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Slavic Coffeehouse and Maslenitsa

Two students joke around while serving the long line of patrons at the Slavic coffee houseA longstanding tradition in the Russian department, our annual Slavic Coffeehouse and Maslenitsa this year was a tremendous success, thanks to the leadership of Russian House and our Russian majors, as well as all of our Slavic and Russian-speaking international students.

A huge crowd of students, faculty, staff, and community members enjoyed Russian favorites like bliny, borscht, and pirozhki, as well as Czech, Polish, Serb, and Uzbek dishes, all prepared by students.

Maslenitsa, a traditional Orthodox holiday, is Russia’s version of Mardi Gras, during which we customarily burn a chuchelo (scarecrow) of winter. This year’s fire was spectacular, with flames leaping high against a dark blue sky. Charlie Eddy ’16 treated us to a rendition of Russian bard Vladimir Vysotsky’s “Он не вернулся из боя” [“He didn't return from battle”].

Woman licks finger while holding plateful of foodThe Slavic Coffeehouse and Maslenitsa were held in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts this year, where guests enjoyed the wonderful exhibit in Falconer Gallery, “Siberia: In the Eyes of Russian Photographers.”

This event was part of our exciting extracurricular programming in the department, which also included a visit by Eric Greene ‘85, director of the Office of Russian Affairs in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and former Russian ambassador John Byerle, as well as a book talk by Anya Von Bremzen, author of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a Memoir of Food and Longing

All photos courtesy of Michaela (Misha) Gelnarova ’18.

New Exhibitions Feature Feminist, Siberian Art

Beverly Semmes, RC 2014

Beverly Semmes, "RC" 2014. Velvet, 119 x 35 in. Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College Art Collection.

Building on its last exhibition theme of asking questions, Grinnell College's Faulconer Gallery will be showing a variety of feminist works alongside a collection of historic Russian photographs.

These exhibitions provoke inquiry from artists and viewers alike, including questions such as "Are feminists supposed to support open depictions of sexuality?" and "What can photographs of rural Siberia teach us about Russian society and history?"

The simultaneous exhibitions, "Beverly Semmes: FRP" and "Siberia: In the Eyes of Russian Photographers," open Friday, Jan. 29, with a reception from 4 to 5 p.m. at Faulconer Gallery in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. The exhibitions and opening reception, which includes refreshments, are free and open to the public.

"Both exhibitions present critiques of contemporary assumptions about gender politics, landscape, history, and everyday life," said Lesley Wright, director of the Faulconer Gallery.

In her Feminist Responsibility Project (FRP), Semmes simultaneously conceals, reveals, and otherwise colorfully intervenes in pornographic scenes from vintage Hustler and Penthouse magazines. The exhibition also features Semmes’s striking work in other media: glass, ceramic, and video, as well as three of her signature dress pieces, including one acquired by the Faulconer Gallery in 2014. This exhibition is co-organized with the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.

"Siberia: In the Eyes of Russian Photographers" is a geographical portrait that has the potential to alter stereotypes about a famously remote region. The photographs, taken by Siberians, span more than 130 years, from the late 19th century to the present. The images include rural and urban scenes, landscapes, native peoples, agriculture, and industry, Russian frontier settlements, the Gulag, religion, and everyday life, and offer an insider’s view of unique and often isolated places.

The project is timely as Siberia's role grows on a world stage. The region's military, political, and economic possibilities have intrigued individuals and nations for centuries. They do so now with renewed vigor as Siberia's energy and mineral resources and strategic location draw global attention.

Leah Bendavid-Val curated the traveling exhibition, organized by Foundation for International Arts & Education (FIAE) and presented in honor of Greg Guroff, (1941-2012), who held a doctorate in history, founded FIAE, and also taught Russian history at Grinnell College from 1968 to 1977.

