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Once Upon a Time

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


As soon as I learned to read, I was never without a book. Often the characters were just as real to me as my siblings. When my father took me and my cousins out on forced-march hikes to some middle-of-nowhere place in rural South Dakota, I invented elaborate families, lives, and conversations for these characters. Due to my wild imagination, my cousins dubbed me “that kid.”

Aside from my own imaginary stories, I remember sitting around the oak kitchen table at my home, listening to my father tell the story (for the 15th time) of how he climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland as a 20-year-old college kid. His guide drank an entire bottle of wine on the way up. I can still hear my mother tell me about the boy she beat the tar out of in elementary school because he stole her jacks. Bedtime at my house was usually enforced — except when my Aunt Marge was over yakking about the latest drama at her vet clinic, or when my older brother Frank was home from his most recent crazy endeavor in the Marine Corps. When there were stories to be swapped, I was allowed to stay up as long as I wanted, listening.

Having been saturated with storytelling as a child, an English major seemed a logical choice for me at Grinnell. It would allow me to read and discuss stories while I did my homework. But I was happy to discover that stories weren’t relegated only to the academic sphere. Nowadays, I hear less about my father’s ability to blow smoke out his eyes and more about the friends I have made in the larger Grinnell community.

I met most of these people at a wonderful event called Community Meal, which takes place every Tuesday at Davis Elementary School. Sponsored by the chaplain’s office, along with community and student groups, the Community Meal brings people together to cook a free meal available to anyone who wants to come. Usually, about 100 people show up. Last week’s menu consisted of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, grilled cheese, assorted cookies, lemonade, and milk.

I would never call the skills I’ve acquired at Community Meal “culinary.” For while I am now able to chop many, many onions, open numerous cans of fruit cocktail, and make 12 boxes of Betty Crocker brownie mix, I spend most of the meal talking and listening to the stories people tell me about their lives. While we sit at folding lunch tables under bad fluorescent lighting, surrounded by colorful crayon artwork, I tell community members about the French exam I have on Friday and how I don’t think I will ever truly understand the subjunctive tense. In exchange, Dave will tell me stories about his time in Germany during World War II. Later, I will move to a different table and sit in on Erlene and Rose-Marie’s reoccurring and rather heated discussion about George Bush and Wal-Mart. Moving yet again, I will sit down next to a 95-year-old retired minister who sings me songs and tells me about his long-ago trips to Israel and Palestine.

As a result of these conversations, when I am sitting on the park bench in front of Wells Fargo or getting tea at Saints Rest, I feel less like a student from out of town and more like a part of the community at large. Grinnell, the school, is intense in many wonderful ways, and there is no point in denying that it can be stressful. That is the way of college. But it has been crucial to my perspective and my sanity to remember that a five- to seven-page paper pales in importance to a good story about someone’s life.

Sarah Boyer '08 is an English major from Rapid City, South Dakota.

Simplicity Gets a Bad Rap

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


Half an hour ago, as I walked back to my dorm after class, a pair of gorgeous monarch butterflies flitted across my path. Now, I have seen butterflies at home in Oregon — the white-winged kind that are actually just a prettier species of moth — but these were not Oregon butterflies. Dancing in front of me was a pair of true, orange-and-black, fluttery-winged monarchs looking for all the world like two butterflies in love.

I smiled and kept walking, but movement on a nearby tree caught my eye. I stopped and stared as two dozen more monarchs, which I had mistaken for orange leaves, took flight. They paired up as well, dipping and diving. Orange and black wings flashed and fluttered all around me as I stood breathless under the tree’s dappled sunlight, my eyes wide and my mouth agape.

I had flashbacks to the reactions of my high school teachers and friends when I told them I was going to Iowa for school. “Iowa? Why are you going there?” I’d shrug and tell them, “Because Grinnell is there,” as though that were the be-all and end-all of Grinnell.

