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Serving the Community via Dorm Life

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

 

One of the first people I met when I came to Grinnell College as a student was my future friend Alyssa. As I hauled my huge bags out of the car, Alyssa approached me and my family with a big smile. “Hi! Welcome to Grinnell!” At first, I thought she was just volunteering to help first-year students move in, but later I found out she was my floor’s student adviser (SA). As my first year progressed, not only did I become close friends with Alyssa, but I also learned about the unique structure of residential life at Grinnell.

With such positive first-year memories of living on the third floor of Rawson, I decided to apply to be a student adviser myself my second year. Now I am the SA on the second floor of Smith and I’ve completely enjoyed my experience of being on student staff. As an SA, I work as a voluntary student leader and am in charge of fostering community and overseeing activities on my hall’s floor. While these tasks might seem rather vague, I basically serve my peers as a campus resource. So if anyone wants to rant, chat, jump around, or ask a question, I’m there to help.

Because of our system of self-governance — which encourages students to take responsibility for their actions and to be respectful to their community members — I have a fairly easy job of keeping my floor in check. I don’t patrol the floor during the weekends, reporting bad behavior to my superiors. Instead, I mediate conflicts through dialogue.

One of my favorite parts of being an SA is throwing study breaks. Each semester I get to spend some of the student government’s money to throw mini parties on my floor. How cool is that?! I’ve thrown all kinds of study breaks, from a kindergarten theme study break — where we made goop and had juice boxes and goldfish crackers — to a candy sushi study break. During midsem exams week, I bought four large pies to share with my floor.

Aside from giving my residents an excuse to avoid a paper for a few extra minutes while still trying my hardest not to make them diabetic, I’ve enjoyed talking to them, getting to know them better, and building a community on my floor. And bonding doesn’t just occur during study breaks. There have been many times throughout the year when I’ve sat in the hallway and chatted with my peers about old school Nickelodeon cartoons while sharing a big bowl of popcorn (ah, more food), or stood in the doorway and talked to students while holding a big bowl of candy (even more sugar).

Even though it has not always been particularly easy, at the end of the day, with all the laughs, tears, jokes, and smiles, being an SA is very rewarding. It’s satisfying to know I can help contribute to the community and make self-governance function, and thus make our unique Grinnell College student life work. I’m looking forward to returning to staff next year and getting to know a whole new batch of people on my new floor.

And judging by how much sugar I’ve given out on my current floor throughout the year, I just hope my new residents like their sweets as well.

Aki Shibuya '11 is a History major from Orinda, CA.

Flaking Out

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

 

On Friday afternoons I flake out with my archaeology professor, some of his friends, and any students interested in giving up two hours of their weekend. We hang out, relax, talk, and get down to the serious business of what’s known to everyone who’s anyone as flintknapping. Flintknapping is the process of creating flaked or chipped stone tools — projectile points, knives, scrapers, and awls. Those arrowheads in museum display cases — those are what I aspire to make. You start with a smooth, uniform rock, the glassier the better. Chert and obsidian work well. When you hit them with another rock at the right angle, you force the smooth rock to shatter in a conchoidal fracture (a phrase that I think is only used when talking about flintknapping — think of how a chunk of glass would break if you hit it). This process creates long flakeshaped rocks that you refine and sharpen until they’re ready for use.

As one of my friends put it, “You’re hitting rocks with other rocks to make sharp rocks.”

Talk about a hobby with a history: the earliest flaked stone tools date to 2.5 million years ago. For most of human history, stone tools have been the main technology of humankind. Only recently (archaeologically speaking) did metal tools become the norm in the Old World. Even then, stone tools were still a mainstay in the New World, and some parts of the Old World as well.

Flintknapping’s modern incarnation as a specialized hobby can be traced to a Californian American Indian, Ishi, who taught academics interviewing him how to use stone tools for survival. In recent years, archaeologists have increasingly used experiments with flintknapped tools to recreate prehistoric technology.

