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Editor’s View: Finding Diversity in Surprising Places

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


When I applied to Grinnell, my admission essay opened with the line, “I am a 17-year-old, Caucasian, upper-middle-class suburbanite from a public school.” I knew that colleges were looking for a “diverse” student body, and I was well aware that my diversity credentials weren’t very impressive. In order to combat my statistical shortcomings, I tried to poke fun at my seemingly non-diverse self by mentioning some of the “Erin-esque” qualities characterizing me — qualities such as rarely leaving the house without saturating all exposed areas of my body with sunscreen (even in the winter) and my goal to one day pet a cow. The theme of my essay was that although I sound like everyone else on paper, in reality I have enough idiosyncrasies to make me (hopefully) stand out from the huge pile of applicants vying for admission at Grinnell.

Looking back at my essay three and a half years later, I am a tad embarrassed by the clichéd nature of my claims. Yet, when I arrived at Grinnell, I realized that at least my cliché was apt. The Grinnell website provides the following information about the class of 2010: 51 percent are female, 19 percent are students of color, 8 percent are international, 74 percent are from public schools, and 11 percent are first-generation college students. But Grinnellians are also peculiar, eccentric, quirky, and diverse in ways that do not fit into neat and tidy categories.

For example, one of the first times I ever took a shower at the Physical Education Complex (or the PEC, as it is fondly known), I felt nervous about being naked in front of strangers. This nervousness subsided when the student showering next to me suddenly turned to me and said, “Whoa … You have the smallest wrists I’ve ever seen! Can I touch one?”

Well, it certainly wasn’t the question I was expecting from a stranger in the shower, but she seemed friendly enough, so I obliged. I guess you can say my wrists added “diversity” to the shower that day. It was something small, both figuratively and literally, but it felt good to have something characteristically me.

Another time a friend teased me about the nasalized vowels of my “Chicago accent.” I have an accent? I thought. I never knew! Everyone from my suburb called their mothers “Mahhhm.” But here, that wasn’t the case.

Similar stories exist for many Grinnell students. Not until we were all thrown together in small-town Iowa, originating in countless different places, did we notice our own eccentricities that seem so peculiar to others. Aspects of our personalities, our speech patterns, and our interests that fit the norm at home were “different” at Grinnell. Thus Grinnell is filled with lots of strange and “diverse” people. We’ve got small wrists. We’ve got large wrists. We’ve got accents. We’ve got people who claim they have no accent (but they probably do). We’ve got people who say pop. People who say soda. People who say Coke. We’ve got drinkers. Non-drinkers. We’ve got whistlers. Tree climbers. Streakers. People who prefer to remain clothed in public. I’ve met people who enjoy the Beach Boys as much as I do (and many who do not). There are those who shower twice a day, those who shower twice a week, those who shower when they get the chance (which isn’t that often). We’ve got chefs, photographers, athletes, cat lovers, and pumpkin carvers. We’ve got those who have intense crushes on the collective childhood cast of the Harry Potter movies, and those who defiantly refuse to even pick up a Harry Potter book. We’ve got a little bit of a lot of things.

It’s true that in any community there are ways to pick out differences that make each person unique. But never have I been part of a community with quite the large array of characteristics that not only make each member unique, but also that make the entire community better. I am surrounded by 1,500 other students whose joint-diversity transcends easy categories — whose idiosyncrasies cannot be reduced to a pie chart and sent out in an admission brochure. I agree that socioeconomic/racial/etc. diversity is important to any environment, especially in the intellectual haven of academe. But it’s also important to know that Grinnell is a fab place for the discovery and appreciation of all types of difference. Even if it’s only the size of your wrists or the way you say “sahh-sage.”

Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.

A Pants-Optional Affair

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

I consider myself a pretty conservative dresser. My shorts are always mid-thigh or longer, my T-shirts cover my naughty parts in their entirety, and my swimsuit comes in only one piece. All in all, I tend to keep myself pretty well covered.

Unless it’s a Wednesday night in Burling. Because every Wednesday night after dinner, I participate in a magical event known as No Pants Wednesday.

