Summer Dining

Submitted on Wednesday, 8/10/2011, at 2:35 PM

By Rebecca Ojserkis '12

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Hands down, the best place to socialize at college is around the dinner table. The fact that Valentine is our only dining hall here at Amherst especially facilitates such opportunities for students, the majority of whom eat all of their meals there. But even during the summer months—when most undergraduates have left campus until September—we continue to find camaraderie while breaking bread.

In addition to the summer camps housed on campus, approximately 200 Amherst students spend June, July and August in the Pioneer Valley. We stay busy doing a variety of projects, including local internships, research with professors, thesis research and jobs in various college offices. We may be doing very different things, but we all manage to find time to socialize each night in a new setting: a kitchen rather than a dining hall.

Like most of the students in Amherst for the summer, my friends and I cook each night in the kitchens of our residence halls. The usual chores of grocery shopping, food preparation and washing dishes have become communal, social experiences. They provide time to hear about friends’ days and get to know students of all class years whom one might not have gotten to know in the large setting of Val. (For rising seniors, like myself, these dinners are also an appreciated break from thesis reading, graduate examination studying and/or job searching!) On some nights, we make quick dishes; on others, we plan feasts.

Sharing meals, I discovered, has also been an opportunity to share our cultures. For a Five College friend’s birthday, I baked a sweet noodle kugel, a traditional Jewish dish. Eddie Muguza ’11 introduced me to pap, a dish from his native Zimbabwe. Next on the agenda? An empanada and matzo ball recipe exchange between Kayleigh O’Keeffe ’12 and me. It’s been a delicious learning summer so far, to say the least.

Take one recent Saturday night. I received a text message: “I’m tryna get a din din 2getha avec Jurr and JKoo at chez Bongani. Let me know if u’d b down.” It took me a minute to translate the lingo of my friend Bongani Ndlovu ’14. He was having a dinner party, inviting me and two of his fellow members of the men’s a cappella group the Zumbyes—Jorrell Bonner ’12E and Jeremy Koo ’12—to his apartment in Northampton.

I had cooked dinner earlier this summer for these friends, to thank them for helping me move into my dorm. We had eaten  a pasta concoction, a combination of my grandmother’s ratatouille recipe with some of my favorite ingredients, olives and sundried tomatoes. “This smells delicious. What’s in it?” Julie Keresztes ’12 had asked while she helped me with the mise en place for the dish. “It’s easy,” I had replied. “My grandmother taught me how to make it when I was five or so. You just cut up vegetables, add some olive oil and garlic and throw it in the oven for an hour.” Having years of restaurant work experience and having cooked for myself during past summers in New York City, I have mastered the art of preparing easy, delicious meals in small places (including New York apartments and Amherst dorm kitchens).

Bongani’s second text message, after my affirmative response: “Now I need ideas. What do I cook?” After much debate, he decided to make pasta with what I would call a South African adaptation of Bolognese. Bringing some flavors from his home country, Bongani had made a sauce of stewed tomatoes, ground beef, garlic, onion and curry, the secret ingredient that won me over. Once we arrived, I quickly cooked up some collard greens with mustard, green tomatoes, peppers and brown sugar. The combination of the vegetables and the pasta was fantastic. Bongani had never heard of greens before, and I had never fathomed putting curry in my pasta sauce. It was definitely a learning experience in culture and cooking.

Jorrell made bananas Foster for dessert, flambéing like a pro. Jeremy didn’t cook that evening, but he did the bulk of the dishes and has promised to make us wontons. The meal ended with the three Zumbyes singing “Happy Birthday” to Jorrell’s brother over the phone. Tableside a cappella, great food and close friends—what more could a girl ask for on a warm summer night?

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Students, CCE Staff Share Stories from Nonprofit Internships

Submitted on Thursday, 8/4/2011, at 12:32 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

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Cartoonist Behind Thor Donates Time and Talent to Alma Mater

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Simonson’s illustration for the Annual Fund

For almost 40 years, Walter “Walt” Simonson ’68 has been one of the artists and writers behind some of the most recognizable comic book heroes, from the Avengers and the Fantastic Four to Wonder Woman and Thor. This spring, Simonson generously donated his time and talent to his alma mater by creating an Amherst-themed superhero for the June Annual Fund appeal. At Amherst, Simonson studied geology, and his interest in the sciences is still evident in his signature, which resembles a distorted brontosaurus.