But tell that to my roommate from China, who stood in the middle of Mac Field and looked up at the sky for 20 minutes because she had never seen stars before. “That’s the Big Dipper,” she squealed. “There’s Scorpio!” And I nodded, looking up at the sky with new eyes.

Tell that to a friend of mine who woke up in the middle of a particularly loud thunderstorm and couldn’t get back to sleep, not because she was afraid, but because she was fascinated by the unmistakable feeling of energy in the air, by the pregnant pause that came between eerily silent flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder, by the soothing sound of the rain.

And tell that to the classmate standing next to me in the cloud of monarch butterflies, trying futilely to take a picture with her cell phone.

There is so much more to the town of Grinnell than a college. It’s an adorable and caring community of 2 a.m. bakeries, ice cream cones as big as your forearm, farmers’ markets, hardware stores, and cafes ready to welcome a group of college students who just want to get off campus and play a loud game of cards. In fact, when it comes right down to it, everything you could ever want or need you can find in town, whether it’s a knitting store or a professional photography studio.

Most importantly, however, Grinnell is a place where it’s easy to take the time to have fun. It’s not uncommon to be walking around on campus and see students happily climbing trees, reading on the grass, or even trying (and failing) to hang up a tire swing. Grinnellians know how to work hard, but they know how to relax just as hard and to make their own fun by just appreciating the little things in life … like a cloud of dancing butterflies.

Debora Berk '12 is undeclared and from Clackamas, Oregon.

Good Conversation and Dining Hall Food

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



 Winter 2007


 Patrick Busch ’08

I’m not a regular visitor to language tables, but I do drop by occasionally when I have the time and happen to wander up to the second floor of the dining hall at the right time. At Grinnell, most language tables take place on a weekly basis in a room devoted almost exclusively to the purpose, just off the dining hall. For example, German table takes place every Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Every week most or all of the German professors come to the dining hall to eat dinner with the students who show up. My last visit to the German table occurred the week of Thanksgiving.

I didn’t plan it ahead of time, but I noticed that German table was starting and decided to go in and sit down. Soon I was drawn into a discussion with a professor about how my semester was going, which somehow evolved into a debate about the fastest route to St. Paul (which is where I’m from).

The discussions around the table were quite varied, in part because of different levels of language proficiency. One student had only taken German for two months, and because no English is spoken, she mostly sat and listened until another professor asked why we had all chosen to come to Grinnell. The novice German student spoke slowly, but kept going, misplacing a verb here and there. When she came to a word she didn’t know, her own professor stepped in, supplied the word, and explained that she had only started learning past tense the week before.

As much as I like German, I am a college student with lots of academic commitments and I do have a life beyond studying — much of it centered around dinner. At Grinnell, dinner is one of the few times on weekdays most people have relatively free. Before dinner there are classes, and afterwards homework, club meetings, and rehearsals occupy people’s time and attention. Thus, dinner is a time to unwind a bit, to take a short communal break and enjoy the company of others. One reason I have hesitated to go to language tables regularly is my reluctance to miss out on social time with my friends.

But when I did start dropping by the German table, I found it was actually a lot of fun. The people were fun to talk to, and even the professors didn’t talk about boring things like homework. Instead, there was talk of movies, of musical and dramatic performances, of trips to Europe, and of experiences with summer jobs. There was even a discussion of the merits of Facebook as a way to maintain relationships.

None of these things are unique to German, and I’m sure the other language tables would offer a similar experience — although of course their languages aren’t as cool as ours. Still, if you insist on learning a language other than German and you need to practice it, language tables give you an opportunity to do just that, while having a nice meal at the same time.

Patrick Busch ’08 is a German and Mathematics major from St. Paul, Minnesota.


Grinnell is Swell

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

Grinnell and Carleton. Those were my top two college choices when I applied. I’ll be truthful — Carleton was my top choice. I had a friend going there, and he sounded like he was having a lot of fun. “Oh man!” I thought. “I wanna have fun too!” I hadn’t figured out by this point that most people have fun at their school; that’s why they chose it.

