Making Discoveries at the Mead

Submitted on Thursday, 12/22/2022, at 3:30 PM

A new school year means new works, new classes and new discoveries being made at Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum, starting with an exhibition that simultaneously occupies the gallery space and cyberspace.

Bradley Bailey, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Postdoctoral Curatorial Teaching Fellow in Japanese Prints, with the assistance of Hampshire College student James Kelleher, has completed work on “Pain’s Pyrotechnic Spectacle: The Sino-Japanese War in Print” for display at the Mead, and for a dynamic experience via the Web, especially formatted for tablets.

This special exhibition, which draws exclusively from Ruth S. Nelkin’s donation of Sino-Japanese War prints to the Mead in 2000, offers a comprehensive overview of the military action of the war (1894–1895), as well as a survey of the subjects, ideas and attitudes conveyed in the prints of the era.

The Sino-Japanese War, according to contemporary accounts, saw Japan besting its ancient adversary, China, and emerging from the battle poised to assume the mantle of a modern imperial power.  In Japan, artists and publishers told the tale of the conflict using the centuries-old tradition of ukiyo-e (woodblock printmaking), which was in decline against the rising tide of lithography and photography. In Manhattan Beach, N.Y., in 1896, capitalizing on the West’s fascination with all things Japanese, Pain’s Firework Co. staged a “superb pyro-spectacle” reenacting a battle from the war.

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Sino-Japanese War Print

The exhibition’s website, www.painspyrospectacle.com, features several woodblock triptychs, the entire album of prints and a reproduction of the original pamphlet distributed at the Manhattan Beach “pyro-spectacle.” Visitors can view the site on their own devices or on the iPad provided alongside the exhibition at the Mead.

Even as this and other exhibits are being prepared, students and staff are behind the scenes making discoveries. Just this past summer:

  • Amherst and UMass students working on a group of recently donated pre-Columbian vessels identified a curiously shaped pot as depicting a South American crustacean.
  • Amherst students discovered new details about two unusual 17th-century European luxury chests, inlaid with precious materials and featuring tiny drawers and hidden compartments, to be on view in October.
  • A scientific study of a silver perfume container engraved with scenes from classical mythology determined that it is an authentic antiquity from the Greek world of the fourth century B.C.E.

Another change afoot is the departure of Elizabeth Barker, who, after seven years as director of the Mead, has taken the position of Stanford Calderwood Director of the Boston Athenaeum. Pamela Russell, the Mead’s head of education, took over as interim director last month, and a search is under way for a permanent director. Barker’s contributions to the Mead and the college were celebrated at a Sept. 12 tea in her honor.

Under Barker, the museum expanded its operating hours and the number of free events, started offering complimentary iPod audio tours and added an espresso bar.

“On Lizzie’s watch, the Mead’s 19,000-object collection has become a fully digitized, Web-searchable resource, which is available not only to the Amherst community, but to scholars from around the globe,” said Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein. “Lizzie led efforts to expand and conserve the collection, enhance the staff, increase access to the objects, expand the museum’s audience and improve facilities, [and she] has introduced education programs and innovative collection-based presentations.”

You might expect that faculty in the Department of Art and the History of Art take most advantage of the Mead’s collection, but the museum is routinely host to courses from throughout the school’s catalogue: American studies, anthropology, Black studies, environmental studies, geology, history, mathematics and more are instructed using the Mead. This fall, courses taught partly at the museum include

An accredited member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Mead recently won the top prize for its website from the New England Museum Association, and received second-place awards for the exhibition catalogue Picturing Enlightenment and the "Dig Into Art" activity totes for children at the museum.

The Mead and its gift shop and café are open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round, and until midnight on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday during the academic term.

First TEDx Showcases Amherst’s Thought Leaders

Submitted on Thursday, 12/22/2022, at 3:28 PM

By Brianda Reyes '14

On Sunday, Nov. 10, Amherst College hosted its inaugural TEDx event, featuring speakers who were all affiliated with the college. Four alumni, two professors, one staff member and one student presented their talks to an audience of 350 people in Kirby Theater. (View TEDx Amherst photos here.

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Sign saying "TEDx Amherst College"

TEDx events are independently organized but modeled after conferences hosted by TED, a nonprofit devoted to helping people share "ideas worth spreading." Videos of TED talks often spread virally online, viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

“[Amherst's] event, more than a day of TEDx talks, was the result of extensive collaboration among different people in the Amherst community: a local sound and video recording company [Amherst Media], Amherst College’s stage designers, the Office of the President, Dining Services, Facilities, speakers from all over the world, the Center for Community Engagement… the list goes on and on. The event was a result of all these new interactions, and that in itself makes it successful,” said David Beron ’15, a leader in organizing the conference. “The speakers were all great, and people seemed to be excited about the talks.”

The theme of the event was “Disruptive Innovation.”

“One of the ways that we wanted to tackle this theme,” said Nicole Chi ’15, director of speaker relations, “was by inviting speakers from a bunch of different disciplines and areas, in hopes that their ideas and the innovations they have within their own disciplines can help Amherst students think about issues outside of the areas that they’re comfortable with.”

From home births to lie detection, the presentations’ topics incorporated the theme.

The MCs, Reilly Horan ’13 and Ricky Altieri ’15, started the day by introducing Provost Peter Uvin. He gave the opening remarks, talking about the different ways in which the event’s theme manifested itself at the college.

The first talk was led by Karti Subramanian ’07, co-founder of Vera Solutions, who discussed how data collection and analysis can be improved to provide better results for organizations focusing on social impact. Data, he said, could be only as good as the questions it was used to answer. His last line set up a thread that would run through the remaining talks: “Asking better questions is the real innovation.”

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Karti Subramanian '07 speaking

Karti Subramanian '07

Following Subramanian was Bryn Geffert, librarian of the college, whose talk centered on Amherst College’s recently-announced digital press and the issue of open access. Geffert said, “I want to see a world in which a student in Kenya has the same access to information that students in Cornell would.”

Assistant Professor of Music Jason Robinson presented after Geffert, discussing the concept of telematic music, which he described as music performed from different locations simultaneously, by musicians connected by video and extremely high-quality audio networks. How the audience perceives the music depends on which of the locations they are in, and musicians themselves have discovered that they can work around the Internet’s 50-millisecond audio time lag by improvising around what Robinson called the “fat beat.”

After Robinson’s talk, the audience was invited to Coolidge Cage to enjoy lunch provided by Valentine Dining Hall’s catering staff. After the lunch break, The Zumbyes, one of Amherst’s a cappella groups, performed.

Saraswathi Vedam ’78, P’09, an associate professor of midwifery at the University of British Columbia, gave her talk on the debate over home births versus hospital births. She explained that in the United States, we think of “institutionalized,” or hospital, births as the disruptive innovation, because they are supposed to be better and safer. But her presentation offered a different perspective: according to Vedam, the disruptive innovation should be planned home births, which she referred to as “humanized” births. (Read an Amherst magazine story about Vedam here.)

The next presentation was given by Kenneth Danford ’88, co-founder of North Star, a self-directed learning program in Hadley, Mass., aimed at teens who have decided that school is not the right fit. Danford’s talk expanded on the goal of North Star, arguing that school is optional and that programs like his should be more readily available and encouraged.

The MCs prefaced the talk by Marisa Parham, associate professor of English, by saying it would be about two things: ghosts and robots. Although it was not about literal ghosts and robots, Parham did use the two terms to represent the past and the future. She prompted the audience to think about why we try to frame our future in relation to the past, but do not actually try to fully analyze and think critically about the past.

Parham’s talk was followed by Yilin Andre Wang ’14’s presentation, the only one led by a student. The TEDx team had held a contest for all students interested in presenting during the event, and Wang was the panel’s unanimous choice. A senior psychology major, he presented a talk about the pitfalls of human biases when trying to detect lies. Asked what he hopes the audience took away from his presentation, Wang said, “I hope my audience will realize how easily our judgments can be skewed by environmental and personal factors, and even start to reflect on the ways biases affect their lives in unexpected ways. I also hope that they will become smarter consumers of psychology as represented in popular media, because its immediate appeal sometimes leads to dubious claims and sensational products in the market that misinterpret research.”

The Bluestockings, an all-female a cappella group, performed before the final talk, which was given by Rosanne Haggerty ’82,  a life trustee of the college. Haggerty spoke about the valuable lessons she has learned as the founder of Common Ground, an organization focused on finding solutions to homelessness. Haggerty’s talk returned full-circle to the first talk, given by Subramanian, as she explained that one must always ask the right questions to obtain the best results.

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Rosanne Haggerty '82 speaking

Rosanne Haggerty '82

The event ended with all of the volunteers and planning team members onstage, as Molly Mead, director of the Center for Community Engagement and mentor to the TEDx team, thanked them for a job well done.

Members of the Social Innovation Leadership Team (SILT) decided a year ago that they wanted to host a TEDx conference. They knew that this would be a large-scale event, so they hired a team to deal specifically with bringing TEDx to Amherst.

“We [in SILT] seek to foster innovative approaches to social problems, provide skills and resources to students who want to make a change and provide connections that can lead to sustainable collaborations,” said Shane Zhao ’14, SILT team leader and license holder for the TEDx conference. “Given SILT’s mission, we thought a TEDx event with the theme of ‘Disruptive Innovation’ could catalyze innovation at Amherst and provide a platform for people from the Amherst community to share their innovative ideas.”

The team wasted no time in beginning the plans for the event. They sought speakers from all over the world, with connections to Amherst, to share their ideas.

One of the main obstacles arose during the summer, when the members were dispersed throughout the world. “The team was spread around five or six different time zones, so coordinating effective meetings became a problem. Nevertheless, we accomplished most of our summer goals and made sure to step it up in the fall,” said Beron.

