Champion of Pride award shines light on advocacy work of Helen Boyd Kramer

Helen Boyd Kramer on hard-fought progress made on LGBTQ+ issues: “Every once in a while, as an activist and educator, it’s nice to go, hey, some of this education stuff works.” (Photo by Rachel Crowl)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Helen Boyd Kramer jokes that it’s a “lifetime achievement award.”

There might be truth in that if her work was done. It is not.

Kramer, a lecturer in gender studies at Lawrence University since 2008, was named a 2020 Champion of Pride by The Advocate, a leading national voice on LGBTQ+ issues that each June honors 104 activists – two from each state and the District of Columbia.

Kramer joined Dane County’s Baltazar De Anda Santana as this year’s Wisconsin recipients.

A leading activist on transgender issues since publishing her first book, My Husband Betty, in 2003, Kramer was cited for her recent work advocating for the LGBTQ+ community in Appleton, including a successful effort earlier this year to get the Common Council to approve a ban on practicing conversion therapy on minors. That followed efforts in October to help make National Coming Out Day more visible in Appleton, resulting in a rainbow flag flying over City Hall for the first time.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Kramer said of being honored by The Advocate, but she sees it as a sign of progress in her efforts to advocate for diversity, the rights of transgender people in particular.

“When you’ve been in a movement that’s young but you were part of the original people doing it, you tend to get used to the fact that this is what you do, this is what you’ve been doing,” Kramer said. “So, this (award) kind of came out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it. … The trans community was a baby when I started doing this work and when I wrote the book. Now the education about trans is at a whole different level. Every once in a while, as an activist and educator, it’s nice to go, hey, some of this education stuff works.”

An agent of change

Kramer arrived at Lawrence in 2008, a year after publishing her second book, She’s Not the Man I Married, chronicling her experiences with transgender spouse Rachel Crowl. The move took her from New York City to Appleton, necessitating a change in her activism. Here, she got to know the elected officials she would be pushing for change.

“Being an activist in Appleton was going to be a different thing,” Kramer said. “It was going to be more about personal relationships.”

In the 12 years since, she’s been a frequent voice on LGBTQ+ education, be it in the community before city councils and school boards or on campus in gender studies classrooms, Freshman Studies workshops, or in campus-wide Cultural Competency discussions.

Appleton, Kramer said, has grown in its understanding of and support for the LGBTQ+ community, perhaps fueled by the giant leap forward that came with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down same-sex marriage bans in 2015. The Common Council has gotten noticeably more progressive. The topics Kramer and other LGBTQ+ activists speak to, including the conversion therapy ban, no longer shock.

“Instead of being reactive, we actually have council members now who are bringing legislation forward,” she said. “That’s what happened with conversion therapy.”

Read more: 10 ways Lawrence celebrates Pride Month all year long

She singled out the work of Appleton alderperson Vered Meltzer ’04, a Lawrence alum who in 2014 became the first openly trans person to hold elected office in Wisconsin, according to Fair Wisconsin, a Madison-based advocacy group.

Meltzer returns the praise, calling Kramer tenacious in her efforts to support marginalized people in the Appleton community.

“Helen’s advocacy is effective because she never stops working, whether she’s on campus or off campus,” Meltzer said. “And one of the best things about working with her is that she doesn’t give up or get discouraged, no matter how much work there is to do or how long it takes to see results. Her tireless dedication, and her personal care and support for marginalized individuals in our community, has helped bring activists throughout the community together over the years with a sense of unity and shared goals.”

Kramer sees the progress happening in Appleton as reflective of what’s happening across the country. While there is much work yet to be done, momentum has been building in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from the same-sex marriage ruling five years ago to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects transgender, gay and lesbian employees from workplace discrimination.

“There has been an education of people in terms of civil rights,” Kramer said. “Poll after poll after poll say people believe that you shouldn’t be able to get fired for being gay or lesbian.”

The celebration of the Supreme Court’s June 15 ruling on workplace discrimination may have been a bit muted because of COVID-19 social restrictions, but there is little doubt it marked a major moment, one that arrived amid heightened awareness of equity issues. The ruling was delivered by a conservative-leaning court midway through Pride Month, 50 years after the Pride movement first emerged en masse.