Programs and Events

The exhibitions, which continue through March 20, include a variety of free public programs and events, all in Faulconer Gallery unless otherwise noted. For the complete listing, visit Faulconer Gallery. Highlights include:

Gallery Talk: "The Political Construction of Siberia: Geography, Industry, and Identity in Post-Soviet Russia"
By Assistant Professor of Political Science Danielle Lussier.
Feb. 4, 4 p.m.
20 Minutes @ 11: "Doing it right? Feminist approaches to sex, censorship, and pornography"
By Assistant Professor of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies, Leah Allen,
Feb. 16 at 11 a.m.
Special Event: "Russia and the West: Conflict, Diplomacy and the Future"
By retired U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle and Eric Green ’85, Director of Russian Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
Beyrle and Green will discuss Russia's evolving and complicated relations with the West during a dialogue moderated by Associate Professor of History Ed Cohn.
Feb. 24, 4 p.m.
Bad Feminists/Bad Critics: A Sex Wars Debate
Featuring Grinnell students from two sections of Allen's senior seminar in gender, women's and sexuality studies, who will explore pro- and anti-censorship feminism.
March 1, 4 p.m.
Slavic Coffeehouse and Maslenitsa Celebration
Hosted by the Russian Department with sweet and savory ethnic foods prepared by faculty and students available for purchase at a nominal cost in the Bucksbaum Center.
Attendees will celebrate Maslenitsa, which marks the end of winter and the beginning of Lent, by eating blini (Russian crepes) that represent the sun and burning a chuchelo (scarecrow), a symbol of winter.
Outside the Bucksbaum Center, March 5, 5:30-7 p.m.
Gallery Talk: Beverly Semmes on her Feminist Responsibility Project
A chance to hear from the artist herself about her career as a feminist artist.
March 8, 4 p.m.

Both exhibitions will be on view through March 20. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and admission is free.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Bucksbaum Center for the Arts has accessible parking in the lot behind the building north of Sixth Avenue. You can request accommodations from the Faulconer Gallery or Conference Operations and Events.

Scholars' Convo: Cosmic Secrets

Asif SiddiqiFordham University Professor of History Asif Siddiqi will discuss the history of the Soviet space program during the free, public Scholars' Convocation at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Much of Siddiqi's interests are focused on the history of science and technology, postcolonial science, and its intersections with popular culture. He is a recent winner of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, has held an endowed visiting chair at the Smithsonian Institution, and is a leading expert in the history of modern science and technology.

A prolific writer and speaker on Soviet history, Siddiqi serves on the National Research Council Committee on the Future of Human Spaceflight, and is a contributing editor of the journal Technology and Culture. He has written several books, including The Rockets' Red Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857–1957," Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge, and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo. His upcoming book from Oxford University Press is titled Soviet Science and the Gulag.

Siddiqi also has been quoted by numerous national media outlets about topics ranging from accidents in space to engineering disasters to the Russian Space Program. He holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in economics from Texas A&M University, as well as an M.B.A from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a Ph.D. in history from Carnegie Mellon University.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Alumni Begin Year of Service

This August, a dozen Grinnell alumni began a year of service through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), a national service-leadership program that unites people to work for peace with justice. The program is popular among Grinnellians, and Grinnellians are popular with the organization, as well. Holding more than 10% of the 104 positions, the Grinnellians represent the largest group of alumni from any college or university in this year’s cohort of volunteers.

After the week of intensive training and orientation on topics including anti-racism work, self-care and intercultural communication, the volunteers dispersed to 13 U.S. cities, each person committed to serve full-time for one year with a particular social justice organization, while practicing simple, sustainable living in household communities of four to seven people.

The Grinnell alumni are serving in a variety of positions — including case managers, program assistants, and academic associates — and in everything from marketing and communications to farm and gardens to academics. They will serve in six cities this year:

Chicago, Ill.
Hannah Bernard ’15, Chicago Community Loan Fund
Elaine Fang ’15, Lakeview Pantry
Eleni Irrera ’14, Free Spirit Media
Katherine Quinn ’15, Lincoln Park Community Shelter
Milwaukee, Wis.
Ankita Sarawagi ’15, Bread of Healing Clinic
Seattle, Wash.
Rebecca Carpenter ’15, Jewish Family Service
Tacoma, Wash.
Fatima Cervantes ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Brittany Hubler ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Twin Cities, Minn.
Jordan Schellinger ’15, Twin Cities’ Habitat for Humanity
Alex Sharfman ’15, Our Saviour's Community Services
Washington, D.C.
Georgina Haro ’15, La Clinica del Pueblo
Alexa Stevens ’15, Thurgood Marshall Academy

The LVC says they are “proud of the continued partnership with Grinnell College and congratulates these 12 Grinnellians as they begin their year of service!”