The team faced some other small obstacles along the way. For example, one of the desired speakers had already given a TEDx talk at a different location; since one of the goals of TEDx is to give speakers a platform to discuss previously unheard ideas, that potential candidate could not speak at Amherst. Later in the planning process, the TEDx team discovered that each speaker had to own all the rights to each image in his or her presentation; speakers had already submitted their presentations—therefore the team had to send them back to the speakers to fix.

To reach their goal, the TEDx team sought and received funding from SILT, the Office of the President, the Center for Community Engagement and the Association of Amherst Students. Tickets to the event sold out in two days and left almost 100 people in the waiting list.

The team plans to host a TEDx event annually. This year, much of the planning process was laying groundwork for future events, so team members believe that in future years, the planning process will be much smoother.

All of the TedX talks were recorded by Amherst Media, a local production studio, and will be submitted for possible inclusion on TED.com. The team leaders expect that the video recordings will be on their own website in a few weeks.

Photos by Hao Liu '16 and Eugene Lee '16

Tags:  TEDx  TED Talks 

Bestselling authors Dan Brown ’86, Charles Mann ‘76 to speak Thursday

Submitted on Thursday, 12/22/2022, at 3:28 PM

Amherst College will be hosting two of its best-known alumni authors on Thursday, in two separately scheduled lectures that happen to be occurring within a few hours of each other.

First up will be Charles C. Mann, ’76, who will deliver Amherst College’s annual Hugh Hawkins lecture, titled “1493: Entwining Ecology and History” at 4:30 p.m. in Paino Lecture Hall of the Beneski Building.

That lecture will be followed by “An Evening of Codes, Symbols and Secrets” with bestselling novelist Dan Brown ’86 at 7:30 p.m. in Johnson Chapel. Both talks are free and open to the public. Mann’s speech is sponsored by the History Department, while Brown’s is sponsored by the Office of the President. (Both authors have also been featured in the Amherst Reads online book club. Click here for a conversation with Brown and Rick Griffiths, professor of classics and women’s and gender studies; click here for a conversation with Mann and Jan Dizard, the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor in American Culture.)

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Dan Brown, '86 & Inferno. Charles C. Mann, ’76 & 1493"

A 1986 graduate of Amherst, and an alumnus and former English teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, Brown is the author, most recently, of Inferno, his sixth novel and the fourth to feature protagonist Robert Langdon. In the new book, the Harvard symbologist is drawn into a mystery surrounding the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem The Divine Comedy. Like the first three Langdon thrillers—Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost SymbolInferno explores the interplay between religion, art, history, science and cryptography. Brown attributes his fascination with some of these subjects to growing up as the son of a mathematics teacher and a church organist.

Several of Brown’s works—most notably The Da Vinci Code—have reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. His novels have been published in 52 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide. The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons have been adapted into major motion pictures starring Tom Hanks as Langdon; a film version of Inferno is planned for release in December 2015.

Brown’s phenomenal success led Time to name him one of its “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2005. “He has been credited with nothing less than keeping the publishing industry afloat,” wrote Michele Orecklin. “Brown has been held responsible for renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci, Gnostic texts and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris, Rome and a 15th-century church outside Edinburgh, Scotland; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; [and] a flood of historical thrillers…. It’s perhaps worth noting that one of the very few books to sell more copies than The Da Vinci Code in the past two years is the Bible.”

A 1976 graduate of Amherst College and an Amherst resident, Mann’s most recent books are 1493, a New York Times best-seller in 2011, and 1491, which won the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Keck award for the best book of 2005. Both have been translated into 12 languages.

A correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, Science, and Wired, Mann has covered the intersection of science, technology, and commerce for many newspapers and magazines here and abroad, including BioScience, The Boston Globe, Fortune, Geo (Germany), National Geographic, The New York Times (magazine, op-ed, book review), Panorama (Italy), Paris-Match (France), Quark (Japan), Smithsonian, Der Stern (Germany), Technology Review, Vanity Fair and The Washington Post (magazine, op-ed, book review). In addition to 1491, he has co-written four other books: The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1986; rev. ed., 1995); The Aspirin Wars: Money, Medicine, and 100 Years of Rampant Competition (1991), Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species (1995), and @ Large: The Strange Case of the Internet’s Biggest Invasion (1998).

A four-time National Magazine Award finalist, he has received writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Margaret Sanger Foundation and the Lannan Foundation (a 2006 Literary Fellowship). His three-part graphic novel, Cimarronin, based in part on 1493, will appear late this year. It is co-written by Mann, science-fiction novelists Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo, and Ellis Amdur, a master of classical East Asian martial traditions.

The annual Hawkins Lecture, sponsored by the History Department  honors Hugh Hawkins, professor emeritus of history and American studies at Amherst. A distinguished scholar of American higher education, of the American South and of cultural and intellectual history, Hawkins retired in 2000 after teaching for more than 40 years at Amherst, where he helped build both the history and the American studies departments.

 

The Poet and the Puppeteer

Submitted on Thursday, 12/22/2022, at 3:28 PM

Article by Katherine Duke ’05

Photos by Michael Bauman

On a warm July evening, on the grassy lawn of the Wilder Observatory, six actors and a musician from the Mettawee River Theatre Company gathered in front of an audience of all ages and used puppets and poetry to bring a medieval Welsh tale to life. Taliesin—which blends mythology and real historical figures—tells of a boy magically reborn as a sorcerer-poet and adopted by a fisherman and his wife, who uses his extraordinary gifts to shake things up in the king’s court. The performance was the result of a joint effort between two theater professionals who first collaborated at Amherst College more than 55 years ago.

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Actors and puppets gathered around a cauldron

Actors and puppets from the Mettawee River Theatre Company, during a production of Taliesin on the Wilder Observatory lawn

Robert Bagg ’57 and Ralph Lee ’57 lived together in Phi Alpha Psi, which Lee describes as a fraternity full of “freethinkers” and “people who were into music and fine arts.” Lee had grown up in Vermont, putting on puppet shows, designing masks for the local Halloween parade and performing at Middlebury College, where his mother taught modern dance. Bagg was a fledgling poet and scholar of Greek, learning from such Amherst professors as James Merrill ’47 and Robert Frost. Senior year, Bagg translated Euripides’ satyr play The Cyclops; Lee directed the production and created masks for all the characters. According to Bagg, Lee then encouraged him to write a play based on The Odyssey, and together they dramatized its Nausicaa episode.

“That undergrad exposure to Greek drama set me off on a lifelong career vector, translating the Athenian playwrights into contemporary speech,” Bagg writes in his Amherst Alumni Directory profile. To date, Bagg’s translations of eight plays by Euripides and Sophocles have been the basis of nearly 70 productions around the world. His Oedipus the King and Antigone are included in The Norton Anthology of World Literature, and his Antigone in the forthcoming second edition of The Norton Anthology of Drama. Bagg also taught at UMass for many years and has published numerous collections of original poetry. His current major project is a critical biography of poet and Amherst lecturer Richard Wilbur ’42 (an excerpt from which appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Amherst magazine).

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Bard, King and Queen puppets

Lee’s path after Amherst led him on a Fulbright Scholarship to study mime and modern dance in Paris, followed by a year at the London Academy of Dramatic Art. Then he found employment as an actor, mask-maker and designer in New York City, creating props and puppets for Shari Lewis’ TV show and the “Land Shark” for the iconic Saturday Night Live sketch, as well as working with numerous theater and dance companies. While teaching at Bennington College in the mid-1970s, Lee staged a theatrical event with giant puppets all over the campus and realized that “they took on a very vibrant life when they were outdoors.” This inspired him to found and direct the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, for which he won an Obie Award in 1975, and to sign on as artistic director of the Mettawee in 1976.

Based in Salem, N.Y., and Manhattan, the Mettawee specializes in shows with “large puppets and visual effects that are especially arranged for the out-of-doors. And a lot of the plays are based on myths and legends from one culture or another, which all really have a lot to do with the forces of nature,” Lee says. “To be out there in nature, and perhaps have … an incredible moon come out toward the end of your show, or a blue heron fly out of the swamp that’s in the area behind where you’re performing—little surprise events like that just tend to contribute something marvelous.”

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Actors hold branches with figures of moon and stars against the night sky

Early this year, Lee sought someone to script the Mettawee’s planned Taliesin show. “I was really looking for a poet, because it’s all about poetry and inspiration,” he says. “That’s why I called Bob.” Bagg was at work on the Wilbur biography, but he decided he owed a favor to the friend who had led him into the world of Greek drama. So Lee and his wife, costume designer and founding Mettawee member Casey Compton, wrote up a scenario, which Bagg fleshed out with dialogue and lyrics, based on existing translations of the Welsh folklore and the writings of at least one real medieval poet who went by the name Taliesin. For several months, they collaborated mainly by phone and computer—Bagg sending drafts from his home in Worthington, Mass., and Lee giving feedback from New York, where he was rehearsing with the actors, creating masks and puppets out of papier-mâché,cardboard and a variety of other materials

In July and August, the Mettawee took the show on the road, performing on lawns and in parks throughout New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. The Wilder Observatory show was part of the Kō Festival of Performance, which takes place every summer on the Amherst campus; the Mettawee has been involved with the festival for some 20 years. Lee appreciates the many features of the Observatory lawn that make it a great venue for a play: it’s tucked away from the noises of the street, the surrounding trees enhance the acoustics, and the ground slopes gently, giving the audience a better view.

“And occasionally,” he adds, “there are still some old friends of mine from my Amherst days that will show up, which is really wonderful.”