It’s a pretty simple concept, actually. On Wednesday nights, a group of students opt not to wear pants in the library. We wear pants to the library, but upon finding a study table, the pants come off, the books come open, and the stares from some of the library patrons who aren’t used to this fast-growing tradition come often.

Legend has it that No Pants Wednesday began when a young man, whilst taking a study break on a Wednesday evening, accidentally saturated his pants with a cold beverage. As the liquid soaked into the fabric, he grew uncomfortable, and a friend suggested he simply remove the source of his discomfort. Wet Pants Man was hesitant. Pants are part of our culture, he argued. With the exception of swimming, bathing, and various personal activities, some sort of complete covering of the bottom is required. Many restaurants declare “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service,” but it’s likely that if a person came in without pants, he or she would be denied service as well.

“Look,” the friend says to Wet Pants. “If you take off your pants, I’ll take off mine.”

An agreement was reached. Pants were removed. A legend was born.

Now most people unsurprisingly want to know, seriously, what’s with the lack of pants? One time, a librarian sent a student worker over to the No Pants table looking for that very answer.

“Excuse me,” she said timidly. “Why aren’t you guys wearing any pants?”

“Because it’s No Pants Wednesday!” we replied.

The student did not seem very thrilled with our vague response, but it was the only one to give. Phrased another way, while some people ask why not wear pants?, we ask why not NOT wear pants?

Guys usually wear boxers, and one evening I cited the fact that this didn’t seem very fair, as boys in boxers are not nearly as attention-grabbing as girls in panties. Several days later in response to my complaint, two male participants stood up in the middle of studying and ceremoniously lowered their boxers, only to reveal matching tighty-whities.

Our table got more sideways glances than usual that evening.

We are No Pants Wednesday. We risk discomfort, exposure, and the cold for the sake of upholding the tradition week after week after week. We risk bemused gazes, lots of questioning, a lack of productivity, and rashes on our bums due to our raw skin rubbing directly on the fabric of our chairs, all because otherwise, the only thing to do in the library would be to study.

One night at the end of last semester, I found myself the last of the No-Pantsers still in the library. Just before 1 a.m., a student library employee approached me to suggest I start packing up my stuff because the library was closing. Then she asked the usual question: “Um … why aren’t you wearing pants?”

Before I could answer her, a librarian poked his head out from around the corner of a bookshelf and explained to her, quite seriously, “Because it’s No Pants Wednesday!”


Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.

Grinnell’s Green Thumbs

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

The transition from small farms and backyard gardens to centralized agriculture has distanced us from our food. We no longer know who grows our food or how they grow it. This, in turn, distances us from our environment and community. Large-scale monocultures leave our soils vulnerable to erosion and let chemicals leach into our groundwater. Our reliance on prepared foods from grocery stores instead of whole foods from local farms weakens our local economy and our community’s health. This food system is unsustainable and harmful.

Fortunately, the status quo is gradually changing as local, small-scale producers receive more recognition and support. Grinnell College has started to be a part of that change. Students have encouraged the dining hall to incorporate more local foods into the menu. With the growing interest in agriculture on campus, small groups of students are also working to revitalize the Community Garden on campus.

This fall, Grinnellians rolled out of bed early on Saturday morning to get their hands dirty in the garden, clearing out weeds, laying down compost, and planting seeds. They transformed plots of canary grass and past-their-prime tomatoes into a four-season harvest garden with hardy greens and root vegetables. This transformation was made possible with the construction of cold frames and hoop houses, small structures that act as miniature greenhouses and protect plants from the frost. We enjoyed carrots and beets, fresh from the garden, in late November. The mistakes we made along the way created opportunities for innovation and laughter. For instance, we experimented with three different hoop houses before settling on a version that survived the Iowa winds.

Because each person contributes a unique skill set to the garden projects, we teach each other and learn from each other. With his enthusiasm for building and tinkering, Sam Calisch ’10 designed and built an 80-gallon rain catchment system that supplied the garden with fresh, clean water all semester. Elyssa Mopper ’11 led a vermiculture workshop and has helped the garden develop an effective composting system. Students living off-campus and cooks for the Vegan Co-op trudge down to the garden — even in snowy weather — to return their kitchen scraps to the land instead of to the landfill. Over fall break, a group of students, staff, and local people replastered the walls of the straw-bale tool shed.

