Lake Encourages Non-conformity

Dr. Timothy Lake, Director of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies delivered his Chapel Talk Thursday titled “Die Niggers: the High Price of a Wabash Education.” Click here to listen to the podcast.

In his talk he spoke of many men and women in Wabash College’s past who are continuing to “bear fruit even as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.”

Lake quoted a speech given by Dean Shearer to the graduating seniors in 1969 in which he said, “Wabash College must not take a position partisan at all when it comes to matters of social import. Instead it must seek to make room for the various and varying points of view. To pursue their dreams, those people from different backgrounds and those people with different aspirations should find home here at Wabash.”

Lake continued, “Non-conformity, in Shearer’s definition, meant having those people in your midst who you absolutely disagree with – that’s diversity – made real because it expand us, it† challenges us to push beyond the niceties of tolerance, forbearance, and exceptance.”

In reference to a recent racial incident on campus, Lake spoke to the two victims pledging his support for the men regardless of whether they choose to remain at Wabash. However, he encouraged them not to leave out of fear.

“The solution to fear, the solution to those who threaten you is resistance,” Lake said. “We must resist, Wabash.”

Two Graduates Working for Hillary

WEST LAFAYETTE – Howard W. Hewitt -Brock Johnson ’07 was scrambling Friday afternoon to find a suitable location in Lafayette for a Monday Hillary Clinton campaign event. See photo album from Monday night’s rally here.

Johnson has worked for the Clinton Campaign since the Iowa caucuses. Monday’s event featured former President Bill Clinton. Johnson doesn’t normally do advance work for the President, but took on the assignment this past weekend so he could visit his family near Edinburgh for Easter.

That’s the chaotic and hectic lifestyle Johnson and Elliott Vice ’06 have embraced during this unusually long and competitive Democratic presidential primary campaign. Vice works as a field representative organizing and assisting turn-out-the-vote efforts form state to state. He ran off a long list of states as he crisscrossed the nation since joining Hillary’s campaign a year ago.

Nearly 2,000 people jammed West Lafayette High School’s gymnasium Monday night to hear President Clinton give what must be a standard campaign speech. He entered to a roar from the crowd and to Dolly Parton’s “Working 9 to 5.” It was Clinton’s fifth speech of the day in the Hoosier state in advance of the May 6 primary.

Johnson works as a member of the advance team for Hillary. He helps with details and arrangements for campaign events and assists handling the substantial press contingent at each event.

The audience was full of area Democratic officials, plenty of young people and senior citizens. For many it was clearly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a U.S. President

There was a strong Wabash contingent in the crowd as well. An informal count totaled about 12 recognizable student faces. Some helped work the campaign event while others were just there to see Bill.

The fall issue of Wabash Magazine will feature Wabash men in politics. We have at least three graduates we’ll be visiting who are working in the national race. Jeremy Bird ‘00 is a field director for Barack Obama. He currently is leading those efforts in Pennsylvania.

In photos: Top right, johnson stops to visit briefly before the crowd swarms the gym. Bottom left, Vice talks with a security official. Photos by Clayton Craig ’08

“I See Myself at Their Age”

Steve Charles—Chad Westphal huddles over a coffee table in the Nicholson Elementary School Community Room with a half-dozen students. All are much younger than those he teaches at the College. They stare intently at a sheet of paper on the table—Westphal’s first draft of a design for a new skateboard park for Crawfordsville.

“I want this to be a park where every piece is used often,” the Wabash mathematics professor tells the boys. “I need you to look at this carefully, tell me what works, what doesn’t, and what’s missing.”

It takes a while for the young skateboarders find their voices. Their sport is officially banned in downtown Crawfordsville and is seen as a nuisance by some business owners. Like any marginalized group, they’re slow to speak up.

But Chad persists, and a conversation builds. Ideas, critiques, laughter. They are still talking intently when I have to leave the meeting for another assignment.

“It was good to hear their feedback on the design, and their ideas about how they can get involved,” Chad tells me the next day. “This project will happen when they get involved and we force it to be a priority.

Chad, and many others in Crawfordsville, believe it should be a priority.

“What if there wasn’t a single basketball goal in this whole town? How soon would we get one put up?” Chad asks. “If skaters are seen as antisocial and destructive, it’s probably because we’ve given them no opportunities otherwise.”

