Category: Faculty

Biology prof gets creative with costumes to ease stress of remote learning

Alyssa Hakes in some of her favorite virtual attire, with corresponding Zoom backgrounds.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Alyssa Hakes turned to goofy costumes early in the pandemic to add some fun to classes she was teaching via Zoom. It went over so well she has kept it going for a year.

The Lawrence University associate professor of biology said she was struggling during the first week of teaching virtually in March 2020.

“I felt isolated from my students and it was incredibly awkward recording lecture videos in an empty bedroom,” Hakes said.

Enter a pirate hat borrowed from one of her kids.

“I hadn’t quite leaned into the full Zoom costume thing yet, but I felt a spark of that teaching joy again,” she said of putting on that pirate hat. “I surveyed our household collection of dress-up clothes and Halloween costumes and I realized that I could make this a regular thing. Strangely, I found that dressing up in ridiculous costumes made me feel less awkward on camera, and thinking about next week’s costume was a welcome distraction from the anxiety of teaching during a pandemic.”

Hakes’ costumes have ranged from pirates and horror movie monsters to space creatures and video game heroes, all with corresponding Zoom backgrounds.

“Because my Zoom costumes are mostly put together with things I already have in my house—Professor Fleshman also loaned me a few costume items—they don’t necessarily match with the course material,” Hakes said. “Although, when I taught First-Year Studies in the Fall, I had a few costumes that fit with the works—Socrates, honeybee, and cave.”

When her online classes allowed for more interaction with students, she wore costumes at the start to set a fun tone, then switched to more professional attire.

“Some of my costumes are outdated references to ’80s and ’90s pop culture, or reflect more of my kids’ tastes in cartoons and video games, but the Zoom costume teaching strategy seems to have the intended effect of lifting morale during a year where it has been difficult to be a student,” Hakes said. “It just makes my day when I hear from a student that the Zoom costume and the accompanying lame joke or silly dance is making their remote learning experience a little more fun and engaging.”

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

“Dedicated and richly talented:” 10 Lawrence University faculty earn tenure

Main Hall

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Ten members of the Lawrence University faculty have been granted 2021 tenure appointments.

President Mark Burstein and the college’s Board of Trustees, based on recommendations by the faculty Committee on Tenure, Promotion, Reappointment, and Equal Employment Opportunity, granted tenure to Ingrid Albrecht (philosophy), Matthew Arau (music education), Chloe Armstrong (philosophy), Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd (education), Horacio Contreras (music), John Holiday (music), Danielle Joyner (art history), Victoria Kononova (Russian), Nora Lewis (music), and Brigid Vance (history). All 10 have been tenured and promoted to associate professor.

The appointments span multiple disciplines across the college and conservatory.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be welcoming such a dedicated and richly talented group of faculty into the tenured ranks,” said Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine G. Kodat. “The breadth of ability and skill represented in this year’s tenure ‘class’ is truly extraordinary, both in terms of individual achievement and in how those achievements support our broader efforts to expand and enhance our curriculum to support diversity, inclusion, and excellence.”

The 10 newly tenured faculty:

Albrecht

Ingrid Albrecht: A specialist in ethics and moral philosophy, she joined the Lawrence philosophy department in 2013. Her courses have ranged from existentialism and ethics to feminism and philosophy and biomedical ethics.

Arau

Matthew Arau ’97: A Lawrence alumnus, he joined the Lawrence Conservatory’s music education faculty in 2014 and serves as the associate director of bands. His efforts on and off campus to teach a positive mindset in music education have drawn a strong following.

Armstrong

Chloe Armstrong: A specialist in early modern philosophy, she joined Lawrence’s philosophy department in 2015. Her teaching ranges from the works of Margaret Cavendish and Gottfried Leibniz to courses on food ethics and ancient Greek philosophy.

Burdick-Shepherd

Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd: A specialist in early childhood education, she joined the education department in 2015. She played a big role in launching the new teacher certification program in early childhood education and provides leadership for students going through teaching residencies.

Contreras

Horacio Contreras: A professor of cello, he joined the Conservatory faculty in 2017. He taught for 10 years at Universidad de Los Andes in Merida, Venezuela, before receiving his DMA in cello performance from the University of Michigan in 2016. He performs regularly nationally and internationally.

Holiday

John Holiday: A professor of voice, he joined the Conservatory faculty in 2017 after teaching for two years at Ithaca College. He has been hailed as a rising star in the opera world and performs frequently on some of opera’s biggest stages. He gained national attention as a crossover artist in late 2020 when he advanced to the finals on NBC’s The Voice.

Joyner

Danielle Joyner: A medieval art historian, she joined the art history faculty in 2018. She teaches courses on medieval and gothic art and is part of a faculty research and teaching collective on ancient and pre-modern societies.

Kononova

Victoria Kononova: A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature and theater, she joined the Russian department in 2015. She teaches advanced Russian language classes and courses in English translation that include Russia’s Golden Age, women and gender in Russian culture, and Slavic science fiction.