This time, it was Bagg who showed up, not just as a name credited in the program but as a viewer in the crowd as well. He declared the show “just about perfect.”

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Bagg and Lee with arms around each other's shoulders
 
Robert Bagg '57 (left) and Ralph Lee '57 at a production of Taliesin in Shelburne Falls, Mass.

The Mettawee River Theatre Company’s summer season will culminate in September with several performances of Taliesin at Manhattan’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, where Ralph Lee ’57 is a longtime artist-in-residence.

 

Let’s Hear It for Soundfest

Submitted on Thursday, 12/22/2022, at 3:27 PM

Article by Katherine Duke '05

Photos by Cole Morgan '13 and Rob Mattson

The sunny afternoon of Sat., March 30, certainly looked and felt like spring—and sounded like it, too. But I was on campus to immerse myself in the more unusual auditory stimuli of Soundfest, a featured event of the 2012–13 Copeland Colloquium: “Art in Place / the Place of Art.”

As Wendy Woodson, the Roger C. Holden 1919 Professor of Theater and Dance, had told me the previous day, this year’s colloquium is designed to make the arts more visible (and audible) at Amherst College; to allow for interactions between the academic realm, Copeland Fellows from around the world and the many artists who are active in the local community; and to encourage greater cross-disciplinary collaboration by the college’s Departments of Music, Art and the History of Art and Theater and Dance, as well as the Mead Art Museum and Frost Library.

“I think all of us in the different art departments feel very energized by this interaction. It’s been a huge amount of work, but we’ve all gotten to know each other and are having, I think, a really good time,” Woodson says of the yearlong colloquium. “We are fervently hoping that we will be able to continue this dialogue and interaction and initiative—that there’s more of a sense of ‘The Arts’ at Amherst, rather than, ‘Oh, there’s this department, that department, that department.’”  

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Tim Eriksen '88 points to shape notes on a chalkboard in the Babbott Room of the Octagon, where Amherst's first music professor, George Cheney, led singings 150 years ago.

Soundfest, in particular, was set up to prompt students and community members to traverse the campus, experiencing various indoor and outdoor sound installations and performances along the way. The afternoon began in the Babbott Room of the Octagon, where acclaimed Americana musician Tim Eriksen ’88 led local shape-note singers and “church bass” (bass viol) player Loren Ludwig in renditions of 18th-century American hymns. Publication of these hymns flourished in Northampton and Amherst, Eriksen explained. In the mid-19th century, the college’s first music professor, George Cheney, was involved in a revival of them—he would lead, in that very room, “Old Folks” concerts involving students and townspeople.

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A visitor to the Rim light installation lies on the floor of Studio 1 in Webster Hall.

Colloquium Coordinator Phil Dupont ’12—dressed in a black tailcoat, as if for a formal concert—then led the Soundfest audience over to Studio 1 of Webster Hall for Rim light, an installation scored by Woodson and local composer/percussionist/sound artist Jake Meginsky, with lighting design by Kathy Couch ’95. We took off our shoes and crept into the dim blue light of the studio. Out of four speakers on the floor—first in one corner, then in another, then in several corners at once—came the recorded voices of California-based artist and former Copeland Fellow Zeina Nasr ’06 and Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Ron Bashford, reciting poetic texts by Woodson on a 12-minute loop. (

) The effect was both eerie and calming. Woodson had told me that, after creating Rim light as part of a Mellon Seminar in the summer of 2012, she staged it again in November, and “the audience came in, and all of a sudden they started performing in the space, and this was really interesting to me.”Sure enough, I saw a few audience members around the room begin, without any prompting, to lean against one another in strange poses, curl themselves up in seated positions or drag themselves across the floor on their bellies. While taking notes, I dropped my pen, and as I reached down to pick it up, I wondered, “Does this look like a performance? Am I performing as part of this installation?” There was, of course, no clear answer.

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Visitors pass through Jake Meginsky's Secret Beach in a hallway of Holden Theater.

Eventually, we emerged back out into the sunshine, and Dupont directed us to Holden Theater for Meginsky’s Secret Beach. To my surprise, the installation was not in the black-box stage area itself but in a narrow hallway behind it. We passed between two steel sheets through which transducers were sending low-frequency vibrations. “If you listen along the surface of the sheets,” the artist had written, “certain areas contain patches of higher volume as these collisions create standing waves, while other areas of the surface suddenly drop in volume as juxtaposed waves cancel each other out.” Secret Beach was Meginsky’s attempt “to to recapture and formalize [the] early aesthetic experience” of leaning in close to the foundation of an interstate highway and listening to the vibrations from passing vehicles.

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Eric Leonardson sits near his Springboard during his Similaria performance in the Mead Art Museum's Rotherwas Room.

Listen to an excerpt from Similaria:

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The fourth part of Soundfest, Similaria, took place in the Mead Art Museum’s historic walnut-paneled Rotherwas Room. The audience sat in a square around Chicago-based artist Eric Leonardson, who was positioned with a laptop computer and his original invention the Springboard—“an electroacoustic percussion instrument made from readily available materials” such as metal springs, pieces of wood and what appeared to be a dish rack and an elderly person’s walker. While recorded “sounds from around Amherst” played from four speakers, Leonardson coaxed sounds from the Springboard by touching it with bows, mallets and his fingers. In the resulting “sound collage,” I heard noises of heavy machinery and plumbing, but also hints of a string quartet and vaguely humanoid voices; it led me to ponder both the construction of the Rotherwas Room and the artistic uses to which it is now put—its past and its present.

Just outside the Mead, in and around Stearns Steeple, was the final installation, by electronic sound artist Steph Robinson, a visiting lecturer in theater and dance. Isosteeple featured amplifiers playing highly processed recordings of the carillon located inside the steeple (the carillon player being Campus Utilities Engineer Aaron Hayden). As Robinson wrote, compositional elements were based on the medieval and Renaissance technique of "isorhthm" (listen to a sample stereo rendering here). Thanks to motion-detection software written by Mark Santolucito ’13, we visitors could change the sounds subtly with our movements. Santolucito—a computer science and music double-major on his way to study computer music in a Ph.D. program at Yale—also designed a video projection inside the steeple that cast swirly colors onto a plaque. (You can check out Isosteeple between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day through April 4.)

As we headed away from Stearns Steeple, I overheard one Soundfest visitor ask another, “Shall we proceed to the real world?”

I knew what he meant. What I’d seen and heard on the Amherst campus that day was positively otherworldly.

A post-reunion dispatch

By Emily Gold Boutilier

Every year I volunteer to staff a few events at Reunion. The work is not hard: it involves filling water glasses, making sure talks start and end on time and annoying those seated at the end of an aisle by asking them to  pretty please move in to the center.

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Alumni walk to an event during 2011 Reunion weekend.

My first stop this year was an informal talk, “Coping with the Loss of a Loved One,” led by Skip Corson ’56, who spoke honestly about the death of his wife, touching on everything from cancer to living wills to the unresolved grief that presented itself only after he started dating again.

A few hours later I took a break from editing an Amherst magazine story by Roger Williams ’56 to attend a concert by  the bluegrass band Boys’ Night Out, featuring Williams himself on guitar, Mike Ritter ’56 on bass and Fred Nelson on mandolin and guitar.  As it turns out, Williams is not only a talented magazine writer; that guy can sing and play guitar, too. The band played a bunch of old-timey songs that I didn’t know but enjoyed nonetheless as well as several tunes that I did know, including “If I Had a Hammer.” Toes were tapping and the audience was singing along.

My final stop was to see Tom Davis ’71 deliver a talk entitled, “Stalemate in Washington: Why I Left the Congress.” A moderate Republican member of the House of Representatives from 1995-2008 (and my former congressman in northern Virginia), Davis gave his reasons for resigning: gridlock and increasing polarization. While he placed much of the blame on political parties and Congress itself, he saved some of it for cable news networks. When someone in the audience asked whether he misses Congress, he was quick to respond: “Do you miss high school?”

Emily Gold Boutilier is the editor of Amherst magazine.

 


 

A GALA Celebration

By Katherine Duke '05

This year at Reunion, I found out that the Class of 1986 wasn’t the only group passing the quarter-century mark. Amherst’s Gay and Lesbian Alumni (GALA) Association was also celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding.

“Twenty-five years ago, there was a small article in the Amherst magazine that announced the formation of [the] group,” said Marcy Larmon, director of on-campus programming for Alumni and Parent Programs. “As you can imagine, things were very different for people who belonged to that group in those days. And, in fact, the small article … elicited several responses that were fairly unhappy with the fact that such a group would have been formed. …

“So we’re pretty proud to say that—although the world is not perfect yet, and neither is Amherst—things have come a very long way in the last 25 years,” Larmon continued. “That’s something to celebrate, and it’s a good time to reflect on what still is changing, what still needs to be changed, and also to learn from the folks who have been part of that culture.” Larmon also mentioned the OutofAmherst listserv established this year, on which LGBTQIA alumni have been sharing their opinions and telling their stories.

She was introducing “Same-Sex Marriage on Trial,” the first of several Reunion weekend events commemorating GALA’s founding. The panel discussion, on Friday morning in the Cole Assembly Room, featured Martha Merrill Umphrey, professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought, and Emily Griffen ’96, a litigation associate in the San Francisco Bay Area, who majored in LJST and women’s and gender studies at Amherst and won the Stonewall Prize for her thesis on the legal construction of gay identity.

Umphrey—who married her female partner in 2004, shortly after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts—discussed questions about the value and meaning of pursuing the right to same-sex marriage and the pros and cons of trials as a forum for this issue. (She gave a version of this talk earlier in May as part of the college’s Telephone Lecture Series.)

