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Social Justice

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.

For the Love of Food

From a young age, Ami Freeberg ’10 was in touch with where her food came from. “I grew up in Fairfield, Iowa, and there were a lot of people running sustainable farms there,” says Freeberg. “My mom fed us organic food from our garden and my sister, my mom, and I even set up a kind of farm-to-table café at the farmer’s market while we were in high school.”

This love of good food and interest in agriculture led her to pursue an internship with Cultivate Kansas City (formerly known as the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture) during her second year summer at Grinnell. She got funding from the Center for Prairie Studies so that she would be able to afford an unpaid internship. As it turns out, that experience was hugely important for her future.

Getting Her Hands Dirty

“I just fell in love with the organization and the work,” Freeberg says. “I had known I was interested in food and sustainable farming, but that internship really solidified those interests.”

As an intern, Freeberg worked on a program called New Roots for Refugees, a partnership between Cultivate Kansas City and Charities of Northeast Kansas to help refugees learn the skills necessary to establish successful farm businesses in the Kansas City area.

“We were working with people from all over the world who were resettled refugees, and they came with a lot of knowledge and experience in farming but didn’t have access to land or resources,” Freeberg says. “So we provided land and training and support to help them gain the skills they needed to graduate off of our training farm and start their own farm businesses.”

After graduating from Grinnell, Freeberg began working full time for Cultivate Kansas City as a program assistant. Over the years, she has transitioned into a variety of roles focusing on community outreach and communications in the organization. In February, she began working as the community organizer for the organization’s most recent project, the Westport Commons Farm, which is set to open in the next few years.

Cultivating the City Center

The Westport Commons Farm will be run as a farm business but will also have many opportunities for community engagement, participation, and education. The farm will be in the city center of Kansas City, Mo., in a field that used to belong to a school.

“It’s really exciting because we’re putting urban agriculture right in a highly visible place, in the middle of the city,” says Freeberg. “Our vision is to create a beautiful urban farm that gets people thinking about their food and gets them engaged with where their food is coming from.”

Because of the organization’s pursuit of this vision, Freeberg has thoroughly enjoyed working for Cultivate Kansas City for the past six years. “It’s always interesting and different. I’ve been able to progress and learn and develop my own skills in a context that I feel is really important,” Freeberg says.

“I have always valued good food. I think it’s the foundation of being a healthy, happy person, and I want other people to be able to experience that.”

Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories

Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company will present Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories is a multimedia dance project that bears witness and celebrates the lives of poets and artists lost to AIDS. Based on the anthology "Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS", this evening-length performance brings together spoken word, artists, dancers, and stunning visual designs in short vignettes that create an imaginary world inspired by the poems.

The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Flanagan Theatre, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. Tickets are required for this free event and are available at the Campus Box Office begin April 4.

The day before their performance, three members of Dakshina — Chris August, Daniel Phoenix Singh, and Gowri Koneswaran — will speak on the interdisciplinary nature of Dakshina’s work and how art can address social issues within the context of their upcoming performance of Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories. The entire company of 11 will be present to contribute to the discussion and answer questions.

The event begins at noon, Friday, April 8, in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, Room 152, and lunch provided.

Grinnell College's Artists@GrinnellDepartment of Theatre & Dance, Center for International Studies, and Center for Humanities are sponsoring the free, public events.

About Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company

Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company is an emerging dance company based in Washington D.C. They perform and present Indian dance forms, such as Bharata Natyam, and modern dance, mirroring the multiple identities of second generation South Asians. The group combines the arts with social justice issues by incorporating the themes into their work and partnering with local community centers and schools.

For the Global Good

Grinnellians are well-known for their commitment to social justice, but not everyone knows that the College has a formal program for studying individual and global conflicts. In Grinnell’s Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program, students combine what they learn from fields as diverse as psychology, political science, anthropology, biology, and environmental studies to better understand the major struggles of the world.

“More than simply looking at the nature and causes of conflict and violence, we try to identify the best ways to prevent or transform conflict to create lasting peace,” says Simone Sidwell, PACS program coordinator.

Examining Conflict and Combat

Emily Ricker ’18 began her PACS research when she took a class entitled Anthropology, Violence, and Human Rights. In class she learned that sexual violence was often used strategically by the military during the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan. “I wanted to see if that was the case in other situations of conflict and combat,” says Ricker. “In my paper, I focus on the cases of Partition, the Rwandan genocide, and the Holocaust.”

By learning multiple techniques from different disciplines, PACS students are able to combine many perspectives and skills to target a problem from different angles rather than just limiting themselves to one economic, political, or sociocultural model. Students graduate with experience analyzing problems comprehensively to make the most effective solutions possible.

Sharing Research, Developing Skills

PACS holds an undergraduate conference every other year in which students from Grinnell and other schools come together to share their work and draw inspiration from each other. This year, Ricker presented her paper “Sexual Violence as a Tool of Combat” alongside three other Grinnellians in the panel session “Sexual Violence in War and Peace." Twenty students in total presented at the conference, including students from Macalester, Skidmore, and Antioch College.

