Sabrina Thomas, Associate Professor and David A. Moore Chair in American History, recently won the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Summer Stipend Award. The award provides two months of summer support for her project The Soul of Blood and Borders, a book on African American responses to biracial children born in the wake of World War II and the Vietnam War.
“I think that it’s an excellent opportunity for Wabash to get on the national map to be recognized by this national grant,” Thomas said. “I’m excited that it’s my work, but more importantly, I’m glad to see that Wabash is able to get some national publicity.”
She said the book looks at the ways in which war intersects with society in personal ways.
“It looks at the effects that war has on real people’s lives,” Thomas said. “One of the most important effects is the birth of children. It’s my assumption that what I’m going to find is that the ways the Black community responded to these kids was really reflective of American race relations at the time. I think it’s really important and relevant to get the voices of the Black community into this story.”
In the last five years, the program received an average of 827 applications and made an average of 81 awards annually.
When I looked at my class syllabus last January, it didn’t have a disclaimer saying, “Prepare yourself for a deadly, life-changing pandemic in the spring.”
But when COVID-19 struck our country, it struck dangerously fast. Travel bans had to be quickly implemented, schools needed to be shut down, and businesses needed to adjust to new work flows. There was no time for planning.
When Wabash’s classes moved online, the structure of learning changed and art majors found themselves wondering, “How are we going to make art at home?”
We faced many obstacles and our professors did a great job with being flexible, communicating, and executing modified plans for the remainder of the semester. However, what they did a great job expressing the importance of art during a time like this.
Art forever will be important to our society. People appreciate art in different ways — whether it’s music, dance, poetry, drawings, videos, paintings, sculptures, or even graffiti. Art has no barriers, and continues to be a medium to express feelings, thoughts, and experiences.
I had an abundance of emotions circling through me during the at-home quarantine and transition back to in-person learning. But mostly, I felt stuck. It felt like I had all the time in the world, yet had no clue where my time went. It felt like I had no control, and I like to be in control.
Art Professors Annie Strader and Matt Weedman encouraged us to channel our emotions and use it as fuel to produce art – to stop thinking so much and start doing. They knew there was so much potential that could not go to waste, and they got it out of us.
Creating art gives me the space to reflect on any thought, feeling, or experience — whether it be the frustrations from COVID-19, or my obsession over a certain genre of music — it allows me to create something that shows a piece of who I am. I create because it’s exciting and it relieves me of any weight that I may be carrying. To me, it’s a form of self-therapy. I get to speak to and better understand myself, which ultimately leads to me effectively create artwork that articulates my ideas.
I now understand myself in a way that I could not have prior to COVID and better yet, I am able to express myself in a unique way that is me. I discovered that visualizing my emotions not only conveys them, but also releases them. This mentality will endure far beyond graduation, as I continue to work on myself and my art.
“Don’t let your desire to be known as a good guy in front of others get in the way of taking part in the bigger conversation.”
Liz Plank, For the Love of Men
Why do I think the way I do?
Why do I act the way I do?
Why do I hold certain beliefs?
What do I believe about myself?
Those are some of the questions award-winning journalist and author Liz Plank told the students in Wabash Professor of Rhetoric Jennifer Abbott’s Gender 101 class to ask themselves on a frequent basis.
“And then ask yourself, how do these things help you?” Plank said. “Sometimes, our thoughts are actually reverberations of what we’ve been told—by parents, caretakers, friends, and even society. But it’s important to be able to disconnect from the thoughts of others in order to see who you really are.”
Plank was virtually brought to Wabash as part of the President’s Distinguished Speaker Series. The above exercise, which she calls “mindful masculinity,” is a large focus of her recent book, For the Love of Men.
Plank describes mindful masculinity as a way for men to get in touch with the intentions behind their thoughts and actions. By encouraging them to look inward, they align themselves with their best selves—with the ways that make them good men—instead of the selves that are shaped by society and the thoughts of others regarding what it means to be a man.
“The result is that men become aware of the reasons they do the things they do,” she explained. “Intentional masculinity is the cure for toxic masculinity.”
It’s not an easy exercise. In fact, there’s a lot of discomfort that comes from the process.
But recognizing that discomfort, she said, is vital to understanding sexism and its impacts.
“It’s not easy to change the way you’ve been socialized,” Plank said. “Men don’t need to feel like they’re perfect in order to be part of this (feminist) movement. That discomfort is not a sign that you’re at the wrong place; it’s a sign you’re at the right place.”
