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Transforming Trans Justice

The college experience is often seen as not only an opportunity for educational enrichment, but also as a space for exploring personal identities.

For Chase Strangio ’04, Grinnell was both personally and politically formative. “I really found a home both intellectually and emotionally,” says Strangio. “I knew I was queer; I knew that I had a critical political sensibility, but I didn’t have any real sense of who I was before Grinnell.”

Strangio’s time at Grinnell solidified his commitment to LGBT rights. After graduating, he moved to Boston to work for GLAD (formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders). While on the one hand it was an exciting experience, Strangio was disappointed by the then-emphasis on marriage and other ways the organization and other mainstream LGBT organizations were content with the constraints set by the legal system.

“I was a paralegal, and it was exciting to be there with these amazing lawyers; but I was a bit frustrated. At the same time I was coming to terms with my own gender, and I started to really gravitate toward trans legal work,” Strangio says. “I decided that I wanted to go to law school to be able to do a different kind of legal work than that being done at GLAD.”

Strangio attended law school at Northeastern University in Boston, a program he chose because it reminded him of Grinnell. “It was a school that had a very self-selecting body of students who cared a lot about social justice.” His three years of law school were dedicated to issues of mass incarceration, criminal justice, and trans justice.

In addition to his desire to help people as a direct services lawyer (a lawyer who works with organizations that serve low-income individuals by providing them with affordable or free representation), Strangio was also drawn to a law degree for the legitimacy he felt it would bring.

Chase Strangio“If I’m being perfectly honest, I knew that I was sort of an outsider in the world in certain ways,” he says. “I felt like getting a law degree would force people to take me seriously.”

After graduating, Strangio received an Equal Justice Fellowship, which supports public interest legal work, and went to work at the Silvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) in New York City. At SRLP, he worked on disability justice and prison justice work within trans communities throughout New York state.

“It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about the legal system. I learned a lot about political organizing, but I had ongoing frustrations with the limitations of direct services and of working at an under-resourced organization,” Strangio says.

Strangio took a job at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2013, where he has worked for the last three years. He currently represents Chelsea Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of multiple charges related to releasing sensitive documents to WikiLeaks, in her case against the Department of Defense for denying her hormones while in prison.

“One of the things I really love about working at the ACLU is that I’ve been able to utilize creative and collaborative approaches to doing legal advocacy,” Strangio says. “Taking litigation and combining it with traditional media and social media and leveraging multiple points of intervention to try to effect change.”

He also loves working in an environment where his colleagues are doing the most exciting and important work in the field, because “it’s an incredible intellectual environment.” He now has the resources and support to pursue the kind of work he’s passionate about with the support of a vast network of colleagues who care as much as he does.

“I feel incredibly privileged to get to do the work that I want to do on behalf of my community. Just to be able to work in collaboration with people who are doing such inspiring things — it doesn’t really get better than that.”

Alumni in the Classroom

For students in Grinnell’s Introduction to Sociology class, the central question they must ask themselves is this: “How do my own personal struggles fit into a wider public issue, and how can I use sociology to solve that problem?”

“For example, if students are struggling with debt, they need to explore how that is reflective of a larger trend or problem in society,” says Patrick Inglis, assistant professor of sociology. “This semester, I wanted to bring someone in who really exemplifies that ability to make that connection and find solutions to those big problems. And I immediately thought of Damon.”

Casually dressed, Damon Williams and students talking over pizza in a casual environmentDamon Williams ’14, who was a sociology and economics double major, is currently a member of BYP100 and the Let Us Breathe Collective, both of which are Chicago-based black liberation movements. Williams worked in a variety of other movements after graduating from Grinnell, including raising money to send gas masks to Ferguson during the 2014 conflict and teaching financial literacy classes to young black men to help alleviate poverty through investment.

“I graduated from Grinnell having studied social media, feminism, black power movements, and other social movements around the world,” says Williams. “When I left, I knew I wanted to be a game changer.”

Inglis was able to bring Williams back to campus to share his experience with current students in sociology and philosophy classes. Williams also met with the student group Concerned Black Students about social media and black liberation, and held jam-packed office hours in the Spencer Grille. His presentation and workshop entitled “Bigger than the Cops: Racialized State Violence and the Movement for Black Lives” was standing room only.

“It was incredibly inspiring to learn from someone directly involved in the struggle against racism on a community level,” says Rosie O’Brien ’16. “His perspective gave me hope for the future of Chicago and the future of global economics more generally, and I learned a lot about the power of community-based movements.”