Lewis

Nora Lewis ’99: A professor of oboe and an alumna of Lawrence, she joined the Conservatory faculty in 2018 after teaching stints at Austin Peay, Kansas State, and Western Michigan. She has performed extensively and presents master classes nationally and internationally.

Vance

Brigid Vance: A historian of late imperial China, she joined the history department in 2015. A regular contributor to First-Year Studies, she teaches courses that range from Chinese women’s history and the West’s view of China to the history of Chinese medicine and modern East Asian civilization.

The high level of achievement across the group speaks well of Lawrence’s ongoing commitment to academic excellence, Kodat said.

“It’s such a pleasure seeing their many past accomplishments rewarded with tenure, and I look forward to many years of rewarding partnership,” she said.

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

Environmental Science major launches; adds path to climate-focused research

Catherine Wagoner ’22 sifts soil during hydroponics research in December. She was among the Lawrence students doing research with geosciences professor Relena Ribbons, who is part of the faculty group that built the new Environmental Science major. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University has launched a new Environmental Science major, giving science-minded students with an interest in environmental research a more concentrated path.

The major, running parallel with Lawrence’s long-established Environmental Studies major, taps into deep expertise in Lawrence’s science faculty on topics ranging from urban ecology and tectonics to soil biology and atmospheric chemistry. Approved in a recent faculty vote following two years of study, the new major will be available beginning in Fall Term, said Environmental Studies chair Jason Brozek, the Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government.

The new major speaks to the growing interest and career paths tied to the climate crisis and the desire by students to do hands-on research in environmental protection. For some students, it will provide a clearer path to graduate school.

“Environmental Studies has always evolved to fit the needs of students, and we see this as a step that builds on our strengths and makes our long-standing program even more robust,” Brozek said. “One of the goals is to help students feel prepared for graduate programs and careers in the environmental sciences—without sacrificing the interdisciplinary perspective that our Environmental Studies program has been built on for more than two decades.”

Lawrence continues to excel in STEM fields. Read more here.

The particulars of the major came out of a working faculty group that involved numerous science professors—Marcia Bjornerud, Jeff Clark, Andrew Knudsen, and Relena Ribbons from the Geology Department, Israel Del Toro from Biology, and Deanna Donohoue from Chemistry.

As has been done elsewhere on campus, this was an opportunity to create space for more than one major under the same umbrella. The Environmental Studies program remains, but under that banner students will be able to major in Environmental Studies or Environmental Science.

“Both are interdisciplinary majors made up of courses from a wide range of different disciplines, and both will guide students from early exploration through advanced independent research,” Brozek said

The Environmental Studies major will continue to explore environmental issues through a multitude of lenses—scientific, political, economic, and cultural. The Environmental Science major, meanwhile, will focus more on hands-on scientific research.

The annual BioFest: Senior Symposium allows biology students to showcase their research. (Photo by Ellie Younger)

There are opportunities here in Appleton and in the surrounding northeast Wisconsin region for students to engage more broadly in authentic, meaningful, and focused environmental science research, Clark said. The research not only provides valuable hands-on learning experiences for the students but also serves important public service functions.

“Our students want to be engaged in real-world problem-solving, and the Environmental Science major provides the background to tackle these problems,” Clark said.

Attention to the climate crisis is growing as evidence of distress becomes increasingly perilous. Employment opportunities are following suit, with career paths expanding in everything from climate modeling and environmental engineering to water resource management and sustainability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an 8% growth in employment of environmental scientists and specialists over the course of this decade. 

For some students with an eye on the environment, the interest is in the political, policy, or economic realm. For a growing number of others, it’s in the science. Thus, Lawrence providing a new path of study that focuses squarely on environmental science is reflective of what more and more students are asking for, Brozek said.

“I think all of us do feel the urgency of the climate crisis, and we see that in our students who are looking for the sort of hands-on, experiential learning that can help them become more effective environmental advocates, experts, and leaders,” he said.

Bjornerud, the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Sciences and professor of geology and the author of the 2018 book, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, said the makeup of the new major shows how environmental study has evolved since Lawrence launched its Environmental Studies program more than 20 years ago.

“In that time, scientific understanding of climate, ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, and human interaction with these complex natural phenomena has become far deeper and more nuanced,” she said. “Students today need a different conceptual tool kit to be ready for work or graduate study in the environmental studies. Fortunately, Lawrence science faculty members have expertise spanning all aspects of the environment, from the chemistry of the atmosphere, water and soils; to terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems; to climate and global change over a wide range of time scales.”

Current students interested in switching to the Environmental Science major can do so, but they’ll want to consult with their advisor first to see how the major’s requirements mesh with courses they’ve already taken, Brozek said.

For prospective or incoming students, it’s one more option to consider if they’re exploring the rapidly expanding career paths tied to the environment and climate change.

