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Social Justice

Causes with Effect

In a recent list of most liberal college campuses, Grinnell came in fourth, reflecting its long-standing, politically liberal reputation. Yet over time, both conservative and non-partisan, cause-related groups have also made their voices heard.

Rosenfield Professor of Political Science H. Wayne Moyer, Jr., who has observed Grinnell campus politics for more than 40 years, says that while “there’s a liberal tinge to most of the student organizations, the liberalism is not focused on politics but on causes. The central theme is helping people.”

Yes, There Are Conservatives

“Young Republicans have been active at times,” Moyer observes, “as have the Campus Democrats. We have conservative students but they tend to be moderate to liberal Republicans who identify less with the national Republican party than they might have 40 years ago.”

2014 graduate Sam Mulopulos is among those self-described conservatives who thrived on campus. “When I first came to Grinnell, I fell in love with the place and its people. In fact, because of my contrarian learning style, Grinnell probably made me more conservative or at least led me to more fully develop my conservative ideology.

“People often joke that the only people in the closet at Grinnell are the Republicans,” Mulopulos says. He started a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in fall 2013. “I believe a group like YAL has a tremendous role in promoting political diversity and social justice. The goal was to provide a forum for conservative students to ‘come out’ and cogently speak about their beliefs in limited government, individual liberty, and free markets.”

Don’t See What You Like? Start Your Own

A new club — the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network — like YAL, a chapter of a national organization, was co-founded in 2014–15 by Isaac Andino ’17 and Jenny Chi ’17. “Roosevelt is committed to progressive change, especially focusing on the local level since we feel that is where students can have the most direct change,” Andino explains.

“We are currently focusing our efforts on sustainability via socially responsible investing, investigating the college's endowment holdings in fossil fuel and defense companies and ways to possibly reduce our exposure/support to them,” Andino says. “We founded this organization because we felt it was a good fit with the values of Grinnell and was broad enough that it could be directed at any number of pressing issues. Other organizations on campus focus on one specific issue, while Roosevelt could be used as a general umbrella to address issues in the future.”

RISE Grinnell, led by Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, also addresses progressive issues. “The goal of RISE Grinnell is to organize and participate in activism across a broad spectrum of progressive issues,” Metz-Lerman says. “Although we shy away from the term social justice, that is exactly what we stand for — issues that threaten justice, peace, love, and equality.”

A Focus on Issues

For those interested in targeting more specific issues, the Grinnell in Latin America Solidarity Society (GLASS) organization may have appeal.

For Jason Camey ’16, the focus on Latin American issues through GLASS came after a trip to Guatemala, through a co-curricular grant, where he and other Grinnell students witnessed “how U.S. foreign policy affected people in the country.

“The goal we established for the GLASS was to start talking about issues and getting people connected with partner organizations in Latin America,” Camey says.

“Grinnell is a community filled with amazingly brilliant students who aren't just citizens of the U.S. but of the world, and I think more and more students are realizing worldwide issues are something we also have to look at. Many of my peers are unaware of how our foreign policy affects people directly. I think if more people knew then they'd raise questions, they'd think a little more critically, they'd approach foreign policy with more caution, pointing out how these policies affect people.”

From broad to specific, local to international, progressive to conservative, there is always room for more campus political organizations, asserts Mulopulos. “What a boring place the world would be if we all agreed on every issue all the time? Where is the intellectual challenge in that? The ultimate goal as humans is to make the world a better, safer, healthier, and more prosperous place for everyone.”

Isaac Andino ’17, a political science major, is from Miami Springs, Fla. Jenny Chi ’17 is majoring in political science and economics and is from West Hills, Calif. Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, a political science major, is from Roslindale, Mass. Jason Camey ’16 is majoring in Spanish and political science.

Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership

An information session about the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, July 20, at the Iowa Transportation Museum, 829 Spring St., Grinnell.

The session will provide an opportunity for representatives of interested community organizations to learn more about the recently awarded AmeriCorps Grant, including what the grant funding will cover and how to get involved with the program. Information about how organizations can become a host site also will be provided.