According to Inglis, bringing alumni back into the classroom is an important way to connect students’ learning to the work they can do after they leave Grinnell. “Alumni are already familiar with Grinnell, and that helps them make a more personal connection with the students,” Inglis says. “They know the real world and the Grinnell world and they can help students bridge those worlds in a way that professors aren’t always able to do.”

Rosie O’Brien is a political science and studio art major from Lawrence, Kansas.

Grinnellian Trains for the Olympics

Joshua Tibatemwa in Grinnell Honor G swimcapGrinnell College swimmer Joshua Tibatemwa ’19 will be making a splash on the international scene in August.

Tibatemwa, 19, will be representing his native Uganda in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is the first Pioneer in the modern era to earn a spot in the Olympics while still a student at Grinnell.

As Uganda’s overall fastest male swimmer, Tibatemwa was named to that country’s Olympic swim team by the Ugandan Swimming Federation.

Last August, at the International Swimming Federation World Championships in Kazan, Russia, Tibatemwa set two national records for Uganda and achieved his personal best in the 50 freestyle (25.54 seconds) and 50 breaststroke (33.00 seconds). When he swims in the Olympics, he’ll compete only in the 50 free.

Swimming is a relatively new sport in Uganda, and the level of competition pales to the international champion threshold — the overall men’s world record in the 50 free is 20.26; 25.25 in the 50 breaststroke. Tibatemwa is aware of the gulf.

“I am part of the second generation of competitive swimmers in Uganda,” he says. “In 10 to 20 years, I hope we will see Uganda swimming on a par with USA swimming.”

He strives to close the gap with hard work. Under the guidance of Grinnell swim coaches Tim Hammond and Erin Hurley, Tibatemwa, who swims on Grinnell’s varsity, practices in the water one to two hours per day, Monday through Saturday. He also does up to an hour of daily strength training.

“It’s the best training I have ever gotten,” Tibatemwa says. “It is very structured and will help me if I get to the Olympics.

Several seniors on the swim team often practice with Tibatemwa, so he can gauge his speed against other swimmers. “I find it easier to train while competing against them rather than competing just with the time on the clock,” he says.

Tibatemwa has thoroughly impressed his coaches with his drive.

“It seems just his nature to want to be better,” Hammond says. ”He is eager to understand technique and accept critique day after day.”

Hammond notes that Tibatemwa has good technique to excel on the world stage, with great reach in the front end of his stroke and a good hold on the water. ”Once he has that hold, he can apply the incredible strength he has to it, and this produces an incredible distance per stroke,” says the coach, who is focusing on increasing Tibatemwa’s stroke rate.

Because Tibatemwa was training outside the regular college swim season, which ended in March, Hammond and Hurley couldn’t coach Tibatemwa until they received a waiver from the NCAA. Until then they could only supply him with written workouts. 

“It took us a few weeks to get the appropriate information from the NCAA and Uganda to put it all together,” recalls Hammond, who provides the Ugandan federation with weekly updates. The federation also named Hammond and Hurley Ugandan National Swimming Coaches.  

When they were able to work with Tibatemwa, they were more than pleased.

“Joshua is an absolute joy to coach,” Hammond says. ”He is perpetually positive and does his best to accomplish each task at hand. Most everyone sees Joshua as a shy, kind person. And he is, but when you spend enough time with Joshua in a competitive endeavor, you can start to peak at the competitive monster inside of him that one would never see without knowing him well enough.” 

Tibatemwa began swimming at age 6 in his hometown, Kampala, the Ugandan capital. “At first I didn’t want to compete,” he says. But by the time he was 13, he started to enjoy the sport. “With swimming,” he says, “you have time to yourself as compared to other sports. You don’t have to shout to pass the ball. You can be alone in your head.”

On the advice of two of his mentors in school and in the Dolphins Swim Club Kampala — brothers Tefiro ’15 and Ham ’16 Serunjogi — Tibatemwa came to Grinnell last fall. He was looking for a school that had both good academics and swimming training. “Tefiro and Ham recommended Grinnell,” he says of the duo, who each swam on the men’s varsity while earning their degrees. “So I trusted them and followed them here.”

Though he calls the cold winter of east-central Iowa the biggest adjustment he’s had to make, “The college is great, and I like being in a comfortable small town,” he says. Referring to his hometown, with a population of 1.3 million, he adds, “It’s nice to have a break from the big city.”

When the spring semester ended on May 20, Tibatemwa, who plans to major in computer science, returned to Kampala to continue his training and start an internship with Kiira Motors, the first manufacturer of solar-powered vehicles in East Africa. 

“I will train in the mornings and evenings, and do my work as an intern during the middle of the day,” he says. “I’m hoping to develop software and gain experience in tackling real-world problems.”