But where can men start?
As Andrew Freck ’21 asked Plank, “How does mindful masculinity become externalized?”
One of the first steps is acknowledging the systemic problem, she answered. Then acknowledge that there are things you might not know about or fully understand.
“Don’t let your desire to be known as a good guy in front of others get in the way of taking part in the bigger conversation,” she said.
“We have all grown up in a patriarchal society with sexist tendencies,” she continued. “Acknowledge it, exhale, and ask, ‘So what I can I do to change it?’”
That includes having deliberate friendships with people who are different from themselves, which, Plank said, is one of the best and most satisfying parts of being an activist.
She also encouraged students to become comrades as well as an allies.
A male ally of the feminist movement might share with women how terrible sexism is, a comrade will address it with other men.
“It might feel scary. It might be really hard. And it will probably be uncomfortable,” Plank said. “But that’s where impact happens.”
Last semester, Wabash’s Advancement Office received an unexpected letter from a woman in Hamilton, Montana. It was addressed to “whomever can help” and contained photos of a 1970 class ring.
“I have a class ring from your College, ‘Class of 70,’” the note from Delores Meuchel stated. “The initials G.A.J. are engraved on the inside … I would like to return it to the owner.”
Aaron Selby ’06, director of annual giving and advancement services, got to work and began tracking down the ring’s owner. He examined the attached photos and noticed Delta Tau Delta’s letters featured. From there, Selby used the Wabash Alumni Directory to look up members of the Class of 1970 who had those initials and were brothers of the fraternity.
“This search quickly identified one person and I reached out to Gregory A. Jackson of Helena, Montana, to see if this was his ring,” Selby recalled. “After talking with Greg by phone, he informed me that he believed this was his class ring and was amazed.”
Jackson’s ring had been missing for 28 years.
“Anytime I would open a box or go through things again, I would look to see if I might somehow find it, but it never surfaced,” Jackson said of the ring, which went missing after a separation and move. “It has a special meaning to me and I was heartbroken when it disappeared.
“Over the years I always held out the hope that maybe it would show up.”
And it’s a good thing Jackson never lost that hope.
Selby put Jackson in contact with Meuchel, who lived about 150 miles away.
Meuchel told Jackson that she had purchased a “box of junk” from a garage sale in Elliston, Montana, about 20 miles from Helena. The box was full of aluminum cans, pull tabs and a ring.
“She was mildly intrigued and put it in a jewelry box where it sat for a couple of years,” Jackson said. “She was going through the jewelry box fairly recently and thought maybe she could see who the ring belonged to.”
The ring was eventually mailed and returned back to Jackson around Thanksgiving.
“It’s crazy to think that my ring made a journey around the state of Montana and back to me after all this time,” the Wabash alumnus said.
Jackson, who works as an attorney, said he’s thankful for Meuchel taking the time to track him down and for the College officials who helped facilitate the reunion.
“Graduating from Wabash is a big deal,” Jackson said. “To have that piece of my life back is just absolutely phenomenal. I can’t express enough appreciation.”
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
Malcolm X, 1962
Can you have an elephant in a Zoom room?
On Sept. 23, students in BKT Assistant Professor of History Sabrina Thomas’ class, “Malcolm, Martin, and Mandela,” were in a virtual class discussion with Clint Smith, critically-acclaimed poet and writer for The Atlantic.
It’s 12:15 p.m.
Introductions are made, and the conversation begins. But Smith and many of the students were anxiously waiting for 1:15 p.m.
“In one hour, we’re going to find out what the grand jury decided in regards to Breonna Taylor,” Smith said. “But none of what’s happening right now is new.”
It’s 12:20 p.m.
Smith explains that the narrative surrounding the relationship between the police and Black Americans—between the entire criminal legal system and Black Americans—is something both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X spoke about in the 1950s and 1960s.
Among the most horrific things said to Black Americans back then, Smith said, were statements like:
This is your fault.
If you were just this kind of person…
If you just behaved this way…
“For Martin and Malcolm, even though they had fundamentally different dispositions, different approaches, and very different journeys, they both understood the danger of egregious claims like that.”
It’s 12:50 p.m.
Smith mentions that slavery was abolished in 1865—less than 200 years ago. The math is right, but it seems impossible. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, it hadn’t even been 100 years since African Americans’ ancestors were enslaved—not even two generations.
Apartheid in South Africa began in 1948, and negotiations to end the discriminatory system didn’t begin until the late 1990s. Nelson Mandela became president in 1994—only 26 years ago.