“Whether students picture a career in environmental justice or hydrology or policy analysis—or all three—we hope they see Lawrence as a good fit for them,” Brozek said. “Environmental Science is another springboard for the next generation of environmental leaders.”

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

Lawrence’s beloved Rock is heading east, a gift to university’s departing president

The Rock first came to the Lawrence University campus in 1895. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The Rock, a 2-ton boulder that has been part of Lawrence University lore for 126 years, is being gifted to departing President Mark Burstein.

In searching for the perfect gift for a leader whose rock-solid leadership has helped guide Lawrence to new heights, the university community opted to follow the lead of Burstein’s previous employer. When he left Princeton University to join the Lawrence family eight years ago, Burstein was given small honed pieces of material that were used in the many building and landscape projects constructed and renovated during his nine-year tenure there. These pieces form a small square that resides on his desk in Sampson House. 

It’s hoped he’ll proudly display The Rock in similar fashion as he leaves Lawrence and moves back east to begin a new adventure.

“I’ll need a bigger desk,” a gracious Burstein said. “Or David will have to design a garden with The Rock as a center point.”

The Rock came to Lawrence as a gift from the Class of 1895, plucked from a field during a geology trip near New London. It made the 30-mile trip east to Appleton and has since been painted, buried, hidden, and moved. But mostly revered.

Now it’ll go further east with a president who also is revered. The gift didn’t include a means of moving The Rock because of ongoing budget constraints. So, come June, volunteers, fully masked and following The Pledge, will be needed to hoist The Rock atop Burstein’s car for the 900-mile drive. A sign-up sheet can be found on the fifth floor of the Mudd Library in the Center for the Advancement and Study of Humor, Hijinx, and Fools.

Lawrence’s pandemic response has kept campus safe in midst of chaos elsewhere

Meralis Alvarez-Morales ’22 works at the COVID-19 testing site in the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center gymnasium. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Christyn Abaray knew she and her Lawrence University colleagues were walking a fine line when they welcomed 800 students back to campus in early September for the start of Fall Term.

After going fully remote during Spring Term, the Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team (LPPT)—a campus leadership group led by Abaray, assistant to the president—spent late spring and much of the summer sifting COVID-19 data, studying options, consulting with experts on and off campus, and eventually drafting a multi-layered strategy that would allow for a mix of in-person and remote study.

But as Fall Term neared, with roughly 60% of the school’s nearly 1,500 students opting to return to the Appleton campus, news reports were painting a bleak picture. Wisconsin was the No. 1 hot spot in the country for new COVID cases, with Appleton being one of eight Wisconsin cities making the New York Times’ top 10 list.

Christyn Abaray

Abaray watched those reports with understandable concern. LPPT members began fielding queries from concerned students and parents about how safe it was to return to Appleton.

But Abaray and her team stayed confident in the strategic plan they had put together, which included the initial testing of all students, faculty, and staff on campus, weekly random testing throughout the term, ample space for quarantining and isolation, and strict requirements to Honor the Pledge, including wearing a mask and adhering to physical distancing.

As the COVID test results came in through September and into October, the difference between what was happening in the Fox Valley—and, really, most of Wisconsin—and what was happening on the Lawrence campus could not have been more stark. While Appleton case numbers blew up, the campus emerged as arguably the safest place in the city.

“We were regularly just in awe of what the testing was showing,” Abaray said. “We were just blown away.”

Positive cases on campus through Fall Term stayed below 1% even while cases surged in the surrounding community. And while reports of bars and restaurants filling with unmasked patrons were frequent in the Fox Valley and across Wisconsin, Lawrence students overwhelmingly stayed true to the pledge they signed to follow safety protocols.

Campus buildings were closed to the public. Signage reminded all to wear masks anytime on campus. Students were asked to socialize mask-less only in their pods, with all other interactions requiring masks and distancing.

Now, midway through Winter Term, with six months of experience to lean on and protocols still in place, Lawrence continues to have success in limiting the spread of the virus on campus, with cases detailed weekly on its digital dashboard. There have been slight upticks, but nothing that has been sustained.

At its most problematic point during Fall Term, Lawrence counted 20 positive COVID cases among its students. That number fell back to two a few weeks later and never went above 10 the rest of the term.

In Winter Term, which began with the return to campus of about 900 students the first week of January, there was a quick increase, with 30 students testing positive and going into isolation during the week of Jan. 11. It was a potential tipping point, Abaray said, and the LPPT quickly communicated concerns, reminding the Lawrence community how precarious the situation was and how important it remained to adhere to safety protocols.

The message hit home. The feared spread never happened, with positive tests and needed isolation quickly dropping again into single figures. As of mid-February, there was one active student case.

Abaray and her team know this is not a victory lap. There remains a long way to go. New COVID variants spreading across the U.S. pose new threats, and losing focus on what got Lawrence to this point could send things south quickly. But they also know the strategy they adopted last summer works.