The basics of flintknapping are pretty easy to learn, but six months after starting, I’m still trying to get the hang of it. Hitting rocks with other rocks is harder than it sounds, especially for people such as me, who have problems with something called “accuracy.” And there are tricks to it that I haven’t mastered — the ones that don’t involve accuracy mostly require upper body strength, which is also something I lack. At one point last semester, after I’d managed to create a rather crude-but functional point, my professor turned to me and said, “Congratulations, you’re now the technological equivalent of a Neanderthal.” As I said, I’m still getting the hang of it.

One of the fun things about flintknapping is you have an automatic product. Two hours of sitting outside of the anthropology building, flaking chert, and I’ve made two arrowheads. I now have a toolbox under my bed filled with points in various stages of completion. Some are nothing more than mangled bits of dull rock, but they have sentimental value. I’ve never been very crafty, so being able to actually make something is a treat for me. And my distorted, inelegant tools illustrate my point: you don’t have to be strong or creative or talented to flintknap — you just have to be interested in history. That’s not to say I have no aspirations for my lithic experiments; eventually, I’m hoping to progress to Neolithic technology. But while I work my way up the evolutionary ladder, I get to spend my Friday afternoons playing with rocks and flaking out.

Beth Miller '10 is an Anthropology and English major from Iowa City, Iowa.

Alternative Break and Our Dream Man

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Issue:  Spring 2009

When my fellow Alt Breakers and I started to give each other nicknames, I knew all barriers between us had vanished. It surprised me — after less than a week together on our spring break service trip, our group skipped the polite acquaintance period that exists after introduction and went straight to familiarity. After all, you don’t call someone “Creepy Voice” or “Lost in Boys” until you feel they won’t take it the wrong way. The nicknames signaled we had become family.

I applied to the Mt. Madonna County Park, Calif., Alternative Break trip in spring 2008 for a chance to reconnect with the outdoors and experience an intentional community of service. I definitely didn’t expect the loving camaraderie that resulted. Weed-pulling doesn’t sound like your usual bonding activity, but done in the context of an Alternative Break service trip, almost any project can turn a group of 10 strangers into fast friends. It usually takes me a good while to loosen up around unfamiliar people, but something about the two weeks of intensive outdoor work, chilling temperatures, and spirited campfire conversations quickly brought us together.

As in other bona fide communities, iconic symbols began to spring up around day four. The imaginary “Dream Man” was a group favorite — a Scottish accent, casual good looks, a happy trail persona, and a habit of closing his eyes while singing and playing guitar rounded out this much discussed ideal character. He was born out of group musings and quickly became a presence in daily conversation. Needless to say, Dream Man’s existence summed up the idiosyncrasies of our group dynamics.

Even within a small community like Grinnell, meeting people outside one’s normal social circles (no matter how large they are) can be difficult, and I treasured the opportunity to connect with a different set of Grinnellians whom I might not have known otherwise. Some of my closest friendships and warmest memories resulted from this Alt Break trip.

As I write this, I can’t wait for this spring break to come around. My roommate and I are leading another trip out west, this time to the Redwood National and State Parks in northwestern California. With three weeks until spring break 2009, I can already tell my group is going to be as awesomely eclectic as the last. New nicknames and defining moments will crop up, sing-a-longs will fill our lengthy car rides, and maybe we’ll come up with our own “Dream Man” to keep us smiling long after spring break has ended.

Alisha Saville '09 is a Sociology major from Carbondale, Illinois.

Bringing Imagination to Life

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

 

The Neverland Players was started around six years ago by a Grinnell student who, while visiting a friend at Northwestern, saw a great children’s theatre production and decided to bring the magic she had found back to Grinnell. Neverland Players is an independent theatre group that transforms stories written by local third and fourth graders into short skits. A cast of Grinnell College students performs the stories on campus for the children as well as other college students. It is a great way to give back to the community and promote the spirit of Grinnell.

The whole process takes about four weeks and begins with an audition session, followed by a week of warm-up acting games, then three weeks of working and shaping the actual stories. The work put into Neverland is very intense and sometimes demanding. That being said, it has to be one of the most de-stressing activities on Grinnell’s campus. The cast and directors get to spend three-hour rehearsals laughing and acting like children. It is a great experience.