“The movement has worked,” Kramer said. “The reason gay people started coming out and the reason gay people still feel the necessity to be out is precisely because the more straight people know them or more straight people know that they are related to someone who is LGBTQ+ the more likely it is that they would support same-sex marriage, employment discrimination rules, and such. This has been a long time coming.”

Helen Boyd Kramer on efforts to support LGBTQ+ students: “The tremendous burden of family rejection is still really common.” (Photo by Rachel Crowl)

Education on campus

The enlightenment at Lawrence over the past decade hasn’t been quite as stark because the university has long been a safe haven for LGBTQ+ students, Kramer said. Again, it’s been a work-in-progress, but the work of inclusion has been in play here for a long time.

The dramatic change at Lawrence since she arrived a dozen years ago has come in the trans community. In 2008, it was mostly a curiosity, even on a liberal arts campus.

“It’s kind of hard to explain how much has changed in that time,” Kramer said. “The first class I introduced at Lawrence was Transgender Lives, and at that time I had one student who shyly admitted to doing drag once. I had a bunch of students who took it because trans was an interesting topic. A lot of them were future therapists, a bunch of psychology majors. Now, when I teach Trans Lives, half of the students in the class identify as LGBTQ+ as either trans or non-binary. … There’s been a giant cultural shift.”

All that progress doesn’t mean the fight is over. Far from it. Kramer points to the Trump Administration’s recent ruling that removed federal health care protections for people who identify as transgender. Protections written into the Affordable Care Act addressed sex discrimination, and in 2016, the Obama Administration interpreted that provision to include gender identity. But in early June, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement saying it is returning to an earlier interpretation of sex discrimination, thus excluding the trans community.  

“This isn’t just for trans procedures,” Kramer said. “It’s for pneumonia or COVID. These stories are already common in the trans world, where doctors wouldn’t take what they had seriously, cancer in particular. It would just go untreated because doctors wouldn’t work with trans patients. Seeing HHS do this right now when everyone is scared of dying is particularly heartless.”

The COVID dilemma

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a cruel light on the LGBTQ+ world. Besides health care access issues, it has highlighted wealth disparities, which are particularly stark among Black LGBTQ+ people. The same systematic racism issues that have ignited nationwide protests are in play within the LGBTQ+ community, Kramer said.

“When we get to a point when we’re actually doing recovery, eventually, we’re going to have to figure out the wealth problem and the access to employment and training and education,” she said. “These are all systems that are so soaked in the same discrimination we’re talking about. It’s employment, it’s health care, it’s food on the table.”

The pandemic sent students home for spring term, put summer research and internships on pause, and infused uncertainty into almost all near-future plans. That, in turn, has heightened anxieties for LGBTQ+ students who don’t have adequate support at home. Kramer and other advocates on campus have tried to stay in frequent contact, but seeing students having to isolate in a home environment that’s toxic adds new layers of concern.

“The tremendous burden of family rejection is still really common,” Kramer said.

While a growing number of families are accepting and supportive, it’s those students who aren’t feeling that love who are particularly vulnerable right now.

“Some students used to refer to Lawrence as Hogwarts because they could be gay here,” Kramer said. “And they couldn’t always be at home. Now those students are at home during the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons why there was more than one student I helped make sure they could stay on campus this spring because their home situation just isn’t good.

“How do you accept the fact that your family basically doesn’t like you so much? Sometimes they hate you. That’s a wounding you can’t really process. I think Lawrence has been amazing about that, being aware that we do provide acceptance in a way that some students are not always getting elsewhere.”

Lawrence recently introduced the LGBTQ+ Alliance House as a residential space. A Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center opened in Colman Hall late last year. Trans Rights United (TRU) became the University’s first trans student organization. Those additions are all built onto an already well-established support system.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes culturally that get reflected on the campus,” Kramer said. “I think the campus has done an amazing job for the most part in creating these spaces, and creating diversity training for everyone else. There are still pockets of education that’s needed, but I love the fact that we let students lead. They’re telling us what they need. They feel empowered, and we’re getting much better at that.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University: Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Lighting the Way With … Samuel Wrenn: In search of a COVID-19 vaccine

Samuel Wrenn ’17, second from the right, poses with his research team at the Institute of Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has been working in IPD research labs since 2018.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Samuel Wrenn ’17, a research scientist in Seattle.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Samuel Wrenn ’17 is doing work that most everyone on the planet has a deep interest in these days.