Ricker also serves on the PACS committee, helping to bring speakers to campus and to edit the Peace and Conflict Studies Journal. Students who present at the conference have the opportunity to publish their papers in the journal, a chance at scholarly recognition that many college students don’t have until graduate school.

“The entire process of submitting abstracts, presenting their papers, and engaging in a peer review of their papers to get them published gives them an excellent experience,” Sidwell says. “The Peace and Conflict Studies program really empowers students to do well and to ‘do good’ after graduation, to pursue careers or postgraduate studies that help make the world a better place.”

Spanning Disciplines

As the study of peace and conflict spans so many disciplines, the PACS program coordinates with established departments, offering short courses and building PACS-specific classes into the existing curriculum. Students also have the opportunity to enroll in the new pilot course, Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies, which is co-taught by Grinnell faculty and an outside expert in the field. The PACS program hopes to establish itself as a concentration in the future.

Emily Ricker is from Marblehead, Mass., and intends to declare a political science major.

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years and Artists' Coffeehouse

A free, public screening of the documentary Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992 will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 6, in Alumni Recitation Hall, Room 102.

The film focuses on Audre Lorde’s relation to the German Black Diaspora as well as her literary and political influence. It is a unique visual document about the times the author spent in Germany.

Audre Lorde tells about the development of an Afro-German movement and the origins of the anti-racist movement before and after the German reunification. It describes the beginnings of these political debates and facilitates a historical analysis and an understanding of present debates on identity and racism in Germany.

For the first time, Dagmar Schultz’s archival video and audio recordings and footage has been made available to a wide public. The film represents an important addition to the documentary A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde by Ada Gray Griffin and Michelle Parkerson, which was screened at the 45th Berlin Film Festival in 1995.

Following the film, students are encouraged to share their poetry, short stories, and other talents with the group in an Artists' Coffeehouse Showcase to honor the legacy of Lorde and her work.

Light refreshments will be served.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

The screening and coffeehouse are sponsored by the Cultural Films Committee, Intercultural Affairs, and the German, American Studies, and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies departments.

Short Course: Refugees in Complex Emergencies

Explore the art and science of saving lives in complex emergencies — providing water, nutrition, security, and health care — in a short course taught by Neil Otto ’72, director of The Otto Family Foundation.

The course will also consider real world examples of operational challenges in emergency relief situations to examine what constitutes leadership where cultural dissonance, resource limitations, and moral ambiguities complicate every decision.

The short course meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2–3:50 p.m.

About Neil Otto ’72

Neil Otto ’72Otto is an investor and, together with his wife Margaret, a founder and managing director of The Otto Family Foundation.

As vice president of Ballard Power Systems, he was the marketing executive responsible for the Fuel Cell Alliance between Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company, and Ballard. The alliance focused $750 million dollars and ultimately over 1,000 scientists, engineers, and supporting personnel on developing zero emission fuel cell engines for automobiles.

He later established and became president of Ballard Automotive, a joint venture, technology marketing company owned by Ford, Daimler, and Ballard. The company was dedicated to advancing zero emission automotive technology worldwide. Through this joint venture, nearly every major automotive and energy company around the world contractually participated with the alliance or joined one of nearly a dozen public/private partnerships established in multiple countries on four continents.

As vice president at Science Applications International Corporation, Otto managed the Alternative Energy Division. The division housed more than 75 consulting engineers and staff that worked in solar, wind, electrochemical, and other advanced energy, power, and propulsion technologies. He hired and led the team that designed and built the world’s first PEM fuel cell vehicle, as well as the world’s first commercial fuel cell vehicle.

After the Challenger tragedy, NASA selected Otto to lead a multi-million dollar sub-project of the massive Solid Propulsion Improvement Program, a national effort to improve the safety and reliability of the Space Shuttle's solid rocket motors.

He has served as a technical area expert in cutting edge electrochemical power systems, consulting with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, NASA, the Air Force Wright Laboratories, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other government and commercial groups.

Otto has three issued U.S. patents, one approved patent under secrecy order, and several scientific publications. He currently serves on the board and executive council of Project Concern International and has been a board member of four companies, president of the World Fuel Cell Council, and was a member of advisory boards for the Institute of Transportation, University of California at Davis, and the Technology Advancement Office of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Otto's visit is sponsored by the Wilson Program in Enterprise and Leadership.

Bridging Scholarship and Activism

BlainGrinnell College's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day will feature a speech on Tuesday, Jan. 26, by University of Iowa Assistant Professor of History Keisha N. Blain.

Although Jan. 18 was the King Holiday, the College is celebrating it on Jan. 26, the day after classes begin for the 2016 spring semester.

Blain's speech, titled "Bridging Scholarship and Activism: Reflections on the #Charlestonsyllabus," will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Joe Rosenfield '25 Center Room 101. Immediately following the talk, Blain will join attendees in a buffet dinner. Both the speech and dinner are free and open to the public.