With such a diverse group, we have been able to accomplish much more than just grow a few vegetables. We have laid the foundation for sustainable, interconnected system that captures rainwater, returns waste to natural cycles, and models natural building practices. By connecting students to the land and the food they eat, the garden has also inspired other initiatives on campus.

The Local Foods Co-op, supported by Dean Porter ’10, Ami Freeberg ’10, and Erica Hougland ’10, has connected students to Paul’s Grains, an organic producer in Laurel, Iowa. Nathan Pavloic ’10, Alex Reich ’11, and Caitlin Vaughan ’10 are spearheading a movement to establish EcoHouse, a College-owned house that would model sustainable living practices and nurture a community of environmentally sensitive activists. This summer, I will be staying in Grinnell, along with Alex Reich ’11, Eric Nost ’09, and Meredith Groves ’08 to coordinate a local foods initiative funded through the Davis Foundation.

The garden focuses and unifies diverse forms of activism, all seeking to nurture the land and our communities. It creates space for us to gather as a community to work, eat, laugh, and learn together.

Hart Ford-Hodges '10 is a Biology major from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

ISO "Awes"

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


It was midnight when I arrived in the Des Moines airport from Honduras. As I walked through the empty corridors of the airport, nothing could be heard but the hum of the air conditioning and the sound of my footsteps. As other late travelers strolled past, I repeated the instructions I had received in a packet from the International Student Organization (ISO), just to make sure I was doing the right thing: “Go to the baggage claim area, and students in gray T-shirts will meet you and take you to Grinnell.” It was hard to imagine that someone was actually waiting for me in the middle of the night, especially when the airport seemed so dead.

When I finally got to the baggage claim area, all I felt was relief. Right in front was a table covered by a scarlet and black banner that read “Grinnell College” beneath the distinctive Grinnell insignia. Scarlet and black balloons floating above made it seem even more cheerful.

All of my worries abandoned me the instant I saw a person in a gray T-shirt approach me. He must have assumed I was the person he was waiting for, as I was the only nervous-looking girl amidst the older travelers. He introduced himself with a welcoming smile and said his name was MQ. He was from Korea. I noticed his shirt said, “Come to Grinnell, Experience the World.” My first thought was, how is this possible? By the end of that week, I already had the answer.

As I later found out, 59 other students from 33 countries around the world had also arrived in Grinnell on the same day. Within the next four days, the College staff would guide us through International Student Orientation (ISO), a program to prepare us for college life in the United States. There were sessions like “Immigration ABCs,” “Academic Life in the U.S.A.,” and “Academic Honesty.” We also visited downtown Grinnell in an exciting scavenger hunt. ISO concluded with an old-fashioned barn dance at the Lang Farm. This was our introduction to the United States, and in this way we rightfully claimed our titles as new “Grinnellians.”

Only during our last session was I able to see how diverse our group was. Karen Edwards, the coordinator of ISO, said, “Go to a place in the room where your country would be located geographically.” As I walked to the middle of the west side of the room, I glanced around. Everyone seemed to be thinking critically about where they would be. After a few seconds, we were all in our places. North of me there was a smiling Mexican and South of me there was a cheerful Costa Rican. Even farther south, I saw two girls, one from Ecuador and the other from Brazil. Across the “Atlantic,” the Europeans were chatting. To the east, the Asians were finding their seats, and to the south, the Africans were already settled down. As I looked around the room, everyone was speaking cheerfully to their neighbors, and I realized that this was how vast our world was. Despite this, we were still united here, in one place under our new title: “Grinnellians.”

When you come to Grinnell, make sure to travel the world. You can do this by simply speaking to an international student and asking him or her to speak to you in his or her native language. Ask about culture, and the many different things he or she has seen. When I think about it, the message on MQ’s shirt had a lot of truth: “Come to Grinnell, Experience the World.”