Testing, testing, testing

D’Andre Weaver ’21 (left) and Sterling Ambrosius ’22 wear protective gear as they work at the testing site. Fifteen students were hired to help staff the site each week.

Despite a hefty price tag, Lawrence committed to testing early and often and has stayed with it. The LPPT, which consulted frequently with Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO Dr. John Raymond and ThedaCare President and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi, identified testing as key to keeping the plan on track.

Everything else would fall in place based on what the testing numbers told them, Abaray said. If they could mitigate the spread of the virus, then they could launch academic programs as envisioned in various modalities and they could take steps to make the student experience as robust as possible despite the obvious limitations that come with safety protocols.

“The big piece of making all that happen was testing,” Abaray said.

Every student and employee who planned to set foot on campus at any point during the term was required to be tested before the term began. After that initial round, at least one-third of the campus population was tested weekly.

During Fall Term, that meant nasal swabs administered by Bellin Health. For Winter Term, the LPPT opted to switch to saliva-based PCR tests that could be administered by Lawrence staff in partnership with Concentric.

Richard Jazdzewski

“This allows us to be much more efficient and able to scale our staffing patterns to match the testing numbers for the given week,” said Richard Jazdzewski, dean of Wellness Services and an LPPT member. “This has resulted in less time waiting in line on site for our LU community.”

It’s also allowed Lawrence students to work as part of the testing team. Meralis Alvarez-Morales ’22 jumped at the chance to don protective gear and go to work. She’s now working between four and five hours a week, gathering needed information on site from Lawrentians being tested.

“I choose to work as a testing assistant not only because of the opportunity to be paid, but also because I wanted to do my part in giving back to my community,” Alvarez-Morales said. “We are still in a global pandemic after all, and many hands do make light work.”

The testing, which is set up in the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center gymnasium, will continue in Spring Term, Abaray said. The cooperation to date from students and employees has been stellar. The push to stay the course will continue even as COVID numbers in the surrounding community continue to go down and a growing number of people are being vaccinated.

“The only way our testing strategy works is because we have a group of students, faculty, and staff who are adhering to all it means to be in the Pledge,” Abaray said. “It’s an interwoven group of things that all have to be happening for us to be where we are right now. Holding each other accountable is a big piece to that.”

The Pledge

Wearing a mask on campus is part of Honor the Pledge.

Honor the Pledge, launched before Fall Term began, is a pact between the University and all students, faculty, and staff who opted to or needed to be on campus. It lays out 10 promises tied to safety protocols, from mask-wearing to social distancing to testing.

Violations of the Pledge have been addressed on an individual basis, Abaray said. And while there have been occasional violations among students, the vast majority of Lawrentians on campus have stayed true to the Pledge. That, more than any other factor, is why Lawrence has had success mitigating the spread while some universities across the country have struggled.

“Student adherence to what we’re asking them to do, for the most part, is what’s making this possible,” Abaray said. “We’ve all read the stories from other places where decisions that students make really do make or break what happens. We have students who get it. They’re making some of the most mature decisions that we could ask for.”

Being a small campus certainly helps. Abaray and the rest of the LPPT know it’s easier to get that buy-in from a student body of 1,500 than it is for a campus with 50,000 students. But it’s still impressive. And the work continues.

A new incentive program launched through Wellness Services, called #VIKINGSCARE, gives Lawrence community members an opportunity to recognize their peers for behavior that keeps the campus community safe.

“Students who have been nominated can win weekly prizes, including free dinner with five friends from a local restaurant, an Apple watch, a Bluetooth speaker, LU gear, and more,” Jazdzewski said.

Alvarez-Morales, a Global Studies and Spanish double major, speaks with pride about her fellow students. She said students’ willingness to adhere to the Pledge, as limiting as it is, is what has separated Lawrence’s success in mitigating virus spread from what’s happened off campus.

“Lawrence overall has done a great job enforcing safety protocols and guidelines on campus,” Alvarez-Morales said. “Lawrence has also done a great job of providing students with the resources to obtain masks, reusable dinner bags, food, and sanitizing products to clean their spaces.”

The vast majority of students have taken the virus seriously. They understand that masking up and following protocols are selfless acts aimed at keeping others safe and the campus functioning. Alvarez-Morales said she wishes that was the case everywhere.

“In short, yes, I feel safer on campus now than I did when I first thought of returning to campus. But I do not feel safe in the surrounding community.”

Isolation and Quarantine Space

Kohler Hall was set aside as isolation and quarantine space as part of the strategic plan to mitigate virus spread on campus.

Lawrence limited the number of students who could live on campus – roughly 800 opted in for Fall Term and about 900 for Winter Term – so adequate housing space could be dedicated to isolation and quarantine.

Kohler Hall has been that space, with students being moved into the hall for isolation if they test positive and for quarantine if they have had close contact with someone who tested positive.

Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life and chaplain to the University, Terra Winston, associate dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, and Curt Lauderdale, dean of students, have been instrumental in creating a responsive and caring space for students entering Kohler. Bon Appetit, Lawrence’s on-site provider of campus meals, has been essential in providing food delivery.

Abaray praised Morgan-Clement and Winston for their ability to provide comfort—physical and emotional—for students going through isolation or quarantine. And she called Bon Appetit employees unsung heroes for their willingness to adapt in ways that serve those students.

“Their planning and their ability to adjust their planning for our students who are in Kohler in quarantine or isolation has been phenomenal to watch,” Abaray said. “We had a plan going in, and that wasn’t providing the best experience for the students, so they pivoted. It illustrates how much adjusting you need to do. It’s OK to adjust. You don’t have to have all the answers on the front end. You won’t. Adjusting is part of that.”

The making of the LPPT

Leadership and communication via the LPPT have been critical from the beginning. The group includes President Mark Burstein and most of his cabinet, as well as key personnel from Wellness Services, the faculty, and other points across campus. In all, more than 50 voices have been part of that team, including a number of student leaders.

“We figured out very quickly that we needed to have a lot of stakeholders around the table if we were going to do this the right way,” Abaray said.

The group met twice weekly through the spring and summer as it drafted a strategy to, if at all possible, bring students back to campus. It split into five subgroups to explore in detail various aspects of that challenge—a group focused on the campus calendar and curricular issues; a co-curricular group focused on student life, housing, meals, and student engagement; a group focused on visitors to campus; a health group that included faculty members with expertise in the biomedical field; and an employee group that explored potential workplace issues.

Those subgroups met regularly, then reported back to the LPPT as the strategy slowly evolved.

“All of it needed to come together by the middle of summer to have an idea of what direction we wanted to go for the fall,” Abaray said. “That was the first big decision that needed to be made.”

Once the decision was made to proceed with at least a portion of the student body on campus, the LPPT went to work drafting particulars, communicating the plan in detail to students, families, faculty, and staff, and answering an onslaught of questions.

That work is ongoing, with the LPPT continuing to meet weekly.

“We feel somewhat comfortable with where we are,” Abaray said.

But as it was nearly a year ago when the pandemic first arrived, there are more questions than answers. LPPT members know they must continue to listen, learn, respond, and adjust.

“Everything changes by the day,” Abaray said. “It’s that level of living in the gray. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that to people. You hear, ‘You all said this on this day and now you’re saying this.’ Yes, we did. We learned something. It’s not that we were wrong. It’s that we’ve learned something, and that’s moving us forward. We are making decisions with the best information we have at that particular moment, and the moment we have more information we are going to adjust. I know that’s not comfortable and it’s not ideal. For the control freak in me, it’s unnerving. But you have to be able to be in that space right now if you’re going to be productive.”

What’s next?

Vaccines are on the horizon. Jazdzewski said Lawrence will continue to work with city and county health officials in efforts to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines on campus, but how and when has yet to be determined.

In the meantime, preparations are under way to launch a Spring Term that will look very much like Winter Term. Students are again being given the option of living on campus or staying remote. If living on or visiting campus, adherence to the Pledge will remain a must. Adjustments in protocols will be made as conditions dictate.

Confidence in the strategy that has gotten Lawrence to this point is strong, Abaray said. But she and others on the LPPT know there will be more hurdles and more questions as winter turns to spring and impatience grows. The finish line remains murky at best.

“Every day we doubt everything because we just don’t know,” Abaray said. “We still don’t know what’s going on with this virus; still don’t know a lot of things. But I trust and I have confidence in our protocols and our strategy.”

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

Kiese Laymon, author of “Heavy,” speaks to need for introspection, revision

Kiese Laymon (top left) speaks with Amy Ongiri (top right), Tania Sosa ’24 (bottom left) and Edwin Martinez ’24 as part of the Jan. 28 virtual Convocation.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kiese Laymon says he’s never sure how to answer when someone asks him how long it took him to write Heavy: an American Memoir, his widely praised 2018 book that explored, with raw honesty, family secrets wrapped in a mix of brilliance, drive, pain, abuse, and addiction.

He’s not even sure the verb tense is correct.

“I’m not sure how long it took me to write Heavy or I’m not sure how long it’s taking me to write Heavy,” Laymon said Thursday as he virtually delivered Lawrence University’s Winter Term Convocation address.

As it should be with all art, he said, the revisions are ongoing, even though the book rolled off the presses more than two years ago and has racked up a bevy of top literary awards, including the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction and the LA Times Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose.

“Because memory and freedom are so fluid, I’m never going to stop revising Heavy no matter what,” Laymon said. “I think the honest answer to the question of how long did it take you to write Heavy is, I’m going to have to let you know when I’m done. The book is published but the book is not done.”