Westphal and the teachers and parents involved in the “Building a Healthy Future” project are determined to give them opportunities. The Tuesday night meeting offered an update on the project. Supporters have raised $80,000 of the $350,000 to build the skateboard park and install family-friendly playground equipment at the city’s Milligan Park.

“We want to make Milligan Park more of a family hub, to meet the community’s needs,” says Nicholson Elementary School Principal and project booster Karen Cushman. She’s been working on the skateboard park/playground project for years. Tonight she tells the skaters that it’s time for them make it their own—to get the design they want, to come up with ideas for fund raisers and presentations to city leaders and those who could provide additional money.

Westphal underlines Cushman’s comments with a story. At a mathematics conference in Portland, Oregon earlier in the month, he took time out to visit the Burnside Skateboard Park. Originally built by skaters tired of waiting for government and foundations to fund the project, Burnside became a skating mecca.

“When skaters decide to take ownership, they can be pretty effective,” Westphal says as he tells the students the story of Burnside. It not only gave skaters a place for their sport, but also cleaned up the surrounding neighborhood. Today the park, and the skateboarding, are seen as attraction and major benefit to the Portland community.

Westphal got involved with the Crawfordsville project two years ago. As a “retired” skateboarder who is sometimes mistaken for a student on the Wabash campus, he’s taken charge of helping design the park, working with a Canadian firm which specializes in the facilities.

“There are a lot of options for building a skate park, most of them really bad ideas,” Chad says. With good intentions but little money, Crawfordsville built such a park less than a decade ago. It was closed down after city leaders raised concerns about the cost of liability insurance. Without a place to skate, many young people abandoned or grew out of the sport. Those still in it have to search high and low for a place to skate.

At the Tuesday night meeting, insurance agent Chris Johnson told the group that the cost of liability insurance is no longer an issue.

“I’d like to see this project move forward,” Johnson tolds the skaters and their supporters. “Insurance shouldn’t be an obstacle.”

The project holds out hope for these young athletes, whose sport has moved steadily into the mainstream even as it has been banned in their home town.

“I’ve seen many skate parks come and go,” Chad says. “I’ve been to great skate parks that have stood the test of time, and I’ve seen some colossal failures.”

He is determined to help Crawfordsville skaters build a park that will pass the test of time.

So why is a Wabash math professor, married with two very young children, spending hours with Crawfordsville youth to build a park he and his own children may never use?

“I have a long history in skateboarding,” Chad says. “It helped shape the person I am today, and I know how it feels to not have a place to practice. Crawfordsville may not have the excitement of a big city, but we can have this skate park if we work for it.

He sees the project having a deeper and more lasting impact than simply giving them a place to skate.

“I’m a part of this community, and I want to help these kids feel like their community supports them. When I see these kids, I see myself at their age. And then I see who they can be in five, ten, twenty years.”

In photo: Westphal presents the first draft of the skate park design to students, teachers, and parents; gathering feedback on the design from the skaters.

Nutrient Catchers

Steve Charles—Since the day I first read about and then published photographs from Dave Krohne’s study on the regeneration of Yellowstone after the fires of the 1990s, I’ve wondered what it would be like to travel with him and his students, to see the world through the lens of this insightful and adventurous ecologist and biology professor. Just reading his work has changed the way I see the natural world. What is it like for his students to see that world alongside him?

I got my wish last week, accompanying Krohne and six students from his Advanced Ecology course to the Everglades. It was the second time I’ve been invited along on a Wabash spring break immersion trip to chronicle its teachable moments. I came home with the same thought as after the first: If only I’d had this kind of experience when I was a student!

I studied abroad. Twice. And my months living in the parts of Wales that inspired Dylan Thomas’s poetry were the most memorable, life-shaping moments of my college career.
But no one else from my school was on the trip, so when I returned to the campus, my classmates were oblivious to my experience. The friends I’d studied with in Wales were now far away.

Not so with Wabash immersion experiences. You travel to places like Chiapas, Israel, Spain, the Everglades, with the professor and students you’ve been studying with for months. Your common bond—learning about this place or subject. A new culture. Or a work project. Or an ecosystem or living history you’ve never encountered.