Glenda Lopez '12 is undeclared and from S.P.S., Honduras.

Tilting with Windmills in Tutorial

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



 Fall 2007

I remember sitting at my computer, scrolling through the list of choices for my tutorial class. My eyes jumped across the screen, and my mind nearly exploded with excitement. There were so many different topics to choose from, I could barely contain my geeky self. There were courses ranging from environmental science to Icelandic sagas to weird music to basically anything that could be possibly studied at a liberal arts college. There was even a class entirely dedicated to studying Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I mean, how many college students get to do that for an entire semester?

After about two hours of shuffling through my choices, I settled on “Don Quixote and the Modern World.” Since I am interested in Spanish language and culture, I figured this class would be a perfect opportunity to read one of the classic novels of the modern world. Never mind the literary analysis aspect; I just wanted to read about a crazy old man who tilts with windmills. Stepping into class on the first day, there was that familiar first-day awkward silence. Not only did most of us not know anyone else in the class, it was also eight o’clock in the morning, an hour at which most of us could barely function. Just as we were about to fall asleep, the door swung open and our professor, Esther Fernández, greeted us with a warm smile. “Good morning, clase!”

After briefly discussing the purpose and goals of the class, we dove straight into the book. That’s what I found great about tutorial. Although its focus is teaching first-years how to adjust to college- level writing and research, the bulk of class time goes into discussing your topic. I quickly became engrossed in dissecting every bit of Don Quixote’s literary adventures. I fell in love with the text and was surprised with the amount of vulgarity and satire Cervantes was able to get away with without censure by the post-Inquisition Spanish government.

New discoveries such as these make class discussions fun and exciting. Not only is our professor always challenging us to dig deeper than generic answers and move beyond the literal words on the page, she is also very animated and engaging. The day we discussed the windmills story, Profesora Fernández reenacted the dialogue between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in her tiny, but fierce, Spanish manner, and the class couldn’t stop laughing. Another time the class got a kick out of trying to explain the concept of “emo” toProfesora by using the character of Grisóstomo, an astronomy-student-turned-shepherd who writes bad poetry, as an example. With experiences such as these, I’ve found that I enjoy the content and dynamics of the class so much that I no longer mind getting up early to attend.

After this semester, the class will be over, but the relationships we have forged will not be. Yes, that sounds like a big ball of cheese dipped in more cheese, but it’s true. Our class chemistry is pretty tight, and I can easily see my classmates spending time together in the future. Our professor, meanwhile, will serve as academic adviser for each of us until we declare a major. Essentially, the tutorial is our social and academic core. And to keep myself from sounding like a college brochure — because I’m sure you get enough of those — I’ll stop there.

For now, I’m excited for what the rest of the semester has in store for my tutorial class. Maybe some more role-playing? Or using more 21st-century slang to explain a 17th-century text? Who knows? But what I do know is that I’m actually having fun while working my tail off to adjust to college life. While there is a good-sized leap from high school to college-level writing, I assure you that it isn’t anything to fear. Tutorial is a challenge to look forward to when you get to Grinnell. Think of it as an adventure, like Don Quixote. Just don’t go off and fight windmills. Knowing the end results, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try it.

Aki Shibuya '11 is undeclared and from Orinda, California.


A Place of My Own

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

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.

Stepping off the plane, I was shocked to see that I was at a proper, if somewhat small, airport. Even so, Des Moines — the capital and one of the biggest cities in Iowa — paled in comparison to my hometown, Kuala Lumpur. I lived in the heart of KL, seven minutes from what were at the time the world’s tallest towers. I was also seven minutes from Malaysia’s very own Times Square, which houses thousands of shops including Asia’s largest indoor theme park, as well as the biggest Borders bookstore in the world. Des Moines simply could not compare.

While driving to the College, I spotted fields of corn and soybeans all around me. I could not recall ever having seen cornfields before. I tried to brace myself for what I expected would be an introduction to a remote, uninhabited prairie, but it never came. I spotted a Subway and a KFC. I saw Wells Fargo and Radio Shack, and even a Pizza Hut. This turned out to be the town of Grinnell. The phrase “in the middle of nowhere,” I discovered, was actually something of an overstatement.

