A tall, smartly dressed man with slicked-back hair and gray suspenders slides up to me, hand outstretched. I smile and place my hand in his, accepting his silent offer. He walks me out to the middle of the dance floor, and we connect, his arm around my back, my hand on his shoulder. The music pulses playfully as a familiar Duke tune begins, and we start rocking in place to get a sense of one another. Then the saxes gear up for the A section, he spins me out, and suddenly I’m dancing.
I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist all my life. I’m used to people asking me “What’s UU?” all the time, so by now, I’ve got the speech down. But what I didn’t know was that by coming to Grinnell, I’d have to ask myself the question in a whole new way.
Being from a foreign country and knowing little about Iowa or the Midwest, I thought of Grinnell as a little campus in the middle of the tall prairie grass. Indeed, I chose to come here not only because I wanted the isolation and oneness with nature that Grinnell seemed to offer, but also because I desired a retreat where I could nurse my tired body while nourishing my hungry mind. I had a fantasy image of Grinnell as the perfect retreat center, where all was quiet and serene.
Prior to my arrival at Grinnell, I was brought up on the basic principles of conservatism — I’m from a “Republican” family. For those of you who can (secretly) relate, Grinnell College can seem quite intimidating, right? After all, it is the college where more than 80 percent of students voted against Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, a candidate who repeatedly wins elections with at least 70 percent of the vote. Grinnell is a liberal bubble in the middle of the moderate political landscape of Iowa.
Many Grinnellians pride themselves on adopting countercultural attitudes, breaking social constructs, and going against mainstream fads. More important, we also pride ourselves on being liberal and open-minded. These characteristics have served as the basis for many innovative activities and unique endeavors — from realizing the hypothetical (as in the founding of a fake campus newspaper) to the outlandish (as in participating shamelessly in cross-dressing parties).
It’s late on a Monday night. I rush down the dark stairs to the basement of Main Hall and pull open the door to Bob’s Underground Café. The wail of a trombone echoes from down the entryway, the piano and bass comp cool through the changes to “So What,” and each slap of the high hat matches my footfall.