Simonson’s work on Thor is legendary in the comic world, and with the May release of the film version, the accomplished artist is finally receiving a wider audience. During the mid-1980s, Simonson took nearly complete control of the storyline as both writer and artist. Although he did not create the title character, his time on the story saw a revival of Thor’s popularity as he introduced major new characters and plot twists. Earlier this year, Marvel published a complete hardcover collection of Simonson’s editions of Thor with newly colored artwork by Steve Oliff, an award-winning colorist in the comic book world who also generously donated his time and talent to Amherst in partnership with Simonson.

 

“Working on Thor was one of the highlights of my career and I am happy the character found a new audience in the recent film,” said Simonson. “In comics, there’s a creative freedom and an independence rarely found in other media. And I love the complexities of the job. You get to draw pictures in which you mold compositions, design characters, create landscapes, build cities, solve perspectives, forge weaponry, meld lettering and type with art, and fuse it all together into a story by playing with time and space. I haven’t found that sort of challenge anywhere else.”

 

Simonson has received multiple Shazam Awards, including recognitions for Best New Talent and Best Individual Short Story, and in 2010 he received the Hero Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Simonson isn’t the only famous artist to contribute artwork to Amherst’s Annual Fund. FoxTrot artist Bill Amend ’84 lent Quincy, the strip’s iconic iguana, and Peter Fox’s Amherst cap to the 2009 fund drive

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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

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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).

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“Many Different Kinds of Strangeness”

By Katherine Duke '05

Photo by Jessica Mestre '10

Have Americans ever struck you as strange? Have you ever wondered about Americans’ obsession with sports like NASCAR, “football” or baseball? Did you grow up without American TV shows? Do you find it strange how Americans are constantly interrupting one another? Or asking “How are you?” and not waiting for an answer?

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Students from the "Strange Americans" Interterm course attended the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Amherst Regional Middle School on Jan. 16. Instructor Ryan Milov '10 is on the far right.

So begins the description of the new Interterm course “Strange Americans: Exploring American Culture in the Pioneer Valley.”

“There are so many different kinds of Americans that it seems to be impossible to locate one and say ‘This is the representative American,’” said the course’s instructor, Ryan Milov ’10. “So when we talk about the strangeness of Americans, we’re really going to have to talk about many different kinds of strangeness.”

Milov, who works on campus as area coordinator of the first-year experience, developed the course, in conjunction with Dean of First-Year Students and Professor of Chemistry Pat O’Hara, in order to give international students an opportunity to explore and discuss the aspects of American culture and behavior that they find puzzling and challenging.

At the class meeting in Porter Lounge on Jan. 13, Milov and the students reviewed some of the oddities that they had already begun to address—for example, the rules and rites of American football. “We decided we’re going to have a Super Bowl party,” Milov told me, “where we participate in the ritual of purchasing and consuming lots of fatty foods and watching either the game or the commercials.”

The class had talked about different styles of eye-contact, and each person had practiced whichever style was the least comfortable for him or her. The student from Myanmar had found that averting his eyes while he spoke to people made him feel “unsafe,” while one of the two students from Japan felt that looking directly into people’s eyes was “stressful.” Americans seem to exhibit a wide range of eye-contact behaviors (though I was reminded of a trendy Amherst T-shirt from a few years ago that read, on the front, AWKWARD, and on the back, AVOIDING EYE-CONTACT SINCE 1821).

The Japanese student had, during the previous class meeting, described an incident in which a devoutly Christian American student had told her she would go to hell for being an atheist. She had known about religion before, she said, but not about religious people. (A few days later, to give them some historical insight into the tensions that have arisen between religious and secular worldviews in the United States, especially in the South, Milov showed some students Inherit the Wind, the 1960 film fictionalization of the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial,” in which a science teacher was charged with breaking a Tennessee law when he taught Darwin’s theory of evolution rather than the biblical account of Creation.)

The class then discussed the first of their several planned “excursions”: the previous day, the students had gone to Rao’s coffee shop in the Town of Amherst to practice striking up, and keeping up, conversations with Americans. The Burmese student found it odd that, in 20 minutes of conversation, the two strangers he spoke with didn’t ask him anything about his home country. The student from Singapore said he was very conscious of his own facial expressions—he was genuinely interested in what his interlocutor was saying, but he was trying extra-hard to show his interest. (Later, the class came to a general agreement that Americans tend to be quite animated and explicit in our expressions and gestures; we’re “easy to read.”) The excursion was interesting but exhausting even for the American student in the class—she and a second Japanese student spoke with two strangers for nearly half an hour with (she timed it) no more than 3 consecutive seconds of silence at any time.