LVC, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is open to persons from all spiritual traditions and welcomes people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered in all aspects of the organization. It supports volunteers as they explore the spiritual aspects of justice, community, and sustainability.

The Grinnell alumni earned degrees in a wide variety of areas: anthropology, art, biological chemistry, economics, French, psychology, philosophy, political science, Russian, sociology, and Spanish.

A Focus on Polar Bears

Whether through the telephoto lens of her camera or her work in villages across Russia, Alaska, and Canada, Elisabeth Kruger ’06 is focused on polar bears.

Kruger serves as the Arctic and Bering Sea program officer in World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Anchorage office. A major focus of her work is decreasing human-polar bear conflict — starting with safely managing bear attractants like food. “Polar bears, the most carnivorous of all bears, are extremely curious, smart, and powerful,” she says — a troublesome combination when faced with the temptation of “easy” food in villages.

Before arriving in Alaska, the Russian major first moved from the cozy classrooms of ARH to Irkutsk, Russia, on a Fulbright grant studying Siberian folk theatre. Siberia became her home for four years, and through her volunteer work with conservation groups, the pristine wilderness of the Lake Baikal region became her inspiration. When it was time to return to the United States, Kruger knew that the taiga and tundra she longed for made Alaska — where “the streets and volcanoes are named after Russian explorers” — her only choice.

Kruger’s intimate knowledge of both North American and Russian cultures and languages has proven invaluable in facilitating WWF’s transboundary work on conservation issues in this region, culminating in a trilateral strategic plan coordinating the efforts of WWF national organizations in Russia, Canada, and the United States on issues ranging from oil and gas development to salmon fisheries management. In the neighboring Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, decisions made on the national level can easily have far-ranging international consequences. Kruger appreciates that WWF positions itself “at the confluence of scientific research and local ecological knowledge,” using both resources to address conservation concerns in her region.

polar bear on ice flowAs polar bears have become an international icon for the global effects of climate change, research on bears garners ample public and media attention, says Kruger. “The U .S . Geological Survey recently announced that one of two U.S. subpopulations of polar bears experienced a 40 percent decline between 2001 and 2010 due to the effects of climate change on their habitat, stabilizing at the lower level in 2007.” Such stabilization in the South Beaufort Sea population gives researchers like Kruger hope that “if lawmakers act now to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions, polar bears as a species may still have a chance” of surviving this environmental crisis.

Alaska is home to a significant number of highly accessible, world-class researchers. Kruger, lacking a formal scientific background, appreciates that those researchers are both open to collaboration and are available to discuss their research. WWF’s own Arctic scientific research currently includes a partnership developing a method for individual polar bear identification using environmental DNA collected from their snowy paw prints. Kruger has contributed numerous snow samples from her travels across bear territory.

While it won’t replace the traditional mark-recapture method of collecting polar bear data, the expected increase in data points available to researchers at this crucial juncture could be transformative in our understanding of polar bear adaptation throughout the Arctic.

Native-Speaker Language Assistant

Each year the department sponsors a Russian language assistant. The assistant is usually a post-BA student who serves as  a resource for students of Russian and organizes extracurricular activities. The language assistant conducts Russian 200 (conversational practice) and runs the weekly Russian Language Lab, where students are able to do homework, consult with the native speaker, or chat. Our language assistant also lives in Russian House.

Slavic Coffeehouse, Maslenitsa, and Balalaika Ensemble

The Russian department invites the Grinnell community to our annual Slavic Coffeehouse at 5:30–7 p.m. Saturday, February 21, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center Room 101.

A wide variety of sweet and savory Slavic foods prepared by Russian department faculty and students will be available for a nominal cost. Proceeds benefit activities in Russian House, a college-owned student residence where students studying the language are immersed in the language, culture, and customs of Russia.

This year we are pleased to welcome back to campus the fully costumed Luther College Balalaika Ensemble. The faculty-led student group performs Russian and East European music on traditional instruments. The ensemble features instruments of the balalaika and domra families, as well as accordion, percussion, and vocal. Founded by Luther College Russian Professor Dr. L. Iudin-Nelson in 1992, the ensemble has played over 150 performances in schools, community centers, and concert halls throughout the Midwest.