Griffen focused on the recent, turbulent legal history of the issue in California. She and her partner were among the 18,000 couples who wed during the brief period in 2008 when same-sex marriage was permitted there, before the passage of Proposition 8.

The Q&A that followed included thoughts from audience member Paul M. Smith ’76, who argued the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case in 2003. The Q&A raised further complex questions about, for example, the language we use to label relationships; the distinction between religious and civil marriage; and the justifications for focusing on marriage when there are other, arguably more urgent, issues facing LGBTQIA Americans.

“We’re sort of shooting for the stars, in some ways,” said Griffen of the struggle for marriage equality. “We’re not just saying we don’t want to be fired because we’re gay…. We’re saying our relationships are just as valuable, just as important, just as valid and worth recognizing as yours. We’re asking for the whole thing.”

After that panel, I stayed for a reading by Professor of English Judith Frank of her novel-in-progress, Noah’s Ark. In telling the story of a gay American couple named Matt and Daniel who become the guardians of Daniel’s young niece and nephew after the children’s parents are killed in a café bombing in Jerusalem, the book takes on numerous complicated issues: not just same-sex love and parenthood, but also ethnic and national identity, geopolitics, terrorism and grief.

That evening, I dropped by the lobby of the Arms Music Center, where alumni of all ages were mingling at the GALA 25th Anniversary Reception. The next morning, multiple generations came together again for a panel discussion called “Being Gay at Amherst: Voices Through Time.”

Panelist Louis Dolbeare ’40 reminded us of how different the college, the town and the world were back when he was a student. He described himself as “an unknowing gay” at Amherst: “I came not knowing much, and I learned very little … about gaiety here.” Homosexuality wasn’t openly practiced or discussed on campus, but Dolbeare did recall one stormy night when a classmate knocked on his door and drunkenly, tearfully admitted to being in love with another man; soon thereafter, that student left the college. Dolbeare went on to graduate from Amherst, to serve in World War II, to be married to a woman for 48 years and to have two children, one of whom is also gay.

“To me, what really stands out is not telling anybody about anything,” said Folger Cleaveland ’67, a recently retired clinical psychologist. Determined to be “normal,” Cleaveland dated women during his college years and told almost no one of his same-sex attractions and experiences—not even his best friend, a fellow Amherst student who also turned out to be gay. Cleaveland finally came out to his best friend in the 1980s and to the rest of his class in 1992, in a yearbook that was published just before their 25th Reunion. “How different it is to be here now, and for all of this to be taking place, with this little dedication to GALA’s anniversary on the front cover of the [2011 Reunion] schedule,” he said. “That’s just amazing.”

Steve Cadwell ’72 attended Amherst—still an all-male environment that could be “intensely homoerotic”—at a time when homosexuality was pathologized and, in some ways, illegal: he remembered counselors offering “aversion therapy” as a treatment and a Smith professor getting into legal trouble for possession of homoerotic imagery. (For more on what it was like to be gay at Amherst around that time, see Eric Patterson ’70’s recent essay in Amherst magazine.) “I didn’t find community here, but I was very actively trying to create community,” Cadwell said. He founded a “homosocial” coffeehouse in Barrett Hall called “Grin in Barrett.” He is now a psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients and who teaches and writes about gender, sexuality and shame.

Larry Axelrod ’81 is a composer and pianist who gave a concert in Buckley Recital Hall for Reunion. On the panel, he said he attended Amherst during a time of huge institutional change, with coeducation just beginning and the influence of fraternities waning. It was also, he said, a sort of “golden age” for gay students, after the Stonewall uprising but just before the AIDS crisis. There were several “very out” upperclassmen, one of whom jokingly threatened to drag Axelrod to a meeting of the gay student group on campus; Axelrod later became a leader of the group, which threw popular parties and dances. He said he “didn’t feel any official repression” from the Amherst faculty or administration, and he remembered very few incidents of intolerance from fellow students.

Jasmine Eucogco ’06, the youngest alum by 25 years and the only woman on the panel, said she found Amherst a supportive place where issues of gender and sexuality were discussed in classes and beyond. As a student, she attended meetings of the Pride Alliance and soon thereafter came out as a lesbian. She pointed out the development of such student groups as the Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect and the Queer Peer Educators.

After the panelists spoke, the audience Q&A went on for a long time. It included stories from alumni who were on campus in the late 1980s—a time when some students showed hostility toward their gay classmates and the Amherst community began addressing LGBTQ issues as matters of social justice. An alumnus from the 1960s raised questions about, among other things, focusing on emotionally supportive gay relationships and communities rather than just celebrating sexual freedom.

But I had to leave to meet up with my housemate (an ’01 grad who, incidentally, was one half of the first same-sex couple to get married in Johnson Chapel) at a small private party on campus. There, out on a patch of green lawn, an Amherst professor performed an engagement ceremony for two friends of ours—another young alumna and the woman she will soon wed. I’d made a point of wearing something I’d recently purchased from the Pride Alliance: a purple-and-white T-shirt emblazoned with the words I SUPPORT LOVE

Judith%20Frank%2C%20Reunion%2011Listen to Judith Frank’s Reunion reading from her novel in progress, Noah s Ark.


Richard Wilbur: A Poet Turns 90

Students, professors honor Richard Wilbur at poetry reading

It was not a typical 90th birthday party, but Richard Wilbur ’42 is hardly a typical 90-year-old. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, Wilbur holds the same teaching position at Amherst that Robert Frost once did. To celebrate his becoming a nonagenarian, a poetry reading seemed only fitting.

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And so it was that a full house arrived in Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall on March 2 at 4:30 p.m., a day after Wilbur turned 90, to celebrate his big day with a reading of his poems and translations. In a sign of the poet’s broad appeal, the standing-room-only crowd included everyone from professors and students to a young child with a pacifier (later replaced by a ring pop).

The first of 14 readers was poet and Samuel Williston Professor of English David Sofield, who has taught with Wilbur. Sofield read three poems, including “First Snow in Alsace,” published in Wilbur’s first book, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (1947). Seven of the readers were students; Irina Troconis ’11, for example, read Jorge Guillen’s “Death, from a Distance” in both English (Wilbur was the translator) and the original Spanish. She uttered a quick “Happy Birthday!” before returning to her seat.

Among the other readers was Henry Clay Folger Professor of English William H. Pritchard ’53, who read “C Minor” (“which I have a particular fondness for,” he said, “perhaps because I reviewed it”) and “A Storm in April,” especially appropriate on that cold March afternoon:

Some winters, taking leave,
Deal us a last, hard blow,
Salting the ground like Carthage
Before they will go.

President Anthony W. Marx also took part, reading “Cottage Street, 1953” and noting that he attended his first Wilbur poetry reading at age 18. Now, the president said, “reading Wilbur to Wilbur is among the most amazing and bizarre moments of my time at Amherst.”

Christopher Spaide ’11 read, among other poems, excerpts from “The Disappearing Alphabet,” which is for children:

How strange that the banana’s slippery PEEL,
Without its P, would be a slippery EEL!
It makes you think! However, it is not
Profound enough to think about a lot.

Before reading “October Maples, Portland,” Writer-in-Residence Daniel Hall described a famous letter Robert Frost wrote to the Amherst Student shortly before his 60th birthday in 1935. “It is very, very kind of the Student to be showing sympathy with me for my age,” Frost wrote. “But 60 is only a pretty good age. It is not advanced enough. The great thing is to be advanced. Now 90 would be really well along and something to be given credit for.” 

Indeed, it is, and after reading “The Proof,” Professor Ilan Stavans—who, as a special tribute, had also translated the poem into Spanish—announced that Wilbur would be the final reader. Wilbur, whose title at Amherst is John Woodruff Simpson Lecturer, took the podium, read “Out Here” from his 2010 book Anterooms, and received a long, warm standing ovation.

Soon after, a student presented the guest of honor with a batch of homemade cupcakes.  

See photos of the celebration, and download the evening’s program (PDF).

The Marx of a Killer

Article by Katherine Duke '05
Photos by Jessica Mestre '10

On the evening of Dec. 13, I make my way to Keefe Campus Center and follow the signs directing me to the Presidential Candidates’ Dinner. I’m eager to meet some of the people hoping to succeed Tony Marx as the next president of Amherst College, to enjoy a free dinner from a local Italian restaurant and to witness a homicide.

Murder Mystery 4
Presidential candidates / murder suspects Keith Radford (Will Savino '14), Jake Sully (Andy Tew '07) and Bill Glass (Floyd Oliver '11)

In planning the latest version of its annual Murder Mystery show, the student improv troupe Mr. Gad’s House of Improv decided to play off of Marx’s recent announcement that he will be leaving the college in June to take over the presidency of the New York City Public Library. This year, the murderous plot would unfold at a meet-and-greet dinner for Marx’s possible replacements.

I enter the Friedmann Room, followed by dozens and dozens of students, and see that the place is furnished with some buffet tables and a number of round dining tables. In the center of each dining table is a pile of ballots so that we can vote for our favorite presidential candidates. I haven’t even made it to my seat when one of the candidates (played by Floyd Oliver ’11) corners me to schmooze. His name tag reads “Bill Glass.”

“Katie!” Bill cries, using the nickname that people often call me when they kind of know me, but not well enough to know that I hate it. He was so happy to see me again! Didn’t we meet in Colorado a few years back?

I’ve never been to Colorado in my life, but I play along and shake his hand.

Then I take a seat at a table with a bunch of students, mostly women. A young reporter in a plaid sport coat (Will Savino ’14) comes up and begins asking questions, shoving an invisible microphone into my tablemates’ faces to get their thoughts about the presidential search.

