Excellence Ball, Cultural Expressions to highlight 2019 Empowerment Week

Cultural Expressions, a five-year tradition at Lawrence University, returns on Feb. 23, the conclusion of People of Color Empowerment Week on campus.

Performers are on stage during a past Cultural Expressions event.
Cultural Expressions features music, dance, poetry and more.

A week of activities celebrating and empowering people of color on the Lawrence University campus will kick off Saturday with a new event, the Excellence Ball.

It will be held Saturday night in the Esch-Hurvis Studio in the Warch Campus Center to officially launch the annual People of Color Empowerment Week.

The week, featuring a series of speakers and performers, will culminate with the Cultural Expressions talent showcase, set for Feb. 23.

The Excellence Ball is the new entry this year. It will be a stylish affair, with attire billed as black-and-white formal wear. It runs from 8 p.m. to midnight and organizers say it aims to be a gathering to “acknowledge the accomplishments of people of color and to come together as a community to uplift each other and to have a good time.”

Music will be provided by DJ King Szn.

Cultural Expressions, meanwhile, is all about showcasing talented Lawrence students. Following a 4 p.m. dinner in the Diversity and Intercultural Center, an art gallery will be featured in the Mead Witter Room in Warch, showing students’ work in a range of art, film, poetry and sculptures. That’s followed by a series of performances in music, dance, poetry and spoken word beginning at 7 p.m. next door in Esch-Hurvis.

Admission for all of the student-organized events is free. All of the events are open to the public.

Awa Badiane ’21, president of Lawrence’s Black Student Union (BSU), said the Excellence Ball was added this year to provide a more significant launch to Empowerment Week.

“We’ll have posters and framed pictures up of people who represent black excellence,” she said. “The Obamas will be up, Maya Angelou, and others with captions underneath to describe who they are. It’ll be decorated like a ball. It’ll be a formal event with everyone dressed up.”

Like Cultural Expressions, the new ball is being organized by BSU.

“There was never really a celebratory event to say, hey, this is going to be a week about empowering and uplifting,” Badiane said. “So we’re going to start it off with this.”

Empowerment Week activities are being organized by All Is One: Empowering Young Women of Color (AIO), led by President Krystin Williams ’19.

Empowerment Week participants will include Vision, a spoken-word artist, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Diversity and Intercultural Center; Sin Color, a Latin band from Los Angeles, performing at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Warch Campus Center; and Brienne Colston and Jaz Astwood, two Lawrence alumnae with New York City-based Brown Girl Recovery, facilitating a conversation on community accountability at 7 p.m. Friday in the Diversity Center.

Also planned is the showing of the movie “The Hate U Give,” set for 6 p.m. Monday at the cinema in the Warch Campus Center. Organizers also are working to set up an open mic at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Diversity Center.

Brown Girl Recovery is an organization in the Bronx that “aims to create avenues of support and community for black and brown folks through innovative and social justice-based programming, workshops and events,” according to its web site. It was founded by Colston, a 2015 LU graduate. Astwood, also a 2015 graduate, works with the organization.

“I think it’s nice to have alumnae from this campus back who did a lot for people of color while they were here,” Williams said of bringing Colston and Astwood in for Empowerment Week. “To bring them back and show the progress and how they’re still helping women of color in their own hometowns.”

Badiane said seeing alumni return for Empowerment Week sends an important message to current students.

“As a person of color on this campus, I do see the effects that POC Empowerment Week has,” Badiane said. “It’s essentially empowering you while you are on campus. It says I matter. And you see representation throughout campus, and you see accomplished people who get invited back. …. And you say, wow, that’s my goal.

“You see people who were in your shoes taking steps toward their goals or who have reached their goals, and you’re doing what they had been doing. So, you deserve an opportunity to celebrate that.”

Much-anticipated performance of Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ ready to open

Lawrence Opera Theatre’s presentation of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” runs from Thursday through Sunday at Stansbury Theater. Here’s what you need to know before you go. Tickets are available via the Lawrence Box Office

Image from video interview with Robert SchleiferA Lawrence University production of Leonard Bernstein’s highly acclaimed “Mass” will be staged this week with a significant twist.

The much-anticipated production by Lawrence’s Opera Theatre Ensemble, led by Copeland Woodruff, the award-winning Director of Opera Studies and Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence, will incorporate a Deaf character played by professional Deaf actor Robert Schleifer.