I started with Neverland in 2006, my first year at college, after my friend Barbara forced me to audition with her. It was perhaps the best thing I could have done. Immediately, I fell in love with the whole program and realized it was something I wanted to do all four years of my time at Grinnell. I acted in both performances my first year, as well as the single performance my second year. This year, my third year, I returned from studying abroad, and it had been a whole year since a Neverland Show had happened. So together, Barbara and I made the decision to bring Neverland back to Grinnell — better than ever.

The problem this semester was that the theatre department already had many shows planned, and all the “traditional” actors were already committed. Undaunted and unafraid, Barbara and I set out to find the “diamonds in the rough” — those actors who did not know they were actors yet. We assembled an excellent cast of talented and hilarious people. It was the first time Barbara or I had directed, and we had a rough start. However, we quickly learned what worked and what did not. In the end, our actors were fantastic, and we were able to work with them to create something truly beautiful. Our show went up and it featured Zombys (intentional spelling), Icebergs, Dinosaurs, a color-changing girl, and jaguars! The magic of the Neverland Players had been brought back better than ever, and this time it is here to stay.

The Neverland program is fun for everyone involved. While it is built from the foundations of stories written by children, it is important to remember that college students are the ones acting it out. While it always will be for the children first, as directors we make sure there is humor everyone can enjoy. The program is a great opportunity for the College to get involved with the community.

We have no shortage of big ideas either. Barbara and I have plans to begin a “Neverland Writers’ Workshop,” in which we college students will write stories with children, giving them pointers and ideas. We still have much planning to do, but it is something that Neverland is looking forward to exploring.

Overall, Neverland has been one of the greatest things I have done with my college career. It is something that I can look back on and say, “I made a difference.” Neverland is giving children the chance to see their dreams come to life, and that is something very powerful.

Mitch Avitt '10 is a Psychology major from Des Moines, Iowa.

Singing Outside the Mold

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

 

I was extremely active in my high school’s choir. I spent more time, and certainly got more joy out of it, than I did in most of my classes. Not that I was a fantastic singer, but I found happiness in the group’s sound.

Coming to Grinnell, I assumed I would leave that world behind. I knew I would have a work-study job, I knew I wanted to concentrate on building friendships more than anything, and most of all, I was terrified of the work load I had heard college brought with it. So I assumed that whatever time was not spent in the dishroom or making friends to last a lifetime would be spent studying.

Silly me — I thought I would be OK with that sacrifice.

Instead, I regretted not trying out for the Grinnell Singers horribly. It was painful how much I missed the camaraderie of a choir, and the satisfaction that came of being part of a wall of sound.

I was right, however, that my time would be precious. I had very few free nights, and even if I did try out for Singers later on, I knew that it would require more time than I could give. On a whim, second semester of my first year, I left dinner Wednesday night with a couple of friends and walked with them toward Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. That night I attended my first YGB rehearsal.

YGB, or Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir, is now one of my favorite activities. You may think, when hearing the name of this choir, that there is a certain type of person who is a member. But I promise you, Grinnell is a place where we fight every social construct created.

I am Christian, so for me there is meaning in the music that we sing. But the two girls I went with that first night are both Jewish. Other members of the choir are professed atheists or agnostics. Similarly, I am caucasian, so there is another criterion I might not seem to fit. We also have several members who practice with us who live in the town of Grinnell, and are not exactly “young.”

The common factor in all of us? We love to sing. Without fail, there are smiles on all of our faces. We sing, laugh, dance, and tour together. Once more, I am a member of a wall of sound that thrills me to the core.

This wall also spreads God’s word and joy to communities across the country. I said that every member of the choir smiles and laughs, but that is nothing to the expressions that I see on the faces of those we sing for. You can see that our music reaches the congregations and schools we sing to on tour. This is an awesome thing, whether you believe in God or not. Changing someone’s life while singing and dancing is without a doubt one of the best ways you can spend your time, and I have never once regretted walking into that rehearsal last year.

Karin Bursch ’12 is undecided about her major and from Iowa City, IA.