A research scientist at the Institute of Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wrenn is part of a team searching for a vaccine for COVID-19, the coronavirus that has put much of the world on lockdown for months.

Dozens of teams of scientists all over the world are racing the clock to find a vaccine. About 10 vaccine possibilities have been green-lighted for human trials and others are nearing that point, according to the World Health Organization. Until a working vaccine is delivered, a full return to normal daily activities is unlikely.

Wrenn, who majored in mathematics at Lawrence, spent eight months in New Zealand following his 2017 graduation, a chance to reconnect with his grandmother’s homeland. He then moved to Seattle in 2018 to live with a couple of fellow Lawrentians, and landed the job with IPD shortly thereafter.

His work took a severe turn when the COVID-19 crisis arrived. The virus was declared a global pandemic in March, and with his work to date in nanoparticle research, Wrenn was selected to join the COVID-19 vaccine development team.

Samuel Wrenn ’17 on chasing a vaccine: “We have at least one meeting a day to discuss results from that day’s experiments and discuss how those results shape our path forward and inform our next steps.”

To date, the U.S. has seen more than 2.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 126,000 deaths. The death toll worldwide exceeds 500,000. Despite the push on research and testing, a vaccine isn’t expected to be available until sometime in 2021, at the earliest.

Wrenn shared with us information and insight about his job and the balance between urgency and patience in the search for a vaccine.

On his role on the IPD vaccine development team:

“We are developing a protein nanoparticle vaccine, and I work with a small team of people on purification process development and biophysical characterization of the vaccine candidates. In layman terms, each protein is different and needs to be purified under different conditions. I work to identify those conditions and then to validate that the proteins are behaving in the predicted manner once they are purified.”

On the sense of urgency to find a vaccine:

“My team is highly collaborative and, in my opinion, excels in communication. There is definitely a sense of urgency, but that feeling cannot outweigh the patient, calculated method in which proper science is conducted. We have at least one meeting a day to discuss results from that day’s experiments and discuss how those results shape our path forward and inform our next steps.

“I am fortunate that the leadership in my lab and on this project is very well informed, so there is a pretty strong sense of purpose and reasoning for every decision that is made. Having that guidance helps move the project along without feeling like we are flailing. That said, the workload and the amount of work expected from each of us has certainly increased since this project began.”

On his work before the pandemic hit:

“The institute employs a core structure of research scientists and engineers to facilitate research and project progression for the labs we are affiliated with. I have been a member of the nanoparticle core since October of 2018. We specialize in projects relating to the lab’s nanoparticle platform. Because the vaccine we are developing relies on that platform, which I have been working with in various capacities for the last year and a half, I was selected to be part of the vaccine development team.

“The projects I was most closely affiliated with before this were targeted cancer therapeutic drug delivery, endosomal escape, and a variety of structural projects relating to the architecture of our nanoparticles—their assembly and construction.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

2 Minutes With … Emily Harper: Science, space, and a chance to explore

Emily Harper ’22 is doing summer research via the NASA Space Grant Program.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Amid the uncertainty of an unconventional Spring Term, Emily Harper ’22 received good news that’s keeping her eyes on the future. The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) awarded her a stipend for a summer research program, the Elijah Balloon Payload Team Educational Experience.

The grant is provided by NASA’s Space Grant Program, which works with partner universities like Lawrence to fund educational opportunities in science and aerospace in order to prepare students like Harper for careers in space science.

Harper, of Westerville, Ohio, applied for the Elijah Balloon Team on a suggestion from Jeff Clark, a professor of geosciences. She was in the process of applying to other summer research programs when this one came her way.

She is spending nine weeks with a research team made up mostly of engineering students. They will decide together what they want to test with Elijah, WSGC’s high-altitude balloon used to collect data in near-space environments. As a chemistry and English major, Harper looks forward to sharing new learning perspectives with her interdisciplinary team.