“So many of the stories we tell ourselves happened a long time ago, weren’t that long ago,” Smith said.
One of the internal conflicts students share that they’re facing is figuring out where they fit—are they more like Malcolm, Martin or Mandela?
Smith said he felt that same conflict when he was beginning to read their work and understand their philosophies. Then he realized he didn’t have to choose.
“It ends up being an overly-simplistic, binary conception of who these men were. I think you can say, ‘I appreciate this about what Martin was saying, this about what Malcolm was saying, and this about what Mandela was saying.’
“What I appreciate about all three of them is their immense and remarkable capacity for growth and evolution. More than anything, those are the lessons I carry from them. None of us should be static in our understanding of the world or how we engage with the world.”
It’s 1:05 p.m.
Smith shares that he was in his first week of graduate school at Harvard University when Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. That incident, he said, changed his entire postgraduate experience.
“I started teaching and working in prisons,” Smith said. “All of the classes I took were to give me more language to better understand what I was seeing. I mean, much like what you guys are doing now. These classes, these books, these thinkers you are learning from are giving you a language to help you make sense of everything happening around you.”
It’s 1:10 p.m.
The conversation with Smith is over, but the class will reconvene in 10 minutes to debrief.
It’s 1:15 p.m.
A Jefferson County Circuit Judge reads the decision from the grand jury. One officer is indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment, but no officers faced charges related to Taylor’s death.
Among the social media posts of heartbreak and outrage are comments that seem far too familiar.
What did you expect?
This is what happens when…
If only she hadn’t…
It’s 1:25 p.m.
Nothing specific about Breonna Taylor is spoken, but they know. The questions come quickly: How do we get people to understand? How do we talk about racism with people who may not agree with what we’re saying?
“History is still present,” one student said. “Maybe I should describe how certain things from the past still have influence today. Maybe that will make the past not seem so distant.”
“Knowledge is power,” another said. “He (Smith) made me think about small things I could be doing. Am I encouraging my friends back home to vote? And when conversations do happen, I really want to stop and ask myself if I understand what they’re saying. If I do, then I want to respond with facts. I want to be able to respond without seeming like I’m jumping on them. A lot of people don’t want to feel horrible about themselves, and I just want to educate them and share the knowledge that I have.”
It’s 3 p.m.
Smith writes on Twitter: “For people who knew Breonna personally, it must feel like a double helix of grief. Mourning the small moments of love that have been stripped away from you and a recognition that what happened to Breonna is part of a much broader structural problem in our social and political systems. This is the grief that so many Black Americans experience in moments like these. The mourning of a person that we’ve lost … and the mourning over a system that allows these deaths to keep happening.”
Richard Paige — It was fitting that on a day where the Indianapolis Association of Wabash Men hosted its Leadership Breakfast with a presentation that spotlighted effective leadership of K-12 education in a changing world, most of the audience was there to honor a teacher.
As the IAWM bestowed its Man of the Year award Thursday on Dr. David Blix ’70, one of Wabash’s most beloved teachers used the words of a classmate – and perhaps the College’s most revered teacher – to pinpoint his thoughts.
“When I started teaching at Wabash I was filled with great anxiety about what to do and how to proceed
Associate Professor of Religion David Blix ’70.
and I got some advice from my friend and colleague Bill Placher ’70,” Blix started. “Bill said to me one day, ‘if you can come to love the minds of our students, then you will be able to be a teacher.’
“I took that to heart, and I’d like to think that over the years I have been able to do that.”
Marcus Manges ’10, Regional President of Accelerent, agreed with the sentiment as he presented Blix with the award. “Professor Blix is always imparting wisdom for life and cares deeply for his students, both current and former. In my mind, you could give this award to him every single year.”
Unfortunately, the Associate Professor of Religion’s remarks were brief. He had to hustle back to campus to teach.
Blix was among an impressive group of speakers, including Dr. Katie Jenner, Indiana Secretary of Education; Jim Williams ’88, Muncie Community Schools School Board President; and Scott Bess, Head of School, Purdue Polytechnic High School.
Featured speakers at the Indiana Association of Wabash Men 2021 Leadership Breakfast were (from left) Jenner, Williams, and Bess.
Richard Paige — Lengthy term papers can have the feel of Sisyphus trying to move a boulder uphill, especially in the spring when attentions naturally drift to the end of the academic year.
What’s a professor to do when planning a seminar class for five seniors all with different academic paths to this capstone?