That need for constant revision in our work, in our lives, to look deeply inward in pursuit of honesty and clarity, was at the heart of Laymon’s address. Titled The Radical Possibility and Democratic Necessity of Navel Gazing, Laymon’s talk challenged people to embrace their own “navel gazing” as they uncover their own truths.

“I would like to argue that in this nation we are suffering because we are not as navel-gazing as we need to be,” Laymon said. “If each of us looked within our navel patiently, with routine and imagination, we would really find things that we never imagined. Those things, if we rigorously push them, would connect us to someone else.

“If you look into your navel with any acuity, with any tenderness, you’re going to find something you never saw before, and that something is going to help you understand the people you love more, it’s going to help you understand context more, and, most importantly, it’s going to help you understand what you want tomorrow to be.”

In Heavy, Laymon, a professor in English and creative writing at the University of Mississippi, offers a personal narrative of growing up Black in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s written as a communication to his mother, woven with layers and complexities of brilliance, passion, abuse, racism, obesity, anorexia, gambling, and more. The Lawrence community discussed the book earlier this month as part of a campus-wide read.

Thursday’s convocation address included a question-and-answer session in which Laymon discussed his work with Amy Ongiri, Lawrence’s Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor of film studies, and students Tania Sosa ’24 and Edwin Martinez ’24. President Mark Burstein then hosted a public Q&A with Laymon.

Music included Genius Child, performed by Preston Parker ’23 and Mandy Kung, and Set Me as a Seal, performed by the Lawrence University Concert Choir with members of the Appleton East High School Easterners, under the direction of Stephen Sieck.

Laymon recently released a new essay collection, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” an expanded and reworked version of an essay collection first released in 2013. He bought the rights to the book from the publisher so he could add six essays and edit others.

Again, introspection and revision.

That need for revision was instilled in Laymon early by a mother who pushed him hard. It has resonated through his teaching, first at Vassar College and then the University of Mississippi.

“It’s hard to have a revision if you don’t have an initial vision,” Laymon said. “It’s hard for that revision to have any integrity if that initial vision doesn’t have some sort of layers and depth. And I think that initial vision can only have depth if we do the rigorous work of looking within. I would argue there is no radical possibility without more sustained democratic navel gazing. And I think Heavy, among other things, is an example of that.”

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

Kiese Laymon, author of “Heavy,” to deliver Convocation address Jan. 28

Kiese Laymon

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kiese Laymon, the author of Heavy, a much-praised memoir that served as a recent community read across the Lawrence University campus, will deliver the school’s Winter Term Convocation address on Jan. 28.

His writing has been lauded for its richness in detail, its emotional complexity, and its honesty as Laymon lays bare his experiences growing up and making a life for himself as a Black man in America. He feels the forces of racism suffocating him while he navigates complex and often confounding family relationships and issues tied to abuse, body image, and addictive behavior.

Set for 11:15 a.m., the Convocation will be virtual due to the ongoing pandemic. Laymon’s recorded speech, The Radical Possibility and Democratic Necessity of Navel Gazing, will be followed by an interview hosted by Amy Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor of film studies, and students Tania Sosa ’24 and Edwin Martinez ’24. That will be followed by an audience Q&A with Laymon, moderated by President Mark Burstein.

Laymon, a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Mississippi, recently released a new essay collection, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, an expanded and reworked version of an essay collection first released in 2013. It adds six essays and edits others from the initial release.

National Public Radio praised the new release, saying Laymon “takes on the messiness, richness, violence, and diversity of the South in his work, as well as the complex question of what it means to be Black and from Mississippi.” Jerald Walker of the New York Times called Laymon’s retooling of the essay collection a worthwhile undertaking “because by adding six rich new essays, deftly curating seven from the original book, and reworking the chronology, you have made a once solid collection superb.”

It was the release of Heavy in 2018 that first brought Laymon widespread acclaim. The memoir earned a bevy of literary honors, including winning the Christopher Isherwood Prize and being named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the Chautauqua Prize. Written as a communication to his mother, the book rips open and digs deep into layers of family pain, abuse, success, wisdom, passion, addiction, and fear, much of it grounded in his love-hate relationship with Jackson, Mississippi, where he grew up, fled, and eventually returned.

Lawrence faculty, students, staff, and alumni joined together for a recent community read. Many then explored the complexities of Heavy in a virtual book discussion held on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Music at the Convocation will include Genius Child, performed by Preston Parker ’23 and Mandy Kung, and Set Me as a Seal, performed by the Lawrence University Concert Choir with members of the Appleton East High School Easterners, under the direction of Associate Professor of Music Stephen Sieck. The link for the Jan. 28 Convocation can be found here.

The live webcast will be accessible to the public, but a recording of the event will not be made public.

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

“What are we going to do about it?”: An MLK Day call to fight structural injustices

Dr. Bettina L. Love

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Embrace a radical imagination.

Take the fight against structural racism beyond well-meaning committees and studies.