“Engineers think a lot differently than a standard chemistry standpoint,” she said, “so it will be interesting to see how I can work on a team with engineering students and solve problems together.”

Sparking an interest

Her interest in field research took root in the fall when she did chemistry fieldwork with her advisor, assistant professor of chemistry Deanna Donahue. She learned to love working in rugged conditions and unpredictable weather.

Of course, things will look a bit different this time around due to COVID-19. The summer research will move to an online format, and perhaps be based more in the design and development of the project.

Looking forward

Despite some uncertainty, Harper is thankful for what she’ll be able to experience. She hopes this summer’s research will inform her future career interests.

“When the pandemic started to get more serious and we were sent home for Spring Term, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do anything in terms of research opportunities for summer,” she said. “So, I’m very grateful that this program is still able to happen virtually.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

On Main Hall Green With … Doug Martin: Discovering delight in physics

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Doug Martin (photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Doug Martin’s combination of curiosity and scientific know-how has made him a key member of Lawrence University’s physics department since 2007.

He teaches courses ranging from optics to quantum mechanics to experimental physics, among others. A biophysicist, his scholarly interests focus on the mechanics and dynamics of cellular processes — transport, motility, division and signaling — that explain how life works.

Physics faculty keep student connections alive amid distance learning. See story here.

Originally from Denver, Colo., Martin earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in mathematics and physics at Pomona College and completed his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Texas.

We caught up with Martin to talk about his work in the classrooms and labs of Lawrence and his interests away from campus.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I love physics. I’m astonished that we can understand the natural world, quantitatively, with relatively simple mathematics. I’m delighted by new discoveries – from the physics that causes flower petals to curl to the Higgs boson. And, more to the point, I think every Lawrence student is an intuitive physicist, whether they appreciate it or not. Music, sports, visual art – all involve physical processes that we grasp intuitively. So, why do I want students to know this? Because, despite the grind of mathematics, abstract reasoning, spatial visualization, approximation, and the worry about understanding, the worry about belonging – all the things that come along with a physics class – my hope is to help students in my classes claim or reclaim delight in physics.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

Teaching! Whatever I’m teaching next is the best. As I answer this, I’m preparing to talk about diffraction and why optical telescopes are now 100 feet across, and why a radio telescope the size of the earth was necessary to capture the first image of a black hole. Why is teaching what gets me most excited? I have the privilege of teaching about our endlessly amazing world, and every class is an opportunity for me to recapture wonder. What could be better? Well, sometimes building microscopes is better, because then I get to see new things, too.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m a little surprised by almost everything. So, let me pick an easy, Lawrence-centric, example. I taught at the London Centre in the fall of 2018. The surprise?  How great it was. I’d thought: London is in an English-speaking country, how different will it really be?  Here are two quick examples. First: one of my classes decided we should meet in a different coffee house every day, from the delightfully named Fuckoffee to the café in an abandoned public toilet to the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. With all due respect to Acoca and Lou’s, these are something new.  Second: everything was at our doorstep. Theater? A dozen premiere shows every night. The world’s oldest sewage plant? Yes! Museums? Free! Paris? Eurostar departs a 15-minute walk from the dorms. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at how rich the experience was, but I was.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing? 

I really don’t know. Maybe working at a national lab doing fundamental research. Maybe calibrating the machines used in radiation therapy at a hospital. Maybe developing medical lasers. These were opportunities in the past, but now? Could be almost anything.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

Bjork! The physical separation from home and office seems to let me leave stresses behind and just be present. My sense is that something like that is true for students too, so it makes it easier to interact informally.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

I’m pretty voracious when it comes to all three, so let me pick something good and recent, for me.

Book: White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. It is set in London, so all of the exploring my classes did there took us to the neighborhoods in the book. And it is laugh-out-loud funny. And it borders on the strange line between the horror of watching a car crash and the very sweet.   

Recording: The Pet Shop Boys have a new album, Hotspot. I have a lot of nostalgia for the musicians of my childhood, and the Pet Shop Boys still put on a pretty good show. More to the point for this question: they’ve crafted an album that (after a bit of a rocky start) moves really well, from dance-y start to warm and fuzzy finish. And I’m old enough to enjoy entire albums at one sitting.