I’ll be truthful again: I got wait-listed at Carleton. So while I hung around to hear back from them, I went to go check out Grinnell. I drove down here for an overnight stay and was 100 percent terrified. I’m not a big fan of stepping out of my comfort box, and I considered sleeping on a stranger’s floor in a state I’d never even stepped foot in before as definitely outside the box.

My host picked me up at the admission office and took me over to her dorm. We made small talk, and by small talk, I mean I’m-really-outside-of-my-element-here-someone-please-take-me-back-to-high-school nervous talk. Then I noticed this giant paper clock on the wall next to her room, divided into 12 sections, each with a different location on it (Food, Burling, Class, etc). There were several hands on this clock, each with — as I soon learned — the name of one of my host’s roommates on it.

That’s right, they had built themselves a Weasley family clock from the Harry Potter books. It took me about five more minutes of small not-so-nervous-anymore-because-you-guys-are-awesome talk for me to realize that, forget Carleton, this was the place for me. Actually, the clock was just one of many little tip-offs I got as a prospective student at Grinnell. There was also a shirt. Specifically a T-shirt worn by a rather attractive friend of my host, a shirt that came from the same webcomic as the one I was wearing. It was the connection to the webcomic that gave me the clue: maybe I was in the right place. It wasn’t the attractiveness of the guy wearing it (but while that didn’t influence my decision, it was nice that Grinnell students turned out to be about 41 times more attractive than any possible prospects I had at my high school).

After that initial awkward walk, I felt more at ease, as if I was with people who could understand me. I hung out with a handful of Grinnellians and one other prospective student who was visiting at the same time (whom I forgot all about, only to later re-meet in my American Lit class three semesters later). We played Loggia Frisbee, which meant I got to run around on the roof of our first-floor walkways catching Frisbees thrown from the ground. Wicked fun, even if my catching skills matched that of, say, a T-rex. But a T-rex who was thoroughly enjoying herself!

Some people talk about a sign they received in the final decision-making moments — a sign that somehow told them they needed to go to Grinnell. Someone got cut off in traffic by a car with a bumper sticker from her other top school. Another met a Grinnellian in their as-far-away-from-Iowa-as-possible hometown. While I was still deciding, I learned that my own hometown was like a Grinnellian super-magnet or something, because Grinnell people were popping up out of the woodwork. My across-the-street neighbor’s mother was a librarian at Grinnell; the mother of the family I babysat for was an alum; the son of a woman in my mother’s exercise class had just been hired by Grinnell’s English department.

Grinnell just wouldn't leave me alone!

I never regretted choosing Grinnell over Carleton. And often, such as when I’m running off to the Star Wars trivia contest where I’m maybe only the 34th most knowledgeable person there, I’m thankful I decided to come to here.

“Your father and I didn’t want to say anything to influence your decision,” my mom said to me after I’d sent in my housing application to Grinnell, “but we never thought Carleton would have worked for you.”

And as parents usually are (much to our disgruntlement), they were totally right.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major from Madison, Wisconsin.

Goats, Not Tractors

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



 Fall 2008


 Jacob Gjesdahl '10

When I first heard about a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) using goats as a tool to manage invasive woody vegetation at Grinnell’s Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), I was incredibly excited about the opportunity to get hands-on experience with an idea I had toyed with as a possible business venture. And even though I was rejected as a primary member of the MAP, I ended up having the opportunity to work on the project anyway.

Every summer, two students help manage CERA, primarily pulling and spraying weeds. This summer we also helped with the goat MAP, organized by Brian Perbix and Curran Johnson (both ’09). Among other things, we maintained fence lines, moved goats to and between paddocks, and sampled vegetation. For all of us, it was a great way to get hands-on experience with research and environmental work and get paid for it. At a big university, research opportunities usually go to graduate students, and few small liberal arts colleges have the financial resources Grinnell does.