Just a Small Town Girl

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Sure, Grinnell College is surrounded by seemingly endless cornfields. The bustling metropolises of Des Moines and Iowa City are each about an hour away. Still, you won’t believe everything you can do on campus each week. Sometimes, though, after running around from one appointment to another during the week and studying in every open nook on campus, I need a brief retreat from the College’s grounds. And that’s when I head to town.

Grinnell, the town, may not be that big, and at first glance, it may look like there’s little to do. Don’t let appearances fool you. As someone who grew up near a sizable university town, I was at first skeptical of how much fun I’d have in small downtown Grinnell. But I love this thriving and friendly community, and have many fond memories of events or activities that have taken place just a few blocks from campus.

From time to time, I like to grab a meal in town. Whether it’s curry at Thai Basil, pizza from Pag’s or Jimbo’s, breakfast at the A&M Cafe, or Chinese food from Chuong Garden, I’ve always had fun bonding with my friends over copious amounts of food. Similarly, my friends and I like to walk over to Saints Rest Coffeehouse, grab a cup of joe, and nurse it slowly while enjoying the cozy atmosphere and chatting with regulars or writing papers. For those times when we get a case of the midnight munchies, my friends and I resort to the traditional 2 a.m. bakery run to the Danish Maid Bakery, where we get fresh donuts just out of the cookers. In the fall, we head to the downtown farmers’ market to grab some produce, drool over mounds of fresh baked goods, and chat with the vendors about their products or life in general. Regardless of what time of day it is, there always seems to be a moment when food can bring you, your friends, and the town closer together.

Another great way to explore the town of Grinnell is by volunteering. A lot of my friends do community service work and have been involved in projects at local schools, churches, the community center, and retirement homes. One of my favorite volunteer experiences was with the Community Meal, which takes place every Tuesday at the elementary school. After helping prepare a meal, there’s nothing better than to sit down with members of the community and talk about non-academic subjects. We all need a break from school every now and then!

While it may seem that all of my intown adventures revolve around food, I assure you, I’ve had many fun nonfood experiences in Grinnell as well. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than to take some time off and run to one of the nearby parks with a group of friends. I’ve received some odd looks from the 5-year-olds when I swing on monkey bars and act even younger than they do, but acting like a kid can be the best of all stress-relievers.

There’s a lot more to Grinnell than cornfields, as I’ve learned over the past few years. Creative minds partnered with a town like this one make the best adventures and stories to share with people at home.

Aki Shibuya '11 is a History major from Orinda, California.

It’s All in the Palate

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

 

Issue: 

 Winter 2008

 
It has been almost one year since I was in South India, and the memory that still elicits an intense visceral reaction is the food. Show me a picture of a dosai on Google and I can’t tear my eyes away. I hear the crunch in the back of my mind as I first eat the crispy edges of this cracker-thin, rice and lentil “pancake.” The middle is next to go — I tear the soft, chewier center into strips and wrap it around a helping of coconut chutney, shoveling the entire combination into my mouth with my hand. Now I really want an Indian thali meal, common to most restaurants: a banana leaf sprinkled with water lines the bottom of a round, stainless steel tray, and about six to eight small stainless steel cups filled with various edibles hug the sides. When I should be writing a literature review for class, I fantasize about the earliest time I can drive to Des Moines and get my hands on some instant dosai mix, or at least some paneer(cheese) for another dish.

Food definitely dominates my memories of my study abroad experience. My second evening in South India was absolute foodie heaven: palak paneerchappatialoo gobidalsambarrotiiddlidosas, and chutney all passed from plate to mouth to the shock of my taste buds. Having arrived the day before, my sense of taste still reeled not only from the cholesterol-laden airplane food, but also from a general disconnect between my palate and brain. I bit into a potato chunk only to register a few seconds later the piece of hot green chili stuck to the side.

