Campus News

Innovators in Social Justice to Receive 2015 Grinnell Prize

This year’s winners of the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize are working creatively to diminish the inequities facing underrepresented populations. The winners are:

  • —Deborah Ahenkorah, founder of Golden Baobab, an organization that supports the creation and distribution of culturally relevant literature by African writers and illustrators for African children. Through awards with cash prizes, workshops, and an independent publishing company, Golden Baobab seeks to remedy the underrepresentation of relatable African perspectives in children’s literature.
  • Maria Vertkin, founder of the organization Found in Translation, a program that trains multilingual, low-income and homeless women for jobs in medical interpreting. This program aims not only to provide these women with the means to obtain economic security, but also equips them to address the ethnic, racial, and linguistic disparities in the health care industry.

As the largest prize for social justice awarded by any college, the $100,000 Grinnell Prize is awarded each year to leaders who create sustainable innovations in social justice. 

“Over the past five years since its establishment, the prize has grown increasingly integrated into campus programming,” says Saunia Powell ’02, coordinator of the Grinnell Prize. “Past prizewinners have formed lasting partnerships with faculty, students, and alumni through short courses, workshops, student research, internships, and fellowships.”

The 2015 Grinnell Prize medals will be presented at the Grinnell Prize award ceremony and prizewinner talks on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 4 p.m. in Herrick Chapel. The deadline for submission of 2016 Grinnell Prize nominees is Nov. 9, 2015.

Chief IT Officer Named

Dave Robinson was named the College’s chief information technology officer in August. In this newly created position, Robinson will have broad responsibility for academic and administrative information technology support and services. 

“He is articulate, engaging, and approachable and has a genuine desire to work collaboratively with faculty, staff, and students in our liberal arts setting,” says President Raynard S. Kington. “He understands faculty research and is eager to find ways to involve students in ITS that have value and meaning to the students as well as the institution.”

Formerly director of computing and telecommunications at the University of Pittsburgh at the Greensburg and Oakland, Pa., main campuses, Robinson ushered in upgrades to network infrastructure and wireless systems and introduced a technology governance model. He also taught courses in computer science and engineering at the two campuses. 

“I’m thrilled to be joining the Grinnell community, and I’m excited to meet everyone and to begin contributing to the mission of the College,” Robinson says. 

A native of the British Isles, Robinson earned a bachelor’s in neuroscience from Cardiff University in Wales and a doctorate in pharmacology and neuroscience from the University of Cambridge in England. Robinson was also a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Iowa. 

Architects Selected for Campus Projects

EYP, an architecture firm in Boston, was selected in February to design the new learning spaces for social studies and humanities — excluding the fine arts. The project will include renovation of Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH) and Carnegie Hall as well as new construction.

In May, EYP visited campus for an open forum with faculty, staff, and students. EYP introduced three preliminary conceptual strategies that showed possible building organizational elements, such as the use of an atrium to link new and old sections of ARH or a courtyard that would remain open to the elements. EYP received a great deal of feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the three different approaches. 

EYP designers are working with members of faculty and staff to develop the list of functions the new spaces must provide and the square footage for them. Additional considerations include how to meet high standards of accessibility and sustainability. 

Schematic design work will begin in the fall of 2015. The rest of the design process will likely take a year to 18 months. Based on the College’s previous experience with major academic building projects, it may take about two years to build a new building and one year to renovate an existing structure. 

“We’re fairly sure that we won’t be able to build and renovate at the same time,” says Erik Simpson, professor of English and co-chair of the ARH Carnegie Planning Committee. “We don’t even know yet whether ARH and Carnegie can be renovated at the same time.” 

A tentative target date for final occupancy is June 2020.

The ARH and Carnegie renovation is one part of a larger project that also includes a new admission and visitor center and a comprehensive campus landscaping plan. In June, Ayers Saint Gross, a design firm based in Baltimore, was selected to take on these projects. 