My summer had lots of great memories, from wrangling goats to the goat that always yelled if we didn’t give her corn, to more peaceful moments examining the impact on vegetation. I remember seeing rare prairie plants that had somehow avoided being choked out by the invading vegetation. I saw native impatiens (I. capensis) come into bloom with a flower totally different from the impatiens planted en masse in garden flowerbeds. Once we saw the goats actually playing (or maybe fighting) with each other. They would rear back and then butt their horns together with a mighty crash. This doesn’t hurt them, but it was impressive to watch.

At CERA, I learned that using goats for restoration work probably wouldn’t be a very effective commercial venture, but it was definitely less damaging to the habitat than a tractor with chains or herbicides. Comparing the enclosures with goats to those without, we could see the differences as well as feel them as we attempted to walk through the thickets. It was interesting to see how the vegetation regrew in the goat enclosures; doubtless it will be even more interesting to watch how the land changes over the next several years as the experiment continues.

I hope to revisit CERA in 10 years and see the thicket of vicious multiflora rose transformed into a beautiful prairie and savanna through the healing power of goats and fire (another integral part of almost all ecosystems in Iowa).

Jacob Gjesdahl '10 is an Economics major from Birmingham, Alabama.


My Computer Outweighs Me

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


Two years ago when I was getting ready to head off to college, my parents told me I could have a laptop. Stoked beyond all reckoning, I surfed Dell’s website to decide what model I wanted (I wasn’t even going to touch those Apples. I’m a Windows junkie through and through).

Decision: a 17-inch screen with lots of multimedia features.

Consensus: biggest mistake of my life.

The thing weighs a ton — it crushes my lap! Well, not really, but it’s extremely difficult to tote around. This is a problem, because when you’re a college student, it’s usually best to study in places that are not your room. See, your room has your bed, and naps are very, very appealing in the middle of an afternoon of homework. I have so many different places I like to study: the classrooms in ARH (you can draw on the chalkboards!), outside watching the ultimate Frisbee team on Mac Field, and in the really cool jungle gyms in the library. But I can’t take my computer to any of those places — it’s just too big.

Recently, I’ve come to terms with my computer. It’s great for watching movies, but it’s not going to write papers for me on the other side of campus. But that’s OK, because Grinnell dorms often have great little study lounges that are simply calling for some poor soul with a large computer who doesn’t want to walk far. You don’t even have to leave your building! No shoes required!

Even so, I still have to contend with comments about how my computer can be used as a lethal weapon. For instance, if I dropped it on the floor in my room on the third floor, it would fall all the way down to the basement, taking out every computer within a 10-foot radius of its trajectory. Or if I was fighting an Iowa corn-monster, I could knock it out with one swing of my laptop. If I could lift it, that is.

Ha ha, very funny guys.

In addition to friends teasing me about my mammoth computer, I’ve also been given a lot of guff about not having a cell phone. Yes, I heard your gasp, all the way from Grinnell. Yup, you heard me right. I don’t have one. I think I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t, but really, I don’t feel any need to. Sure, it’s sometimes hard to get in touch with my friends, but really, the campus is only a few blocks long. It doesn’t take that much energy to walk around and find people. And chances are I’ll be with someone who has a phone anyway, so I just borrow theirs. Grinnell also has this sweet system where you can make as many calls as you want from any campus phone to any other. Just give your friend’s room a ring!

I know you might be horrified by the possibility of life without a cell, but I really enjoy it. If I’m off studying in the library and don’t want to be bothered, I don’t have to be — no one can call me! You know how in movies (like say, Love Actually) when there’s a really great scene going on and the girl’s just about to get the guy, or a secret is just about to be revealed, but then someone’s phone goes off …? Nope, doesn’t happen to me. It’s a type of freedom I really love.

Grinnell is great in this way — you really can live without technology if you want to. There are enough computer labs that you don’t need your own laptop, and I’ve just proven to you that you don’t need a phone. Computer labs are also a great way to meet other people on campus who live in your general vicinity. When you’re in a room together for three hours, both desperately trying to understand an assignment or finish a paper on time, you learn a lot about each other. Like personal stress relievers. My personal favorite is YouTube surfing while eating vanilla pudding. Or making hats out of the printer paper.