“It has been a silent goal of mine to get to the Olympics,” Tibatemwa says. “Every swimmer harbors it. I would love to have the opportunity to be among the world’s best athletes, doing what they’ve been training to do for many years.”

George Washington Cook Correspondence

In the fall of 2015, Special Collections and Archives was thrilled to receive a new acquisition, the George Washington Cook Correspondence. These letters were written between 1857 and 1860 by George W. Cook and his first wife, Electa, from Grinnell to their family in Meriden, Connecticut. The letters are addressed to George’s siblings, Sarah, Collins, and Henry.

A large part of what makes the Cook correspondence of particular interest is that they were written in the early years of the town of Grinnell’s existence. The town was founded in 1854, so the Cook letters provide a great deal of insight into land sales and everyday life. Also of great significance to the Grinnell community is the fact that George Cook briefly writes about the decision of Iowa College to move from Davenport to Grinnell. This can be found in the April 28, 1857, letter.

The first letter in the collection, dated April 27, 1857, suggests that George and Electa likely traveled west from Connecticut to Iowa in the early spring of 1857. They took the train at least as far as Chicago, and most likely traveled by train to Iowa as well. The letter does specify that they traveled from Iowa City to Grinnell by hiring a team of horses, which cost them $72.80. One particularly interesting aspect of the first letter is George’s description of a railway accident that happened to a train on its way to Chicago that was traveling ahead of the train the Cooks were on.  

Although she doesn’t express unhappiness, Electa writes mostly about how she misses everyone back East and reminisces on times spent with family. She also asks for dress patterns. Frequent topics in George’s letters include land sales, how land is used, crop prices, and the building of the railway across Iowa. Unfortunately, none of the letters written from the Connecticut family members to George and Electa have survived.

Digitized scans of the Cook Correspondence, as well as transcriptions of each letter, has recently been added to Digital Grinnell.

We encourage anyone with an interest to drop by Special Collections and look at these fascinating letters in person.  Special Collections and Archives is open to the public 1:30–5 p.m. Monday through Friday and mornings by appointment.

A scientist's journey to a career in technology

Nicole Lee Snoeberger '09 addressed summer research students in the sciences thanks to the Alumni in the Classroom program. During her lecture on May 31, "Leveraging Research in Chemistry into a Career in Technology Transfer," Snoeberger spoke about the process of technology transfer and how her research led to her career.

After graduating from Grinnell College, Snoeberger stayed on campus as a Mellon Post Bac in the lab of Professor of Chemistry Elaine Marzluff, then she entered graduate school at Yale University and earned a doctorate in chemistry. Snoeberger is currently working as a technology licensing associate in the MIT Technology Licensing Office.

During her visit, Snoeberger also met informally with students after her talk and had meetings with Marzluff's current research students (pictured) and several chemistry faculty. 

Get on Your Bikes and Study!

Try the Libraries’ newest feature — two bike desks located inside Burling’s south end, overlooking Sixth Avenue.  These desks may be just what you need to combine academics and exercise.  

The bikes are completely silent and use little electricity, making them library- and eco-friendly.  You’ll be able to set goals and easily track your progress as the desk console is integrated directly in the armrest showing readouts for workout time, pedal revolutions, distance, calories, and speed. 

Download the Active Trac app from the app store and track your progress. Simply hover your smartphone over the bike desk console to upload your data. That’s it. The data syncs effortlessly. Plus, this feature is free for everyone.

A few other bike desk details:

  • Electric height adjustment from 40” to 53”
  • 2 desktop options — 38” or 48” wide
  •  Integrated padded armrest
  • Apple Health and Google Fit enabled
  • Social media integration via Facebook and Twitter

Enjoy — and happy studying and peddling!

Artistic Collaborations Online

Sasha Middeldorp ’18 and Arch Williams ’18, both members of Grinnell Singers, are helping launch a new project called the Grinnell Virtual Choir. In the project's most recent video, 25 singers used the technology to perform a movement from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil.

In a virtual choir, each participant records one or more individual singing parts of a particular song, and the videos are then synchronized and combined into a group performance.

In the current video, Middeldorp and Williams are among the singers testing virtual choir technology and demonstrating how it works. It’s the first step in introducing both a testing tool for better choir singing and a new opportunity for musical interaction among alumni and current students.

User Friendly

Middledorp says she found her initial singing experience to be “simple and straightforward” from a technological standpoint. “I only had to practice once or twice to figure out some of the logistics,” Middeldorp says. “I was in a practice room, and I just recorded it on whatever video recorder is built in on the computer and watched John [Rommereim] conduct on the same device.”