As part of the grant funding, 14 AmeriCorps members — 11 full-time (1,700-hour positions) and three part-time (450-hour positions) — will be placed in local host-sites for one year, beginning as early as Sept. 15, 2015. The AmeriCorps members will support community work to advance early childhood literacy and support the Graduate Skills Gap initiative in Grinnell, Iowa.

Organizations interested in hosting one or more AmeriCorps team members must submit an application by 5 p.m. Friday, July 31.  Host site assignments will be announced mid-August.  AmeriCorps team members hired to participate will be matched with host organizations in mid-September. Host site applications will be available at the information session.

About the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership

The Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership is a community-wide effort to advance Grinnell’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading and support the Graduate Skills Gap initiative in Grinnell, Iowa.

Focusing on these initiatives, 14 AmeriCorps members will be placed in local community organizations to support work in each of the five key focus areas of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading:

  •     Prevention of summer learning loss,
  •     Prevention of chronic absence from school,
  •     Making sure youngsters are ready for school,
  •     Making sure students are healthy, and
  •     Encouraging parent engagement.

In addition, AmeriCorps members will provide core “backbone” infrastructure, such as community and volunteer engagement to advance early childhood literacy and assist with the community’s Graduate Skills Gap pilot programming.

Merlin's Story

About Merlin Mathews ’17

Merlin Mathews ’17 will be graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology and gender, women's, and sexuality studies. Merlin is neurodivergent and chronically and mentally ill.

He writes about the variety of accommodations he has received and the personal and administrative processes for getting them.

College and Partners Help Children Learn to Read

Through a grant from the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service (ICVS), Grinnell’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading will receive funding to hire a team of 14 AmeriCorps members to work in organizations throughout the community in order to advance the early literacy project.

The AmeriCorps members will support work in each of the campaign’s five key focus areas:

  • summer learning loss
  • chronic absence
  • school readiness
  • healthy readers
  • parent engagement

AmeriCorps logoThe grant will also provide AmeriCorps members to support the community’s graduate skills gap initiative as well as core “backbone” infrastructure such as community and volunteer engagement.

Grinnell College, the lead applicant on the grant, is one of 21 organizations across Iowa that will receive funding from the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service. “Supporting community-wide ‘multi-focus’ partnerships was a new priority for AmeriCorps this year. When we learned about the opportunity, it seemed like a perfect fit for Grinnell – especially to help advance the partnership that’s already begun with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading,” said Monica Chavez-Silva, director of Community Enhancement and Engagement.

As a grant recipient, Grinnell College will coordinate the grant and host at least one AmeriCorps member. Other AmeriCorps team members will be placed in community organizations that are interested in advancing the work, but don’t necessarily have the staffing capacity within their regular operations.

“That’s why this grant is so important to Grinnell,” said Chavez-Silva. “There are so many organizations that want to be part of the effort, but everyone has other priorities that they need to focus on too. With the AmeriCorps members, partner organizations will have the extra staffing to be as active and involved as they want to be.”

The Campaign for Grade Level Reading is a nationwide effort to make sure that all children can read at grade level by third grade, as third grade reading is an important predictor of high school graduation. Based on the idea that schools cannot succeed alone, the campaign gives community stakeholders a framework to work together in support of this goal.  In Grinnell, the campaign is just getting started. In August of 2014, roughly 20 community organizations convened to learn about the effort and unanimously agreed to submit a letter of intent to join the nationwide program. In February and May, stakeholders met again to begin initial planning.  

This is the second grant that Grinnell has received for the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Earlier this year, the Iowa Council of Foundations (ICoF) granted a $2,500 capacity grant to Grinnell, through the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, a member organization of ICoF.

In addition to the grants from ICVS and ICoF, the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation has offered to contribute $10,000 to encourage other community funders to consider providing funding to support the program. CDAF’s funding will be used to support programming in each of the grant’s focus areas. “To receive this type of state-wide funding is a great opportunity for our community to embrace the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and we are pleased to be able to offer additional financial support that is needed,” said Julie Gosselink, president and CEO of the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation.  “We are hopeful that our gift will encourage other community members to contribute to this initiative.”