“My inspiration was two-fold — the obvious metaphor of our current society, where people have a difficult time listening to one another, and the inclusion of community members who might not necessarily attend an opera,” Woodruff said.

American Sign Language (ASL) and Pidgin Signed English (PSE) will be used throughout the production. Twenty-one members of the student ensemble have spent weeks learning to communicate in sign language.

There’s a lot to unpack with this production, opening Thursday (Feb. 14) and running through Sunday (Feb. 17) at Lawrence’s Stansbury Theater.

A cast member gets makeup applied before rehearsal.
Actors prepare for Tuesday’s dress rehearsal of “Mass.”

First, there’s the staging of a production as wide-ranging as “Mass,” which was both acclaimed and controversial when it debuted in 1971 and is being presented now as part of the world-wide celebration of Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

Woodruff and his ensemble are collaborating with members of two local children’s choirs to reimagine Mass, structured like a Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass but mixing sacred and secular texts and music. The celebrant leads the ceremony, and the Deaf character is the voice of the congregation challenging the celebrant. They argue and search for answers to universal questions together—their diversity highlighted by an eclectic blend of blues, rock, gospel, folk, Broadway, jazz, hymnal, Middle Eastern dance and orchestral music. Ultimately, they affirm the value of faith and hope for peace.

“Distinctive productions like Mass provide students with a rich educational opportunity to practice being a singer-actor, hone full-bodied communication skills, as well as develop appreciation and respect for the experience of others,” Woodruff said. “We hope that students will learn that the arts can be a powerful vehicle for personal and societal awareness and change.”

Actors on stage use sign language during dress rehearsal.
Sign language is used in real time throughout the production.

That speaks to the addition of Schleifer’s Deaf character, a statement on the difficulties we have in communicating when ideological differences come between us, be it political, religious or otherwise. It’s also a nod to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities and the daily struggles they endure.

“The use of ASL and PSE underscores the struggle to communicate, particularly between Deaf and hearing communications and within the Deaf community itself,” Woodruff said.

Community connections

Woodruff has a track record of partnering with community groups to examine socially relevant issues through opera. Members of the production team hope Mass will reach more than 2,000 people in the Fox Valley, many of them from the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

“It is rare — even at the national level — for a signed opera to be produced and performed,” Woodruff said. “The majority of our area’s theater-going public would not ordinarily experience this type of performance. Mass will open dialogues about faith and inclusion to our community.”

Besides Schleifer, Kristine Orkin, a local interpreter for the Deaf, and two professional vocal/style specialists are participating in the production. Schleifer, along with Lawrence student performers, will sign most of the opera’s lyrics in real-time during the performance. Deaf audience members also will be able to read supertitles.

Lawrence student Erik Nordstrum, who shares the main role of the celebrant with Aria Minasian, said he has learned a lot about himself through his work on the production.

“Through working on this piece, I realized that I have not been listening to other people, or to myself, as intently or as consistently as I would like to, and that so many human failures stem from a failure to communicate,” he said.

Minasian, meanwhile, has taken lessons from members of the Deaf community she’s interacted with in the lead-up to the production.

“Learning about the Deaf community and applying it to the show has been awesome,” she said. “I’ve also found challenges with figuring out how to be a female celebrant in a Roman Catholic church setting. This show has a lot to unpack and many different ways it can be presented and interpreted, leaving a lot to the performers and production team.”

Religious conversations

Congregants from four Fox Cities faith communities have used this production of Mass as a vehicle to talk about how we communicate – or more likely, don’t communicate – when it comes to our differences.

“The Mass is this touchpoint for us,” said Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life at Lawrence.

Morgan-Clement’s office has been collaborating with Woodruff to bring together public conversations about Mass. She led a discussion at First Congregational United Church of Christ that included participants from that congregation as well as Memorial Presbyterian Church, First English Lutheran Church and the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. It was a chance to talk about our often jumbled and conflicting faith journeys and the barriers that keep us from communicating effectively. The arts — and in this case, Bernstein’s Mass — can be used to engage people in conversations they might not otherwise have.

“It gives people a touchpoint around which to come together,” Morgan-Clement said. “It’s not just let’s get together and talk about the ways we don’t talk.”