Williams did the same “after finding a quiet spot in my house where I could sing,” he says. “I did a couple of takes before submitting my video. I adjusted based on the recordings of my own voice and as I got a better handle on the music.”

Taking Ownership

One of the goals of the virtual choir project is to develop innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Using videos to record individual parts may provide a better way to test and evaluate the contribution of singers and improve their accountability in the chorus.

“Often in choir you think you know your lines but you’re just relying on the person next to you,” Middeldorp says. “When it’s just you singing alone you really take ownership over the music. One of the great benefits of this is that you know if you’re truly solid on your part independently.”

The Grinnell Singers have already begun putting virtual choir technology to the test as a rehearsal tool. They are using it to practice Duruflé’s Requiem for a combined concert with the Grinnell Oratorio Society later this spring.

“I think that using virtual choir capabilities will be an exciting experience and will help us learn the music in a new, cool, and different way then we normally do in class,” Williams says.

Learning the Technology

Austin Morris ’15, a mathematics major and Grinnell Singers alumnus, is the talent behind the scenes. He says learning to synchronize audio and video files from various devices has been challenging but worthwhile. Innovation Fund support for the project helped secure dedicated equipment for his work.

“Once we get the videos from all the people that we contact, it’s my job to put them all together in the final project,” Morris says. “My goal is to make it look as good and complete as possible.”

Fun and Inspiring

“The main goal of the Grinnell Virtual Choir is to create an online platform that facilitates choral performances that are connected virtually,” says John Rommereim, Blanche Johnson Professor of Music. “It’s a way to engage alumni in an artistic way so they can collaborate with current students and with each other.”

Current singers and alumni are invited to contribute additional vocal parts on All-Night Vigil and other works via the website. In addition to instructions for accessing the score and conducting video, the site offers musical and technical tips for getting a workable recording.

Essentially, singers can make it as simple as putting on earbuds and singing into their phones or laptops.

“We want it to be fun and a little inspiring,” Rommereim says. “We’re hoping it will blossom into a significant artistic endeavor.” 

Sasha Middeldorp ’18 is an anthropology major from Northfield, Minn. Arch Williams ’18 is a chemistry and political science double major from Minneapolis.

A Pioneering Spirit

It’s not often that you get the chance to create a career for yourself that’s never existed before. Many graduates have planned their college years around jobs they want to have in the future, but for Hilary Mason ’00, carving out a place in an existing field just didn’t cut it.

A pioneer of the growing data science movement, Mason has combined her computer science background with statistics, engineering, and technology to make sense of the massive amounts of data that pile up in businesses and other enterprises.

“It’s a very rare thing to have the chance to be at the leading edge of something that has become a fairly significant movement,” Mason says. “It’s been really interesting to see it evolve.”

After working as the chief scientist at bitly.com, a well-known URL-shortening service, Mason has quickly become the face of data science. She’s been interviewed for Fortune Magazine and NPR’s Science Friday, and even cofounded a nonprofit called HackNY that connects hacking students with startup companies in New York City.

In 2014, Mason finally decided to take a leap and start her own business called Fast Forward Labs. She and her team analyze large amounts of data from their client businesses and develop prototypes for innovative technological products. The goal is to inspire their clients and show them what kinds of options are available to them.

“I saw an opportunity to add value by providing expertise to people building real products around data technology,” says Mason. “It’s a win for all, because we’re working on the most interesting technology that we can come up with at any given time!” A recent prototype they created was a program that identifies and categorizes users’ Instagram photos to provide more information about their interests.

For Mason, the Grinnellian spirit of combining multiple disciplines and thinking critically about the world we live in helped her to be a leader the field of data science. “Grinnell teaches you to think critically, communicate well, and analyze the world,” Mason says. “It’s an excellent grounding for entrepreneurship. Being able to think in that way is really helpful no matter what you end up doing.”

At Grinnell, students take classes in a wide variety of disciplines rather than just sticking within their majors. This makes them the perfect candidates for a world where thinking innovatively and combining multiple fields of knowledge is the hallmark of many of the most interesting jobs out there.

Bookstores to be Closed June 18 – July 4 While Moving

The Grinnell College Bookstore, on campus, and the Pioneer Bookshop, at 823 4th Ave., will be closed for moving starting on June 18, 2016.

The two stores will be combined at the new location at 933 Main Street, Grinnell. The new store will open on July 5 as the Pioneer Bookshop. The online bookstore is also closed during the move.

The new Pioneer Bookshop will still offer the same wide selection of children’s books and toys, fiction, and non-fiction. It will also have the same special order service and gift wrapping.

In addition, the store will feature Grinnell College clothing, school and office supplies, art supplies, consumer electronics, greeting cards, and gifts.