Month: January 2020

On Main Hall Green With … Jesús Gregorio Smith: Open mind, open heart

Jesús Gregorio Smith poses for a portrait near the front steps to Main Hall.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jesús Gregorio Smith

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jesús Gregorio Smith, who joined Lawrence University in 2017 as an assistant professor of ethnic studies, helped to launch Ethnic Studies as a major.

He’s taught classes on such topics as research methods in communities of color, sociology of black Americans and sociology of Latinx. He has organized the annual Continuing Significance of Race undergraduate conference. And at last year’s Cultural Expressions, Lawrence students presented him with the Beta Psi Nu Faculty Excellence Award.

Smith also is a finalist for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s 2020 Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty.

A native of El Paso, Texas, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in sociology at the University of Texas at El Paso, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Texas A&M University. His initial thesis work looked at race and sexuality on the U.S.-Mexico border and the implications it has on dating and sexual health. At A&M, he broadened that work to examine online dating, sexual racism, and HIV/AIDS in quantitative and qualitative fashions. 

A book he contributed to and co-edited, Home and Community for Queer Men of Color: The Intersections of Race and Sexuality, was recently published through Lexington Books.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I want you to know that my goal is to touch, challenge and change every one of you in a different way. When you teach students about race and racism, often times you get young — or older — people who are deeply miseducated and undereducated on the U.S.’s racial history. As a result, many people misunderstand the racial present. So, it is my job to walk you through that history, and it can be painful, difficult and depressing much of the time. Yet, it can also be inspiring, powerful and influential other times. So, as long as you walk into my class with an open mind and heart, you may be challenged on old beliefs you may have held that were misguided, you may be touched by hearing a story from one of your fellow classmates of color who experienced something similar to whatever we are reading that day, and you may be changed forever from learning about something that is painful and important to know. If you put in the work, you will rise to the occasion and come out a better person for it. That is a big challenge for me, but I never back down from a challenge.

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

Since being at Lawrence there is so much I have accomplished and done that I am excited about. My Intro to Ethnic Studies class works with Beth Zinsli, the director and curator of the Wriston Art Center Galleries, to put together these historical and artistic exhibits on race and ethnicity. The class is broken into four groups, and each group covers a different stairwell on each floor of Briggs Hall with a different topic. Each year it is so awesome to see what the students produce. This past year, for instance, a group focused on ethnic hair and how it relates to identity, and they interviewed several students about their hair and even created a video that played on a loop about ethnic hair. A professor took her class to check out that exhibit because it went with a topic she was teaching in her class. Last year, a group looked at the injustices of the criminal justice system in the lives of people of color and imagined what their mug shots would look like if they were victimized by a system stacked against them. It was so powerful it brought a faculty member to tears. It’s become a highlight of the Ethnic Studies program here at Lawrence.

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?

I am a gay, Afro-Latino man from El Paso, Texas. The last place I’d imagine my life ending up is Appleton, Wisconsin! Yet, my partner, Michael Reed (animal and psychology lab technician), and I have made it a home. I have grown really close with some faculty of color (Thelma Jimenez-Aglada in Spanish, Sigma Colon in History, Israel Del Toro in Biology, and John Holiday in the Con) who help it feel like a home away from home. We have done so many fun things like walk across Lake Winnebago when it is frozen, attend a bunch of shows for really cheap at the Fox Cities PAC, and catch all the live music in the area like Jazz at the Trout or Mile of Music. My partner keeps a calendar of events so he can show me how busy we are all the time. I didn’t believe him, but now he has evidence that five times out of the week, we are usually doing something fun.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

If I wasn’t teaching, I would undoubtedly be a civil rights lawyer or a medical doctor for Doctors Without Borders. I say undoubtedly because I honestly can see myself getting another degree while I am a professor so I can make a bigger impact in my community. So, don’t be surprised if you find out I am taking online law classes somewhere.

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

I like working with my writing group in Youngchild 218. It’s nice and secluded and we don’t often get bothered. I also love the large wooden area by Briggs when it is open. It is just a nice place to chill and look at the water. I’m a Scorpio, which is a water sign so I love looking at the water and being by water.

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

One Book: I love the book Annihilation. We read it in our book club and it is one of the weirdest, creepiest and most beautiful books I have ever read. It’s about this pristine part of nature that looks too good to be true, and it is. On the surface it is a scary book about this nightmarish landscape and potential predator, but underneath the surface is this beautiful meditation on life, relationships, nature, and regret. It is worth a read. The movie starring Natalie Portman is pretty good as well.

One recording: I love the song Iphone by Dababy and Nicki Minaj from his 2019 album Kirk. The bars in the song are deliriously good — Nicki kills it, man — and I feel like Dababy is having a moment right now in hip hop that is unforgettable. He reminds me of Nelly from when I was younger, just a young southern rapper who puts on a helluva performance. 

One Film: I saw the film Hustlers with a bunch of friends. It’s a JLo movie so I wasn’t expecting anything good, but it had Cardi B and Lizzo and a bunch of women of color headlining, so I gave it a shot. It was awesome.

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

2 Minutes With … Hannah Jones: Inspired to find her voice in opera

Hannah Jones ’22 sings in a studio class being held in All Saints Episcopal Church in Appleton.

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

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Hannah Jones ’22 remembers the moment she fell in love with opera, and knew immediately that would be her calling.

She was a high school student in Houston and was part of a music trip to New York City.