After consulting with colleagues about what could be possible, Associate Professor of Classics and Department Chair Bronwen Wickkiser decided the seminar would focus on healing offered by Asklepios, a god worshipped for more than a thousand years and whose sanctuaries were present in both the Greek and Roman worlds.
Beginning in January, the students – Austin Chivington, Charlie Esterline, Billy Johnson, Ben Klimczak, and Nikko Morris – began discussing what was possible. In addition to talking about what was listed on the syllabus, the group carved out 20 minutes each session to identify and plan for an audience.
In a nod to the current pandemic, a focus on healthcare could satisfy interests of culture and geography, and, certainly, timeliness.
“As classics students, we know that plagues have come and gone and that ancient civilizations had their own health and healing cultures,” said Chivington. “Studying how the ancients thought about healing and health could offer for us some lessons about how we can think about this public health crisis, as well as what healing could look like for our own communities in a holistic way.”
Wickkiser’s charge was for the students to make this their own.
“The students had to be the drivers behind the project: the visionaries, the designers, the organizers, negotiators, and presenters,” she said. “I wanted the students to take their knowledge beyond the walls of Wabash.”
With an assist to Morris, who completed his student teaching in the seventh grade at Crawfordsville Middle School, the group was invited to visit sixth grade social studies classes in late April.
Next came the hard part: finding common ground between the college seniors and 12-year-olds. Fortunately, there were a few symbols in use today that bridged the gap.
“Asklepios’ staff and serpent is on EMT vehicles, hospital logos, the World Health Organization’s logo, and many more,” explained Esterline. “We wanted to demonstrate to the students that these symbols are already in our everyday life, we needed provide the context on where they came from.”
The middle schoolers were given plenty of opportunity to participate, whether it be finding a place on a map or reading a healing account from a slide. Every student was given an ancient name, hometown, and ailment for which they sought help from Asklepios. In class, they “visited” a sanctuary to see how they would have been healed.
This allowed for plenty of feedback from the students, mostly in the form of questions.
“Taking college level material and explaining it to younger students can be a challenge, so breaking it down into language they understand was essential,” Johnson said. “These students really impressed me with their understanding of the material in the short time we had to teach them as well as how much they seemed to enjoy and engage with the material presented to them.”
Johnson was quick to credit Morris with driving the classroom management portion of the presentation. His own in-class experience allowed for the Classicists to create an environment where questions flowed freely without getting too far off topic.
Morris took value in teaching both groups.
“The experience of getting to teach my fellow classicists how to communicate college level material to sixth-grade classrooms was fun to do,” he said, “because it’s much different than doing a presentation to fellow college students. It’s visible to students when you really enjoy the content. Students are inclined to have more fun because of educator interest and excitement.
That sentiment was shared by his classmates, too.
“Our passion for the study of the ancient world is something we rarely can share outside our classical troupe,” Chivington said. “Being able to share this passion with others and passing that excitement on, especially with a topic like this at such a challenging time, was the ideal avenue for our capstone.”
Richard Paige — Words seem to come easy to Clint Smith, especially when he finds his rhythm and words simply flow. That cadence produces an easy connection between speaker and listener, one that serves both well as the poet, historian, and journalist gives voice to a story that screams to be heard.
Smith made a virtual visit to campus Wednesday night as part of the President’s Distinguished Speaker Series, delivering a compelling hour-long talk – “Why Black Lives Matter” – and Q&A session for those assembled on Zoom.
Poet, historian, and journalist Clint Smith.
He mentioned early on that poems are an entry point to conversation, and used four of his poems to establish a message and open a dialogue. The key point, perhaps, echoed in the words from his poem, “How to Raise a Black Son in America.”
“When we say that Black lives matter, it’s not because others don’t. It’s simply because we must affirm that our lives are worthy of existing without fear when so many things tell us that we are not.”
Much of the conversation was rooted in American history – all 400 years of it –and driven home by this thought. “We are the annoying pre-teen of the world,” he said.
The imagery of his poetry, thoughtful and clear, force us to lean into the messiness, as he suggested, of the contradictions of the American experience. Whether it be a poem addressed to five of the U.S. presidents who owned slaves, musings on the New Deal, or thoughts on reconciling slavery served as an affirmation that Black lives, indeed, matter.
His thoughts of access and how his poetry can serve as an equalizer were intriguing. He claimed that his idea of fun was reading a 700-page book with a bag of hot Cheetos at his side. Others might not have that luxury, so he explained, “I’m always thinking ‘can I turn this into a poem?’ to capture the essence” of the book for someone who might not have the means to tackle it.
