January 2020

Month: January 2020

On Main Hall Green With … Katie Schweighofer: Strength in gender studies

Katie Schweighofer poses for a photo on Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Katie Schweighofer (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Katie Schweighofer, who arrived at Lawrence in the fall of 2018, is playing a key role in growing and developing the Gender Studies department.

With deep interests in feminist and queer theory and LGBTQ studies, she has focused much of her academic work on the histories and geography of sexual identity, and the institutional and cultural messages that have and continue to frame those conversations.

Before joining Lawrence as an assistant professor of gender studies, Schweighofer taught at Dickinson College following appointments at Butler University and Indiana University. A native of Rochester, Mich., Schweighofer earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a certificate in women’s studies from Princeton University. She also holds a master of arts from New York University and earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in gender studies from Indiana.

We caught up with Schweighofer to talk about her work and her interests on and off campus.


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

I’ve chosen to do this work because it is personally meaningful to me, and I hope each of my students is able to similarly connect with some of the ideas in my courses. Our lives and selves are shaped by gender, sexuality, race, class, and a myriad of other factors — identifying, deconstructing, analyzing, and rethinking those institutional and cultural messages is empowering and revolutionary work.  My work is most rewarding when I hear how our work in the classroom continues to affect students long after they’ve left the university. 

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

I’m thrilled to be here as the first full faculty member entirely in Gender Studies, both for what that represents — including decades of hard work by other faculty — and for the possibilities for the future the role offers. Right now, I’m focused on building our gender studies program, helping our students connect with one another and with our alums doing exciting work in the world. 

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

My career trajectory has taken me to places like Kathmandu, Nepal, where I worked with a group called the Women’s Foundation, a group of deeply passionate women who worked tirelessly to help others escape domestic violence and support themselves through sustainable agriculture and textile work. I have also found my way to material closer to my home in Michigan, studying Midwestern LGBTQ histories that challenge the narrative that queer life only happens in cities like New York and San Francisco.


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

Hmm, perhaps writing for the New York Times Gender & Society desk? Or training for a spot on the Great British Bake-Off. Or playing professional rugby. Honestly, all of those jobs would take a lot of work to get to but they sure would be fun.

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

My favorite campus spot was shown to me by a student on my interview visit — the path along the river, from below Briggs east to the old railroad trestle. It is a wonderfully peaceful walk with just the sounds of the river and the rustle of leaves to keep you company.

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

I’m not really a person with all-time favorites, but on my nightstand recently are copies of Margaret Atwood’s new book The Testaments (the follow-up to her classic The Handmaid’s Tale), Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox (a queer story of an 18th century thief — I’ve donated a copy to LU’s library!), and the immigration story Mama’s Nightingale by Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, which I’ve been reading with my twin 7-month-olds. 

I’ve been listening to The Highwomen’s debut album a fair amount recently — they’re a newly formed country music group of four independent artists who are writing smart and compelling songs with a feminist bent. Check them out.

I really like classical Hollywood cinema —American films from the mid-twentieth century — and recently re-watched the classic Calamity Jane (1953) and my wife’s favorite, Singin’ in the Rain (1952). If you haven’t seen them I highly recommend you watch The Celluloid Closet first, a 1995 documentary about LGBTQ people and representations in Hollywood. Then watch them with an eye to the ways in which the films portray gender and sexuality — and you’ll love Calam and Cosmo Brown even more.

See more On Main Hall Green With … features: Dominica Chang, Stefan Debbert, Tim Spurgin, Deanna Donohue, Abhishek Chakraborty.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

NewMusic Initiative takes composer Asha Srinivasan on 3-year creative journey

Asha Srinivasan stands for a portrait in Memorial Chapel.
Asha Srinivasan, an associate professor of music at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, has been commissioned to write a choral piece for East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Composer Asha Srinivasan has been no stranger to navigating the world of music creation over the past decade.

The associate professor of music at Lawrence University has composed 21 commissioned pieces since arriving at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in 2008, mostly at the behest of performance groups seeking new chamber music from emerging composers. But the request that came to her a year ago took her by surprise and kicked off a three-year musical relationship with students at a college more than a thousand miles away.

Srinivasan was chosen to write a piece of music commissioned as part of East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. She’s now into the second year of a three-year process that is allowing her to stretch her musical boundaries and to represent Lawrence in new ways. She spent two days in Greenville, North Carolina, during Lawrence’s fall term reading period working with East Carolina composition students, a prelude to the choral music she’ll be writing in the months ahead.

“It’s a prestigious commission because it’s such a selective process,” Srinivasan said.

The ECU initiative works like this: Undergraduate and graduate students in the school’s music program spend the better part of a semester listening to music and surveying the landscape for composers they’d like to work with. Composers need not apply. Any composer from anywhere may be in the mix, unbeknownst to them until someone from the program reaches out.

Once a selection has been made, the school contacts the composer to make an introduction and an offer, to talk about committing to a three-year process and, if interested, to hammer out the details. The first year is about doing that groundwork, making the connection, and giving the composer the opportunity to choose which ECU music group he or she would like to write for. The second year involves interactions between the composer and the students — hence Srinivasan’s recent two-day trip to Greenville — and the start of the writing process. The third year brings the completion of the piece and eventually a premiere performance.

Through it all, the ECU students get an education in the commissioning process. Srinivasan gets a chance to tackle her work in a whole new way. And Lawrence gets an important connection with a new batch of young musicians.

One never knows when those types of connections will circle back, Srinivasan said, noting how she first came to the attention of the ECU students.

“It turns out that one of the cello graduate students had been an undergraduate at Western Illinois University when I was featured there as a guest composer several years ago,” she said. “She had heard a flute and cello piece of mine called Dviraag. She got interested in my music, and so she’s the one who first put in my name.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here

Because it’s a three-year process — most of her commissioned work has happened in five- or six-month windows — this project gives Srinivasan new possibilities. Not only did she get to choose the ensemble she’d be writing for, but composer Edward Jacobs, a professor in ECU’s School of Music and the founding director of the NewMusic Initiative, encouraged her to try new things.

“He said, ‘This is a chance for experimentation,’” Srinivasan said. “It’s usually a performance group that commissions me, and it’s usually chamber music, and so the instrumentation is already a given. But in this case, I got to choose the instrumentation. I chose to write for their chamber singers, which is kind of like our concert choir. I haven’t done much work for the choir. That isn’t an opportunity that’s come my way, but it’s also something I’ve stayed away from or veered away from. So, I’m using this as an opportunity to embrace something that would be major growth for me and push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit.”

A new commission is launched in the three-year cycle each year. The process, ECU’s Jacobs said, benefits both the composer and the students, in part because of the collaboration that’s built in.

“The lengthy span of a commission allows a composer to become a part of our community through multiple visits to campus,” he said. “It allows for students and composer to collaborate on sketches during the work’s development, and allows the composer a longer time-span than usual for a commissioned piece to be written.”

Srinivasan said it was on her two-day excursion to the ECU campus that she realized how valuable this sort of thing was for the Conservatory here.

“I listened to their ensemble and talked to their composition students,” she said. “I gave nine private lessons. I met with master’s students. And I came as a representative of Lawrence, of course, so they got to know Lawrence.

“I think it helps give Lawrence more notice. People already know of it. But it helps to have that personal connection. People see my teaching and it represents Lawrence’s commitment to me as a composer and shows that my work as a composer is supported.”

Srinivasan said she’s in the early stages of writing. The composition will be finished in time for its premiere at ECU in the spring of 2021.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: