Prompted

Spring 2020

Prompt: If you could travel forward or backward in time to experience Grinnell during a different era, when would you want to visit and why?

1890s Grinnel Football team with dogIf I could time-travel to Grinnell, I would choose to go to 1898, when my maternal grandfather met my maternal grandmother. According to their Grinnell yearbooks, William Lindsay was a four-year letterman in football and baseball. Did they meet after a game? Mary Kinnick was active in a number of women’s debating clubs. Did they meet at a debate? That era was pre-in loco parentis (which ended circa 1970), where the College rule was that no young woman could allow any young man to “escort” her anywhere on campus. Did they break the rule? (I doubt it.)

Grinnell football team circa 1897

Like many people, I would have liked to experience Grinnell’s campus at the height of hippiedom. For me, that would span from 1967 to 1972.

A 1972 peace rally in Herrick Chapel featuring Richard H. Stein ’72 speaking to the attendees

A 1972 peace rally in Herrick Chapel featuring Richard H. Stein ’72 speaking to the attendees.

It was an exciting time of change: the end of the Cold War, the rise of technologies like email and the internet, the advent of third-wave feminism (to name a few). Plus, who wouldn’t want to dress up in neon spandex and dance to “Like A Prayer” and all the other latest releases by the likes of Madonna and Prince at the new Harris Center?

Mears Cottage

Ah, I imagine myself sitting on the steps of Mears Hall in 1905, long skirt and petticoats, hands clasped against my knees, chatting with my grandmother and her friends. We pause our conversation as a train rumbles by; I construct my question: “What impetus brought you to Grinnell?”

Those young women might demure, and, in fact, family lore says that my grandmother herself returned to Knoxville one Christmas and declared, “I’m not going back.” But she did. “Why are you here?” I might insist. And gesturing toward North Campus, “What made you realize that education is equally important for women?”

Mears Cottage circa 1895

Winter 2019

Prompt: Team-teaching can be a powerful learning experience, and not only for the students. If you could teach any course at Grinnell with any other teacher, what would you teach and with whom?

I’d love to teach Global News Media with political science professors Eliza Willis and Wayne Moyer. I learned so much in their classes that helped me while working with the media in Costa Rica and Paraguay. The relationship between media and the government plays such a crucial role in change or hegemony around the world, from China to Russia to Turkey to the United States. We would focus both on legacy media and new media.

If the College and the Congregational Church (now United Church of Christ) are ready to revisit George Herron, George Gates, and the era of the Social Gospel movement, I would love to team-teach with a UCC clergy person, a professor of American studies, political science, perhaps even economics (since the “boogeyman” of the Social Gospel movement was the inequality created by unbridled capitalism). In Grinnell College in the Nineteenth Century – From Salvation to Service, Joe Wall ’41 cites the era as the origin of the “path which the college has continued to follow. Grinnell students in every era since have been active in protests, education on issues, support for politics, and action on causes they believe in.”

Fall 2019

Prompt: A Cause

As the tail end of the post-World- War-II generation, I boosted the United Nations as a forum for identifying and solving issues of peace, war, and humane development. At Grinnell I led the International Relations Club supported by Professor Phil Thomas (who identified himself as an underdeveloped unbalanced economist). For three years running, I attended the New York City annual meetings of the Collegiate Council for the U.N. and was elected National CCUN vice president. This year, 2019, I am teaching a course, The U.N. and Global Order, at North Carolina State University.

students line the sidewalk down center campus

After the 1976 Soweto student uprising, I came to Grinnell in 1977 determined that the school divest from companies operating in South Africa. Our group wrote articles, protested, and eventually negotiated with the trustee chosen to speak with us, the young tech guru Steve Jobs. We were part of a national movement working for divestment. This year, I had a chance to visit Soweto and met Antoinette Sithole, the sister of the first student killed, Hector Pieterson. She said the Soweto students took strength in knowing that American students were organizing alongside them. We thanked one another for helping end apartheid.

Summer 2019

Prompt: Research

When I was a student at Grinnell, I did an independent research project with Chuck Sullivan in the biology department during the summers after my sophomore and junior years. We were investigating eye development in chicken embryos. I still fondly remember the comradery among the students doing summer research projects at Grinnell, and I fondly remember the opportunities to present my research at undergraduate symposia in St. Louis and Chicago. For me, this experience changed the trajectory of my career as I shifted from a pre-med focus to a research-focused career. I went on to earn a Ph.D. in developmental biology from Stanford University, and I continued my research career as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. I am now on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where my laboratory investigates prostate cancer and other prostatic diseases. 

People fascinate me. Two research projects at Grinnell taught me the value of studying people in aggregate and as individuals. For a sociology project, I used statistical analysis to study a group’s connections and what the members thought the connections were. I learned the nodding acquaintance between reality and perception, how they can influence each other, and the importance of questioning your data. Researching an ethnography taught me how much you can learn from actively listening to people who see the world very differently. Those lessons have served me well, helping me develop a web content management system years before they were common; create an annual research and arts event that, more than 25 years later, is still going strong; and make friends across political, social, and cultural divides.