It wasn’t too long before I found out my spice tolerance was abysmally low. As the semester progressed, gentle teasing about my unsophisticated Indian palate, insignificant appetite (by Indian standards), and unrefined eating technique was not an uncommon activity in my host family’s household. “Is this too spicy for you?” my host amma (mother) would ask every night for a month even when barely a pinch of green chili was added. My paati (grandmother) chuckled whenever sambar juice dribbled down my chin as I tried to (unsuccessfully) scoop sopping rice with my right hand. Pause, rearrange fingers, demonstrate, now you try made up the substance of our initial gestured interactions. “You’re worse than a baby,” my amma teased on more than one occasion.

Eating food wasn’t all that enriched my experience — discussing the gastronomic effects of curd rice versus onion chutney added another dimension to the edible experience. That first week, I bonded with my program mates over our stomachs’ revolt against the new bacteria cultures. Bathroom activities took center stage in our daily conversations as we debated the various gastrointestinal effects of the rich, spicy cuisine. As the semester progressed, “bathroom humor” ceased to be a trademark of an immature mind and instead became a fact of daily life for us American students in India.

I’m proud to note that by semester’s end, my spice tolerance had increased to rival that of any self-respecting South Indian family. There was a lilt of surprise in my amma’s voice one day when she told me she no longer made my food separately from the family’s. “I didn’t think you could handle it, but now you can. You have become truly Indian,” she joked. It had only taken two months for the complete transformation.

Though my tolerance levels have probably plummeted to dismal levels in the year since I studied abroad, I still look forward to the occasional reconnection to South Indian cuisine and memories of my time in Madurai. Sometimes visceral memories are the strongest. The next time I am lucky enough to take a bite of chutney and dosai I’ll be certain India

Alisha Saville '09 is a Sociology major from Carbondale, Illinois.

 

The Beauty of Prairie Butterflies

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Before last summer, the only butterfly I could identify was a monarch, and the only prairie plant I knew was a coneflower. Thanks to an internship grant from the Center for Prairie Studies at Grinnell, I not only learned how to identify a multitude of butterflies and their favorite flowers, but I also spent last summer teaching kids in the Grinnell community to do the same.

Grinnell is located right in the middle of what used to be tallgrass prairie from horizon to horizon. What is now a landscape dominated by row crops and the occasional town was once an extremely biodiverse landscape where bugs of many varieties, including beautiful butterflies, used to roam. Today there are massive sycamores in the middle of campus and lots of other trees scattered around, but prior to European-American habitation of the area, it is rumored that there wasn’t a single tree within a three-mile radius of campus.

My journey to learn all about Iowa’s native butterflies and plants began with the Poweshiek Skipper Project and a talk with Larissa Mottl at the Center for Prairie Studies. The Poweshiek skipper is a small brown butterfly first identified by a Grinnell professor in the late 1800s; it is named for the county in which Grinnell resides. Due to loss of habitat, the Poweshiek skipper hasn’t been spotted in Poweshiek County for many years, and Grinnell’s Center for Prairie Studies decided to investigate.

Larissa realized early on that the best way to get people looking for and talking about the Poweshiek skipper was to tell kids about it, putting not only their sharp young eyes and brains to work, but also their parents’. Together Larissa and I created a unique one-time internship with the city of Grinnell Parks and Recreation Board in which I would work on creating and implementing butterfly conservation education projects and opportunities for kids in Grinnell. The goal was to get Grinnell kids excited about butterflies and the prairie and help create and renew the natural habitat of Iowa.

My internship entailed collaborative projects that spanned the realms of the College, the Grinnell elementary schools, and the Grinnell Public Library. I worked with the College’s art gallery to develop and implement community art projects featuring butterflies. I arranged a butterfly day at the public library. By the end of the summer, I had created a plan with the principal and teachers at one of the elementary schools to plant a butterfly garden on the school grounds. I also got to attend the North American Prairie Conference in Winona, Minn., and connect with other people working on increasing prairie habitat awareness.

In addition to my interesting and educational encounters with educators, artists, insect biologists, and prairie specialists, I also got to see the beauty of summer in Iowa. Summer in Grinnell includes such delights as the weekly farmers’ market, Thursday Music in the Park, and endless BBQs with other Grinnellians who also made Grinnell their home for the summer. I ended up with new networking and organizational skills, a wealth of new knowledge about butterflies and prairies, and a mind full of memories of a town I have grown to love.