Don’t just speak out against crowded prisons and low-performing schools; commit to the work to end the conditions that result in crowded prisons and low-performing schools.

That is the hard message behind Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, said Dr. Bettina L. Love, the keynote speaker Monday at the 30th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, co-hosted by African Heritage Inc. and the Lawrence University Diversity and Intercultural Center.

“What structural changes are you willing to make?” said Love, author of We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and an endowed professor at the University of Georgia. “You got all the reports, you got all the directors of initiatives and all this, and you know racism is in the system, and you know racism is stopping children from living and seeing their full potential, so what structural change are we going to make? Are we just going to keep having policies? Are we going to keep reporting out that the very places we work are racist? What are we going to do about it?”

The MLK Day Celebration is typically held in Lawrence’s Memorial Chapel, but the community event moved online this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Brittany Bell, assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center at Lawrence and co-chair of the Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, helped take the event virtual.

“This is a time for us to come together in unity,” Bell said. “Let us remember Dr. King’s legacy. Together we can be the light that illuminates the darkness in our world and our communities and make a difference.”

At Lawrence, with no classes being held, the event followed a series of MLK Day virtual conversations, including a book talk focused on Heavy: An American Memoir, the powerful and emotional 2018 book by Kiese Laymon, discussions on anti-racist strategies and disability advocacy, and a Music for All concert. The sessions were organized and led by campus volunteers through the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change.

The evening event took the King remembrances beyond campus, with community-focused messages of fighting the very injustices that King gave his life for while also embracing and celebrating Black joy.

The pandemic, Love said, has only exacerbated and magnified the deeply ingrained racism in this country. As did the killing of George Floyd. As did the marches of white supremacists.

“To be a person of color in this country today is a state of exhaustion,” Love said. “To always be trying to figure out ways we can survive this place. I know the Creator did not put me here to survive, to merely survive. I was put here to thrive. So that’s why I wrote the book. We want to do more than survive. That is not living. Living in a world where you are constantly in survival mode is what’s killing us more than anything — white supremacy that puts us in a place where we are constantly just trying to make it, spiritually, physically, mentally, economically. We deserve more.”

Love reminded the audience that at the time of his death in 1968, King was focused on the ills of poverty. He was fighting for workers’ rights, living wages, affordable housing, and economic opportunities for all. He was waging a battle on behalf of the poor that has yet to come to fruition.

“Before Dr. King died, he was building one of the world’s most robust coalitions of poor folks, black folks, white folks, Asian folks, Latino folks, you name it, he was building a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational coalition … to think very deeply about how we make sure people living in the United States had a guaranteed income, a living wage, housing,” Love said. “That was what he was on at the end of his life.”

Continuing that fight is what being an Abolitionist is all about, said Love, who titled her talk, Abolitionist Life: Resistance, Creativity, Hip Hop Civics Ed, Intersectionality, & Black Joy.

“More than anything, King understood this,” she said. “The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical distribution of political and economic power. That was his dream. We cannot sanitize it; we cannot water down King’s dream. His dream was to abolish poverty. His dream was to unite black folks and white folks and Latinx folks and indigenous folks, and everybody to create a world that understood if you want racial justice you better want economic justice. And we’re talking about a redistribution of wealth.

“King was about the abolishment of poverty. He was not trying to just give people a dollar here, a dollar there. He was trying to create structure that would ensure that nobody went hungry ever again. That is what abolition is about. It’s not about reform or reimagining. It’s about uprooting oppression.”

Love encouraged all to join that fight, to take it beyond good thoughts and supportive words.

“We do this work not wanting allies but wanting co-conspirators,” she said. “What have you done? What’s your work? That’s what a co-conspirator does. Put something on the line.”

To get there is a journey. Embrace that journey. Have a “radical imagination” and celebrate who you are, Love said.

“We have to do this work with joy,” she said. “We have to want to see Black folks win. It has to be more than just anger. There’s righteous rage, don’t get me wrong. But we also have to find the Black joy in this world. The work that says I want to be well, I want to work to be well.”

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

30th annual MLK Celebration to go virtual; series of conversations planned

Bettina L. Love (left) and Griot B.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The 30th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, co-hosted by African Heritage Inc. and the Lawrence University Diversity and Intercultural Center, will be held virtually on Jan. 18.

Typically held in Lawrence’s Memorial Chapel on the evening of MLK Day, the community event is moving online this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Those who would like to attend the virtual event will need to register in advance here. It’s set for 6 to 7:45 p.m.

“This upcoming MLK Day, it will be 30 years the Fox Cities has come together to honor Dr. King’s legacy and the dedication to racial equality,” said Dr. Brittany Bell, assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center at Lawrence and co-chair of the Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee. “Although the pandemic has changed how we celebrate this year, let us continue to come together in unity. The unrest in our nation has shown us we have lots of work to do.”