Film: Spaceballs. What can I say, Rick Moranis is a comedic genius. Or maybe that my laughter at this movie reveals that I am a 12-year-old at heart.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

2 Minutes With … Shania Johnson: A Met internship on the path of art history

Shania Johnson ’22 has been doing research this term on art history. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

When COVID-19 got in the way of a coveted internship this summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Shania Johnson ’22 was determined not to let the opportunity slip away.

The Lawrence University sophomore from Rosedale, New York, worked with her faculty advisors to create a fall schedule that will allow her to move the internship to the fall while keeping her classwork on schedule.

“In high school, I did an internship at the Met,” said Johnson. “And at the time I wasn’t really considering a career in art history, but that internship really opened my eyes to the art world, or the contemporary art world at least.” 

But it wasn’t until her time at Lawrence that she realized that art history could be her potential career path.  

“It made me start to think about art history and curatorial work as a career path,” Johnson said. “But I never really took it seriously until I got to college and I realized I can actually make a living out of it.” 

Shifting plans

For this summer, Johnson was accepted into the internship offered to college students by the Met. But due to COVID-19, The Met will not be reopening until the end of the summer season and has transferred its summer internships to the fall. Johnson created a plan with Lawrence’s Art History department that allows her to work the internship without falling behind on her course schedule.

“This internship was really selective, and I didn’t want to give it away because I have to be at school,” Johnson said. “So, I’ll be living in Midtown, working at the Met. And, I have worked it through with faculty here … so I’ll be getting internship credits and independent study credits for the research and work I will be doing.”  

Johnson is excited to take on this experience with the knowledge she has gained during her time at Lawrence.  

“In high school, I felt really insecure, coming from my background and working with some of these other people who come from more fortunate backgrounds,” Johnson said. “But I feel like now being away at college, and being who I am now, more confident, I am really excited for this opportunity.” 

While at Lawrence, Johnson has been working closely with Beth Zinsli, the Wriston Art Center galleries curator, museum studies director, and art history professor.  

“At first I did all the formal things like gallery guard,” Johnson said. “Then I got the internship position where I work with the objects in the archive.” 

Through her internship with the Wriston, and now with the gallery being closed due to COVID-19, Johnson has been doing her own research that will directly connect with the research she will be doing in the fall.  

“I have the chance to do my own research, so that’s been great,” she said. “The paper that I am writing is kind of uncharted territory and I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it, but it has turned into a pretty lengthy research paper talking about medieval abstraction. And the internship at the Met relates to global medieval art, so this is kind of my segue into the fall.”  

A vision for change

Johnson hopes to one day join the museum world, providing leadership and curating exhibitions, helping to create more accurate narratives for diverse populations.  

“The drive for me is, even today in the museum world, not a lot of people are represented,” Johnson said. “Not a lot of women of color or POC in general, and also not a lot of LGBTQ identities are represented. But I feel like people of color and LGBTQ identities should be part of the people who are making big decisions, curating exhibitions because you have the power to create narratives. When you create an exhibition, you are telling a story that you’re basically selling to people. And if people are not accurately represented the way they should be, that becomes a problem. I want to be able to create narratives for people like me, people from my background, so they can see themselves being represented the way they should be.”  

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

On Main Hall Green With … Claudena Skran: Deep connections in West Africa

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Claudena Skran (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Claudena Skran, the Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and professor of government, has been one of Lawrence University’s leading international scholars over the past three decades.

Sierra Leone has been a particular focal point for Skran, researching and teaching on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the 10-year civil war and post-conflict peace-building in Sierra Leone, and refugee entrepreneurship.

The 1983 Rhodes Scholar has visited Sierra Leone nearly 20 times since first going there in 2005 as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. Dozens of Lawrence students have accompanied her and participated in various research projects.

Her work often tackles international relations, social entrepreneurship, sustainable development, and African and European politics.

Skran, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 1990, has served as a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

She holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Oxford University.