Once onsite, you learn together alongside professors who are learning, too, even as they teach. Not unlike that shared sense of discovery student interns may get with professors in bio, chem., or physics labs. But this laboratory has no control group.

At dinner you digest what you’ve seen and heard; at breakfast, you wonder what’s coming next. You learn the little things about one another you never had time for on campus. New tolerance and new respect arises. As Torm Hustvet wrote in his blog from our trip, “This is an experience that I have learned to love through my immersion trips. I have been able to experience life with classmates in a much more personal fashion and I feel that a trip such as this helps encourage the learning atmosphere of the class following the trip.”

So this moveable feast of learning comes back to campus with you. You can relive this new bond whenever you see one another: experiences, stories, even secrets in common.
It’s not better than study abroad. Just different. But today I recommend it to incoming students as an essential part of their Wabash experience.

Those of us chronicling these trips learn a little ourselves. Even though our attention is focused on the students’ teachable moments, we can’t help have a few of our own. It’s not unlike the averted glance method of finding hard to see celestial objects: the only way to see what’s important is to focus on something away from it, catching the essential object out of the corner of your eye.

Here are a few things I noticed out of the corner of my eye while traveling with Professor Krohne and his six biology students in the Everglades and trying to see the place the way they do:

1. The Everglades is a river of grass—shallow, wide, draining the peninsula from north to south. It’s been manhandled, re-directed, polluted, and yet has also been the focus of some of the most loving care men and women have ever showed the planet as they have attempted to restore and manage it. And everything you see is determined by the depth of the water it lives in.

2. It is a fragile system—even during our stay, we learned that nests of the roseate spoonbill, a bird considered a barometer of the health of the Florida Bay, were at their lowest number (272) since 1960. The Everglades protects more endangered species than any other national park.

3. It is a resilient system—we camped at Flamingo, an area ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, and still rebuilding. But Eco Pond, a premier birding spot and closed until 2006, has sprung back. Much of the wildlife and birds have returned. And lots of moonflowers, as our student, Phil Rushton, discovered. We camped in a place that was under three inches of mud two years ago. Flamingo is the kind of place that makes me think of Krohne’s research in Yellowstone after the fires, or of his 2004 LaFollette Lecture “The Geography of Hope”, when he said, “I am an optimist because of, not in spite of, my science.”

4. The things you’d most likely remove to develop an area are necessary for ensuring survival of that you’d most want to keep. One example: the mangrove. They hog the beaches, are nearly impassable, and are, aesthetically, an acquired taste. But they are miracles. They protect the beaches from erosion. They can survive in salt water; their leaves exude the salt. Their branches are home to many birds, their forests anchors for many spider webs, therefore rich with insect life. Their exposed roots nurture algae, barnacles, oysters, sponges, and provide nutrients that support the areas fisheries. As Annie Dillard writes, “ they have shrimp in their toes and terns in their hair.”

Dave Krohne calls them “nutrient catchers.”

And that’s also a good way to describe †these moveable feasts of learning that are beginning to define the Wabash learning experience. Immersion trips are nutrient catchers. Wabash students and professors adapting and learning wherever they take root, no matter how briefly, catching what they can and taking it in to enrich their understanding, their lives, and, in time, the Wabash community.

My lamenting not having had such an experience when I was a student reminds me just now of a conversation several students and I had during the trip. I’m fortunate to call Professor Krohne a friend; I call him by his first name. A couple students remarked how weird that sounded; even long after they’ve graduated, they said, they can’t imagine calling him anything besides “Dr. Krohne.” Such is their respect for their teacher, no matter how informal our Everglades gatherings had been.

“I guess you call him ‘Dave’ because you’re not a student,” one of the guys said. But that’s not true. I am a student. The least knowledgeable in biology on this trip, but still a student. If we’re lucky as we get older, we’re still learning, still in wonder before the world. As Dave himself quoted in his LaFollette Lecture the environmentalist and writer John Nichols:

“Shadows of malignant scaffolds hold the planet in a very negative net. Yet it can be done. And everything commences by refusing to despair; optimism is my one irrevocable act of faith. My dream is never to let them make me a cynical old man.”

Teachers like Dave Krohne and immersion trips like this are a heartening reminder of that act of faith, and an affirmation of the dream many of us old men share.

Read about the Everglades immersion trip here.