Paige Greenley '09 is a Anthropology/Environmental Studies major from Eugene, Oregon.

Diversity and Unity

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

 

The International Student Organization’s annual Food Bazaar (one of my favorite events of the fall semester) is an obvious celebrations of Grinnell’s diversity. But for me, what stands out most about the event is the unity that emerges from within that diversity.

Take my experience this year: one of my friends called me to ask if I would like to help make momos, a type of Tibetan/ Nepalese dumpling. Two other girls from Nepal would join us to make three different types of momos — chicken, beef, and vegetarian.

The Food Bazaar took place on a Sunday evening, which meant Saturday night found the four of us in a residence hall kitchen, attempting to prepare the fillings. Between washing, chopping, and mixing what seemed like vast quantities of vegetables and meat, there was much talking, laughing, and crying (due to particularly potent onions). There was a (playfully) heated discussion that began over the origin of momos, which led into the similarities and differences of different kinds of dumplings, and then to China-Tibet relations. It was definitely a bonding experience, but the process wasn’t over yet. We still had to wrap and steam what looked to be a few hundred momos — with only one steamer between the four of us. It looked like Sunday would be a long day.

While the Nepalese girls steamed the chicken and vegetable momos, my partner and I brought a table up to the hallway of his floor, set out the beef filling and wonton wrappers, put on some music, and began wrapping. Over the next few hours, half of the occupants of the floor stopped to help, leading to more bonding.

We didn’t get the steamer until midafternoon and didn’t have time to steam all our momos before the event started, so we brought a second batch later. The bazaar featured about 50 dishes (including appetizers, main dishes, and, of course, desserts) from all over the world. Since diners were limited to five dishes per ticket, the hardest part was choosing from the wonderful array.

The diversity in the room was obvious, but so was the unity. In addition to Grinnell students, lots of people from the town came, ranging from young children to senior citizens. They enjoyed food from across the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The sense of community was evident — a room full of good food, chatter, laughter, and the excitement of trying new things for the first time.

And I have to say, our momos were delicious. They all looked different depending on who had wrapped them — some were round, some were more triangular, some were folded into neat little packets, and some were barely holding together, but they were all gone by the end of the evening, leaving us with empty pans, some dishes to wash, strong memories, and stronger bonds.

Denise Borsuk '11 is a Psychology major and Global Development Studies concentrator from Singapore.

Choosing Grinnell

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

 

I remember coming home from school one February afternoon and rushing to the mailbox to check on college admission letters. When I found a big red envelope that read “Congratulations!” my mother and I screamed with joy.

My college search process was a long and hard one. It took awhile for me to know what I really wanted. As the deadline for college applications crept up, panic set in. I hadn’t yet felt a strong attraction to a particular school. In that rush, I applied to a mix of schools, hoping I’d get into at least one where I would be happy.

Then something changed. I found Grinnell College and fell in love.

OK. Maybe “love” is too extreme a word to describe the first time I looked at the College and its offerings, but it’s close. Something clicked with Grinnell. Something made me feel it was the right place to go.

My story of choosing Grinnell was an interesting one. While discussing my college plans with a family friend, she suggested I check out her alma mater, Grinnell College. I was intrigued. After some more research, I was delighted at the prospects: a top-notch liberal arts education, small class sizes, no general education rules besides tutorial and major requirements, and a diverse student body. I was sold.

A few months later, I found myself exploring the Grinnell campus on a warm April day. As my visit progressed, I was further convinced that I belonged at Grinnell. I met students who were passionate about what they studied as well as friendly and open. I sat in on stimulating classes. I was surprised that students had so much to do on campus during the weekend. Of all my college visits, this was, by far, my favorite. I knew I had made the right choice to attend Grinnell College.

Even after being here for almost two years of rigorous academic work, my perceptions of Grinnell College have not changed. While there are day-to-day challenges, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Grinnell is a special place, and I won’t ever forget that.

Aki Shibuya ’11 is a History major from Orinda, California.