We caught up with Skran to talk about her passions in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I want each of my students to know that I think of education as an adventure. Whether we are sitting in a classroom in Briggs Hall or gathered in an African village, my students and I are on a voyage together. Our journey always starts with what is familiar and known, and it moves into areas that are much less so. There will be challenging questions, unexpected lessons, and surprising results, but along the way we will find both excitement and fun. Much of what we learn together will not be on the starting syllabus; instead deeper understanding will emerge as we travel together.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will be doing at Lawrence that gets you most excited?

I love the point in a class or a course when everything “clicks.” This happens when a lecture point hits home, a discussion question takes on a life of its own, or when the students on a travel course all start to work together.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you that took you by surprise?

I first went to Sierra Leone as a Fulbright Scholar in October 2005. When I arrived, I thought that I would have a productive sabbatical, but I didn’t realize how much my life afterwards would change. Since then, I’ve worked as a consultant for the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, and collaborated with a global group of scholars studying refugees, women, and entrepreneurship. In addition, I have taught new courses on African politics and security, brought almost 200 Lawrence faculty and students into “traveling classrooms” in West Africa, and started the KidsGive scholarship program. In early March, I acted as the faculty guide for an alumni tour to Ghana, the first ever to an African country. One of the most meaningful parts of the tour was when the group visited the Cape Coast Castle, a former slave fort, and we left a memorial plaque from Lawrence University. Fifteen years ago, I did not expect to help create these deep connections between different parts of the Lawrence community and West African peoples and countries.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?

I have always thought of myself as both a teacher and a scholar. In regard to teaching, I am a strong believer in the value of experiential learning outside the traditional classroom. These kinds of experiences spark personal growth in young people, help them use the knowledge they already have, and give them direction and confidence to reach further. I hope that I will always be able to share my perspective with learners, even if I am not a full-time faculty member. But in answer to the question of what I would do if I weren’t teaching, let me just say that I have a few unfinished writing projects (both fiction and non-fiction) to complete. So, if I have any spare time, I plan to work on them, in this life rather than an imagined one, preferably in a scenic location.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

Main Hall Green. The green is beautiful no matter the time of year. It always pleases me to know that generations of students and faculty have enjoyed sharing it. I especially like the sign that mentions Lawrence was the first coeducational institution in the state of Wisconsin.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

My taste in music is a very mixed bag, and contains such disparate things as hymns (“Amazing Grace”) and rap (Flo Rida) as well as ’70s ballads (Bette Midler’s “The Rose”). Maybe a common thread is an inspirational transcendence; Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” and Damien Marley’s “There for You” are two of my favorites. 

Film is Knives Out, for the sheer fun of it.

The book is Soft Power (2004) by Joseph Nye. It is still well worth reading. It offers the important lessons that ideals are a key source of power, and American values—not simply military might—helped the U.S. to win the Cold War.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu  

2 Minutes With … Ghania Imran: A renewed desire to stay involved

Ghania Imran ’21 is studying at home in Chicago during Spring Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Life off campus at her Chicago home is pretty different for biology major Ghania Imran ’21.

After juggling classwork, research in the biology labs, and service on the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC), she’s finding distance learning during Spring Term to be a bit of an adjustment.

It’s also motivating her to reconnect with student government when students return to campus.

Imran has spent most of her Lawrence career connected to campus through LUCC, Lawrence’s student government organization. Though her once-active university life has slowed a bit, Imran still thinks fondly about her extensive involvement with LUCC.

Imran first found a long-lasting niche in LUCC when she became a class rep in her freshman year. This wasn’t unfamiliar ground when she ran for the position that winter. Imran was a debater in high school and has always had an interest in student government.

“I think I very naturally gravitate toward leadership,” she says. “I like to do things outside of biology in my free time.”

She discovered an enthusiasm for campus involvement as a class rep, which inspired her to run for president in her sophomore year. Her efforts landed her the vice president position, which she served this past year. That included the role of Finance Committee chair, where Imran managed a budget of half a million dollars and approved financial requests from campus clubs. She also served on the Steering Committee, approving new and existing clubs. She was hooked.

“I learned to love it really quickly,” Imran says. “It was so fun.”

LUCC furnishes students with the special opportunity to impact the student handbook. Exercising her right as a Lawrentian is one of the things she misses most about student government.