Soon, a teenager in baggy black clothes and a backwards baseball cap takes the stage at the front of the room. Rusty (Adam Barton ’11) tells us he’s a student from Amherst Regional High School, handling security for tonight’s event as part of a community service deal. Then a bespectacled young woman clad in Amherst purple (Bessie Young ’11) steps behind a podium and welcomes us to the Presidential Candidates’ Dinner. “My name is Bethie Young,” she lisps, “and I am the prethident of the Prethidenthal Thearch Committee.”

She shows us a video, produced by Rusty and projected onto a movie screen, with introductions from all the presidential candidates in attendance:

  • Dr. Klaus von Richtoffen (Dylan Herts ’13) is a physician from Germany.
  • Keith Radford (Savino) is a reporter for Channel 7 Eyewitness News On Your Side, who reports himself as a “standout” among the candidates. “Witnesses say Radford is an excellent public speaker, with a spectacular sense of fashion,” he informs us.
  • Bill Glass, it turns out, is some sort of super-schmoozer. He has apparently done everything—including starring in multiple TV shows—and is an old pal of everyone. Don’t we remember him?
  • Nicki Minaj (Shanika Audige ’12) is a stylish hip hop star, promoting her latest album, Pink Friday.
  • Eileen Faygus (Katherine Sisk ’14) is “a very famous backwards author” of such hits as How Christmas Stole the Grinch (“which is really the same story, if you think about the metaphor”) and Blood Will Be There (a screenplay that won a Racso, “which is a backwards Oscar”).
  • Margaret Beavers (Ali Rich ’13) runs the Fireside Inn in Waterville, Maine, and appears to be wearing a moose’s head as a hat. If elected, she says, “I would rule this college with the same strength and perseverance that it took for me to kill this moose with my bare hands.”
  • Jake Sully (Area Coordinator Andy Tew ’07), a tall fellow from the moon Pandora, looks awfully familiar; maybe it’s his bright-blue face. Among his ideas for changes to the college: “All first-year students must capture and ride a Williams student.”
  • Vinny Spadalupo (Pete Skurman ’12) is a UMass alumnus, having majored in communications (favorite class: “Psychology of Cell Phones”) and minored in massage therapy. Now he’s a promoter for such fine nightlife establishments as Club Touch and Club Sensation. Vinny seems to be under the mistaken impression that he is on the UMass campus.

The introductory video ends (after some footage that Rusty shot of himself attempting scooter tricks out on the Amherst campus), and then Bessie invites up to the podium none other than President Marx (played by himself).

In his address to us, Marx insists that he is not yet a lame duck, and he dispels some old rumors about Amherst. “We did not steal Williams’ books. We don’t need their books,” he intones. “Let’s be very clear: Amherst provides the finest undergraduate education the world has ever known.”

Murder Mystery 1
President Marx begins to feel ill. There was something more sinister than water in that glass...

In the audience, Bessie stands up to cheer, “We love you, Tony!”

After a final “Terras Irradient” and a round of applause, Marx sips some water from a glass on the podium… and begins to look ill. He staggers to a chair on the stage and flops over.

“President Marx has been murdered!” Keith Radford shouts—and then he catches himself: “I mean, he’s dead!”

Well, not quite. Dr. von Richtoffen revives Marx enough to lead him out of the room, to try to cure him (or so he says…). But after a minute, the doctor comes back in with an announcement:

“Ladies und gentlemen, zere’s no easy vay to say zis: Ze president is dead!”

Bessie takes the stage again and leads us in a moment of silence for her beloved president. “I made a video to thay goodbye to Tony, for when he left the college,” she tells us. “Now that he hath left the Earth, it’th a little thadder.” She plays the video, which features shots of Marx’s house and garden, as well as a medley of bittersweet banjo tunes by Gad’s alumnus Dan Cluchey ’08. When the screen shows real photos of Marx hanging out with students—at a Halloween party, at Senior Dinner—I hear several audience members say, sincerely, “Aww.”

Now, the evening is no longer just about the search for a president—it’s become a search for a killer. As we guests start lining up for the buffet (our appetites not much diminished by the grisly turn of events), Rusty takes the stage again. “Sorry about Tony Marx dying. My bad, guys,” says the head of security. But he shows us some extra footage from the introductory video, which he thinks might be relevant to the murder investigation. In the footage, many of the candidates reveal that they have crossed paths with Marx in the past and have reason to dislike him: Bill was offended that Tony didn’t remember having met him. Tony left a negative comment in the guestbook at Margaret’s inn. Tony once tried to use a terrible pick-up line on Nicki at a nightclub.

Murder Mystery 3
Eileen Faygus (Katherine Sisk ’14), Dr. Klaus von Richtoffen (Dylan Herts ’13) and Nicki Minaj (Shanika Audige ’12) plead their innocence.

Bessie calls all the candidates/suspects up on stage and gives them a chance to defend their innocence. The doctor says his “Hippopotamus Oath” prohibits him from doing harm to others. “Keith Radford spends all of his time in one of two places,” Keith says, when asked where he was just before Marx died. “Number one: the newsroom. Number two: the closet.” Nicki casts suspicion on “the lady with the moose head—‘cause, like, who does that?” Eileen has learned, from her research for her award-winning film Ratava, that Jake’s people on Pandora are prone to violence. Bill draws from his knowledge of medicine and law to tell us that he thinks Marx didn’t die from poison: “I personally think that the doctor took him to the stairway, strangled the life out of him and then came in and told everyone he was murdered.”

Bessie instructs us each to take a ballot from the center of our table, cross out Presidential Candidate and write murderer. We must then vote for the person we think killed Marx and explain why the killer did it. Keith sits down at my table, answers a few of our questions and tells us about his relationship with his hero, CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Keith reminds us, “Vote for me for president, after you don’t vote for me for murderer.”

I consider how I might mark my ballot. I most suspect Bessie, because she clearly had access to the podium, and the glass of water, just before Marx was there. But the doctor could easily have finished him off outside the room. Or maybe Keith orchestrated the murder just so he could report on it. Or what if the club at which Marx hit on Nicki is one of the clubs that Vinny promotes—does that mean anything? Ultimately, I abstain from voting. I’m not good at these things.

After a few minutes, Dr. von Richtoffen announces that he has finished the autopsy on the president. “I vas searching his jacket, und I found—as you all expected—ze flask, but I also found zis…” he says, holding up a DVD recording of Marx’s last will and testament.

Murder Mystery 5
Bessie Young (Bessie Young '11) loves Tony Marx to death.

He plays the DVD for us—a message from Marx in the case of his untimely demise. “My last request is that my remains be stored together with the dinosaur bones in the geology museum,” he says. And he reveals… that he knows that Bessie has been plotting to kill him.

Bessie stands up. “I killed him, becauth I’d rather he be here in Amhertht in the ground than New York Thity Public Library!” she confesses. “I killed him to keep him here in our heartth forever!”

Out of the many students who correctly solved the crime, Rusty chooses one lucky winner to receive a round-trip bus ticket to New York City for Valentine’s Day weekend.

 

And before she goes to jail, the athathin—I mean, assassin—has one more task: slicing and serving us a cake on which is written, in frosting, GOODBYE TONY.

Read Katherine Duke's account of the 2007 Mr. Gad's House of Improv Murder Mystery.

Professor Awarded One of Russia’s Top Civilian Medals

Professor William Taubman is presented with the Russian medal of  the Order of Friendship

Hon. Andrey K. Yushmanov (left) presents Professor William Taubman with one of Russia’s top civilian medals.

By Emily Gold Boutilier

One of my favorite things about editing Amherst magazine is that sometimes the job is unpredictable. On Monday, in between writing about students who edit Wikipedia and approving an illustration on the economics of dueling, I heard that William Taubman, the political science professor who won a Pulitzer for his biography of Nikita Khrushchev, would soon receive one of Russia’s top civilian medals. Two days later, I found myself in the same room as an important Russian official. Who would have thought?

The Russian official, the Hon. Andrey K. Yushmanov, is consul general of the Russian Federation in New York. He’d traveled to Amherst to formally present Taubman with the medal, known as the Order of Friendship. Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev decreed that the medal be awarded to Taubman—the Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science—for “a great contribution to the development of cultural ties with the Russian Federation, including the preservation and popularization of Russian language and culture.”

Taubman’s wife, Jane, who is a professor of Russian at Amherst, and more than 50 of their friends and colleagues came to the ceremony in the college’s Center for Russian Culture, an intimate, book-filled room in Webster Hall with an awe-inducing view of the HolyokeRange. After an introduction by Russian professor and center director Stanley Rabinowitz, Yushmanov praised Taubman for writing about events that “shaped the past and the present of Russia.” Yushmanov then presented the official medal and order, “written in Russian,” he told Taubman, “but I’m sure it’s not a problem for you.”

Taubman approached the podium and told a few stories, including about his grandfather who fled to the United States from Russia in 1905. Taubman has been to Russia and the former Soviet Union some 30 times to conduct research for various projects. His 2003 book, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, won a National Book Critics Circle Award in addition to the Pulitzer. It sold out its first printing in Russia; a second edition has just been released.

“I am a political scientist who, in effect, ends up doing history in the form of biography,” Taubman said at the ceremony, where he observed that Russians don’t write biographies of this kind. “They are inclined,” he said, “to think that the great moving forces of history are impersonal rather than personal.”

Taubman is now working on a biography of another Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Always Mindful

Submitted by Katherine D. Duke on Thursday, 12/22/2022, at 3:21 PM

“How come we all can’t be just a little bit more like monks here?”

Andrew Kriete ’11E has been wondering about this ever since he returned to Amherst after four months practicing meditation in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in New York. He was speaking on a student panel on April 23 as part of the college’s first Day of Mindfulness—a series of events inviting members of the college community to explore various contemplative practices. In the Babbott Room of the Octagon, nine students discussed how and why they’re trying to be mindful in their academic and social lives.

image
Led by Professor of Art and the History of Art Joel Upton, students meet for a morning meditation in the Yushien Japanese garden.