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Bettina L. Love, delivering the address, Abolitionist Life: Resistance, Creativity, Hip Hop Civics Ed, Intersectionality, & Black Joy.

Love, an award-winning author and the Athletic Association Endowed Professor at the University of Georgia, will discuss how intersectionality and Abolitionist teaching “creates a space where Black lives matter and sensibilities are nurtured to engage communities in the work of fighting for visibility, inclusion, and justice.” Her talk will end by calling on people to engage in critical dialogues about racial violence, oppression, and how to make sustainable change in our communities. She will challenge the audience to “envision a world built on Black joy, creativity, imagination, boldness, ingenuity, and the rebellious spirit and methods of Abolitionists.”

Music will be performed by Griot B, delivering Agitate: A Story Through Song.

There is no youth essay contest this year due to challenges posed by the pandemic. A book giveaway sponsored by Memorial Presbyterian Church in Appleton and the City of Appleton’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be announced as part of the event.

At Lawrence, the event will be preceded with a series of online educational opportunities focused on antiracism, hosted by the Center for Community Engagement. No classes will be held on the day, and students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to partake in the virtual presentations and discussions. The events include:

10 to 11 a.m.: A virtual book discussion will be held featuring Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: An American Memoir, a book selected as a community read for Lawrence. The discussion comes in advance of the Jan. 28 virtual convocation featuring Laymon. Find more information here.

1 to 2:30 p.m.: A disability policy and advocacy event is planned. Alexandra Chand ’21 and the Disability Working Group will lead a session about advocacy and lobbying for disability rights-related legislation. Participants will learn how to call and write to elected officials and examine pieces of relevant legislation at the state and federal level. A follow-up event will be planned. Find more information here.

2:45 to 4 p.m.: An antiracist solutions and strategies workshop will be hosted by Kye Harris ’21. The workshop will address the history of leadership, movements, and protests, and explore action plans for individuals, collectives, and institutions to combat discrimination in all forms. Find more information here.

4 to 5:10 p.m.: Music for All: MLK Concert is planned. Hosted by Jacob Dikelsky and Music for All, the virtual concert will highlight music of BIPOC composers. Find more information here.

All of the Lawrence events require advance registration. You can find more information here.

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

Celebrating the life of John Koopman, founder of Lawrence’s opera program

John Koopman, 1989 (Lawrence University Archives)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is mourning the death of John Koopman, the founder of Lawrence’s opera program and a longtime voice professor in the Conservatory of Music.

Koopman joined the faculty in 1960 and continued to teach until his retirement in 1994. He died Dec. 22 in Appleton at age 88.

“Professor John Koopman influenced generations of Lawrentians and created our wonderful opera program,” said Kenneth Bozeman, emeritus professor of music who worked with Koopman for more than a dozen years and maintained a friendship through the years. “We are so grateful for the immense impact he had on our Conservatory.”

Koopman served for many years as chair of the Voice Department.

He forged a second career following retirement, becoming a widely published opera journalist, with his writings appearing in publications around the world.

It was his deep love of opera that brought him to Lawrence more than 60 years ago and set him on his journey to create an opera program within the Conservatory, an endeavor that has since grown into the robust and renowned program it is today, led for the past seven years by Copeland Woodruff, the first director of opera studies in the program’s history.

“In the pioneering spirit of John Koopman and his legacy at Lawrence University, especially in founding an opera ensemble, we are dedicating this academic year’s productions to his memory,” Woodruff said. “Having to invent the wheel, again, because of the pandemic, by delving into film techniques, we can only imagine what it must have taken to forge a new theatrical ensemble when Mr. Koopman started the journey. Opera Studies at Lawrence stands on the shoulders of this passionate, kind, and talented maverick.”

Koopman was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth Jane (Hayes) Koopman, who, after retiring from public education, ran Lawrence’s sight-singing program for many years as an adjunct faculty member. He also was preceded in death by his daughter, Ann Koopman. He is survived by two sons, William and James, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Nancy Marsh Stowe ’61, a beloved companion of recent years, said Koopman cherished his enduring relationship with Lawrence and the hundreds of students he taught and mentored through the years.

“Teaching was paramount for John, and he had a remarkable ability to connect with students, both personally and with regard to their voice development and potential,” she said. “He did not impose on them his vision for them, but encouraged them to find that for themselves and supported their choices.”

For those who worked with Koopman in the halls of the Conservatory, the memories are indelible. Bozeman called him “broadly educated, literate, erudite, and witty” and said sharing the stage with him was a joy.

“As a performer, John was a solid, stylish, serious singer, but also a hilarious comedic actor,” Bozeman said. “I both thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from performing with him in recital and concert. The prioritized attention he gave to expression, elegant diction, and compelling communication were exemplary for us all. His friendship, humanity, and wit will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.”

The family expects to hold a memorial celebration in Appleton later in 2021 and asks that if you wish to make a gift in John Koopman’s memory, please make it to the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

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