Learn more — including how to get involved — at Grinnell’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

A Greener Grinnell

For the past decade, Grinnell College has prioritized environmental sustainability, which is itself a social justice issue, in both constructing new buildings and maintaining century-old ones.

Building a Sustainable Campus

The Conard Environmental Research Area’s Environmental Education Center was the College’s first major sustainability effort. “It was a smaller building and gave us a chance to do everything right,” says Chris Bair 96, environmental and safety manager. “Plus, if you can’t build an environmental education building sustainably, what can you do?”

The Environmental Education Center was the first LEED gold-certified building in Iowa and was the College’s first building with a wind turbine, water reclamation, and geothermal heating and cooling. Now the College’s preschool and pool buildings also use geothermal heating and cooling. The Noyce Science Center and the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center have cisterns that collect rainwater. Noyce’s provides water to the greenhouse and the Bear’s is used to water the football fields.

Facilities management is also working on a number of solar projects, including the recent installation of a 20-kilowatt solar unit on the facilities management building in addition to the solar hot water unit of Eco House. “And we’re exploring the possibility of putting 200 kilowatts worth of solar power on campus,” says Bair.

Global Research and Collaboration

Six students conducted research on sustainability in several German cities during spring break. They were accompanied by Bair and facilities manager Rick Whitney, as well as Lee Sharpe, associate professor of chemistry, and Liz Queathem, a biology lecturer. In this group Mentored Advanced Project, each student focused on a different aspect of sustainability with the intent to make recommendations to the College:

  • Sophie Neems ’16 examined how change happens and what societal factors in Germany have caused increased sustainability efforts that just aren’t happening in the United States.
  • Emma Leverich 16 looked at the efficacy of a waste-to-energy process that uses biodigesters; the methane gas that the biodigesters produce would be siphoned off and burned for fuel.
  • Zhi Chen ’17 investigated the potential implementation of solar energy on campus by surveying the available space and calculating the cost of installation.
  • Ben Mothershead ’16 and Liza Morse ’15 compared the building certification programs and building codes of the United States and Germany. They spoke with several architects in both countries about their experience with sustainable design.
  • Samantha Snodgrass ’16 researched storm water reclamation and infiltration.

When the students returned, they each wrote a paper on their research and presented the papers to the local city government, the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Importance of Visibility

One of the major lessons learned on the trip was the importance of making sustainable efforts more visible. If students are more aware of the resources they are consuming, they are likely to do more to curb their consumption.

Many of the College’s ongoing sustainability efforts are significant but may go unnoticed by students. Each summer facilities management updates a residence hall with LED lights, low-flow toilets, and efficient showerheads. They also connect each hall to the College’s central building automation and add set points to thermostats and window sensors that shut off the heat or air conditioners when windows are open.

In Germany, virtually every hotel in which the students, faculty, and staff stayed had a display in the lobby indicating how much energy had been produced by the building’s rooftop solar panels.

Starting this summer, facilities management will install submeters in residence halls to monitor water and electricity use. The hope is that once that information is on display, students will be more aware of their consumption. There has even been talk of starting conservation competitions between halls. “Renewable energy is out there and everyone is bragging about it,” says Bair. The group also took tours of green roofs and rainwater collection features.

“On Grinnell’s campus, you’re always aware of the social justice implications of pretty much everything,” says Bair. “I’d like sustainability to rise to that level.”

Sophie Neems ’16 is an anthropology and Spanish double major from Iowa City, Iowa.
Emma Leverich ’16 is a chemistry and anthropology double major from Clive, Iowa.
Zhi Chen ’17 is a computer science and history double major from Oakland, Calif.
Ben Mothershead ’16 is an economics major from Falls Church, Va.
Samantha Snodgrass ’16 is a biology major from Des Moines, Iowa.


