and its importance as a window into history and politics, she later invited him to come speak to her class as a guest lecturer. Henderson was impressed with the students’ discussions and pitched the idea of a class trip to San Francisco. 

While it took time for Maynard to work out the details of how the students could receive funding for the trip, she finally decided to take Henderson up on his suggestion. He generously offered up his home and his opera contacts to make sure that the students had an unforgettable experience.

“Everyone they met in San Francisco was impressed with their intellectual sophistication and seemed to derive the same pleasure from the association that I did,” Henderson says. “I hope we can do it again next year.” 

Students spoke with opera singers, saw orchestral rehearsals, met with opera critics, and got exclusive backstage glimpses into set design and media suites. They also saw two live opera productions at the San Francisco Conservatory and the San Francisco Opera House, The Magic Flute and Lucia di Lammermoor.

“You can read about how people used to make sets or how people designed opera houses centuries ago, but you can’t get a real feel for it without seeing how everything operates with your own eyes,” says Austin Schilling ’17.

“We got to see firsthand that the history we’re studying in class is alive and functioning today, and is still as rich and complex as it was 200 years ago,” says Elizabeth Allen ’16

What students didn’t expect was the opportunity to meet with David Gockley, general director of the San Francisco Opera, during one of their tours. With half a semester of in-class study and a rigorous week of immersion in the world of opera under their belts, students were prepared to ask Gockley questions that helped them to discover the modern correspondences to what they learned in class. 

“I was so proud of the students; I could tell they surprised him with the quality of their questions,” says Maynard. “He really had to think about his answers, and they walked away with all these fantastic contemporary parallels that we could map back onto the content of the class.”

Through learning about the many complicated components that go into an opera production, these students discovered aspects of opera that they had never expected to be interested in. Allen even discovered an area that may turn into a topic of future research — the way globalization and art collide in modern opera. 

“Thinking about The Magic Flute, which is an 18th-century Viennese opera, translated into English in the 21st century by David Gockley, using set design that includes the aesthetics of contemporary Japanese ceramics … it’s something global and contemporary, but still rooted in the past,” Allen says. “Seeing that was a really pivotal experience for me, and I realized that that’s the way I want to look at things in the future.”

“I think my biggest take-away from this experience is that you need to look at things from many different angles,” says Sam Hengst ’18. “When we do readings, we’re so used to just thinking about things in one way, but on this trip we saw that the world of opera is complex, from the actors and singers to set design and the use of technology. It’s a network, and we couldn’t have gotten such a great understanding of that from just reading about it.” 

Second Annual Grinnell Lecture

Bill Ferguson ’75 headshotBill Ferguson ’75, Gertrude B. Austin Professor of Economics, gave the second annual Grinnell Lecture to his fellow faculty members Feb. 5. Collective-action problems arise whenever individuals pursuing their own interests cause undesirable outcomes for a group. This relatively simple notion applies to a huge array of problems, Ferguson says.

Large-scale examples are global climate change and the war in Syria, while a small-scale example is who does the cooking in a household. “Collective-action problems can focus our thoughts on social, political, and economic interactions that are extraordinarily complicated,” he says. “If we can separate the important pieces from the details, they might help us theorize about these problems, generate hypotheses, and test the hypotheses with data.” 

Teaching for Fun

Since fall 2014, nearly 150 Grinnell College students have volunteered to teach workshops on campus to children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. 

“I hope they discover something about teaching they didn’t know,” says Ashley Schaefer, Ignite Program coordinator and Lawrence S. Pidgeon Director of the Careers in Education Professions Program.

The Ignite Program began in the 2014–15 school year, offering classes on three different Saturdays last year — in November, February, and April. Attendance averaged 175 students for each day. For the first class in November 2014, they expected about 80 children but had 198 attend. 

In November last year, 256 children from Grinnell and the surrounding area participated. Classes included Dive into Archaeology, Iron Chef Grinnell, and Act Out Your Imagination in Improv 101. Children may take two different classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and have lunch on campus. 

Classes are taught by teams of two or three College student volunteers. These volunteers, dubbed “teacher scholars,” write a course proposal that includes a brief description and lesson plan. About half the teacher scholars are in the education program.

Schaefer meets with each team to review lesson plans. She emphasizes that the nearly 2-hour class isn’t a lecture and discussion. “It’s a workshop,” she says. “If you’re doing something with chocolate, the kids will expect to eat some chocolate.”

Cassandra Miller ’16, a biology major from Las Vegas, N.M., developed and taught Fun with Fungi last year for third and fourth graders. She chose that topic because she was taking a fungal biology course that she loved with Kathy Jacobson, associate professor of biology. 

In November 2015 Miller adapted her class for first and second graders. “I wanted to see what would happen,” she says. Her favorite part is trying to make the science accessible to young children. 

One of the activities, “fungal detective,” involved using microscopes and dried specimens. It was the first time many of these children had used a microscope. They could see the gills, pores, and teeth of their specimens. “They appreciate mushrooms more,” Miller says. 

Offered free of charge, the Ignite Program is sponsored by local philanthropists Helen Redmond and Pete Brownell, the College’s Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement, and the Careers in Education Professions Program.

The program was modeled on other colleges’ programs that bring high school students to campus for a day to experience classes. Schaefer wanted to start with the young kids. “The number of opportunities for academics for little kids was small,” she says. “This is the only opportunity for our students to teach elementary school students.”

In April the program is expanding to high school students. Even though Miller doesn’t intend to become a K–12 teacher, she’ll participate again. “I think education will always play a role in my future,” she says. 

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.