He admitted to being a disillusioned English major as a freshman, where the works of poets like Keats, and Yeats, Frost and Whitman didn’t resonate.
On an internship in New York City, he had an epiphany, discovering the Nuyorican Poets Café, a small and legendary spot on the lower east side of Manhattan that completely changed his understanding of what poetry could be. To hear him describe the people behind the mic that night – young, black, brown, disabled, and queer – offered a world different than what was presented to him on campus in North Carolina.
“I put all of the pressure of what literature was or all of the pressure of what poetry had to be on to these texts,” he started. “I left that night thinking, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I want to do it.’”
He returned from NYC and wrote “many bad poems for many years.” But he threw himself into those words through poetry slams, open mics, and readings, and soon discovered an ability to return to Keats and Yeats and Frost and Whitman with a different appreciation. There wasn’t pressure. Smith could respect the work for what it is.
“Poetry gave me a different entry point into literature that I hadn’t had before,” he says. “Poetry isn’t a bunch of dead white guys, it’s a robust, dynamic space that young people of color are very much a part.”
He implored students to read as much as possible. “Your job is to read books and discuss them and to think about them,” he says. “Read as much as you can. Find people, build community.”
Smith’s story is a liberal arts story, one that isn’t dissimilar to those found at Wabash.
Richard Paige — I’ve wrestled for a while with the idea of properly recognizing the 2020 senior art majors.
At the time of the semester where each of these eight guys – Cameron Coates, Marlon Lewis, Devan Luckey, Zach McMann, David Ortega, Bill Polen, Jonathon Stephens, and John Wallace – was most likely gearing up for that final creative push to an exhibition that traditionally opens in mid-April, the COVID-19 pandemic reached our campus and made the real virtual.
To think about the normal disruptions most of us faced was enough, but what about this group? Not only were they trying to finish academic careers, but also preparing for the first large and public display of their work.
Your first gallery show is a memorable one. Those stark white walls are often as inspirational as they are intimidating, and kudos to this group for the perseverance and resiliency to finish their collections under unanticipated circumstances. All did so away from campus.
“I have great empathy for our students and this unprecedented situation they experienced this past spring,” said Annie Strader, Associate Professor of Art. “Their show was just three weeks away when we went virtual. Most of the actual work was close to finished, but those last few weeks are critical when finalizing the work.”
The first words I saw from an artist in this group were from Lewis. “Still total trash” is what he wrote. Honestly, I wasn’t supposed to see the words that were struck through in an editing bubble as he tried to find the right phrase for his artist statement.
Then it hits me as I see the exchanges back and forth while he tried ideas and asked a lot of questions of himself. It couldn’t have been easy to answer those questions when so much chaos swirled outside of their newfound work spaces.
“Artists are adaptable,” said Strader, “and creative problem solving is part of our curriculum. Our students did adapt and demonstrated outstanding resilience and patience during what was undoubtedly a tough time to pivot to new and unexpected ways of working. Navigating such tricky terrain, (fellow art professor) Dr. Weedman and I have continued to work with the students for the last few months to prepare for a physical exhibit and the expected celebration of their work.”
We keep our fingers crossed that at some point this Fall the 2020 Senior Art Exhibition can open for the entire campus to enjoy. Until then, here is a quick look at each art major, a snippet of their artist statement, and a thumbnail of their work.
Cameron Coates: Rust embodies the passage of time and the toll of nature. I use macrophotography to capture how rust transforms otherwise common, mundane objects into fields of captivatingly rich colors and textures. I use the lens of my camera to magnify the way man made materials are completely taken over by nature as they fade into neglect. I look for a focus that might relate to a human, animal, face, or relatable object. The intent is to find aesthetic minutiae that go unnoticed.
Marlon Lewis: I work with environments to challenge the perception of the realities being witnessed and referenced. I create experiences. I create environment. I create art. I have two desires whose roots I can trace to my earliest memories. The first seeks the knowledge and understanding of this world. The second is to aid a clearer understanding about what is discoverable and possible. My interest in Bronze is its relationship to the earth and nature as in an inorganic material. My interest in dried orange peels are their organic nature. My interest in 3-D prints is the maker capabilities the machine grants to each owner almost immediately.
