Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Musings on Friendship at Macalester

When I first visited Macalester, on a Fall Sampler Day in 2013, I attended a student panel in which five students talked pretty openly about their lives at Mac. I got the sense that Mac was a place of diverse interests, social/political awareness, and acceptance, so I applied Early Decision, and was happy to get in for those reasons. Of course, I was right about all of them.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that, as important as all of my considerations were, the most valuable factor in my college experience would be friendship. This sounds like a no-brainer—the people make the place, after all—but I didn’t worry too much about making friends. I assumed it would happen, but didn’t really think about how the people I met would change me. So far, friendship at Mac has been full of pleasant surprises; I’ve learned so much about myself because of it, and I have become a happier human being.

From left to right: Bridget, Sarah, Claire, and Andrew singing an impromptu version of Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always.” I’m not a big Taylor Swift fan, but this was too sweet not to share.

I made a lot of friends within just my first few weeks at Macalester. Most of the friends I have today are people who lived on my floor that first year in Dupre, one of the three residence halls available to first-years. Quite a few of them shared a first-year course and had met that way; others, like me, did not have a residential FYC. One day I joined the big group of laughing kids gathered in the floor lounge, and the rest is history.

Although I had some friends at my high school, I never quite felt like I fit in. At Macalester people are kind and want to like one another, and my circle is considerably wider here than it was in high school. So much of what makes my friends my friends isn’t about common interests, such as liking the same TV shows or having the same worldly ambitions (though those things don’t hurt, either). Instead, they’ve become my friends because they are kind, fun-loving people with tremendous senses of humor. We take care of each other and affectionately mock each other. They are my fellow armchair philosophers, overflowing with big thoughts about the world, as well as fodder for jokes about its minutia.

From left to right: Sarah, Thali, and Sean. Thali chose to pose with his eyes closed. Sarah and Sean, mired in chemistry homework, were grateful for the distraction.

I’ve really enjoyed my classes, and have had a lot of fun in the orgs (a.k.a. clubs) I’ve joined, but living with all of my friends will probably be what I miss the most when I return to New York this summer. (However, a lot of my new buddies live near me, so I hope we’ll hang out.) When I move into a new dorm this coming fall, I know I’ll miss the days when we all gathered in the Dupre 4 lounge.

Me (right) and my friend Mikayla in the locker room at the Leonard Center, taking fitness seriously.

At Macalester, people really do care about ideas. Don’t get me wrong about that. We have strong social and political convictions. We challenge and argue with each other. We are excited to learn. But everyone should have a safe space to relax, to rest unchallenged for a few moments, to feel that the connections they make are not conditional on a constant sharpening of their intellects—to feel cared for, and even loved. Macalester provides many of these spaces. I’ve seen students make those connections among themselves, and I have been one of those students. It may be a standard part of the Mac experience, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel immensely lucky—both that I have these friends, and that I get to be at Mac.

—M.L. Kenney ‘18, Queens, N.Y.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

for colored girls...

We’re making it our own,” says Kyla Martin ‘15, producer and actress, when describing how Macalester’s production of for colored girls would be different from previous adaptations of Ntozake Shange’s stage play. The work is described to be “passionate and fearless, Shange’s words reveal what it is to be of color and female in the twentieth century.” Kyla discussed how their performance will be different and still resonate with individuals in the contemporary moment: “We’re speaking poems that we think we can speak to…. Times have changed since this production has been created and lots of things have changed socially… That is also interesting but saddening, because a lot of these stories are still relevant to the issues we are combating today.” Many themes from discussing violence, to loss, pain, reclamation of identities & experiences, and celebration are delved into.

In my nearly four years at Macalester, I have never seen any production with an all Black cast and director. Becky Githinji ‘18, Dubie Toa-Kwapong ‘16, Gabriella “Gabs” Gillespie ‘17, Kyla Martin ‘15, Marie Johnson ‘17, Maritza Steele ‘17, Megan Britt ‘15, and Niara Williams ’18 round out the cast of eight Black women who volunteered their time and truths to make this production a reality. Kyla states, “We all have diverse experiences and different cultural and religious backgrounds but we are still able to relate to and speak truth to the pieces.” Harry Waters Jr., Professor and Chair of Theatre and Dance, also volunteered his time and expertise to direct.

By elisa lee ‘15
Lealtad-Suzuki Center’s Program Assistant

Established in August 2002, the LSC is the programmatic arm of the Department of Multicultural Life (DML).   The LSC provides a range of services, including intentional multicultural education and campus programming; ongoing training and development opportunities for faculty, staff, and students; and personal consultations to discuss issues of identity exploration and cross-cultural communication.