I remember my first time gallivanting about town. I liked it immediately. I liked how personable it felt, how quiet and restful. I shall not deny that the absence of a Starbucks, or a 7 Eleven, or a restaurant that stayed open past 10 p.m., or a building taller than three stories, was not lost on me. Yet, these were not obvious disadvantages. In place of Starbucks, Grinnell offered me Saints Rest, which, while it did not serve my favorite green tea frappuccino, offered better music and wonderfully affable company. In place of late-night restaurants, there were cozy pubs. In place of chain stores, quirky, agreeable little shops tried to cater to my needs and wants.

I did not immediately like certain things about small-town Grinnell. I found the lack of streetlights rather disturbing at first, coming as I do from a metropolis where snatch-thieves and other dodgy characters abound in dimly lit areas. Now, I feel comfortable going for nightly jaunts by myself without feeling the need to look behind me every 10 seconds. I enjoy a clear vision of the sky and the stars. The town of Grinnell is not exactly diverse: many of the townies are white, Christian, and somewhat conservative. Having said that, these same townies are friendly — they will open doors for you, smile when passing you, exchange greetings on the street, and offer to help you with those heavy bags. Again, not something a city-dweller is used to.

The weather here is also very different. I come from a tropical country where the temperature never dips below 77 degrees and never rises above 95 degrees. The sun rises at 6:30 a.m. and sets at 6:30 p.m. every single day of the year. This is my third Midwestern winter, and I have yet to get used to it. Here, winters can be brutal; they can also be wildly unpredictable. I love how one can wake up in the middle of January to a warm and snowless day. Similarly, we can and do get a week of crazy cold weather in the middle of April or May.

As a child, I lived in several countries before moving to Malaysia. That early nomadic existence meant that while I felt comfortable moving around and could settle in easily enough, I never felt like any place was my place. I was always a traveler — every “home” was merely a temporary dwelling. From the moment I came here, I liked the College and the town. Obviously then, I was still in my honeymoon phase. Yet, two and a half years later, I am still in love with this place. A longer honeymoon phase, perhaps? It does not feel like it. It feels like I have finally found a place of my own.

Smita Elena Sharma '08 is a Philosophy major from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Tales of a Transfer

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

As my parents helped me unload the station wagon and carry my belongings up four flights of stairs on that hot afternoon in late August, the realization that this was the place where I would spend the next four years only added to my excessive perspiration. College. I was about to embark on the adventure of roommates, late night cramming, and defining myself.

I never expected it to be a one-year stint.

When people ask me why I transferred to Grinnell College from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, I think they expect some sort of horror story. After all, transfers are so few and far between — something awful must have happened for an enthusiastic first-year student to want to leave. But such an assumption is wrong on both counts — on average, most colleges retain only four out of five firstyears, and my experience at Cornell was by no means awful. In fact, I’m grateful for it. I took some incredible classes, made some great friends with whom I stay in touch, and learned a lot about myself. So why did I leave a small, liberal arts school ending in “nell” for a different small, liberal arts school ending in “nell” — also located in a small town in Iowa? At face value, it seems as though the differences couldn’t be more subtle.

Cornell College is an awesome institution (and I mean that in its sincerest form), but it wasn’t for me. Grinnell has proved to be a better match. My reasons might seem trivial to some, but for me they’ve made all the difference. I’ve found the semester plan at Grinnell offers more lecture time than the block plan. Self-governance fuels an atmosphere of student activism and involvement at Grinnell. Without social groups like fraternities and sororities, Grinnell has a greater variety of student clubs and activities to try. Hardly anyone I know has a TV in his or her room, and the dorms, which are inhabited by the co-mingling of first-years through seniors, don’t have cable access. Students on this campus are less likely to wear high heels to class and are more likely to be seen walking barefoot.