This production provides a plethora of jumping off points in that conversation.

There’s the modern music, the discord, the journey of doubt playing out on stage, all crashing into the deep traditions of a Catholic mass. It provides an avenue for discussion of our differences and our similarities.

“So, it opens up this moment in today’s time for people to talk about the ways in which we … are still being human together, sharing this earth, a lot of commonality in our emotional framework and the ways we operate,” Morgan-Clement said. “And in what ways do the symbols and the language get in our way of actually hearing each other?”

‘Touches my soul’

For Schleifer, the blending of opera with sign language is powerful and moving.

Robert Schleifer performs on stage during dress rehearsal.
Robert Schleifer performs in a dress rehearsal of “Mass.”

“My love of opera is longstanding, its visual language fascinating — depicted through conductor wand gyrations, the energetic dance of bodies fused with instruments in orchestral rhythms, singers’ storytelling through facial expression and movement and breathing strength — the power I see touches my soul,” he said.

Bernstein’s Mass – full title is Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers — debuted in 1971 after the famed composer was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to compose a piece for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Seeing it unfold on an LU stage come Thursday night with sign language being incorporated throughout will be an emotional moment for Schleifer.

“Bernstein’s Mass project has been both a challenging and awesome experience,” he said, “from the sound of the music itself and the abstract concepts portrayed through tone and inflection, which I cannot hear, relying on facial and body cues, figuring how to match American Sign Language with operatic language, to the awesome collaboration with Copeland and Kris, who helped me understand the complexities of poetic language, appreciate the culture of opera, and together watch the beautiful magic unfold.”

On stage

What: Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 through Saturday, Feb. 16; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17

Where: Stansbury Theater, Lawrence University, Appleton

Cost: $15 ($8 for seniors and non-LU students; free for LU students and staff)

Contact: 920-832-6749,  boxoffice@lawrence.edu, or buy online



Dean selected to lead Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement

Michael O’Connor has been selected as the new Riaz Waraich Dean of Lawrence University’s Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement.

Currently the Director of Career Exploration at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, O’Connor will fill the newly endowed deanship. It’s supported by a $2.5 million gift from J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 that was announced in November at the launch of Lawrence’s $220 million Be the Light! Campaign.

Portrait of Michael O'Connor
Michael O’Connor

O’Connor will begin his new role May 1, overseeing a revamped and reenergized office that prepares students for life after Lawrence, develops and sustains networking connections with alumni near and far, assists in fellowship opportunities and enhances career connections in the community. He will report to Christopher Card, Vice President for Student Life.

For O’Connor, the opportunity to put into play the recommendations that came from the Task Force on Life After Lawrence – the final report was released in May 2018 – was too good to pass up. He praised President Mark Burstein’s leadership, saying the enhanced commitment to career services for all Lawrence students ties in well with other initiatives designed to make Lawrence more accessible and increasingly responsive to student needs.

“I love the strategic direction the school is going under Mark’s leadership,” O’Connor said. “I love how the college is smart for investing in its core strengths, and raising its national profile while increasing affordability/accessibility and leveraging its unique learning environment.

“I love the integration of fellowships, community engagements, and career services under CLCE, and see limitless potential for connecting our broader mission to both the broader Lawrence and Appleton communities.”

Card said O’Connor’s appointment “is the culmination of a national search for a distinguished professional to lead the center.”

O’Connor comes to the Riaz Waraich Deanship following more than five years as director of the Career Exploration program that is part of the Career Center at Williams College. He is second in command at the Career Center, and spent seven months as its interim director in 2015-16.

He previously served as director of the Office of Career Planning at Sage Colleges in New York, and worked in career services at Union College in New York and Hiram College in Ohio.

He has a bachelor’s of arts degree with a major in psychology from the University of Connecticut and a master’s of arts and social sciences degree from Binghamton University with a concentration in student affairs and diversity.

Associate Professor of History Monica Rico, who was a member of the Lawrence search committee, said she was impressed not only with O’Connor’s wide-ranging work with students but also his collaborations with faculty.

“Mike has a proven record of developing, implementing, and refining approaches to post-graduate life that connect with students at all phases of their college experience,” Rico said. “He’s emerging as a nationally known expert on career planning for liberal arts students.”