Ayers Saint Gross will partner with Confluence, a regional landscaping design firm with an office in Des Moines, Iowa, to ensure the use of building materials and natural elements to reflect Grinnell’s prairie location.

For all of these projects, the 

College’s Board of Trustees authorized expenditures of $100 million — $20 million to come from gifts and the remaining $80 million from debt. (See Page 31 for a related story.)

Project updates will be shared at

Office for Civil Rights Investigation Initiated

In July 2015, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) informed Grinnell College that it was opening an investigation into a Title IX complaint filed against the College. The complaint, which was not shared with the College by OCR, addresses the College’s response to cases of reported sexual assault and retaliation. OCR also informed the College that “opening the allegation for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to its merits.” College administrators said they welcome this review and will collaborate with OCR to assure that the College’s Title IX policies and procedures are as effective as possible. 

Last spring, President Raynard S. Kington requested that OCR provide the College with technical assistance under Title IX after being unable to comment on media coverage of student allegations dating back to 2012. Kington noted that the College had made significant improvements in policies and process following new guidance from OCR in April 2011 and sought review by OCR as a neutral and impartial fact-finder. 

“Our work should not be judged in the court of public opinion based on incomplete information, but by those responsible for oversight of Title IX, based on comprehensive information about our practices on campus,” Kington said in a letter to the campus community in March 2015.   

After making the request for assistance, the College learned from media that a number of Grinnell students had filed a Title IX complaint with OCR. A local attorney working with the complainants acknowledged that neither the filing of the complaint, nor the complaint itself had been shared with the College. OCR publicly “commend[ed] Grinnell College for its commitment to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn in an environment free from sexual violence,” but later declined to provide technical assistance in light of the pending complaint.

The College continues to proactively develop its sexual respect policies to ensure that its practices are trauma-informed, prompt and equitable, and fair.  Recent enhancements include engaging an outside adjudicator, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, as well as outside investigators on an as-needed basis. In addition, the College has developed a Title IX training program that has become a national model. Throughout all of its efforts, Grinnell students have been deeply involved in prevention and response work.

The College maintains a Title IX Task Force that directs its resources toward preventing sexual misconduct and responding to student reports. Each member of the task force has a focused area of responsibility:

Angela Voos (chief of staff and Title IX coordinator), oversight of all Title IX matters.

Sarah Moschenross (dean of students), conduct process.

Jen Jacobsen ’95 (wellness director), prevention.

Jeff Pedersen ’02 (head football coach), athletics.

Deanna Shorb (dean of religious life), confidential response and support.

Bailey Thompson (strategic planning assistant), case management.

In a July 27, 2015, message to the campus community announcing the OCR investigation, Voos said, “We are committed to ensuring that we are doing everything possible to prevent and respond appropriately to incidents of sexual violence and will continue to seek improvements that tend to the needs of our community. We support the rights of our students to file a civil rights complaint, and we will continue to provide support and care for all of our community members.”

Grinnell’s sexual respect policy resources can be found at


Improving Children’s Mental Health

Tammy Nyden, associate professor of philosophy, recently received the Iowa City Human Rights Commission’s Isabel Turner Award. The award recognizes Nyden’s outstanding achievements in advocacy for improving children’s mental health services in Iowa. 

Tammy Nyden

After seeing the difficulties her own family faced in finding children’s mental health resources, Nyden and two other families formed Parents Creating Change, a group to advocate for local and state reform. Working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Parents Creating Change then formed the NAMI Iowa Children’s Mental Health Committee.

In partnership with Parents Creating Change and the NAMI committee, Nyden has organized rallies at the Iowa Statehouse, generated media coverage, and raised awareness about the needs of children with unique mental health needs in Iowa. 

Nyden says, “It is rewarding to see incremental changes already starting to take place at the state level, but there is so much work left to do.”

Nyden has been recognized widely for her advocacy work. In 2014, she received the Advocate of the Year Award from Iowans with Disabilities in Action.