The first Japanese student brought up an interesting article she had read contrasting communication styles in the United States and Japan. “The communication American people usually have is like the tennis: you have to hit the ball, and the other person has to hit the same ball back,” she said. “But the communications we usually have back home is like a [game of] bowling: you have to wait until that person finishes his or her talk, and then the next person goes.”

Milov loved this metaphor; he began thinking about why he, an American, feels the need to “play tennis” in conversation. “Let’s say you told me a story about how, yesterday, you went out and you ran into a flock of wild turkeys, and had a brief conversation with their leader, and then returned home,” he said. “If I didn’t ‘hit the ball back’ and say, ‘Oh, what color was the turkey’s head that was the leader?’ then I would worry that you were going to think that I wasn’t listening.”

“One of the characteristics of tennis-style conversation is that you have to keep going—even if you’re not interested, even if neither of you are interested, you have to keep going till the end,” the Japanese student added. “And sometimes you can play doubles, so someone [else] just jumps in.” (This might be where that whole “constantly interrupting one another” stereotype comes from.)

“That’s so true!” Milov laughed (interrupting her).

But, the Japanese student said, if she doesn’t have time to be silent and think about what she really wants to say next—if she must always rush to “hit the ball back”—the conversation often feels superficial.

Milov reminded everyone that deep conversations and close relationships are tricky and rare for everyone, including Americans, and that “the responsibility for all relationships is shared.” He encouraged the students to speak up to their friends about what ways of interacting feel most comfortable for them, and to consider the possibility that what might come across as awkwardness, indifference or superficiality in a person might actually just be a different communication style.

The question arose: Do Americans expect international students to assimilate—to learn to “act American”?

People’s expectations vary, Milov said. But he pointed out that one of the things that attracts many American students to Amherst is the chance to get to know classmates from different countries and cultures—and he reminded the international students to remember why they themselves had decided to travel to this country for college. American and international students alike, he said, crave closer, less awkward relationships with each other. He suggested various strategies for reaching out and establishing friendships with Americans, such as “tagging along” with other students as they walk from class to class, or inviting a small group of classmates to a TYPO dinner.   

In preparation for their next excursion—to the Martin Luther King Day community celebration at Amherst Regional Middle School on Jan. 16—Milov closed the class meeting by reading the students King’s renowned “I Have a Dream” speech. As he read, the parts of the speech that struck me most were the references to school integration—to the dream of young people from all backgrounds coming together to learn with, and learn from, one another.

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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.

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His Girl

Submitted by Emily G. Boutilier on Tuesday, 12/14/2010, at 3:53 PM

Because I could not stop for Death--

He kindly stopped for me--

The carriage held but just ourselves--

And Immortality.

I don’t remember when I first read those lines, but I won’t soon forget when I first heard them put to music—to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” no less. What genius thought to sing an Emily Dickinson poem? Apparently, English majors everywhere have been doing it for years, but the phenomenon somehow passed me by—I majored in history—until last week, when Garrison Keillor came to campus and crooned, “Because I could not stop for Death.”

Keillor

Best known as host of the Minnesota Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor heard last year that the plaster ceiling in the parlor of Dickinson’s house—which is part of the college-owned Emily Dickinson Museum on Main Street in Amherst—had collapsed. He asked how he could help, and his Dec. 9, 2010, benefit performance in Johnson Chapel was the answer. I was in the crowd, covering the talk for the next issue of Amherst magazine.

In addition to singing to a full house, Keillor ruminated on “the most famous shy person in America.” He read from her letters and poems, recited his own parodies (“Because I could not stop my bike, I ran into a tree...”) and offered his take on her well-known reclusiveness, which he described as “simply letting go of the scaffolding, of things she didn’t need anymore.” He related his own childhood in Minnesota to Dickinson’s in 19th-century Amherst, finding similarities between a Christian revival meeting he once attended and those Dickinson would have encountered at Mount Holyoke. He spoke of the poet’s religious crisis—“She cannot walk a line she doesn’t believe”—as “a great engine pushing her in her life.”

Keillor crowd

“She is so close that we expect her to somehow justify her life and the choices she made,” he said of the poet—to explain why she wore white, why she stayed inside, why she’d stand at the top of her staircase and eavesdrop on conversations down below.

He closed by leading the audience in two songs: the 1964 Temptations hit “My Girl,” and, since the occasion celebrated the 180th anniversary of the poet’s birth, “Happy Birthday.” The crowd in Johnson Chapel sang willingly and with passion.

Emily Gold Boutilier is the editor of Amherst magazine.

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