Anne Jones, who has served as the interim dean of the CLCE for the past year, will continue in that role until O’Connor arrives in May.

“I want to acknowledge the amazing work by Anne Jones, who has led that department with distinction since February of last year,” Card said.

The deanship is named after Hurvis’ business partner, Riaz Waraich, as recognition of how quality partnerships are often key to career success.

That’s a theme O’Connor is looking to build on in his new role.

“I loved the thoughtful design of the position and fabulous work by the Life After Lawrence Task Force,” he said. “I think the CLCE team is poised for big things.”

Lawrence ranks among ‘Best Value Schools’ in the country, places 4th on Impact Schools list

Lawrence University has been recognized as one of the “Best Value Schools” in the country by The Princeton Review, ranking No. 4 in the category of best schools for making an impact.

Photo of the cover of the book, "The Best Value Colleges"
Lawrence University is included in the newly released book from The Princeton Review, “The Best Value Colleges.”

Lawrence is one of 200 schools selected for inclusion in the 2019 edition of the newly released book, The Best Value Colleges: 200 Schools with Exceptional ROI for Your Tuition Investment.

ROI references Return on Investment.

Within the book, Lawrence is ranked No. 4 in the category of Impact Schools, a category driven by student ratings of their experiences on campus, including student engagement, service, government and sustainability, and by the percentage of alumni who report that their jobs have “high meaning.”

In The Best Value Colleges – an annual release that was previously titled Colleges That Pay You Back – “we recommend the colleges we consider the nation’s best for academics, affordability, and career prospects,” according to the book’s editors at The Princeton Review.

The 200 schools that were selected were not ranked in any particular order. But within the book, Top 25 rankings were done in several categories, including Impact Schools.

The book lauds Lawrence for its academic strategies, including the Freshman Studies program, its “significant financial aid and scholarship opportunities,” its social activities that have “an altruistic bent” and its effective career services outreach to graduating students.

The ranking is one more reminder that the value of a Lawrence education continues to resonate long after graduation day.

“Lawrence has been transforming students’ lives for generations,” said Ken Anselment, Vice President for Enrollment and Communication. “So we are thrilled that the Princeton Review, which started measuring this phenomenon a few years ago, has once again rated the experience of our alumni so highly.”

The book highlights Lawrence’s commitment to financial aid and scholarships.

Lawrence has garnered national attention for its “Full Speed to Full Need” campaign designed to help bridge the financial gap for students who show a demonstrated need. The campaign has raised more than $74 million since 2014 and Lawrence is on its way to becoming one of only about 70 universities nationwide to be designated as full-need institutions.

Bolstered by a $30 million matching gift to kick off the campaign, the school has made a bold commitment to “make Lawrence accessible and affordable by meeting the full demonstrated financial need of every student.”

The Impact School ranking, meanwhile, speaks to the experience on campus and beyond.

“When families are considering the return on their investment in a college,” Anselment said, “we like to talk about this particular ranking because it highlights that Lawrentians feel that their careers and lives have meaning and that they are truly making a difference in the world.

“What better outcome could you ask for from a college experience?”

Lawrence University on list of schools producing most Fulbright recipients

With five recent graduates teaching abroad on Fulbright awards, Lawrence University landed on a prestigious list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the most Fulbright students this year.

Fulbright logoEach year the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announces the top-producing institutions for the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program.

The 2018-19 list that features Lawrence  was published Monday in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Five students from Lawrence received Fulbright awards through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program for academic year 2018-19, tying a school record previously set in 2014-15. Lawrence has had at least one Fulbright student recipient every year since 2006-07. The school has had multiple recipients in nine of the past 11 years.

“The designation as a top-producing institution reaffirms that our students continue to excel at the highest levels and that a Lawrence education is well recognized as rigorous, competitive and influential,” Vice President for Student Life Christopher Card said. “That we have earned this distinction is cause for celebration for the whole institution, in part because it is a collective, institutional effort to prepare our students to ‘be the light’ for all to see.

“We are grateful to the scholars, their faculty supporters and fellowship staff for their hard work and dedicated energies – they have made us proud and deserve our gratitude.”

The five Lawrence Fulbright recipients this year:

Nalee Douangvilay ’18, who studied English, is spending her Fulbright year teaching in South Korea.