Kesho Scott Inducted into Iowa African-American Hall of Fame

The Iowa African-American Hall of Fame (IAAHF) inducted four new members, including Kesho Scott, associate professor of American studies and sociology, in November.

Founded in 1995 in Des Moines, the IAAHF recognizes the outstanding achievements of African-Americans who have enhanced the quality of life for all Iowans. Since its inception in 2002, the organization has inducted 65 Iowans as members.

Scott invited 20 of her students to the banquet. “They had the opportunity to interact with many of Iowa’s most distinguished leaders and scholars in the realm of race and social justice, and I was excited to give them this opportunity,” she says.

Scott was the first African-American woman to receive tenure at Grinnell. She is an award-winning author and frequent speaker on issues of race relations, diversity, women’s issues, inclusion, and cultural competency. She has 30 years of experience conducting workshops about unlearning racism and all “-isms.” 

Born in Detroit, Scott received her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University, her master’s in political sociology from the University of Detroit, and her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where she was Woman of the Year in 1986. She has held several distinguished faculty positions, including visiting professor at Nanjing University in China and Fulbright visiting professor at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. The recipient of numerous honors, Scott is especially proud to have been awarded the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women in 2008. In addition, Scott has appeared on CNN, Iowa Public Radio, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

At the Faulconer Gallery Winter 2016–17

Joan Linder: Operation Sunshine

January 27–March 19, 2017

The drawings by Joan Linder ’92 in Operation Sunshine are the result of her horror and bewilderment as she investigated the environmental history of brownfields and toxic waste sites near Niagara Falls. She spent many hours parked along the area’s dumping grounds, sketching their chain-link borders in over 80 running feet of accordion-style notebook drawings. Additional pen-and-ink drawings of earth patches are 1-to-1 scale, outlining ground and effectively questioning what lies beneath the ordinary pebbles and weeds that compose our land. Finally, Linder spent weeks in libraries and historical societies, creating more than 70 hand-drawn copies of aerial maps marking radioactive storage sites, memos on human uranium injections, and declassified documents.

Crossing the Line: Selections from the Grinnell College Art Collection

January 27–March 19, 2017

The Grinnell College Art Collection is distinguished by works of social and political commentary historically deployed by artists as weapons against oppression, exploitation, and human folly. Crossing the Line features works from many periods and media, highlighting recent acquisitions that speak to issues at the core of global discourse today: income and racial inequality, migration, incarceration, and public protest in the age of the “war on terror.” The exhibition is offered in conjunction with “Rethinking Global Cultures,” a yearlong seminar and related programs sponsored by the Center for the Humanities. 

Real Foods Coordinator Brings New Perspective

As Grinnell College’s first real foods coordinator, Molly Schintler has a simple goal: “To ensure that the food people have access to is truly nourishing to people and the planet.” 

The new position has been funded for two years by the Grinnell College Innovation Fund. The coordinator is responsible for promoting food sustainability, which can cover anything from food sourcing and recycling to garden initiatives on campus. 

“My job,” Schintler says, “is to unite the administration, staff, faculty, students, and the whole community so they have access to and are engaged with a fair and just food system — a system that nourishes Grinnell’s community.”

Her duties include educating members of the local community about “real food.” Schintler says that real foods are foods that nourish all people and the planet. This not only means selecting locally grown or organic food, but also selecting food based on how it was produced. Fair trade and humane conditions are part of the criteria. 

The position of real foods coordinator came about as a result of the work of Madeline Warnick ’16. In winter 2013 she completed an independent study titled “Tracking ‘Real Food’ in Grinnell College Dining Services.” Her study found that only 7 percent of the food in the dining hall was considered real food, a percentage lower than at peer institutions in the Midwest, which use 20 percent or more real food. 

