Prompted

Summer 2017

Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?

As each of my five kids prepared to leave for college, this was the advice/wisdom I offered: “Dance with your friends.”

 

I got some great advice at the start of my career, which is that I’m the one responsible for my professional development (and my career), not my employer. Don’t take development or career for granted: It’s on you to make it happen. 

When my son was born six weeks early, a co-worker told me that all the trials and tribulations we were facing would turn out OK and just “become part of his story.” At the time, I wanted to punch the person through the phone, because I thought he was minimizing the situation and didn’t understand. However, he was right. My little guy is now an amazing 12-year-old because of all the things that are “part of his story,” and I share the idea and what it means to me now, all the time. 

Spring 2017

Prompt: Grinnell students read a great deal for their courses. What has stuck with you from your course reading, and why?

Reading Plato’s Republic during my freshman tutorial had a profound impact on my view of tolerance, governance, and understanding of the human condition — especially when comparing to The Prince. Plus, it seems to pop up all the time: as an essay topic on my National Board certification, in discussions with colleagues, and as a reference in all things political. 

The opportunity to read and engage in vigorous, respectful debate is of paramount importance in learning to coexist.

There is also something inherently satisfying about being well-read; maybe a bit smug and superior, but still …

In Professor Homer Norton’s British History course (1950–51), I learned the importance of reading original sources before making a judgment on historic and current issues. Today we can more easily find those original sources on the Internet, but I learned how to do basic research in the Grinnell library. 

I revisited campus as an employee from 2014–16. During my “victory lap,” I had the pleasure of taking Professor Shuchi Kapila’s Introduction to Postcolonial Literature course, and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh was the most impactful read for me. The first book in a trilogy (which I just finished, having received the third book for Christmas), Sea of Poppies presents perspectives on the British opium trade in China from a varied cast of characters. Readers engage with the effects of western imperialism on characters of different genders, ambitions, religions, social statuses, countries of origin, and cultural mores in a captivating, humorous collision of narratives. The novel was all the more interesting in the hands of Professor Kapila and students of different backgrounds, class years, and majors. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience this book like I did, but I recommend it anyway. 

It’s not who you are — it’s where you are that matters,” Theresa Geller, associate professor of English, concluded after a lecture on Robert Stam’s and Ella Shohat’s seminal book, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. Prior to my arrival to Geller’s Film Analysis, Theory, and Criticism course, I had not encountered a book that critically interrogates popular culture to the extent and intensity that Stam and Shohat do with this book. 

From critiquing colonialist discourse to racist politics of casting, this book helped decolonize my mind, influence my activism, and bridge the divide between theory and practice. Now, every time I engage with activism outside of the classroom, I ask myself: “Am I helping dismantle the unjust power relations? Is this empowering the disempowered? Am I transforming the subordinating institutions and discourses?

Winter 2016

Prompt: Send memories of your favorite pranks — including photos, if you’ve got them.

As part of my work-study, I worked all four years at Cowles Dining Hall. At the end of the dining room facing the North Campus field were two wide floor-to-ceiling doors secured only by a wooden beam on two hooks like a frontier fort. In the spring of 1977, I proposed to my imbibing buddies — Iowa drinking age was then 18 — that after finishing mopping the floors, I leave a window open so I could get in later and open the two doors. We would then empty out the dining hall and set it up in the field.

Word spread and 30 to 40 people showed up. Halfway through emptying out the cafeteria, security arrived. Everyone ran. A group of participants was hanging around Rawson Hall when security came out of the shadows and grabbed one person. This hero was taken to the president of Grinnell. When asked who helped him, he replied, “I did it all myself.” 

The most elaborate [prank I knew of] involved 40 of the 48 residents of West Norris Hall. A variety of chains, padlocks, and other devices were developed for the project. At five minutes before midnight, 40 men moved with synchronized watches to all the doors of the (then) Women’s Quadrangle as well as Burling Library. All the doors were locked. 

Those inside made various choices. One young man, under the alcohol weather, feared being found in the women’s loggia after hours. He feared so much that he leapt through a window, demolishing a bush in the process. Of course, some of the culprits were recognized. 

The dean of men came to visit Norris Hall, and with what appeared to be mostly-hidden admiration, as well as more obvious disappointment, placed the entire hall on social probation for the semester. 

In the second semester of 1977or 1978, an enterprising group of sophomores from Rawson Hall planted the “model” of the [untitled] sculpture [by professor Merle Zirkle] in front of the dorm. They found the model behind the Buildings and Grounds building. It was made of wood but was colored and was an exact replica of the one on central campus. Because it had snowed, no one could tell that it was not the original.