Augusta Finzel ’18, who studied biology and Russian studies, is teaching in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland, and studying the effects of climate change on the local population.

William Gill ’18, who studied German and government, is teaching in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.

Elena Hudacek ’18, who studied Spanish and linguistics, is teaching and leading conversation circles at the National University of Colombia in Bogota.

Emilio Salvia ’17, who studied biology and German, is teaching at a gesamtschule, a comprehensive school in Harsewinkel, Germany.

Kia Thao, Coordinator of Pre-Professional Advising and Major Fellowships at Lawrence, said the Fulbright honor highlights the numerous opportunities students have to pursue fellowships and scholarships.

“Getting recognized as one of the top-producing institutions is an acknowledgement of the great things Lawrence students can achieve,” she said. “I would like to encourage Lawrence students to dream big dreams and to apply to as many fellowships and scholarships as they are eligible. In addition to receiving the grant, the benefits of applying to scholarships and fellowships are also valuable.  The process of applying to any scholarship will help students develop a clear sense of their career goals, enhance their writing and interviewing skills, and personal growth.”

Being on the list of top-producing schools is notable and speaks to Lawrence’s world view, officials with the Fulbright program said.

“We thank the colleges and universities across the United States that we are recognizing as Fulbright top-producing institutions for their role in increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries,” said Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Fulbright competition is administered at Lawrence through the Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 390,000 participants — chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns, according to a statement released by the Fulbright program. More than 1,900 U.S. students, artists and young professionals in more than 100 different fields of study are offered Fulbright Program grants to study, teach English, and conduct research abroad each year. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program operates in more than 140 countries.

Lawrence has had 57 student recipients since 1976.

The annual application process requires a commitment from the students, faculty and staff, Thao said.

“I would like to acknowledge the faculty who were part of the interviewing committee in this application cycle, Ruth Lunt, Alison Guenther-Pal and Matt Stoneking. I would especially like to thank Bob Williams and Pa Lee Moua for their continued support with the 2018-2019 application cycle.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, funded by an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and supported in its implementation by the Institute of International Education.

The Fulbright Program also awards grants to U.S. scholars, teachers and faculty to conduct research and teach overseas.

Eleven Lawrence faculty members have earned Fulbright awards since 1995.

In addition, some 4,000 foreign Fulbright students and scholars come to the United States annually to study, lecture, conduct research and teach foreign languages.

For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit eca.state.gov/fulbright.

New Diversity Center director provides guidance on academic, social transition

Dr. Brittany Bell believes strongly in the need for universities to provide support to help first-year students in the often anxiety-filled transition to college life.

Portrait of Brittany Bell
Brittany Bell

The reward is seeing them come back for a second year.

For students from underrepresented backgrounds, that transition to college can be fraught with even more potential bumps in the road.

In her new role as assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center at Lawrence University, Bell is putting new focus on smoothing the edges for students making that transition.

Bell began her new duties in mid-January, coming to Lawrence after six and half years on the staff at St. Norbert College, where she served as assistant director of multicultural student services and then student success librarian.

At St. Norbert, she was involved in improving first- and second-year student persistence rates, developing programs that help with the college adjustment and increase the likelihood of a student returning for their sophomore year.

“I’ve done a lot of research in first- and second-year persistence and in student success, so being able to … put something like that into practice was something I knew I could do here,” Bell said.

Lawrence launched its Leadership and Mentoring Program (LAMP) several years ago to provide that added assist to students from underrepresented backgrounds. Much of that has focused on the social end of college life, Bell said. She’s looking to expand the program with new emphasis on the academic side, improving interaction with faculty and staff and nurturing leadership skills.

Bell said having a background that has included both academic programming and student life administration gives her insight into navigating both sides of the student experience. If one side of the equation is out of sync, the student will struggle.

“I can see how they connect to their academics but I also can see how they need to connect to student services,” she said.

Bell has been impressed with what she’s seen so far of the students utilizing the Diversity and Intercultural Center, located on the first floor of Memorial Hall.

“There are definitely leaders here,” she said. “There are a lot of leaders. They are already doing programs, and a lot of these things they are doing on their own. … Usually (faculty and staff) are the drivers. But the students here are the drivers.”