When a high school friend introduced him to the Shambhala Buddhist forms of contemplative practice, Ryan Milov ’10 said, it intimidated him at first as “a weird mix between the occult and the hippie.” But he stuck with it, and though a specific meditation practice no longer feels right for him, he said, he has still “found contemplative postures toward all sorts of problems very useful,” and these postures need not be shrouded in mystery and supernatural belief.  Mindfulness is difficult to define, but it seems to mean simply being aware of one’s own awareness, calmly stepping back to observe one’s thoughts and feelings as they arise. Milov describes it as “seeing myself thinking.”

Like many students on the panel, Heather Leonard ’10 credits her embrace of mindfulness to “Eros and Insight,” a First-Year Seminar taught collaboratively by Arthur Zajonc, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Physics, and Joel Upton, professor of art and the history of art. (Upton spoke about the seminar in the Spring 2004 issue of Amherst magazine.) After taking the course, Leonard wondered, “What if I brought this new attention, this awareness, to everything? To everything I did, all my relationships with people?”

Dylan Bianchi ’09, whose parents converted to Shambhala Buddhism decades ago, said his regular meditation practice lets him approach his classwork with greater concentration and suspension of judgment. “It’s allowed me to more fully embody what might be considered to be the liberal arts kind of ethos,” he said, “of exploring lots of different subjects and exposing yourself to lots of different ideas without being too fully locked into one approach.”

All of the students agreed that mindfulness has intriguing applications to academic life. Milov said that a contemplative posture helps him integrate the very different ways of thinking required for philosophy classes and for poetry classes. Others talked about how a dance class can be a chance to focus on the connections between mind and body, and about how contemplative practice might inform quantitative disciplines and vice versa.

But they also acknowledged that student life throws up all kinds of obstacles to mindfulness. “Amherst is definitely a cool place to jump headfirst into contemplative practice, because you keep hitting things: people, academics,” Kriete said. “There’s always something that can make you worry.”

“I think, at Amherst, there can be a tendency for people to be really hard on themselves and to push themselves and deprive themselves of sleep and food sometimes,” Bianchi observed. “One thing that mindfulness does is it really makes you aware of yourself and what you need as a physical being.”

So the very pressures, habits and complexities that contribute to the difficulty of practicing mindfulness in college are the reasons why students especially need its benefits.

In organizing the Day of Mindfulness, Zajonc and several of the student panelists wanted to introduce these benefits to the whole campus. “I’ve been teaching contemplative-oriented courses for several years with some colleagues here,” the professor told me after sitting in on the panel. Then, he said, he began having conversations about mindfulness with Director of Athletics Suzanne Coffey and Senior Lacrosse Coach Chris Paradis, which prompted a larger and more inclusive conversation about the many ways to apply contemplative practices throughout life at Amherst. “We had 15 or 20 people from various parts of the college—from counseling to athletics, faculty, students, administration—sitting around a table,” Zajonc said. “The idea [became], Well, what might we do in common, rather than each of us working independently? Why don’t each of us do a little something?”

So the Day of Mindfulness featured not just the student panel, but also a meditation in the Yushien garden with Upton; a morning yoga class with Paradis; a guided meditation with Religious Adviser Mark Hart; and a stress-reduction workshop with Debra Edelman from the Counseling Center. Zajonc opened up his class “From Dilemma to Dialogue: Science, Values and Spiritual Traditions,” and Professor of Economics Daniel Barbezat shared a mindfulness exercise from his course “Consumption and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The day’s “capstone” was a lecture, “No Time to Think: Information Technology and Contemplative Scholarship,” by Professor David Levy from the University of Washington.
 
“It’s a modest beginning,” Zajonc said of the day. He and Upton were looking forward to “The Contemplative Heart of Higher Education,” the annual conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, to be held at Amherst that weekend, April 24- 26. That event would feature 60 presentations by people incorporating contemplative practices “in everything from English literature to art history to science courses and social science courses,” he said, and he planned to tell them all about Amherst’s inaugural experiment. “My guess is, a couple dozen of them will pick it up, and around the country, you’ll start to see Days of Mindfulness.”

What I did last summer

Some students flipped burgers. Others interned on Wall Street. Still others traveled near and far to  build houses, take pictures or  mentor young children. Last week, we posted a message inviting all students to pen a few lines about how they spent their summer vacation. Here are the replies. Please log in (at upper right) to post your own summer-vacation story.

Also: Click here to find out how your favorite professors spent those long ago (or, in some cases, more recent) undergraduate summers.

 

Charles Quigg ’09

imageSabrina Dorman '09 works in Sierra Leone through the Seirra Leone Plymouth Partnership. Photo by Charlie Quigg '09. For more photos from this trip, visit Quigg's gallery. Along with Sam Grausz ’09, Sabrina Dorman ’09 and Josh Nathan ’10, I had a fantastic and enlightening summer working in three remote Sierra Leonean villages for the Sierra Leone Plymouth Partnership (SLPP), a small NGO started by Jeff Hall ’86 and a partner of the CCE’s Citizen Summer Program.  During our seven weeks in the villages, we worked to solidify SLPP’s recently started microloan program, expand access to clean water supplies, manage the construction of 150 new latrines and assist in providing excellent educational opportunities to village children, including an SLPP-sponsored summer school program.  

 

Jessica Mestre ’10

Thanks to a Fellowship for Action from the CCE, I spent 10 formative weeks on a public service internship in Montevideo, Uruguay. I worked with an NGO called Un Techo para mi Pais (A Roof for my Country), a youth-run organization, present in 12 countries in Central and South America, that is dedicated to eradicating poverty in Latin America and creating a social conscience among its youth. The group builds emergency housing and implements social development programs in marginalized settlements.

I was there in the middle of their winter campaign, working with the communications department. As a photographer, I coordinated and contributed to a photography installation in cooperation with a local photo club, created to denounce the realities of life in the settlements. Another significant project was the 8-page informational supplement about the organization, which was included in the national newspaper and distributed around the country.

While my time in the office was enjoyable, the most significant part of the experience for me was in the settlements themselves at the construction sites. Each crew consists of 5 or 6 crewmembers (who are typically university students), the crew captain (also a student), and the family members themselves. As you build the house, you also build deep connections with your crewmates and the people who will be living in the house. It is an empowering process for everyone involved. I will never forget sitting on top of the roof as I worked with Aldo to finish his home, or the kind words of appreciation that his wife, Veronica, shared at the ribbon cutting ceremony. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity.

View a gallery of Mestre's photos

Abby Murray ’11

I worked as a National Park Ranger. Yes, I wore the hat. Not to mention the gray and green, itchy, unflattering, soul-smothering uniform. I was sworn into the service of the Department of the Interior on June 22, and felt the enormity of my responsibilities settle onto my shoulders as I repeated my oath, and promised to protect the United States “...from all enemies foreign and domestic....” The oath, the uniform, my badge and special keys—these all made me feel very important.

I soon came to appreciate the subtle differences between rangers from different regions. Though I wore the same hat and took the same oath as rangers in Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, I happened to be working in urban Cambridge, Mass. The Longfellow National Historic Site, although certainly a national treasure, was in no danger of forest fires, and its visitors needed no warnings not to feed the wild animals. My job was completely different from that of a ranger working in an outdoor park: I gave 45-minute tours about the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the house’s service as George Washington’s headquarters for nice months during the American Revolution.


At the end of the summer, I knew more about Longfellow than I ever thought I would want to know. Sometimes I got sick of him, I’ll admit. But it was a great job, and I’m considering it for next summer as well. My ranger hat, which sits on a lonely shelf in my closet, is calling to me.

 

Tim Butterfield ’12

After high school graduation, I spent the first week of summer in Northern California with three friends. We stayed at a cabin on Lake Tahoe and spent a few days in San Francisco and Sacramento. As a first-time tourist in San Francisco, I rode the cable cars, toured Alcatraz and visited the Golden GateBridge.

After California, I returned home to St. Louis, where I worked as a counselor and lifeguard at a local day camp. I worked every afternoon, playing with kids between the ages of 3 and 9 and enjoying swim time with them! I ran regularly throughout the summer as well, since that is my greatest passion. It was fun to explore new trails and roads in St. Louis as I trained for an upcoming marathon. I am continuing to run and explore here at Amherst.

 

Destry Sibley ’09

With the support of a CCE Fellowship for Action, I spent two months this summer in Bangladesh as a research intern for Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC), one of the world’s largest development organizations. I worked in the NGO’s economic development department, with a program that targets the poorest demographic in the country, called the “ultra poor.” I used the first four weeks of my visit to interview ultra poor women in rural areas and to construct their narratives into case studies. I wrote the program’s biannual progress report during the next four weeks. So I spent the first month conducting field-based qualitative research and the second half compiling quantitative research in the organization’s central office in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city. 

 

Nicol Zhou ’10

In July, I interned in the corporate/finance department at Rodyk and Davidson in Singapore. That job introduced me to the basics of corporate legal work and gave me a chance to do hands-on work with a number of lawyers at the firm. I attended client meetings, proofread and corrected contracts and studied the business of a corporate lawyer.

After my internship ended, I worked with the Singapore World Schools Debate Team—the team that is representing the country at the Washington, D.C., World Schools Tournament. The World Schools Tournament is the largest international debate competition at the high school level, with 35 to 40 nations represented every year. (In 2007, I served as a judge in the tournament, at the Seoul Worlds.) I trained with the Singapore national team extensively, debating against them in both closed training and public debates, and I was in charge of a few training sessions. 