One last word of advice: if you do choose to buy a laptop, don’t make the same mistake I did. Buy one that’s actually portable and isn’t heavy enough to crush your vitals if you rest it on your stomach to watch a movie while you’re sick.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major from Madison, Wisconsin.

That Swing Thing

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


A tall, smartly dressed man with slicked-back hair and gray suspenders slides up to me, hand outstretched. I smile and place my hand in his, accepting his silent offer. He walks me out to the middle of the dance floor, and we connect, his arm around my back, my hand on his shoulder. The music pulses playfully as a familiar Duke tune begins, and we start rocking in place to get a sense of one another. Then the saxes gear up for the A section, he spins me out, and suddenly I’m dancing.

Three years ago, when I walked in the Forum South Lounge, my gait was that of a timid first-year. Rain streamed down the tinted windows, and all around students were shaking off the heavy drops of the late summer shower. Driven inside by the rain, the Student Activities Fair was a hubbub of activity in a space far too small for its demands. Tables were lined up with military efficiency, and students pushed through the crush to place their names on e-mail lists.

It was not until the very end at one of the last tables that I saw them. Two people danced to the fast beat of a song played on a tiny stereo. The man, a few inches shorter than his partner, quick-stepped the rhythm as he spun her around. The pair laughed at what I could only assume was a mistake, but I couldn’t tell. My naïve eye only knew this was amazing to watch.

I have secretly wanted to dance my entire life. However, I never told my parents I wanted to take swing-dancing lessons, and I had never had the opportunity until I left home for Grinnell. That day at the Student Activities Fair, I finally found my chance. The next Monday I showed up for class in Loose Lounge, where the floor space was packed with eager first-years all waiting for the teachers to unlock the secret to looking amazing on the dance floor. Yet the swing lesson confirmed only that I had never danced before, and I was pitiful at it.

For some reason, though, I decided to come back again the next week. Slowly I improved, practicing in the hallway of my dorm with Matt Scharr ’08 from upstairs, who was as excited to learn as I was. The two of us rapidly progressed, fueled by our enthusiasm. After a few months, I became more and more comfortable with calling myself a dancer.

Along the way that first year, my teacher taught me the most important lesson I have learned while dancing: in order to dance well, you need to dance with your partner. It was a puzzling statement to me at the time. I turned it over and over in my mind, trying to understand what I recognized was wisdom, but yet could not fully comprehend.

It wasn’t until I was at a workshop in Chicago that I finally came to understand the idea of dancing with someone. Swing dancing is a reactionary dance, one that can’t be learned simply by going through the steps. It has an organic quality that makes each dance as individual as the people who dance it. Famously, dancers at the grand Savoy Ballroom during swing’s golden years wanted to know one thing only: can you dance? They didn’t care about what people on the outside saw — things like race, status, or income were (and are) all irrelevant to dancing.

The founders of swing had it right. Nothing external matters. Instead, it’s about how you and your partner build mutual respect for one another in those first few bars of music, and how you come to understand the individuality of one another’s dancing, that really matters.

Recently Grinnell hosted its first Swing Exchange, where dancers from all over the Midwest came to campus to enjoy a weekend of dancing to live swing and blues bands. The participants represented a wide range of skill levels, from the very basic beginner to competition winners. Dancers from various backgrounds came, as well with people dancing Lindy, East Coast, Charleston, Blues, or Balboa. A few people even grooved in the back of the room to their own made-up steps. Regardless of their level or style, people standing up together and dancing with one another filled the floor.

The last bars of “Take the A Train” fade from the speakers and my partner with the slicked-back hair dips me almost to the floor one last time. Then he lifts me upright, and we walk off the floor together, knowing we share a mutual respect because, at least while dancing, we understand each other.

Julia Bottles '08 is a History major from San Marino, California.

