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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.

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.

Grinnell Welcomes Alumni to 2016 Reunion

More than 1,100 Grinnell College alumni, friends, and family will return to campus for the College’s 137th Alumni Reunion Weekend.

Four reunion attendees pose for a seflie photoAlumni from from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and 11 foreign countries including South Africa, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Hong Kong, India, and Costa Rica will return to Grinnell from June 3 to June 5.  

Reunion is one of the College’s biggest social events with parties, dances, dinners, and family activities.

Other weekend highlights include:

  • an all-Reunion picnic,
  • a special Honor G reception highlighting Grinnell athletics,
  • a 5K fun run,
  • class dinners,
  • bike and walking tours of the campus and community,
  • and a "Music in the Park" community concert by "The Loggia Patrol," composed of alumni from the class of 1976.

Silver, gold, and copper colored tag, focus on the gold which say 50th ReunionThe 50th reunion class of 1966 has organized a series of “Grinnell Talks” with themes that range from flying upside down in aerial aerobatic competitions to coping with mid-life career changes.

Ten alumni will receive awards for service to their professions, the College, and community.

A number of special presentations are planned for the weekend including a College President’s Panel, which will discuss the opportunities and challenges Grinnell College faces in the changing world of higher education. The panel will feature:

  • Former Drake University President David Maxwell ’66 (moderator),
  • President Raynard Kington,
  • Michael Latham, V.P. of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College,
  • Dan Davis ’16, SGA President, 2015-16,
  • Joe Bagnoli, V.P. for Enrollment, Dean of Admission & Financial Aid,
  • Mark Peltz,  Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean for Careers, Life, and Service, and
  • Lakesia Johnson, Associate Dean and Chief Diversity Officer

The Alumni College will hold courses on the theme of "Food for Thought" starting June 1. This year, participants will have the option of choosing an excursion to either the Meskwaki reservation or the Kolona Amish settlement to learn more about the food and food systems of the region. The annual alumni lecture will be presented by David Ten Eyck ’76 on “My Grinnell Experience: From Classrooms in the Cornfields to Courtrooms on the Frozen Tundra.”

 

The Scoop on Shovel Knight

Although millions of people around the world enjoy playing video games, not many people have the talent or motivation to make a game of their own. For David D’Angelo ’08, however, the spark, the drive, and the talent were all there.

D’Angelo was heavily involved in music while at Grinnell, participating in the orchestra and serving as president of the acapella ensemble G-Tones. He was also an avid gamer and had always been interested in the process of making video games. After a short postgraduation stint writing commercial jingles, the dual music and computer science major moved to Los Angeles and began to pursue a career in video game design.  

He got a job as a video game programmer at WayForward, a work-for-hire video game company that produces games at the request of companies like Warner Brothers, despite the fact that the economy was crashing for many other industries. “Video games are kind of recession-proof for some reason,” he says.

After working on retro-style 2-D games like “Double Dragon Neon” and “Contra 4,” an idea began to bud in D’Angelo and a few of his coworkers. In 2013, they broke off from WayForward and began their own video game company, Yacht Club Games.

“We wanted to create a retro game that was the first in a new franchise rather than a continuation of an old series,” D’Angelo says. “We were looking at ‘Zelda II: The Adventure of Link’ and observing the underused down-thrust attack of Link, and we just thought ‘How cool would it be to base an entire game around that simple mechanic?’”

After much debate over what kind of weapon would work best for flipping enemies over and attacking their underbellies, the team decided on a shovel. “Then we thought that ‘knight’ is the funniest word you could put next to ‘shovel’, so we wound up with a game called ‘Shovel Knight,’” D’Angelo says.

D’Angelo and his team started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game, in which they had 30 days to reach their monetary goal through online donations. To get the word out, they went to conventions to show off the game, released live-streamed video updates on the project daily, and communicated heavily with their fans.

“We streamed ourselves making the game, we streamed ourselves talking to our fans, we responded to every single email and comment we received,” D’Angelo says. “We wanted people to see how passionate we were about this game.”

The Kickstarter campaign was launched in the middle of March 2013 with a goal of $75,000; they reached that goal in just a few short weeks. By the end of the campaign in mid-April, the team had collected a total of $311,502 for the development of the game. The game was released in June 2014, and has since sold more than a million copies. It can be now purchased for Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Windows, Amazon Fire TV, Mac, and Linux.

When it came to the designing and marketing of “Shovel Knight,” D’Angelo says his Grinnell experience has been a valuable asset to his work. “I didn’t learn how to make games at Grinnell, but I did acquire the knowledge and tools needed to face any programming problem, and my music background helped me create and implement sound in our games,” he says. “Even the course I took in Japanese literature has come in handy as I draw on Japanese art and customs when engaging with our partners there in preparation for the game’s release.

“You get a taste of a little bit of everything at Grinnell, and that has been so important in what I do. I think the best thing you can do is to explore all your options while you’re there, because you just never know what skills you’ll end up using later on!”

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.”

Film Screening: Called to Walls

Dave Loewenstein ’88 is returning to campus — along with co-directors Nick Ward and Amber Hansen — for a panel discussion and film screening of Called to Walls. The free, public event will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, May 6, in ARH Auditorium, Room 302.