LEARN MORE about the Department of Multicultural Life

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Performing History

I chose a liberal arts school to gain exposure to various disciplines. I didn’t want to graduate only knowing how to draw economic models, but instead wanted to be able to talk about a multitude of subjects. But there was one requirement that scared me: fine arts. 

I’d been putting it off semester after semester and wasn’t sure what class I would end up taking. I didn’t really want to do creative writing and I didn’t see myself as an artist. I had taken music in elementary school, but the truth is, I can barely keep a beat. Maybe because of all the years when my mom would send me off to soccer practice in a costume or maybe it was the many musicals she forced me to watch, but the theatre and dance department was calling my name. 

I looked through all the class listings. There were a lot of contenders, but only a few fit my schedule. One class stood out, a kind of  Downton Abbey-meets-Minnesota with a sprinkle of urban history, acting, and scriptwriting, otherwise known as Performing History: Interpreting the James J. Hill House. 

Although I wasn’t really sure what the class would be like, the description made it sound amazing. Luckily, the reality didn’t disappoint. From the minute I walked into the class, my experience was transformed as the clock rolled back 100 years. Theater professor Eric Colleary makes every effort to immerse us in the Edwardian era world of St. Paul’s Hill family. Often the fun has included field trips, cooking lessons, period songs, and archival research. 

Our first field trip was to the Hill House, an impressive mansion and Minnesota Historical Society site about two miles from campus and just across the street from the St. Paul Cathedral. James J. Hill was a 19th and early 20th century railroad baron responsible for connecting Chicago and Minneapolis with the West Coast. James and Mary Hill had 10 children, the eighth of whom was Rachel Hill, the girl I will be playing in the interpretive play we are writing to be performed at the Hill House. 

We are crafting the entire piece as a collaboration among the 12 students in the class. We decided on a murder mystery-style show centering around the theft of a piece of Mary’s jewelry. With the downstairs and upstairs staff, as well as the detective, being played by my classmates, it should be quite an interesting final project. We’ll be performing our piece at the Hill House in early May. This class has been an amazing experience and I’m only 5 weeks in.  I just completed my archival research today and I am ready to start writing our script! 

Nadine Penkovsky ‘16, New York, NY

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My name is Morgan, and I am not a math or science person

My name is Morgan, and I am not a math or science person.

This immutable statement guided my high school life—from geometry to algebra to calculus, from physics to chemistry to biology. I hated it all because it didn’t make sense to me. Needless to say, when I arrived at Macalester, I swore that I would never take any sort of math class. I comforted myself by saying that I could fulfill my natural science requirement through a “science for non-majors” course, preferably something in the biology department (because biology was as much as I thought I could stand).

But along came second semester registration, and there I was, sighing, because the only natural science course still open was Contemporary Concepts. Physics.
One important note to add to this story: I am stubborn. It would have been relatively simple to switch into a biology course—or really any other course—once the semester started. But no. I am stubborn, so I decided to stick with physics. I wanted the challenge. Jokingly, I told myself (and everyone else) that this class was going to transform me into a “physics genius.”

(I still say that, to be honest.)

So the first day of class came. Professor Sung Kyu Kim walked in and began lecturing about the universe. He discussed the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy and the distance to the nearest star, things that made physics seem less like dreaded equations and more like “Wow, the universe is pretty cool.” He even said things that made me want to write poetry (I love poems): “Space was bubbly” and “We are all made of starstuff.” I had never heard physics portrayed in such a lyrical way.

Now I am more than a month into the semester and physics has gotten harder. There have been equations, and unfortunately, I have had to do some math. But taking physics has made me realize the value of the liberal arts. Physics dictates my everyday life whether I like it or not, so learning a bit about it makes my world that much brighter and diverse. Taking physics, even for this short period, has given me confidence in my critical thinking skills and helped me to think in different ways.

Before Macalester, I had given up on math and science. But thanks to Contemporary Concepts, I am on my way to becoming a “physics genius”…or at least someone who can tell you a bit about the relativity of time.

Morgan Malatesa ’18, Brookfield, WI

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Business Here is to Learn...Yourself

Why did I choose Macalester? As a senior graduating in a few months, I have been thinking a lot about this question. Why didn’t I choose a school that is larger or located in a warmer climate? In an email to my brother after I first heard about Mac in October 2010, I [apparently] wrote, “I heard it’s a good school, but the thing is, it’s in Minnesota and Mom doesn’t even know where that is.”