Blue Iowa

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


With more than 100 students crowded around the television, mouths dropping open, eyes fixated on the single small screen, one would imagine we were watching the Super Bowl or the season finale of House or Lost, not two men vying to be the next president of the United States.

I realized that although I had graduated from a high school where my peers were largely apathetic about politics, at Grinnell students truly cared. It was clear, from the immense amount of time students spent to get out the vote to the popularity of debate-watching parties. Not only did they care, but also they were ready to make a tangible change. Not all students agree about political issues, of course, and while my story has a definite blue tinge, the high level of commitment holds true for Grinnellians of all stripes.

The change started with each individual vote. With more than 900 Grinnell students registered to vote in Iowa, we had the power to literally make the difference in the local representative race between incumbent Eric Palmer and Danny Carroll. Grinnell immersed itself in Iowa politics; a fellow student managed Palmer’s campaign and another recent alum headed up the local democratic chapter for Obama.

Under the leadership of both these campaign managers as well as the heads of the Campus Democrats, dozens of us went dorm-to-dorm and door-to-door getting out the vote. Even Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore showed up on campus to help. Getting out the vote, I met not only celebrities, but also a significant portion of the student body and several townspeople.

Being from a big city, I found it enlightening to get to know the small community of Grinnell. I was able to learn about the issues that were important to the townspeople and even meet several local politicians, including the governor of Iowa. From this experience, I started to see not only the College, but also the town as my home too.

Nov. 4, 2008, had seemed forever a part of the distant future, yet all of a sudden, it was here. One word would describe election night: crazy. Most of the student body was gathered around television sets, with as many as could fit jammed into the student center watching the results on a large screen.

With the announcement of Obama’s win came an eruption of emotion. Cheers echoed around campus as we ran around hugging our friends and set off fireworks, simply giddy with happiness.

The emotions deepened as the true implication of what had just happened began to sink in. As we crowded around the televisions again to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, I looked around to see tears running down my friends’ faces. We clutched each other, hardly comprehending our new reality.

For those of us who had been working on the campaigns, the night brought specific rewards. The two local counties we had been working in (Poweshiek and Jasper) went blue for Obama, and our local representative, Eric Palmer, won by more than 1,400 votes. Our work truly had paid off.

Whether through politics, or through social justice, or campus government, students at Grinnell truly care about the world around them and they take significant steps to try and change it for the better.

Erica Seltzer-Schultz ’12 is undeclared and from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Floored by Read Second

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


Sometimes in college residence halls, there are floors so great their inhabitants are designated by floor name. My first year, there were “those kids from Loose Second.” The next year, it was “those kids from D First.” I was always sort of mystified. How could people who had seemingly nothing but geography in common become so close?

Then, in my senior year, I moved to Read Second.

Read Second is a magical place. Representing all four classes (although heavy on the seniors), the floor includes people from all over the country (and out of it), with majors ranging from chemistry to studio art. It is without a doubt my favorite place on campus. All the inhabitants are so relaxed and amusing, and we can get pretty silly at times. I’ve seen people chased up and down the hallway by someone waving a stinky air freshener. Other times, people leave leftover food from their dining hall sack lunches on the table down the hall so hungry floormates can enjoy it. On any given day, there are usually cookies or apples or mini carrots waiting to pick up the spirits of some poor ravenous paper-writer in the middle of a late night of homework.

One night, we had a huge floor get-together and ate pizza while making collages on the walls. Someone had salvaged a stack of 40-year-old Smithsonian Magazines about to be thrown away. We had incredible photos to choose from. The walls look amazing now. Everyone who comes on the floor now gets the collage gallery tour. My favorite is the wall of fictional Read Second alumni, which includes Albert Einstein, Lord Byron, Ashton Kutcher, a baby howler monkey, and a man wearing a squid on his head.