The Rev. Linda Morgan-Clement, Lawrence’s Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, led the search to fill the assistant dean position. She said Bell’s work involving a variety of student experiences was impressive.

“The faculty, staff and students who served on the search committee were impressed with Brittany’s genuine interest in Lawrence and the strong background she brings to the position,” Morgan-Clement said. “Her research and practical background situate her well to vision and lead the move toward (growing) a Diversity and Intercultural Center that will serve our increasingly diverse campus.”

Bell, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a master’s from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a doctorate from Edgewood College, previously worked in student life positions at Kearney and then Carroll University before joining St. Norbert in 2012.

She had her eye on Lawrence long before January.

“I had been connecting with Lawrence quite often through my other role with multicultural students at St. Norbert,” she said. “I knew a lot about Lawrence University and I knew all about the programs here and I knew that if I ever was going to continue on in student services that a position like this would be something that would be appealing.

“So, when the opening came, I was like, yep, this is where I want to be.”

Business and volunteer spirit

Off campus, Bell is on a mission to serve.

She and her partner, Chris, and their two children, own and operate an apparel line called God’s Purpose Apparel, creating and selling clothing featuring inspirational messages such as “I dream big,” Love thy neighbor” and “Blessed.” Much of their apparel is sold through their web site, godspurposeapparel.com, but they also set up shop occasionally at vendor fairs and other nearby events.

They spin that apparel venture into regular volunteer gigs at Green Bay area homeless shelters, donating time, some of the proceeds from sales and even some of the apparel. They run a weekly Alpha Group at St. John’s Homeless Shelter in Green Bay, providing a meal and engaging visitors to the shelter with discussions of faith and life.

Lessons learned during nights at the shelter provide interesting insights to her work on campus, Bell said.

“Sometimes our students are going through similar struggles and we don’t see the signs,” she said. “My work there has helped me identify different things that I can see within our students.”

Shared musical experiences foster camaraderie, community connections

This column by Michael Mizrahi, Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence University, first appeared in The Post-Crescent on Sunday, Feb. 3 as part of its weekly Voices of the Arts feature.

On a small grassy field in downtown Appleton, my children and I are trying to draw sounds from plastic trombones. We laugh at the squeaks and squawks coming from our instruments while dancing with dozens of others along to the funky rhythm laid down by the Mile of Music’s Music Education Team.

Portrait of Michael Mizrahi
Michael Mizrahi

We shout in excitement as my six-year old daughter finally gets one low trombone note to sustain.

In the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, the audience sits in rapt silence as a performance by the Lawrence Academy Girl Choir fills the beautiful space. The high school-aged musicians have spent weeks rehearsing their parts, and years before that practicing their vocal skills and musicianship. After their thirty-minute set reaches its exciting conclusion, the audience erupts into sustained applause.

Shared musical experiences like the ones I’ve described can take a variety of forms here in Appleton, from seeing a live band at Houdini Plaza to joining a sing-along at Mile of Music to attending a Lawrence Symphony Orchestra concert. In fact, all the examples I’ve given so far represent admission-free events in our community. No matter the venue, a shared musical experience has the potential to create a spirit of community and camaraderie.

I am a professional performing musician myself (on piano, not trombone!), and a member of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty. For the past five years I have co-directed Music For All, a series of free performances presented by Lawrence students and faculty in a variety of spaces around the Fox Cities, including Riverview Gardens, the Pillars Adult Shelter, the Freedom Center Food Pantry, various retirement communities, and at local public schools.

Most of the singers and instrumentalists who perform on our series are studying classical music performance at Lawrence. One of our objectives is to present concerts in which audiences can sit up close to the performance, and all members of the community have an informal space in which to mingle before and after the event.

Noah Vazquez, a Lawrence University sophomore and piano performance major, says that “being in the position to establish some level of interpersonal connection before, after or sometimes even during a performance immediately adds a whole new layer to the experience.”

Cosette Bardawil, a Lawrence University senior and flute performance major, says that in these performances “there is an exchange of listening and responding that happens between performers and audience members that creates a unique and momentary energy.”

In these cold winter months, when our city’s fields and plazas are covered with snow, we are fortunate to have many other welcoming spaces in which to experience the warmth of a shared musical community.