 

Claire Jen ’10

I hopped on a quick and easy 18-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, where I’m studying abroad this semester at the University of the Witwatersrand. As a participant in the International Human Rights Exchange program (IHRE), I’ve gone to the ApartheidMuseum and to Soweto, one of the most politically inflamed townships in South Africa. We traveled to KrugerNational Park, spent a few nights at a rural Venda village in Hamakuya and went hiking along the LimpopoRiver.

I’ve also had the great chance to fly to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world, in between Zambia and Zimbabwe. In neighboring Botswana, we saw African Wild Dogs and lions on our sunrise safari trip and ended in the evening by watching elephants cross the Zambezi river with the sun setting behind them.

The program also finds a human rights-related internship, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work at the Street Law Project and at ProBono.org. At Street Law, I teach civic education at a high school and conflict resolution at the Johannesburg Prison. At ProBono.org, I work with an attorney picking which cases to take, and while it is tough to judge the merits of each case, it’s rewarding to see the effort and care that goes into each case, both from the ProBono attorney and from the clients.

Coming to South Africa is something I won’t forget in my lifetime—the people, food and culture are all so warm, and I feel quite grateful I’m here. Most striking, there is a sense of general optimism here—there’s a lot of participation and debate in politics, from the student council to the African National Congress, and in the face of some big obstacles South Africa still has to face, its a growing place, and it’s amazing to be here, studying rights in a place that governs itself by a constitution with the most inclusive, broad-reaching equality clause in the world. I can’t wait to (hopefully) come back for the Soccer World Cup in 2010!

 

Surya Kundu ’09

I spent the summer working with SEED Kolkata, an NGO based in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, to bring education and sustainable change into the lives of children living in the streets, railway platforms and slums of Kolkata.

It was quite an incredible experience, full of bizarre juxtapositions and interesting contrasts. For the majority of my stay, I lived in a flat with some college friends of my father’s. Owning multiple apartments around the city and several cars, each with its own driver, my hosts, who run a very successful shipbuilding business, fell firmly into the category of India’s rising upper-middle class. But every day I’d leave the comfort of their home for the world I was working in. The work with SEED was like a crash course in human life in extreme poverty.

SEED maintains both day protection and night protection shelters for the many lost, abandoned or run-away children living on railway platforms in the city. For the children who can recall where their homes are, SEED attempts to reunite them with their families. For those who are homeless, SEED runs homes where the children are fed, sent to school and nurtured. Additionally, SEED runs community health clinics; trains community health workers; builds wells; and runs adult vocational training schools, nursery schools, tutoring centers, literacy centers and two formal schools near large slum areas.

At the shelter at Howrah Station, for the children living on the platforms, I met 14-year-old girls who had already gotten married and given birth several times, each marriage being a way to get off the platforms for a short time. Other children were addicted to sniffing glue fumes; some had open sores from falling while trying to jump onto trains. It was one of the most heartbreaking places I had ever seen.

I spent a portion of my time visiting the young residents of one of SEED’s boys’ homes. These boys were once the children of the platforms but were now well into their rehab and reintegration into normal society. They were bright, loving and eager to show me their paintings, dance moves and skills at soccer. Most of the boys excelled in their academics and consistently ranked at the top of their class at school.

I ended up creating SEED’s annual report to their donors outlining their projects and introducing their goals for the future. I completely redesigned the layout of the publication, visited each project site, took photos and wrote the entire text of the report. See some of the photos here. In my time off, I explored the city of Kolkata and visited family members in the area. 

 

Nathaniel Hopkin ’10

I spent my summer working and traveling in Uganda. I was working for Educate!, a U.S.- based nonprofit founded by Eric Glustrom ’07 that operates in Uganda. My job involved a lot of the ground work required for an ambitious set of programs that will start next February. The programs center on the observation that the schooling system in Uganda does not do a sufficient job educating students. Everything there focuses on memorization for standardized testing; creativity, initiative and leadership are stifled.

As a much-needed supplement to secondary school education in Uganda, Educate! is partnering with 20 schools throughout the country and offering a course in Socially Responsible Leadership, to be taught by an Educate! mentor. The mentors are Educate! staffers, independent of the schools in which they are placed. All are recent graduates from universities in Uganda, and all will undergo an intensive three-month induction in which they will live together at the Educate! headquarters, learn the curriculum and receive training. The goal is for the mentors to develop close relationships with the students, to act as role models and to provide moral support, encouragement and advice. In addition, each partner school will have an extracurricular club focused on using social entrepreneurship to creatively solve problems in the community. The club, open to all students at each school, will also be moderated by the mentors.

In Uganda, I lived in the Educate! headquarters in a suburban area outside the country’s capitol city, Kampala. My ultimate goal was to find four schools from diverse religious and socioeconomic backgrounds for Educate! to partner with. In addition, I helped review applications for the mentor jobs.

A highlight of the trip was a visit to the refugee camp in which Educate! got its start. We spent a week living there with one of the students whom Educate! sponsors. It was inspiring to see how well people adapted to their displacement, and to see people from a diverse array of cultures and nationalities, all undergoing hardship and stress, living near each other in such harmony. Equally amazing was the hard work and optimism that was almost universal among the refugees. 

Amherst’s Literary Journal Celebrates 10th Issue and 5th Anniversary

The Common transports readers to unknown and inaccessible parts of the world—real and imagined.

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The Common, Cover of Issue 10

The Common Issue 10 is now available for purchase.

If you love a good story—one with the power to transport you to a world other than your own—chances are you’ll love the newest issue of Amherst’s award-winning literary journal, The Common

With stories, essays and poems by 34 authors from countries around the world (China, France, Lebanon, Nigeria and South Africa, to name a few), Issue 10 takes us to the front row of a Lady Gaga concert, on a hitchhiking journey around Hungary and 1,000 years into the future.

Issue 10 marks The Common’s fifth anniversary. (The first issue officially debuted in April 2011, but its production began in fall 2010.) Since its debut, the biannual journal has published more than 560 authors from 25 countries and garnered international attention for its selections, editorial vision and design, efforts to bring place-based literature into classrooms around the country, and winning of two nationally competitive grants.

According to Jennifer Acker ’00, founder and editor-in-chief, The Common serves as a vibrant common space for the global exchange of ideas and experiences and, in doing so, aims to help launch the careers of young writers and editors around the world.

The Common Celebrates

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The Common, pictures of panelists

From left to right: Jennifer Acker, Major Jackson, Jim Shepard, Karen Shepard and Ilan Stavans

At a time when some colleges and universities are closing down long-running literary journals or switching to online only, the continued success of a literary magazine at Amherst and its commitment to print is cause for celebration!

The Common hosted Discovery: New Writers, New Places, a celebratory event on Wednesday, Nov. 11, in the Amherst College Center for Humanistic Inquiry (Frost Library, second floor).

Acker moderated a panel conversation with esteemed authors Major Jackson, Jim Shepard, Karen Shepard and Ilan Stavans (an Amherst professor), focusing on the mentorship of creative talent, the development of literary careers and the discovery of the world around us through literature.

More about The Common »

Rekindled Office Hours Connect Students with President Martin

Submitted on Tuesday, 12/20/2022, at 5:12 PM

By Daniel Diner '14

An athlete wanted help meeting new people. A sophomore wished that faculty and administrators at Amherst would “stop telling us that we’re special” and instead put the emphasis on working hard. A once-struggling student wanted to describe the support she’d found in a religious community on campus.

Some mechanisms have always existed for students to air their concerns and suggestions to the administration. But thanks to a new initiative, these three students and many more were able to take their opinions directly to the top.

Since October, President Biddy Martin has been setting aside time every week to meet with students in scheduled but casual conversation. The opportunity to meet with Martin in one of these office hours is available to any student, and for any reason. The Student Office Hours program allots 20-minute meeting slots that students reserve online in advance.

The idea for the program came when Strategic Planning Assistant Tania Dias '13 (formerly president of the Amherst Association of Students) was conducting summer research as part of her role as historian of the Women's and Gender Center. She was reading documents in College Archives when a 1991 issue of the now-defunct Amherst College Notes caught her eye. The paper announced that Peter Pouncey, Amherst’s 16th president, was starting to hold office hours for any student interested in speaking to him.

It occurred to Dias how useful a revitalization of this program would be. “I thought this was a really great, simple initiative to get student voices heard in a very transparent, very easy way,” Dias says. Having already gotten to know Martin through her positions with student government, Dias predicted (correctly) that the president would welcome the idea. “Biddy was really receptive. This idea is something that she embodies; she’s very down to earth, very approachable, very relaxed and very casual.”

The program’s popularity is evidence of its success: Every scheduled slot for the first semester is already filled. In a speech to parents over Family Weekend, Martin said that face-to-face meetings with students provide her a valuable perspective. “It takes a certain amount of courage and self-possession for students to bring forward [their thoughts] to the president of a college, and I think that I will continue to learn more than I would have learned otherwise by virtue of ... these office hours."

Watch President Martin talk about  Student Office Hours in the video of her Family Weekend speech (the subject comes up seven and a half minutes in).

To sign up for an office hour next semester, students can fill out the form on the program's webpage. As scheduled slots for the rest of November and December are all filled, any student wanting to meet with the president this semester should send her an email.


Gender Matters

Submitted on Tuesday, 12/20/2022, at 4:41 PM

In 1962, Amherst hired Rose Olver, now the L. Stanton Williams '41 Professor of Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies, as its first female tenure-track professor. On Oct. 1 of this year, nearing the  50th anniversary of Olver’s arrival and facing the impending retirement and replacement of a large proportion of the faculty, the  college held a symposium titled “Half a Century of Women Teaching at Amherst: Gender Matters.” More than 150 people packed the Cole Assembly Room, including current professors, students, alumnae and 60 percent of the women who taught at Amherst between 1962 and 1983.