Dick Williams, director of dining services, estimates 15 percent of the food in the dining hall is now considered real food. The College aims to reach 20 percent as part of the Real Food Challenge, a national initiative to shift $1 billion of existing college and university food budgets away from industrial farms and heavily processed food toward local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane food sources by 2020.

Schintler is optimistic about the future of real food at Grinnell, saying, “Clearly Grinnell College does things very well. I’m a big proponent of doing well, but then always doing better, and going beyond doing good by making things fair and making them just, not just good.”

Student Dining Worker Union Ratifies Contract, Raises Pay

After nearly four months of bargaining, the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) and Grinnell administrators ratified a one-year contract to raise wages for students who work in the College’s Marketplace Dining Hall. The agreement was the first between an undergraduate student union and a private college or university. 

Starting Oct. 1, 2016, student dining hall workers saw their hourly wages increase 9 percent, from $8.50 to $9.25. In addition, students who work in the dining hall for 18 months are now eligible to receive accumulated experience pay, essentially raising their wages to $10 per hour. 

Grinnell’s undergraduate union was created in March 2016 and numbered just five students at the end of the 2015–16 academic year. As of fall 2016, membership is up to 58.

Cory McCartan ’19, union president, explains that the decision to unionize was driven by two related issues. First, students were frustrated by what they saw as an unfair pay discrepancy. From 2009 to 2016, hikes in tuition coupled with stagnant student wages had decreased the relative value of work-study by over 25 percent. Second, the dining hall was chronically understaffed. According to McCartan, almost one in every five shifts had been going unfilled.

 “The solution to both of these problems was to raise student wages,” he continues. “And the best way to do that was to form a union.”

In August 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate research and teaching assistants are entitled to collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act. While its decision focused on graduate students, nothing in the ruling prevents undergraduates from unionizing if they perform work for colleges or universities in exchange for compensation.

The first bargaining unit composed solely of undergraduate students was created in 2015, when peer mentors at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst won approval to join a local union for resident assistants. 

Grinnell students and administrators are both pleased with the resolution reached through the negotiations. A statement released by Kate Walker, vice president for finance and treasurer of the College, said: “This agreement is a win-win for student workers and the College because students will increase their earnings, and the pay raises will help the College to attract new applicants to the dining hall.”

With the contract under its belt, UGSDW is now in the process of training union representatives. “In the spring, we’ll start thinking about the next round of bargaining,” says McCartan, “but until then, our focus is on doing the best we can to represent student workers.”

Carver Grant Will Help Grinnellians Think Big (Data)

Grinnell College recently received a $200,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust to build a comprehensive curriculum in data science over the next two years. Funds from the grant will allow faculty from multiple disciplines to develop new gateway and capstone courses in data science, while also enriching data science content in existing courses across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

“Working with the support of the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust to develop a 21st century curriculum is an honor,” says President Raynard S. Kington. “We are pleased and inspired to be one of the few colleges to receive this kind of support, which will invest in the potential and future of liberal arts education right here in Iowa.”

To address the changing needs in our data-rich society, this major curricular initiative cuts across departmental boundaries to address new technologies. “This initiative will provide opportunities for students to develop mathematical, statistical, and computational approaches to model building, multivariate data visualization, pattern recognition, and interpretation of data grounded in research questions from multiple disciplines,” says Shonda Kuiper, professor of mathematics and statistics.

Grinnellians are already taking note of this emerging trend. Recent years have witnessed unprecedented growth in the popularity of statistics and computer science, two disciplines that are integral to data analytics. Increasingly, this boost in enrollment has been propelled by students with a broad range of majors and academic interests beyond the sciences.

“The Carver Trust’s generous support will enable Grinnell to take transformative steps in bringing data science to the liberal arts,” says Michael E. Latham, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. “As our students explore the power, limits, and ethical challenges involved in applying data science to problems ranging from disease control to international finance to elementary education, they will develop vital analytical abilities that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. As a vibrant, interdisciplinary field, data science will become a key component of inquiry-led learning at Grinnell.”