On Sunday, February 17, the Music For All series is partnering with Mile of Music to present a free Family Concert at Riverview Gardens. The event is designed for children of all ages, but especially geared towards elementary-aged children. The event will begin at 1:30 p.m. and feature a variety of music-making stations that invite interaction and participation, followed by a short, engaging concert presented by students and faculty of the Lawrence Conservatory.

Michael Mizrahi is Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence University. He wrote this column for The Post-Crescent in partnership with the Fox Arts Network (FAN), a grassroots organization of nonprofit arts groups serving the Fox Cities and surrounding communities.  FAN’s goal is to encourage trial in all art forms. For more information contact foxartsnetwork@gmail.com

Freedom Forum VP to speak at Lawrence: ‘It’s a scary time for the First Amendment’

Note: Weather conditions have resulted in Barbara McCormack’s flight being canceled. Her Feb. 12 visit to Lawrence has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19.

Barbara McCormack and her team at the Freedom Forum Institute are on a mission to teach people how to be better consumers of media.

That’s no small task.

“It’s a scary time for the First Amendment,” says McCormack, vice president of education at the nonprofit Freedom Forum.

Photo of Barbara McCormack
Barbara McCormack

She’ll bring her message about media literacy, politics and the challenges of navigating a free press to Lawrence University for a 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 government colloquium in Room 102 of Steitz Hall. It is free and open to the public.

In an age when fake news is a thing, social media is a preferred outlet, news programs blur the lines between news and opinion, the president paints the media as enemies of the people and newsroom staffs are being downsized across the media landscape, the dangers of being lazy in your media consumption are real.

“Now, we’re all gatekeepers of information,” McCormack said. “With that, we all have to decide what to share, what not to share, what’s reliable, what’s not, and we’re doing this with no formal training. And not doing a very good job of it, quite honestly.”

Thus, McCormack and her team are on the road a lot. They have 35 workshops, classes or lectures scheduled during the first quarter of 2019. They meet with community groups, religious groups, students, journalists and more.

“Everyone is worried about this topic,” McCormack said. “We all understand the impact.”

She’s not here to tell you which news outlets you should trust. She’s here to push you to do the work so you can make informed decisions on your own. She hopes her lectures and workshops provide participants with the tools to do that. And when you find those outlets you trust, be confident enough to pony up for a subscription, digital or otherwise, to support the quality journalism they are doing.

The prevalence of fake news and the ease in which it’s created has added to the confrontational nature of today’s politics, said Arnold Shober, associate professor of government at Lawrence. He invited McCormack to Lawrence to further that conversation about blurred lines and how to navigate the daily onslaught of information so you become a better informed consumer, citizen and voter.

“We don’t know our politicians personally, at least most of us don’t,” Shober said. “The news is a filter we have.”

Besides its outreach work, the Freedom Forum operates the Newseum in Washington, D.C. It recently announced that it plans to sell the building that houses the decade-old museum dedicated to news and the First Amendment amid budget concerns.

It’s one more hit that speaks to the fractured financial state of media today. But it doesn’t diminish the message or slow the work the Freedom Forum is doing.

“We’re really hoping that by teaching media literacy, teaching responsibility to consumers, that along the way we will also instill an appreciation for the role a free press plays in our democracy,” McCormack said. “And hopefully send consumers out seeking quality news. We want them to have the skills to do that, to find those reliable sources.”

Navigating media

What: A Matter of Trust: Countering the Corrosive Effects of Polarization and Propaganda
Who: Barbara McCormack, Vice President of Newseum Education at the Freedom Forum Institute. She dives into the dark arts of media manipulation. Learn what propaganda is, how to spot it, and the roles news producers and consumers play in sustaining a healthy democracy.
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19
Where: Room 102, Steitz Hall. It is free and open to the public.

We survived the deep freeze. Now let’s enjoy Winter Carnival

The timing couldn’t be much better.

As the deep freeze that shut down campus for two and a half days begins to thaw (we think, we hope), it’s time to venture back outside.

Student Celeste Reyes crosses College Avenue in the cold weather.
Celeste Reyes, a student at Lawrence University, was among those battling freezing temperatures in recent days. Photo courtesy of Danny Damiani/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

No better time for the arrival of the annual Winter Carnival, one of Lawrence University’s favorite traditions.

With activities both indoors and out, the weekend is full of winter togetherness for Lawrence students, highlighted by the President’s Ball on Saturday night.