Of course, Read Second can foster seriousness as well. I’ve always had trouble studying in my room, because I tend to distract myself too well (just five minutes to check my e-mail turns into an hour on the Internet). But now, we have homework parties. Throughout the night people drift into one room or another and settle down to study. Whether it’s my room or someone else’s, it isn’t unusual to walk onto the floor and see eight people crammed into one room, hunched over their books and physics problem sets. I wouldn’t exactly say it makes homework fun, but it does make the experience less painful. Periodically, someone will ask the definition of a word or point out something cool in his or her reading, and we get distracted and start chatting. It usually doesn’t last too long, and we all settle in again. These study parties create a nice atmosphere. and we’ve started attracting people from other floors because of it. I have friends who will trek across campus — sometimes even from off-campus — just to do homework with us. And who can blame them? Sometimes there are snacks!

I love living on a floor where I know everyone and I love being surrounded by my friends. It makes the entire dorm feel like home, instead of just my room. Having a single is nice, and I certainly don’t want to go back to sharing the mirror with a roommate every morning, but it can get lonely. With a floor like this, it’s the perfect balance of friendly faces and personal space. Want to procrastinate? Wander down to a friend’s room. Want to focus? Close the door and write that paper. It’s the best of both worlds. Which is why Read is the best dorm on campus, and no one will convince me otherwise.

Elizabeth Bologna '08 is an English and History major from Fairfield, Connecticut.

Furry Little Friends

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


While most colleges have some sort of mascot, a select few have unofficial ones that are even more popular amongst the student body. Here at Grinnell College, our unofficial mascot is unmistakably the squirrel.

Hang on. A squirrel?

It seems a bit odd at first. Why would we adopt a common, medium-sized rodent as an unofficial icon at a top-notch liberal arts institution? I admit I was a bit puzzled myself when I learned about the importance of squirrels to Grinnell College student life.

However, over time, I learned that the answer was pretty simple: it’s because we love them.

Believe it or not, our squirrels are incredibly smart and, I believe, different from other squirrels. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a subspecies of Grinnell squirrels, Sciurus grinnelli. Perhaps they’re the result of a secret Noyce science lab experiment gone wrong … or right.

Squirrels have become an integral part of the Grinnell College culture, providing us with constant entertainment. They’re always around, foraging for food on the lawn or chasing each other about to an endless arrangement of squeaks and squawks. You’ll hear them gnawing on nuts in the tree and you’ll see them standing on their hind legs as you walk by. They probably think you possess something for them to eat. It’s not uncommon to see human-squirrel interaction on campus, especially if food is involved. Sometimes it’s student-initiated, but other times it’s squirrel-initiated. Sometimes, it’s a friendly meeting. Other times, it can get pretty aggressive.

I’ve encountered squirrels foraging around in the garbage cans several times, each with its own end result. The first squirrel popped its little head out of the trash and just sniffed in my general direction as I walked by. The second squirrel jumped out to run away. The third squirrel, however, was so hungry, it decided to launch itself toward my face. I couldn’t blame the poor creature — after all, it was in the middle of a freezing winter. However, I was slightly offended that a squirrel would confuse me for a piece of bread.

Apart from my mix of casual and frightening experiences, I’ve also heard others speak of amusing squirrel moments. Last spring, one of my friends gave a squirrel a sugar cookie from his Outtakes (a sort of cafeteria-made sack lunch). The squirrel went crazy, almost like a cat on catnip. Barely able to control itself, it became very jumpy and knocked its head against the tree several times in an apparent sugar high. While it was hilarious, I wouldn’t suggest giving our squirrels any more sugar. Some of them have acquired a ridiculous weight and size; I’m sure they could take down a chihuahua.

Our squirrels help enhance the Grinnell College experience (they’re like members of our student body, only with a bushy tail). It’s another one of those small elements that help characterize the Grinnell environment. Without them, a piece of the puzzle would be missing. Our furry little friends are here to add some amusement into our lives, whether it’s a meeting while walking across campus or outside the window while you’re studying.

That, and they’re always there to share half of your sandwich.