"Dr. Blain is a rising academic whose work demonstrates how scholarship and activism for social change can and must be connected," said Professor of History Sarah Purcell, who also directs the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights

"She will speak about connections in her own work on African American history," Purcell added, "and her work to educate the public about historical context necessary for understanding the Charleston shootings and continuing to combat white supremacy. Anyone with an interest in racial justice, current affairs, or history should not miss this talk."

Blain is one of the co-developers #Charlestonsyllabus, a Twitter movement and crowdsourced list of reading recommendations relating to the history of racial violence in the United States. It was created in response to the racially motivated shooting that took place in June 2015 during a Bible study class in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The reading list has drawn international media attention from news outlets such as PBS, BBC, NPR, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Blain also is a co-editor of "Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism and Racial Violence," forthcoming later this year from the University of Georgia Press. In addition, she is completing her first solo-authored book, "Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism," which is forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Grinnell College's Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights is sponsoring Blain's speech and the buffet dinner. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is co-sponsoring the events.

Fighting Social Injustice

Paula Cousins ’17 and Anesu Gamanya ’17 led a renovation project funded by the Davis Projects for Peace program that dramatically transformed a small Jamaican primary school 2,000 miles from Grinnell.

 “This experience reinforced why I came to Grinnell — social justice,” Gamanya says. “Growing up in Zimbabwe, I witnessed social injustice everywhere and sometimes experienced it, and I thought I did not have the power to fight it. This project gave me an opportunity to help alleviate the social injustice in another community.”

The third-year economics majors share a strong desire to help others.

When Cousins heard about the dire conditions of the Bottom Halse Hall Basic School in Clarendon, Jamaica, it nagged at her. She wondered how the serious sanitation problems, cracked floors, broken toilets, and cramped classrooms affected the educational experiences of the school’s 60 children who range in ages from 2 to 5.

“I did not think it was a suitable learning environment,” says Cousins, who grew up in the nearby Hayes community. “It was not conducive to learning.”

Other problems dogged the school, which is in an economically disadvantaged area. It had limited storage, outdated technology and equipment, and other issues.

So Cousins and Gamanya, who spent winter break 2014–15 together in Jamaica, developed a proposal to help the school and received a $10,000 award from the Davis Projects for Peace. The program invites undergraduates at American colleges and universities in the Davis United World College Scholars Program to develop grass-roots projects students implement during the summer.

Cousins’ parents and others in the small community rallied around the summer renovation plans.

“I don’t think you can quantify how much it helped the children to have a better learning environment,” says Cousins, who also has a concentration in global development studies.

Children in a classroom at Bottom Halse Hall Basic School in Clarendon, JamaicaRenovating a school is hard work, the duo found. The crews—some paid workers, others volunteers—worked on weekends and after school. Despite some minor building setbacks, they saw the 10-week project through, installing new  

  • floors
  • a water tank
  • toilets
  • community resource room with computers and the Internet
  • shelves and desks
  • a sick bay
  • blackboards

 “The floors were really impressive,” Cousins says. “I’m really, really, proud. I’ve very grateful to the people in the community.”

The project earned praise from school employees and the community. Cousins says the renovation work could eventually make the school eligible for government aid.

She hopes more Grinnell students apply for the Davis program and really think about how their projects could benefit others.

“Find a project you’re invested in,” Cousins says. “Try to do something that will affect the most people in the most meaningful way.”

Working on the project changed Gamanya.

"I also learned that not only can I learn to identify social injustice, I can find ways to address it,” she says.

 

Paula Cousins ’17 is from Hayes, Clarendon, Jamaica. She is an economics major, with a concentration in global development studies. Anesu Gamanya ’17 is from Harare, Zimbabwe. She is an economics major.



 

Silvia Elena Foster-Frau ’15 awarded Hearst Journalism Fellowship

Silvia Elena Foster-Frau ’15Silvia Elena Foster-Frau ’15 has received the Hearst Journalism Fellowship, a two-year digital media journalism fellowship awarded to four to six aspiring journalists each year.

For the first year of her fellowship, Foster-Frau will be reporting for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group. She currently is reporting for the Greenwich Time newspaper in Greenwich, Connecticut, but will transition to The Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the second part of her internship. She aspires to be a feature writer for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, or The New York Times.

Foster-Frau's work already has made an impact. Her story about a homeless family in Greenwich inspired the community to rally together, setting up a fund of more than $4,000 and finding the family a home. A story she wrote about a transgender teen from Greenwich was picked up by the Associated Press and published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, and Hartford Courant, among others.

A 2010 graduate of Galesburg High School in Galesburg, Illinois, Foster-Frau took a gap year in Mexico before enrolling in Grinnell College in 2011. She was an English major and leader in publications on campus. She served as the writing editor for The Grinnell Review and co-host of KDIC Radio Show "The Prairie's Edge." During her fourth year at Grinnell, she was a senior interviewer for the Office of Admission.

The Hearst Fellowship is a two-year program focusing on multimedia journalism funded by the Hearst Corporation, which owns many top metro papers nationwide. Fellows work 12-month rotations at two of Hearst's top newspapers, ensuring they will gain experience in a variety of news and media environments.