Prompted

Fall 2016

Prompt: Share a story about how a Grinnell professor — any professor — made an impact on your life.

Because I was considering the possibility of majoring in history, I enrolled in the required historiography course, co-led by Raymond Betts. Professor Betts was notable for his erudition, his enthusiasm for his subject and discipline, and his eagerness to provide unusual learning opportunities for his students, and that sealed the deal. 

We were challenged to consider deep questions that led well beyond the immediate subject matter. How do we know what we think we know? How do differences in perspective and methodology affect what we are able to learn? I’m still exploring these ideas, in many contexts. 

I signed up for Professor Dan Kaiser’s Basic Issues in European History my first semester at Grinnell, fall of 1982. Dan’s class turned me into a historian. And all it took was the one question he brought out in every single class discussion: “How do you know that?” 

Every time someone propounded a theory of this or an interpretation of that, Dan’s rejoinder was always the same. “How do you know that?” It was all very well and good to throw your ideas out into the middle of ARH Room 33, but they were useless fluff unless we could back them up with specifics. We soon learned that even the specifics weren’t definitive enough without also questioning their intrinsic veracity, source, bias, and outside influences. Question everything. Take nothing at face value. Always, always ask WHY.

Whether it’s teaching a 6-year-old how to make change for her lemonade stand or mediating one of the dozen or so disputes that flares up every day, my companionship with “How do you know that?” continues to thrive, even 34 years later. Thank you, Dan!

Though I majored in classics at Grinnell, it was Roberta Atwell, professor of education, who made the biggest impact in my life after college. Roberta taught gender and women’s studies classes and, for one semester, guided me in an individual study of men’s liberation.

Roberta helped me begin to think about what it means to be an ally in various struggles for liberation. She did so with a caring, curious, and creative manner.

I didn’t know upon graduating in 1984 that I would dedicate my life to peace and justice. Since 1995, I’ve worked with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker nonprofit organization. 

I’ve had to check my privileges and stay open to how, when, and where I can make a contribution to movements for freedom and justice. I’ve made many mistakes, and often feel like I’ve fallen short.

Still, I’m thankful to Professor Atwell for helping set me on this course. She changed my life for the good.

My father died during my second year at Grinnell. That spring I took a class with a visiting professor from Taiwan. The week of my dad’s birthday, I emailed Professor [Mu-chou] Poo, saying that my deceased father’s birthday was coming up, that I was having a hard week and might miss class one day, but I would still hand in my paper on comparative death rites the following week.

I went to class on my dad’s birthday, carrying with me over 100 daisies of different colors. I asked people, “Would you like a flower? Snow, sunshine, or lavender?” I offered Professor Poo a daisy in honor of my father. He smiled and took one. 

At the end of the semester, Professor Poo had us all over to his house for a Taiwanese meal. When clearing my plate in the kitchen, I saw on the counter something beautiful, and one of my final memories of Grinnell — a little glass jar holding a single, crinkly, wilted daisy.

Summer 2016

Prompt: How or when did you know Grinnell was “home” for you?

During my first year at Grinnell, going home for the Jewish holidays at the end of September wasn’t an option, so I attended the student-led Rosh Hashanah services in Main Hall and felt homesick for the first time since I arrived on campus. Instead of spending the afternoon and evening enjoying home-cooked, traditional holiday foods with family and friends, I was bored and lonely in my third-floor Dibble Hall dorm room. Around dinner time, there was a knock on my door. It was my student adviser, Catherine Carter ’94, accompanied by all of my floor mates.

They couldn’t imagine being away from their families on one of their most important religious holidays, and they didn’t want me to spend my holiday alone. The entire floor was taking me out for a Rosh Hashanah dinner at Pagliai’s Pizza! It wasn’t home-cooked, it wasn’t traditional — of course, it wasn’t even kosher! — but it was perfect. And, that was when I realized I had made the right college choice — I was exactly where I belonged.