“Winter is a hard time for everybody, and it’s a fast term,” said Nadir Carlson, student activities coordinator and one of the Student Life organizers of Winter Carnival. “And the weather is just not great, so the Winter Carnival kind of gives us a reason to celebrate and be together.”

Saturday is the big day, and the forecast calls for temperatures to climb back into the 30s. Think broomball on Ormsby Lake and gingerbread building, games of all sorts and two showings of the movie “Happy Feet” (um, penguins) in the Warch Campus Center. Then it’s time to get dressed up for the President’s Ball in the Somerset Room.

Winter Carnival was a tradition at Lawrence dating back decades. But it went away as the millennium neared. It roared back to life in 2011 and has been part of the Lawrence experience ever since. Check out this video from its 2011 return.

Broomball being played on Lake Ormsby.
Broomball has long been part of the Winter Carnival tradition.

The broomball tournament gets rolling at 10 a.m. Saturday. Teams can register here.

The gingerbread house competition -– this replaces the ice sculpting of past years -– goes from 1 to 3 p.m. on the third floor of Warch.

Games will be played from 1 to 3 p.m. in Mead Witter.

“Happy Feet” showings are set for 8 and 11 p.m. Friday and 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday in the Warch Cinema.

The President’s Ball, featuring Big Band Reunion, runs from 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday.

“The big culminating event is the President’s Ball,” Carlson said.

There’s live music, photos, catered food, even fondue. It’s a student event where faculty and staff are invited to attend.

You can get a jump start on the fun Thursday night with the always popular Grocery Bag Bingo in Mead Witter, set for 7:30 p.m. No better celebration of winter than winning cool food prizes.

We survived this week’s wind chills of 50 degrees below zero. We’ve earned a Winter Celebration.

Broomball, anyone?


Top finishers named in annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest

The 54th edition of the Great Midwest Trivia Contest at Lawrence University has come and gone, surviving a deep freeze that had everyone, thankfully, staying indoors.

The student-run webcast at WLFM Radio drew nine on-campus teams and 75 off-campus teams. The 50-hour blitz ran from Friday night through Sunday night.

Trivia masters taking a group nap.
It was an exhausting weekend for your trivia masters.

Here are your top three on-campus finishers (some team names amended as needed):

  1. Do You Really Trust an Aquarius Baking & Cooking and Sauteing, Save Big Money at Menards and Broiling and Flambeing and Freeze Drying Whole Milk Family™, Stir Frying Please Mr Morrison, I Only Have But 50 Shillings, and Roasting & Grilling Club, The Name You’ve Just Read Has Been Redacted; The Amended Name Now Reads … (sorry, this is redacted, too) (1,645 points)
  2. Coming Out of the Cave and … (1,635)
  3. Cole Foster’s One Long Noodle and a Fistful of Spinach (950)

Here are your top three off-campus finishers:

  1. Get A Load Of That Sandwich (Get A Load Of It!) Look At That Boulder! (That’s A Nice Boulder!) Look At That Sandwich (Look At It!) Get A Load Of That Boulder (That’s A Nice Boulder!) Look At That Sandwich (Look At It!) Woo! (Woohoo!) Woo! (Yeah!) Woo! (Woohoohoo!) (1,765 points)
  2. Cardboard Dave Presents: Red Dog, The National Beer of the Holy Broman Empire (1,730)
  3. Caillouigi 3 & Knuckles (1,595)

The winning off-campus team was based in New York City.

No teams got the Super Garuda question correct. Super Garuda, of course, is the final question of the contest and is worth 100 points. It also serves as the lead-off question for the following year’s contest.

Here is the Super Garuda: This Chicago restaurant serves both Italian beef and shrimp egg foo young, and may also be mistaken for a file extraction software. The street on which it is located is the first name of a man whose last name is the first name of a different man who began his own DIY cake decorating business. The man who shares his name with this street has written a book which purports that those born between November 22 and December 21 are “fond of horses.” On page 21 of that book, there is a car. What does the car say?

The answer is “OINK!”

Allegra C. Taylor has been selected as the grand master for the 2020 Great Midwest Trivia  Contest.

If you missed it, click here for our  guide — 37 reasons why — to the awesomeness of the Great Midwest Trivia Contest.