Called to Walls is "part road-movie, part inspirational small town drama, and part art documentary" that chronicles the making of giant murals in the city cores of places like Newton and Joplin, Mo.

For Loewenstein, there’s more to creating a mural than just painting the side of a building. He designs political activism prints and specializes in community-based collaborative public art projects. He’s worked on murals all over the United States, including Grinnell, as well as in Korea, Northern Ireland, and Brazil. In his experience, making a piece of public art has encouraged conversations (and offers of help) from passers-by, resulting in what he calls an “improvised gathering space.”

The events are sponsored by Alumni in the Classroom and Artists@Grinnell.

Dave Loewenstein ’88

Dave LoewensteinDave Loewenstein is a muralist, writer, and printmaker based in Lawrence, Kansas. In addition to his more than twenty public works in Kansas, examples of his dynamic and richly colored community-based murals can be found across the United States in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arkansas, Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Iowa, Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City, and in Northern Ireland and South Korea.

Loewenstein’s prints, which focus on current social and political issues, are exhibited nationally and are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Yale University,  and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles. He is the co-author of Kansas Murals: A Traveler’s Guide, a 2007 Kansas Notable Book Award Winner, published by the University Press of Kansas; and the co-director of the documentary film Creating Counterparts which won Best Documentary at the 2003 Kansas Filmmakers Jubilee.

Loewenstein has been recognized widely for his work, including the 2001 Lighton Prize for Arts Educator of the Year from Kansas City Young Audiences, the 2004 Tom and Anne Moore Peace and Justice Award given by the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, a 2006 Phoenix Award from the Lawrence Arts Commission, a 2007 Kansas Press Association 1st Place Columnist Award for his column “Blank Canvas,” and in 2014 he was named one of the founding Cultural Agents for the new U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. His most recent studio project is Give Take Give, funded by the Rocket Grants program.

Racialized State Violence and the Movement for Black Lives

In a free, public event, Damon Williams ’14 will present “Bigger Than the Cops: Racialized State Violence and the Movement for Black Lives” at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 28, in ARH Auditorium, Room 302.

After a brief presentation, Williams will join in a one-on-one conversation with Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English. Alexandra Odom ’17 will introduce participants and set the stage for the discussion.

At 5 p.m., there will be a break for refreshments. Attendees will return at 5:15 p.m. for a workshop with Williams and Kesho Scott, associate professor of American studies and sociology.

Event sponsors include Alumni in the Classroom Program, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Center for the Humanities, Peace and Conflict Studies, the Departments of Sociology, American Studies, and Economics, and the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations through Conference Operations and Events.

About Damon Williams ’14

After a brief presentation, Williams will join in a one-on-one conversation with Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English at Grinnell College. Senior Alexandra Odom will introduce participants and set the stage for the discussion.

At 5 p.m., there will be a break for refreshments. Attendees will return at 5:15 p.m. for a workshop with Williams and Kesho Scott, associate professor of American studies and sociology at Grinnell.

Williams is a community producer, organizer, radio host, hip-hop performance artist, actor, teacher and public speaker from the south side of Chicago. He has performed across the country with his sister, Kristiana Colón, as the poetic duo April Fools. He also co-hosts "AirGo Radio," a weekly show on WHPK, Chicago Community Radio.

In addition, Williams co-chairs the Chicago chapter of Black Youth Project 100, a national political organization comprised of black youth ages 18-35. He co-edits the #LetUsBreathe Collective, an artistic activist organization that serves underprivileged people and creatively disrupts the anti-black racist status quo.

Committed to addressing economic inequality, Williams also serves as the co-director of the Ujamaa Jr. Investment Club, which promotes financial literacy and investment strategies.

Scarlet & Give Back Day - Success!

Scarlet & Give Back Day, April 7, 2016, was an opportunity for alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends of Grinnell to show pride in the College as a leader in providing a world-class liberal arts education.

As a bonus, an anonymous donor issued a philanthropic challenge: if 2,000 people gave to Grinnell before 11:59 p.m., CDT, the donor would give the College $1 million!

By 5:08 p.m. 2,000 donors had made gifts, and the $1 million challenge gift was unlocked.

But our anonymous donor was so impressed with the generosity of the Grinnell community, they offered a new challenge to continue this exciting event through the evening. For the "bonus" challenge, if 500 additional donors who had not given yet to Grinnell, gave by 11:59 p.m. CDT, the College would receive an additional $100,000.

Both Donor Challenges Met

At 10:15 p.m., the College announced that 500 additional donors had made gifts to unlock the $100,000 bonus challenge. By the end of the day, more than 3,000 donors made gifts unlocking the challenge matches totaling $1,100,000. 

Total donors: 3,376

Donor gifts: $ 284,533.48

Matching gift: $1,100,000

Scarlet & Give Back Day TOTAL: $1,384,553.48

Thanks-a-Million

Thank you to the alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends who made a gift in support of Scarlet & Give Back Day. We are proud of the extraordinary generosity displayed by Grinnellians worldwide. The event’s donor total set a new one-day record for donors to the College.

Because of the tremendous number of donors, we successfully met two donor challenges and unlocked $1.1 million in matching gifts.  

While this was structured as a participation challenge, please join us in taking a moment to recognize how important this day was for campus. Every day, we are grateful for donors who, through their gifts, invest in the future of the people and programs that make Grinnell such a distinctive and wonderful place.

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