“It’s really cool that students get to do that,” she says. “I miss it, I love being super involved.”

Having been so active in LUCC, Imran thinks about her peers as they do their work while quarantined.

“I can’t imagine what LUCC is going through. Student body engagement is already difficult while you’re on campus in person. We worked so hard on that.”

Though there’s no doubting Imran’s passion for student government, genetics and cell biology is where she stakes her future. Last summer, she joined associate professor of biology Brian Piasecki in the lab to genotype the behaviors of a microscopic worm called C. elegans. This research helped her realize her abilities to do biology research in grad school.

Now that she’s home, the LUCC veteran is considering running for JBoard, LUCC’s judicial board. She would take the position next year.

“It feels weird not having a hectic schedule,” she confesses.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is student writer in the Communications office.

Amy Ongiri addresses “Importance of Failure” in virtual Honors Convocation

Amy A. Ongiri will deliver her Honors Convocation address virtually.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Amy A. Ongiri isn’t shy about telling you she’s failed at various things in life.

But, then, so have you. So has everyone. And yet we are reticent to speak of it, to examine it, to embrace it.

Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor of film studies at Lawrence University, calls that a missed opportunity. She’ll delve into the idea of embracing failure when she delivers the school’s annual Honors Convocation address,“The Importance of Failure.”

The Honors Convocation, which publicly recognizes students and faculty recipients of awards and prizes for excellence in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, languages, music, athletics, and service to others, was to be held in Memorial Chapel. But due to campus facilities being closed and physical distancing practices being in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will instead be pre-recorded and presented here at 11:10 a.m. May 28.

Yes, at an event to honor great successes, failure will take center stage.

Ongiri will tell the audience that we grow from failure, and we need to be comfortable talking about that. That’s a particularly appropriate message for young people to hear as they set out on journeys full of uncertainty. Take chances. Be willing to fail.

“There’s a lot of stigma around failure and it is especially hard to fail as a young person because you are just learning about it as an experience,” Ongiri said.

What students will discover, Ongiri said, is that there is no road map for understanding or negotiating that experience. Some failures are big and bold. Others are slight and nuanced. All are part of the jagged, crooked, unpredictable path of life.

“As a culture, we have tended to value winning over all other experiences but we are all going to fail a lot in life, and we need to learn early on what it means and how to think about it,” Ongiri said.

As we mature, understanding failure and the strength that can come from it begins to make more sense. But that doesn’t mean we’re any more eager to speak of it.

“By the time you’re in your 50s, as I am, you have probably failed a lot at a wide variety of things,” Ongiri said. “But we don’t tend to value or talk about our failures as much as we do our successes.”

Ongiri, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 2014 after more than a decade on the English faculty at the University of Florida, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Bryn Mawr College, a master’s degree from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Her scholarship interests have focused on African American literature and culture, film studies, cultural studies, and gender and sexuality studies. She is the author of the 2009 book, Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic.

She points to scholars such Judith Halberstam, Timothy DuWhite, and Scott Sandage as sources of insight and reflection on the topic of failure and the cultural dynamic at play. That sort of guidance is valuable at any time, but perhaps even more so as we navigate through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The global pandemic has not only provided a case study in notable failures around health care and public infrastructure, it has given us the time to reflect on what it all means,” Ongiri said. “It has also given us the chance to reconsider what states of being associated with failure, such as loneliness, mean to us individually and collectively as a culture.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

2 Minutes With … Sarah E. Navy: BSU president keeps connections alive

Sarah E. Navy, a music performance major, is president of Lawrence’s Black Student Union.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Sarah E. Navy ’22, president of Lawrence University’s Black Student Union (BSU), has been on a mission during Spring Term to keep members of the student organization connected.

It’s the continuation of efforts that were in play on campus before the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone home.

Those efforts have included keeping alive an important tradition in bidding farewell to senior members of the BSU, the Kente Cloth Ceremony. Navy has been working to overcome the roadblocks, mapping out a Zoom alternative to the group’s beloved senior celebration.

Building connections

While still on campus, Navy, a music performance (voice) major from Houston, and the BSU board had made major strides as an organization in building stronger connections as a community.