Throughout my year at Cornell, I found myself often wondering what it would be like if I had gone to Grinnell. I didn’t want to spend three years wondering “what if,” so I made the switch. While transferring has had its challenges, it wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined it would be. All of my credits transferred, and I’m scheduled to graduate on time. My fear of being constantly mistaken for a first-year has seldom occurred, and the most common mistake people make about me is thinking I’m from Iowa. While I miss my friends from last year, adjusting to a new campus environment was easier the second time around, since I was used to to living away from home. (Meeting a bunch of people while being yourself gets easier with practice … round two was far less nerve-racking.)

But my greatest fear about transferring was I would trade in one set of grievances for a different one. And I was right. Grinnell isn’t perfect. But picking the right college is about figuring out what matters to you the most, and figuring out which gripes you are most able to tolerate. The whole process can seem like a shot in the dark. The best advice I can give is to visit the schools you apply to, and ask as many questions as you can of the students and professors (because after you’re enrolled, you rarely encounter admission staff). Ask the right questions, while you’re at it — such as what people like about a school and what they don’t like. And remember that it is always possible to make a switch — even if you’d planned on being in the same place for four years.

Elizabeth Jach '09 is a Psychology major from Brookfield, Wisconsin.


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


It was late July, and I sat at my computer, feverishly checking the Grinnell PioneerWeb networking site for my first-year housing information. It was probably the third or fourth time that night I had checked, and yet I still had hope that another click on the refresh button would yield the answer to my question. Certainly knowing which dorm I got into was one thing — I could have seen myself in any of the rooms at Grinnell, from the cozy residence halls of South Campus to the high-ceilinged modernity of East Campus — but it was not the room I was concerned with, but rather the roommate.

Who would he be? I had always envisioned my roommate in the vein ofThe Catcher in the Rye: an outgoing, big-shot roommate to contrast with my own reserved self. I pored over the roommate questionnaire I had hastily answered earlier that summer. What had I checked again?

Then I saw it. An e-mail in my new Grinnell mailbox from my prospective roommate. My existing conceptions of him were shattered. I knew nothing. His name was Chinese, this much I knew. Later I would enlist the help of my Chinese-speaking friends to ensure that I would not make the fatal error of mispronouncing my future roommate’s name.

I eagerly read through the e-mail, starting with his humorous assumption that I was “from Deutschland,” to his introduction of himself, his city, and his hobbies. He told me we would share “tears and happiness” together at Grinnell. As excited as I was to meet him, I was worried my ignorance of his culture would make it difficult for us to connect as friends.

One month later, after occasional but regular e-mail communication, I was ready to meet my roommate, Wenyang Qian ’12. I arrived at Grinnell and unpacked my stuff in the already half-filled room. I found a note explaining Wenyang’s momentary absence and his excitement to finally meet me.

The door burst open, and in bounded the raw energy that I came to know as Wenyang. While I was exhausted by my day of traveling, he had spent the last few days getting to know Grinnell during International Student Orientation. He was all ready to show me around and introduce me to people. We went to dinner together, talked about how we had chosen Grinnell, and the strange hands of fate and coincidence that had brought him, from Nanjing, China, and me, from Redmond, Wash. (not Germany), to the same dorm room at a small college in the middle of Iowa.

We both marveled at the stars in the night sky and the openness of the Midwest, and shared our photos and stories from our lives at home. As it turned out, we were not so strange to each other as we had each imagined. We both possessed the intellectual curiosity and courage that had brought us to Grinnell. We both had experience with long-distance relationships and similar views of romance. We even found out that we enjoyed some of the same movies, including the French film Amélie.

As the academic year commenced, we still found time to enjoy our talks together, even when we busied ourselves with activities outside the room. We shared our tears and happiness.

Lindy Hopping Around the World

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

“So what kind of dancing do you do?” my grandmother asked me when I visited her for lunch one day this past summer. “Swing,” I tell her again and then try to explain a little better. “Like Lindy Hop, or the Charleston.”

“Oh,” she said. “I used to do those.” She’s surprised, of course, because a year ago if she’d talked to me about swing dancing, I would have said, “No way doll, you’re not getting me to flash my feet on the dance floor.” You know those kids in high school who just stand against the wall at prom, arms crossed, glaring at all their friends making fools of themselves with their crazy rave moves? Yeah, I was one of those kids. Wouldn’t even sway to music for a free iPod.