The Russian department and Russian House will also celebrate Maslenitsa in conjunction with Slavic Coffeehouse this year. Maslenitsa, a traditional Russian Orthodox holiday, marks the end of winter and the beginning of Lent — Russia’s version of Mardi Gras. People eat bliny (Russian crepes, or pancakes) which represent the sun, and burn a chuchelo (scarecrow), a symbol of winter. This year we will burn the scarecrow outside of Rosenfield Center Room 101 immediately after the coffeehouse and the balalaika concert.

Apart from the purchase of food, this event is free and open to the public, and is co-sponsored by the Russian Department, the Russian, Central, and East European Studies Concentration, the Center for International Studies, and the Department of Music.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. The Rosenfield Center and Room 101 are fully accessible. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

Shaping Students

Two Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) in theatre, one in chemistry, an internship with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and a job managing the campus pub — the key points on Ben Doehr ’15’s resume indicate the chemistry/economics double major’s depth and breadth of knowledge.

Grinnell strives to produce “T-shaped students” such as Doehr, the depth and breadth represented respectively by the vertical and horizontal line of a T. This model stands in contrast to both the traditional university model, which emphasizes depth, and the perception of the liberal arts model, which is sometimes viewed as providing a base of knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep.

When they were applying to colleges, both Doehr and Iulia Iordache ’15 wanted something they struggled to find elsewhere. Iordache was looking for an alternative to the system of higher education in her native Romania, which would have required her to know exactly what she wanted to study when she applied. Doehr wanted to have the opportunity to study physics and economics in depth while also doing technical theatre and design work. 

Both have credited the College with expanding their knowledge within their key areas of study and helping them develop transferrable skills such as critical thinking and strong writing skills.

Developing deeper understanding

Doehr and Iordache point to MAPs as a key means of gaining depth. MAPs offer students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor. The results of these collaborations are frequently presented at academic and professional conferences as well as on campus.

Doehr likes to joke that being manager of the campus pub, Lyle’s, has taught him as much about economics as his coursework has. It’s not that much of an exaggeration: “Managing the pub gave me a very hands-on experience on the practical side of things,” Doehr says. His MAPs with the theatre department also allowed him hands-on work with interactive design. He and fellow student Caleb Sponheim ’15 created a series of three interactive installations in Roberts Theatre.

Iordache also credits her professors — both the degree to which they care about their students’ success and how accessible they are — for the depth of her knowledge. Iordache completed an education MAP that involved traveling to Romania to study the impact of voluntourism on the local population. Initially, she intended to be an economics major, but changed her mind and pursued psychology instead. She added a second major in Russian, and after completing a summer MAP with Assistant Professor of education Cori Jakubiak, decided to pursue international education when she graduates.

Establishing a broad base of knowledge

Iordache came to Grinnell in part because the open curriculum allowed her a chance to explore her interests. Outside of class, her perspective has been broadened by the views of other students. On a regular basis, she finds herself having conversations that relate to what she is studying. “We were talking about dualism in my psychology class,” Iordache says, “and I ended up having a conversation about dualism versus materialism in the Grill with a friend who wasn’t even in the class. It was a great discussion.” Iordache enjoys these kinds of conversations because everyone brings their own knowledge to bear on a subject.

A summer internship with the FDIC helped Doehr realize how his breadth of knowledge benefited him outside classes. He walked in knowing very little about the day-to-day operations of the FDIC, but quickly learned how the organization worked. He worked with a number of young FDIC employees and found that he could write on the same professional level as they could. He credits his liberal arts education for both his writing skills and giving him the ability to tackle new problems without being specifically trained for them.

Soviet Studies

Sarah Weitekamp ’15 spent her summer poring over underground publications and KGB records for her Mentored Advanced Project (MAP). Translating as she went, she scoured her sources for accounts of Lithuanian Catholics being oppressed by the Soviet secret police. She worked with Edward Cohn, assistant professor of history, whose research focuses on the use of profilaktika — preventive warnings — by the Soviet Union’s secret police in the Baltic States.