Devan Luckey: I enjoy making things with my own hands. Things that have a form in the 3-dimensional world are more interesting for me to create than those limited to two dimensions. Right now, I make hands. It’s developed into an obsession. It stems from the idea that hands are, in some way, the embodiment of what we do. Many of our activities are carried out by our hands, both the good and the bad, whether it is healing or stealing, fixing or destroying, hands are at the forefront of our actions.
Zach McMann: Dreams are a way to access the subconscious mind and communicate with it. The succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that our minds conjure during sleep have complex meanings that I record and use to create my work. This photo series explores my anxieties and how they manifest in dreams and the subconscious. As I was avoiding the ghostly figure, I tried to understand who it was I was avoiding. Although I could not figure out who, I realized that I was running away from something, not someone. Something like the anxiety I had from school, work, and my own pressure to be better.
David Ortega: My work uses and disrupts symbols and signs to question the ways they can be used to disguise and mask emotions. In photographs I use paper bags painted with self-created symbols to evoke the tension and the mechanicalness that societal expectations/norms impose. Specific color pallets and symbols are selected to communicate emotions without relying on facial or verbal cues. I urge an anxiety to develop within the color schemes that will translate into the viewers subconscious. The implicit reactions to the different color schemes are more important than understanding the images’ message.
Bill Polen: I use the camera to capture the world’s underlying psychological phenomena through my eyes. More specifically, I use the camera to investigate conformity. I believe that new approaches, such as this piece, must be used in order to create perception that could lead to a better understanding of why we do the things we do as a society. I think of my artwork as an experiment. I choose to take my photographs in high traffic areas where I know people will be present in order to participate in my investigation; areas such as workout centers, cafeterias, and fraternities.
Jonathon Stephens: I like to make things with my hands because it’s like meditation for me. I’m able to take time out of my day and stop thinking about everything that is going on and just create and block all of that out. Making something you pictured in your head, creating it from the ground up with your hands, is nothing like any other subject or field of study or work. There’s no other field that you can do what you want, and not be wrong or mess something up. Art is whatever you can imagine and execute.
John Wallace: I collect knick-knacks and old household objects. The objects intuitively interest me and exude inspiration for artistic ideas. Once I bring them to the studio, it is not until I begin manipulating and arranging these found objects that I find their purpose and place in my work. The creation of these wooden structures always begins with a loose concept of what I wish to build, building the structure I have in mind with new or scrap wood immediately at my disposal, and accepting the errors I make along the way. This process is based in my acceptance of chance errors and successes as being integral parts of the final product.
Richard Paige — Much of this semester has been about adjustments, and through those adjustments the virtual becomes real.
Like a handful of other classes, Michele Pittard’s EDU330 Urban Education class was supposed to include an immersion component. In May, the group had Memphis, Tennessee, as a destination to bring a semester’s worth of lessons to life.
Instead, Pittard altered the syllabus on the fly and has scheduled virtual meetings with nearly as many people as the students were supposed to meet on their trip. She now refers to this section of the class as “Virtual Memphis.”
If the class can’t go to Memphis, Pittard is bringing Memphis to the class.
The first guest was Daniel Connolly, an award-winning reporter for the Commercial Appeal, Memphis’ daily newspaper. Connolly spent five years chronicling the story of Isaias Ramos, a high-achieving Memphis teenager and an undocumented immigrant, in a book he wrote entitled, “The Book of Isaias: A Child of Hispanic Immigrants Seeks His Own America.”
The text was a key part of recent discussions and served as a bridge to where the class was headed.
“Daniel kicked it off in a very nice way,” Pittard said. “To be able to bring people to the students in this way is huge.”
Pittard and Connolly led the students on a discussion that touched on immigration and education policies, student resources, socioeconomics, and the benefits of building strong relationships with students.
“It’s important for future teachers to understand that dynamic and to understand, too, that they can play a real role in guiding students from different backgrounds to a good educational outcome,” Connolly said. “It’s very important to have that relationship with kids.”
With the book fresh in their minds, there was plenty of back-and-forth between professor, reporter, and the nine students about the subject matter, including talk of identity and barriers.
“Identity can fuel a desire for success, especially the kids in the book who go to college,” wrote Nikko Morris ’21 in the class chat. “To be able to say they are college-educated Mexican immigrants in the U.S. for some people can be a powerful statement to make.”
While this class is essential to the understanding of the complexities facing urban schools, the impact of a missed immersion trip looms large. “It takes out the guts of the class, which is disappointing,” said Pittard, “but to bring people like Daniel in helps put the meat back on the bones of the class. I’m just delighted that we could start this.”