I tried to break out of that once I got to Grinnell. They had this club called the Grinnell Swing Society. Okay, cool. Went to one meeting, tried it out, felt like an idiot, and never went back.

Until the next year, when I promised myself I wouldn’t quit. I needed to challenge myself, and getting over my fear of public embarrassment seemed as big a mountain as any to start on. I went to every single class and still felt like a fool, but I had a whole lot of fun feeling like one.

Then it happened. I got addicted.

And gosh darn, it’s all Grinnell’s fault.

But let’s shim-sham this story back a bit. The leaders of the Swing Society were always urging members to attend swing exchanges. It’s a chance to visit someplace fun and dance with new people, they said. Each place has its own sense of dancing. Yeah right, I thought. Swing is swing is swing, and there’s only so many moves you can learn.

But then, with this new addiction running through my veins, I went to my first exchange. And boy, was I a million times wrong. It wasn’t completely different, of course, but the boys threw in quite a few moves I didn’t know. “Dude, show me that again,” I’d say, and they would, and I’d show my Grinnell friends, and we’d come back to campus with a sweet new move.

And that’s how you learn to swing dance. You visit places. You pick up their new moves.

The best part: you make a bazillion new friends.

I went home to Madison over the summer desperate to keep dancing. Now Madison’s not very far from Grinnell, but I still encountered some new moves I’d never seen before. By the end of the summer, my style had melded into a mixture of Grinnell and Madison. Grinadison Swing. And then, come August, I moved to London for the semester.


When you visit various countries, the differences invariably stick in your head, be it foods, clothing styles, or even television commercials (British commercials make no sense!). When I flew into the old Swing Capital of the World, what I noticed, it seems, was their difference of dance. Behind the back? I’ve never done that before. And what’s with all these aerials? But hey, these are kinda fun. I guess I can figure them out.

Grinnell Swing Girl Becomes Grinnell-Madison-London Swing Girl … Grinadon Swing Girl.

While swing dancing started in the United States, over the century it has spread to the entire world. In each place I visit, I learn a new move and meet new friends. What I learned in a small town in Iowa opened up a whole new Aladdin-and-his-magic-carpet world for me, a whole new bit of culture I can search out and find wherever I go. Sweet.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major and Gender and Women's studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.

ABBA Fans Unite

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

It’s a strange feeling, accomplishing a goal you didn’t know you had. It’s happened to me a few times at Grinnell, most markedly, when my former professor, Tim Arner, turned to me in the campus pub and said, “People who don’t like ABBA are bad people.” It happened again a few days later, when he wrote on his [plan], our Grinnell blog community, “If I could have a genie grant me just one wish, I would wish that everyone I know would sit down and watch Teen Wolf. Then I would wish that I had more wishes, but it would be too late because I already used up my one wish on the Teen Wolf thing.”

Who was this man? I wondered. He was my professor; he has a Ph.D. in the most painful period of British literature; and he had practically cried over the last lines of Beowulf, for God’s sake. Could he actually be cool?

I embarked on this road of professor-student friendship with my comrade-in-arms Jess Issacharoff ’09. Throughout my Grinnell career, I’ve often taken for granted the fact that I know my professors — until now. Because there’s no other way to say it: being friends with a professor is so cool. As undergraduates, I feel we’re often flailing for understanding. Knowing someone who knows so much more than I do — and plays video games — is both inspiring and comforting.

As you read this, I will have graduated from Grinnell, and it’s easy to wonder whether there’s a place for Grinnellians in the real world, a world of people who don’t think of “social construct” as a phrase to throw around at a dinner party. Professor Arner has shown me that life goes on after college; that I will have a house, a job, and a life, and I won’t constantly yearn to be back in college.

It’s a strange and sobering lesson, I suppose. But at this point, knowing intelligent, interesting, socially capable (for the most part) 30-somethings is exactly what I need. Plus, let’s be honest, there are too few ABBA-lovers in the world. We have to stick together.

Rachel Fields '09 is an English major from Lemont, Illinois.