Choir has also been a big part of my college life

On the very first month of my freshman year, floormates gathered to celebrate a friend's birthday

There are many reasons I chose Macalester in the end, but one of the reasons I am most thankful for is diversity.

Before coming to Macalester, I attended the same institution from elementary through high school, which means I did not have to make new friends for 12 years. Crazy, right? Honestly, I loved our sense of community. But it also meant that I had no chance to interact with people from different backgrounds.

That was the biggest reason why I applied to Macalester and decided to spend four years here.

Looking back to those moments of deciding my path, I would say it was the right decision. In fact, “diversity” is used in so many contexts today that it was hard for me to fully understand what it meant and why it’s so important. But I know now as a senior at Macalester that diversity is not only about gaining different perspectives, but also about learning about myself and my values.

I was raised in Japan, one of the most racially homogenous countries in the world, and educated in an all-female Catholic school for 12 years.
Before Fall 2011, I was a part of the majority group at my school—Japanese, Catholic, female.

But three and a half years ago, for the first time in my life, I became part of a minority—an international student, a religious person, a female. (Yes, I realize females are not technically a minority group at Mac, but compared to my past experience of being surrounded only by girls, it felt like that for me!)

Being a minority for the first time was not easy. I was confused about who I was in relation to others. Some people might call it an identity crisis, but I dare to call it identity exploration.

A semester in Paris with a wonderful French host family also broadened my horizons
Classes gather outside of classroom, too - Lunch with Political Science Senior Capstone class and a professor
What does it mean to be Japanese or Asian?
Back home, I identified myself solely as Japanese but not necessarily as Asian because I knew that each Asian country had its distinct characteristics. I never even thought about what it meant to be Japanese and how others perceive Japan.

Three years ago, I felt uncomfortable when people called me Asian I felt as if my Japanese heritage was somehow buried in the word Asian. I was frequently asked about the politics, culture, and history of my country, yet found myself not having full answers.
Since then, I’ve tried to understand the history of Japan, and started questioning what the categorization of race means in the U.S. by taking an American Studies class called  Asian America.

What does it mean to be a Catholic?
Back home, I assumed that friends around me knew the teaching of Jesus and that the most important thing about Catholicism is to “love your enemy.”

Three years ago, I learned that what I associate with my religion was not necessarily what other people associate with it. I also realized how ignorant I was about the history of Christianity in relation to other religions.
Since then I’ve started exploring the meaning of religion and learning about different religions by joining the Multifaith Council.

What does it mean to be a female?
Back home, I’d never met a person identifying as LGBTQ and never thought about what sexuality meant to me—socially, economically, or politically.
Three years ago I made my first friend with a sexual orientation different from mine and learned about preferred gender pronouns. I learned that what I thought didn’t see in Japan was not due to its absence, but due to its illegibility caused by the unspoken oppression and discrimination in society.

Since then I’ve tried to inform myself, as well as people back home, that there are alternative ways for understanding the traditional gender roles we’ve taken for granted.

For the first time in my life, I faced the necessity to articulate who I am, to explain to others what my values are, and to understand myself. By interacting with people from different backgrounds, I realized that there are many things I didn’t know about myself and about my country, religion, and sexuality. And there are many things I learned only after getting out from the community.

There are opportunities to represent your country, such as the annual International Kidsfest

Three years ago, I felt insecure and naked but glad I gotten out of my comfort zone. And I hope you will, too, by coming to Macalester. Sure, it requires courage, effort, and sometimes pain. But despite its weather, the Macalester community warmly supports, welcomes, and encourages students to take risks to struggle, explore, learn, and grow.

On that first hot, shiny afternoon in late August 2011, I was excited to hear at the new student convocation that “the business here is to learn.” Back then I was thought that meant learning in the classroom. And indeed it’s true that I’ve been challenged and have appreciated all the intellectual discussions I’ve had with my peers and professors. But now I know that learning about myself, much of which took part outside classrooms— through casual chats over lunch at Cafe Mac, late nights in the common rooms, and on the way to classes—was just as important. And much of that learning was only possible because of the diversity of the people around me.

I’m still figuring out who I am but I’m happy that Macalester helped me in my journey of self-exploration. I’m looking forward to the life ahead and to find the voice in myself

Alexis Ayano Terai ’15, Japan