“We have hosted a game night, we have gone roller skating; that was super fun,” Navy said. “We have had various community events. During one meeting, we had the Title IX coordinator come and speak with us. One of the big things I wanted to do was to redefine what community meant to us as a community on campus.”

With everyone separated this term, hosting events has been difficult, but not impossible. Navy has worked to keep lines of communication open between herself and BSU members.    

“I send out a lot of emails to our organization as a whole,” Navy said. “I feel like with us being so far away, the least I can do is to continue to send out those messages for our community to know there is still some sort of lifeline to connect with.”  

Navy and the BSU board have also been active on the organization’s social media accounts.  

“The DIC (Diversity and Intercultural Center) just had their virtual party, so spreading that around for everybody to see,” Navy said. “Just keeping everyone as engaged as possible.”  

An important tradition

The annual Kente Cloth Ceremony is among the group’s most cherished traditions. During this celebration, the BSU community comes together to say goodbye to BSU seniors and celebrate their accomplishments. Seniors are presented with a kente print stole that is worn at graduation. Though unable to come together and celebrate in person, Navy still believed it was important for this year’s seniors to have a ceremony and to receive a cloth.  

“When I found out we were getting quarantined, I was like, OK, we have to figure out how to get the seniors their kente cloths,” Navy said. “And I remember being in Sankofa and talking to a senior, Jacelynn Allen, and she was so upset about it all, and I was like, ‘You know we’re going to figure out a way to give you guys your kente cloths.’

“And she was like, ‘You’re going to try and get us our kente cloths? I didn’t think that was possible. When we were told to go home, I thought that was done.’ To be able to provide that for someone, and not for personal gain but just so they know they are accounted for, that matters.”  

BSU will be hosting the Kente Cloth Ceremony through Zoom later this term. They will produce a video of people chosen by the seniors to speak on their behalf. The video will be shown during the Zoom ceremony, and then others in attendance will have a chance to congratulate the seniors and bid them farewell.  

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Oryan Brown: Leading Lawrence students in midst of a crisis

Oryan Brown ’21 was elected president of the LUCC during winter term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Being president of the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) is a hefty responsibility as it is. Now, Oryan Brown ’21 must be a leader and a student while navigating the obstacles of a global pandemic.

The move to the virtual world is a big one for the LUCC. The council relies on communication with students and the LU administration to address important issues on campus. Brown himself is responsible for overseeing communication between the five committees within LUCC. Elected during winter term, he’s also the bridge between university administrators and the student body by which concerns and ideas flow.

Lately, that means video meetings and lots of emails. Lots of emails. It’s tough to have discussions and make sure everyone is heard. But, while it’s not ideal for student government, Brown retains hope.

“We’re still working,” he says, “and we’re going to try to make sure things run as smoothly as possible once we’re all back on campus together.”

LUCC is an important part of Lawrence’s shared governance. Its decisions help shape campus climate for students, faculty, and staff. The council includes elected class representatives and appointed student committee members who speak for and with their peers.

For Brown, the LUCC has been a lifeline despite the communication obstacles.

“LUCC feels like I’m doing something real right now,” he says. “That’s appreciated because everything else feels like a bad dream.”

Finding balance

Brown is one of the 100-plus students experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic from the Lawrence campus this term. The native of Brooklyn, New York, petitioned to be allowed to remain on campus.

Being a student and LUCC president under the tensions of distance learning can be complicated.

“On the one hand, I’m a student who’s trying to get through all this,” Brown explains, “and also as the LUCC president, I’m helping to make sure things will run smooth in the fall. That’s a lot of important work I also have to do. I kind of have to switch between them.”

Distance learning hits especially hard for the math major, who attributes much of his academic success to meeting with other students to work on problems. Plus, he says, losing the classroom experience makes it more difficult to grasp the material.

Looking forward

But the outlook isn’t all bad. Brown finds solace in connecting with family and friends by phone. And LUCC is making strides in the storm. It recently held its first general council meeting of the term, where it passed legislation that will make LUCC responsibilities more manageable for students.

So, Brown keeps the faith, knowing better days are ahead.

“There are these little nuggets of things we’re getting done, and every little thing we get done feels like a major accomplishment given the circumstances,” he says.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.