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Ellen Ryerson (left), who taught in the Department of American Studies from 1968 to 1975, with Olver

You can watch video of the symposium here.

The following are just a few remarks from the addresses and panel discussions:


“[E]ven when we began planning this event, we had no idea that we were at yet another milestone: that Amherst was about to have its first female president—unthinkable in 1962…”

Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Aries, introducing the symposium

 

“I remember sitting here [at a faculty meeting] and thinking, ‘I need a tie,’ and feeling like I maybe better not sit with more than one other woman.”

Elaine Brighty, who arrived at Amherst in 1979 as the first tenure-track woman in the biology department

 

“The ‘one plus one equals more than two’ effect is really important.”

Laura Wexler, assistant professor of American studies and English from 1977 to 1985, on how helpful it was when a female faculty member could find support and camaraderie from at least one other woman on a committee or in a meeting

 

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C. Rhonda Cobham-Sander (left), the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Black Studies and English, with Associate Professor of Biology Caroline Goutte

“I was one of the token women elected to the Committee of Six [the executive committee of the faculty] twice when I was untenured. … A rumor was circulating around campus that radical feminist lesbians were in cahoots to elect Gewertz.”

Deborah Gewertz, now the G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology, who has taught at Amherst since 1977

 

“I dreamt [last night] that we were all sitting here, giving our little speeches in Chinese. And it only occurred to us about halfway through that nobody in the audience could understand us. I think that’s actually a lot of what was happening in the early years here. … Where we were coming from, the way we were framing things—it just didn’t compute with the traditional accepted way of communicating here. … This is true in any kind of environment where you have dominant culture, a dominant group—and diversifying that group is something that means a very fundamental change in the culture.”

Kathleen Hartford, assistant professor of political science from 1974 to 1981, who traveled from China to attend the symposium

 

“My second child was born in 1977… We had no maternity leave and no day care, so Phoebe was planned to arrive in June, and she did, but there was great concern that she might arrive early—specifically, during Commencement… that my water would break on the front steps of Frost. … We compromised, and I marched until I got to the end of the line, and then I threw off my robe and faded into the audience.”

Jane Taubman, now professor emerita of Russian

 

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From left: Susan Lewandowski, assistant professor of history from 1974 to 1984; Hartford; Waller; Stark

“There was one particular group of students who decided that they wanted to call me ‘Mom,’ … and that got around among the men in my department, and I think that was really the kiss of death. … If you were liked by the students, then you must be doing something not-rigorous…”

Ruth Stark, assistant professor of chemistry from 1979 to 1985, on how her teaching style was “more nurturing” than was the norm in her department

 

“It was just so unbelievably important for me that [Brighty and Stark] were there, because they were the only women in the sciences that I had to look up to.”

Emily Stern ’83, on being a premed student at Amherst

 

“[T]he most conservative thing about Amherst is the unspoken codes… it’s assumed you know them. And I think what many people felt offended by was the idea that there could be so many women faculty who were critical and unhappy and didn’t appreciate this institution in the way that male faculty did [and who] were not only speaking about the conditions of women faculty but saying, ‘You know, this isn’t the healthiest way to live.’”

Amrita Basu, the Domenic J. Paino 1955 Professor of Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies, on the response to the 1984 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Conditions of Work for Faculty Women at Amherst College. The minutes of a meeting quoted faculty describing the report as “antithetical to the life of the mind,” “propagandist” and “shrill.”

 

“The response was the best demonstration we could possibly have hoped for of exactly how accurate the report was, because really, everything that was in the report was performed in those [faculty meeting] minutes.”

Marguerite Waller, who taught English and women’s studies at Amherst from 1974 to 1991. The 1984 report helped to spur an increase in the hiring of women and the creation of a women’s studies department.

 

“I don’t see diversity as an opportunity or a goal so much as simply a reality that one either denies, wards off, or embraces. It’s simply the fact of human existence.”

President Biddy Martin, during her lunchtime talk in Lewis-Sebring Dining Commons, on her intention to help increase the diversity of the Amherst faculty

 

“He’s carefully penciled out ‘men’ and written in ‘writers,’ and among the 17 male names, he has included ‘(caret) Vera Brittain.’ It was, I thought, a real moment in which I literally saw a woman enter into the course catalog.”

Michele Barale, the Thalheimer Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies, on finding a page in a late-1970s course catalog on which a professor had edited a course description

 

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Barale and Raskin look on as Bateson speaks.

“You cannot bring people in at the most vulnerable stage of their lives and expect entrenched, experienced senior figures to treat them as equals.”

Mary Catherine Bateson, professor of anthropology from 1980 to 1987 and the first female dean of the faculty, on why she pushed for the hiring of more women into senior faculty positions, as opposed to hiring only young women who were just out of graduate school

 

 

 

“[H]e said, ‘This is an outrage. I am taking this to the top.’ And I said, ‘Professor So-and-So, I am the top.’”

Lisa Raskin, now the John William Ward Professor of Psychology (Neuroscience), on having a conflict with a senior faculty member during her time as dean of the faculty from 1995 to 2003

 

“I am so proud of my department now. In a department of nine, there are seven women.”

Patricia O’Hara, the Amanda and Lisa Cross Professor of Chemistry

 

Photos by Jessica Mestre '10

Students, CCE Staff Share Stories from Nonprofit Internships

Submitted on Tuesday, 12/20/2022, at 4:40 PM

By Katherine Duke '05

At a luncheon in O’Connor Commons on July 29, the Center for Community Engagement celebrated the completion of its 2011 Pioneer Valley Citizen Summer (PVCS), a program through which 34 Amherst students spent eight weeks as interns at a variety of local nonprofit organizations. New features of the PVCS this year included Firelight Initiative Internship Training from Pam Allyn ’84 and her leadership team at LitWorld, student-intern blogs, a Public Service Media Intern program and a day of “direct service” in Monson, Mass., cleaning up the debris from a recent tornado. The interns were also charged with developing innovations to help their organizations function more effectively—one group designed a website to help nonprofits network with each other; another group mapped out a hypothetical new bus route specifically for transportation between community outreach organizations.

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Students help clean up after the June 1, 2011, tornado in Monson, Mass.

Throughout the luncheon, CCE staff and groups of interns spoke to invited guests—including the leaders of many of the nonprofits—about their summer experiences and ideas. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:     

 

“Amherst College’s mission is to educate students to seek, [value and] advance knowledge, to engage the world around them and to lead principled lives of consequence. And I think sometimes we think about this as kind of sequential: First you learn; then, after you learn, you go engage the world; and sometime, 50 years from now, you’ll lead a principled life of consequence. Well, in the CCE we really think of it as actually totally happening at the same time, in a linked and integrated way. So, the Pioneer Valley Citizen Summer Program is the perfect embodiment of those things happening exactly simultaneously.”

Molly Mead, director of the Center for Community Engagement

 

“A large purpose of the program is for students to engage in this community and understand what it means to work in the community. ... [A]long with that, another purpose is for the students to live in their own community. So the students lived in Newport together, in the same residence hall, for the last eight weeks, and many of them didn’t know each other going into it. ... I’m noticing, as the groups [of interns] come up [to give their presentations], the amount of support that they’re showing for one another. And I think this group in particular, more than past years, really took to working together as a community and living as a community.” 

Ken Koopmans, manager of internship programs

 

“We wanted to go beyond telling other people’s stories, [training] four people who can help people tell their stories for themselves.”

Alex Speir ’11, on the Public Service Media Intern Program, a new facet of the PVCS, through which he helped teach four Amherst student interns to use multimedia techniques to document nonprofit organizations and community engagement initiatives

 

“One way to approach life is as though you’re juggling balls. Some balls are made of rubber—such as work—and if you drop them, they will bounce back. Some balls—such as family, health and friends—are made of glass, and if you drop them, they will shatter and may be irreparable. When you’re faced with a decision to prioritize, consider whether the issue would be a rubber ball or a glass ball.”

Yinka Fakoya ’14, presenting the closing metaphor of a student skit about how to prevent burnout while working in the nonprofit world

 

“This summer, I got to create a lesson plan about roller coaster physics, which culminated in a trip to Six Flags.”

Antoineen White ’13, intern with The Literacy Project

 

“I can say I made a real impact. Definitely, the largest impact that I had is in the next issue, the summer issue of VoiceMale magazine, I co-wrote the cover article.”

Stephen Koenig ’14, on his work as an intern with the progressive men’s magazine

 

“I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of students who finished classes. … Their English got much better—sometimes better than mine. I also noticed that they started to become part of this community, first at the Center, and then in the town that they lived, and then in the state. It’s really a very beautiful process in which they integrate into their society.”

Alexandre Gomez ’12, intern at the Center for New Americans

 

“[G]rowing up in Ohio, in the Midwest, I never had to think of land as a privilege. It was always given to me. Going to summer camp was just something that we did. And the students that I worked with every day don’t necessarily get that opportunity. And watching them grow with the land and learn with the land, being able to make sense of the world in a way that the school system or the foster care system doesn’t do, is a really inspiring thing, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.

But, I have to say, what I learned most about empowerment in my internship is that it’s a two-way process: that I hope that I’ve empowered them as much as they have empowered me as an intern for the past two summers. They’re an incredible group, and they show me every day what it means to wake up and want to make a difference in the world, whether it’s a difference in the community, whether it’s a difference in the life of one person or whether it’s a difference in their own lives, in the actions and the decisions that they make every single day.” 

Amina Taylor ’13, on working with The Trustees of Reservations’ Holyoke Youth Conservation Corps