My story is that I came to Grinnell in 1958 as an early entrant (didn’t graduate high school) from an East Coast suburb.
Not only was I Jewish, but also I came from a secular Jewish, left-wing family. I think my Grinnell experience solidified my Jewish identification because I was seen as “odd” in a number of ways.
One small story: I was very blonde and have a fair complexion. During my first week at school, a classmate from a small Midwestern town and I were sharing information. When I said I was Jewish, she was astounded. She had never met a Jew and thought they all had dark complexions. When I said that I was, in fact, Jewish, and that all my family was fair, she thought a minute. And then she said, “Oh yes, I guess you really are Jewish. You wear half slips.”
I was too young and too taken aback by that particular stereotype to ask what she thought wearing half slips meant, but when I tell this story now, everyone thinks it was an image of Jewish girls as a little bit slutty.
My secular, left-wing background was also a subject of some issue to the other Jews at Grinnell. But in the next two years, two people I knew from before Grinnell with similar backgrounds became Grinnell students, so I didn’t feel so isolated … although isolated enough that I did summer schools and heavy course loads so I could graduate in three years.
Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009