A Rigorous Education

Archie Tyson ’06 transferred to Grinnell for two reasons: the rigorous education and the opportunity to play football. “I knew that I wasn’t going to get drafted to play in the NFL, so my attitude was to play and enjoy the game, but to get a quality education at the same time,” he says.

“I appreciated the positivity of the coaches,” he adds. “They weren’t trying to break you down. They all realize that football is going to come to an end, and that you’re eventually going to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or a teacher, or something else, and that you need to develop skills and an identity outside of the sport.”

By playing a varsity sport, Tyson learned to juggle many different responsibilities, particularly his rigorous academic workload.

As a kid, Tyson didn’t spend much time in an academic setting like the one at Grinnell. “If you miss a class, your professor notices it and will ask you about the absence,” he says. “That level of personal attention goes a long way toward the development of a student.”

Professor Daniel Kaiser (history) helped Tyson learn how to take the great ideas he had in his head and arrange them cohesively into an argument. “I appreciated how honest he was and how committed he was to ensuring that I would be successful,” Tyson says.

Tyson used that same care and attention with his own students when he started his career with Teach for America. He took the time to immerse himself in the community where they were growing up. “Kids would work for me in the classroom because they knew that I noticed them, that I cared about them, and that I was concerned about their progress,” he says.

Tyson was quickly promoted from a classroom teacher to dean of students — while commuting to New York City to earn a master’s in educational leadership and administration at Columbia University.

“After having taken graduate-level courses, I can see that you get a different type of education at Grinnell,” he says. “If you go into any type of graduate program, you’ll instantly tell that the quality of education and the instruction that you received have set you up for success.”

Archie Tyson ’06 majored in history. He is assistant principal and director of football operations at KIPP Blytheville Collegiate High School in Blytheville, Ark.

Jennifer's Story

About Jennifer

Jen Brooks ’15, who is originally from Atlanta, Ga., graduated with a bachelor of arts in sociology. Jen was the third Grinnell student in recent years who used a wheelchair. She also needed full-time personal care attendant (PCA) services and a communication aid in the classroom.

During her time at Grinnell, Jen had the opportunity to explore her passion for activism, hone her skills as a researcher (through her two internships), and develop independent living skills.

Claire's Story

About Claire Forrest ’13

Claire Forrest ’13, originally from Minneapolis, Minn., earned a bachelor of arts degree in English. Claire has cerebral palsy, and used a motorized scooter and manual wheelchair to navigate the campus. While at Grinnell, Claire was a 4-year member of the Varsity Women's Swim Team, and participated in Paralympic swimming competitions during her career. She also served on the campus' Disability Awareness Committee. Claire studied with the Grinnell-in-London 2011 program, making her the first student to study abroad requiring wheelchair accommodation.

A Matter of Social and Economic Justice

Bill StoweBill Stowe ’81, CEO of Des Moines Water Works, works on issues of water quality.

“For 150 years my predecessors spent a lot of time on infrastructure issues and understanding the science of water treatment,” says Bill Stowe. “We kind of took for granted that consumers should think about nothing more than turning on a spigot and getting water. You paid your bill, you used our product and that was enough.

“There are social and economic justice issues in our advocacy now. Our average consumers in Des Moines are living at or near the poverty line, so water rates are important. If they have to pay a cost for ag production that is coming to us downstream, then that’s a big issue.

“There has to be more attention on agricultural accountability. Whether I’m manufacturing steel plates or corn, if my process results in an adverse impact on water or air quality, then I should be accountable for that. It’s a cost of production. Pushing that cost to other consumers downstream is inequitable. 

“The problem of the day is nitrate concentrations, but that problem will be substantially different at some point. Twenty-five years from now your kids may be talking about antibiotics in animal feed, or endocrine disruptors from pharmaceuticals that get into the water supply.

“We are facing basic policy questions about where this state is going, and if it has a larger vision than being a big feedlot between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Is there a better balance that can be struck between environmental issues and a successful agricultural community? This may be a farm state, but we are not going to be casualties to industrial agriculture.”