MAPs allow students to reach beyond their regular coursework and work on projects that get them mistaken for graduate students. They can be performed with a team or individually, and give students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a professor. Weitekamp was one of three students working with Cohn over the summer.

Lucy McGowan ’15 and Luke Panciera ’16 also completed MAPs on the Soviet secret police. Panciera used a collection of oral history interviews known as the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System to examine what many citizens under Stalin thought about the secret police — the NKVD — and its informers. McGowan used an underground dissident publication known as A Chronicle of Current Events to research the ways that the human rights movement and the Soviet regime used the legacy of World War II to win legitimacy for their cause.

More than a third of Grinnell students complete a MAP during their college career. They offer an opportunity to take part in faculty research, pursue a creative or artistic project, or complete one’s own research. In recent years, students have translated Beowulf, written advanced papers and presented them at national and international conferences, and staged original plays as part of their MAPs.

Weitekamp researched the persecution of Catholics in Lithuania from the 1950s to the 1980s using Russian-language sources from the Lithuanian KGB and an underground publication written by Catholic dissidents. The KGB documents present a challenge because they are in the original Russian, and the KGB’s language is highly euphemistic. “They’ll say something like, ‘We had a chat with a group of youths,’ that sort of thing,” Weitekamp says. It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand that the KGB’s approach was far more brutal than its reports suggest.

Having a double major in history and Russian opened up the opportunity for Weitekamp to work with primary sources in Russian as well as translations. She was able to go through the church documents faster because they were in English, but she was grateful to be able to go back to the original Russian and make her own translation.

“I get the viewpoint of the KGB and I get the viewpoint of the church, and in putting them together, hopefully I get a more holistic understanding of what was really going on,” says Weitekamp. History, she says, is about more than what happened, though. It’s about what people thought and believed about what was happening.

One of the main reasons Weitekamp and Cohn are researching the Lithuanian KGB is that the Baltic states experienced even greater repression than most other Soviet-controlled regions. Another is that most KGB documents are still classified in Russia. Lithuania’s KGB archives are much more accessible, allowing scholars to understand how the secret police confronted dissents in the Baltic republics and beyond.

Lucy McGowan ’15 is a history major from Nantucket, Mass. Sarah Weitekamp ’15 is a history/Russian double major from Raymond, Ill. Luke Panciera ’16 is a political science/Russian major from Broken Arrow, Okla.


Team Tolstoy

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Laura “Lola” Baltzell ’83 and Christiane Carney Johnson ’83 will discuss the collaborative process they used to create the War and Peace Project exhibited through Dec. 7 in Burling Gallery. Their gallery talk is free and open to the public, and will start at 4:15 p.m. in Burling Library Lounge.

During their talk, Baltzell and Johnson will describe the collaborative fusion of literature and art that led to the creation of collages that cover all 747 pages of Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel. Each 5 x 7 inch collage incorporates one page from the Russian text, combined with bits of maps, dried flowers, ink, wax, graphite, thread, letters, and other printed material.

Baltzell, who majored in Russian and economics, and Johnson, who majored in Russian and political science, developed the project with a group of artists who dubbed themselves Team Tolstoy. They both were inspired by their experiences in the late Professor John Mohan’s renowned course about the Russian writer.

The team included four additional Grinnell alumni — Otto Mayr ’82, Lucy Zahner Montgomery ’83, Elizabeth Jorganson Sherman ’83, and Lynn Waskelis ’83. Artists Emma Rhodes and Adrienne Wetmore also served on the team.   

In addition to giving the gallery talk on Wednesday, Baltzell and Johnson will help Grinnell students create their own collages during a study break from 8 to 9:30 p.m. in the Rotunda of the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

While on campus, Baltzell and Johnson will work with students enrolled in a tutorial on War and Peace taught by Associate Professor of Russian Kelly Herold, visit Russian language and literature classes, and attend a reception hosted by Professor of Russian Todd Armstrong.

The Faulconer Gallery brought the War and Peace Project to Grinnell’s campus in cooperation with the Russian Department and the Center for the Humanities. The project has been shown in Boston, New York and Russia. The Grinnell exhibit is the first in which the project has been exhibited in its entirety in the United States.