“I went to New York because I was singing with Houston Travel Choir,” Jones said. “We were singing at Carnegie Hall, and we went to see The Phantom of the Opera.  At first, I was like, ‘I don’t want to see The Phantom of the Opera, this white show; I want to see The Lion King.’

“But when we went to see The Phantom of the Opera, the phantom was a black man, which is not common at all; usually that role is played by a white man. I saw it and was on the edge of my chair. I realized this is what I want to do, this is what I have to do.”  

Jones has been pursuing voice ever since, more specifically opera. In her second year at Lawrence University, she’s majoring in music performance (voice) in the Conservatory of Music.

She has been excelling at it since arriving at Lawrence in the fall of 2018, learning under the tutelage of voice professor John Holiday, also from Houston. She participated in a National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition, taking a first place honor. She competed again this year, and won for the second year in a row.  

“During my first year, my professor, John Holiday, taught us not to focus on winning but to focus on doing your best, so regardless if you win or not, you still feel good,” Jones said. “I felt good about my performance, so when I won, I was like, this is even better. It felt good, but it wasn’t the end all be all. I want to win bigger things and just do better.”  

Learn more about John Holiday here and the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

Besides winning in the NATS competition for the second year in a row, Jones has had lead roles in shows on campus and has been chosen to sing in Italy this summer.  

“Being here, I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities,” Jones said. “Like this summer, I got a role in an opera in Italy. I’m really excited about that. So, I’m learning the opera for here (Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in March) and the one for there in June. It never stops, but it’s fun.” 

An early start

Jones was drawn to music early in her life.

“I’ve always been singing,” she said. “My mom is a choir director, and I come from a musical family in general.” 

Having a career in the field of music has been part of her vision. 

“Originally, I played cello for eight years, and I wanted to be an instrumentalist,” she said. “I would tell people I wanted to be the next Yo-Yo Ma … but in the high school I went to, we weren’t able to do two art areas; you have to choose one.” 

When faced with having to choose one area of interest in high school, Jones chose to set aside the cello and focus on her voice.   

You can check out Jones’ talent when she performs March 6-8 in Lawrence Opera Theatre’s  Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in Stansbury Theater.  

Good advice

We asked Jones to share two tips for excelling in the Conservatory: 

1: “Take care of your body. Make sure to drink water and get enough sleep.”

2: “Practice your music every day. Not just the notes; look deeper into the music. What are you trying to say?” 

Awa Badiane is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Sophie Dion-Kirschner: Pre-med studies mix well with outreach

Sophie Dion-Kirschner volunteers at Edison Elementary School. Here she talks with her LARY Buddy student.
Sophie Dion-Kirschner talks with her LARY Buddy at Edison Elementary School. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

While Sophie Dion-Kirschner ’20 completes a double major in biochemistry and biology, she reaps the joys of giving back to her community, both on campus and off. Her volunteer efforts, she says, fit quite nicely with her preparations to become a doctor.

The start of something new

Dion-Kirschner began her volunteering journey when she was a first-year student exploring what to study. She found the LARY Buddy program and hasn’t looked back.

The LARY Buddy program pairs Lawrence students with students at Edison Elementary School in Appleton who struggle academically or socially. For two hours a week, the Lawrence students visit their buddies to have lunch, hang out at recess, work in the classroom and act as an all-around support system. Dion-Kirschner is one of many examples of the program’s success.

The Buddies stay matched until one of them graduates, ensuring a bond that paves a path for an impactful experience for both students.

“I’ve been with my Little Buddy for three years now,” Dion-Kirschner says. “I’ve watched her go from first grade to fourth grade and the change is incredible. I’ve gotten to see some incredible relationships that come out of this.”

Being a buddy inspired her to become the child advocacy coordinator at Lawrence’s Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE), where she helps match LU students with Edison buddies, and advertises the program.

“I’m a LARY coordinator because I believe in it,” Dion-Kirschner says. “The program is really important.”

Learn more about the LARY Buddy program here.

Broadening horizons

Dion-Kirschner has expanded her off-campus outreach. She recently started volunteering at Even Start, a program based at the Community Early Learning Center (CELC) in Appleton that teaches English to mothers who are new to the United States, while also providing free daycare for their children.

Once a week, Dion-Kirschner tutors the mothers alongside the teacher of one of the eight weekly class sessions. If you’re interested in volunteering, having no teaching experience is no problem; all you need is a willingness to make a difference in someone’s life.

“These moms are an inspiration to me,” Dion-Kirschner says. “Some are working two jobs, have several kids and are learning English.”

Learn more about Even Start here.

One for all

Though she wears many hats, Dion-Kirschner points out that there’s unity in her role as a student on a pre-med track and a volunteer.

“Working at the volunteer center for so long has shown me that I don’t want volunteering in the community to be this thing I do on the side,” she says. “I want that to be my goal in my career. Volunteering is so great because you start thinking of things you haven’t thought about before.

“Volunteering gives me the opportunity, as a doctor, to see the changes I need to make to serve people and make a difference.”

Dion-Kirschner sees volunteering potential in everyone, including her fellow Lawrentians. It’s no secret that Lawrence students are busy. But Dion-Kirschner turns that into a strength. She offers the following advice to aspiring volunteers:

“If you want to volunteer, the best thing you can do for yourself is remind yourself what’s important to you. If it’s important to you, you’ll do it.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Evan Bravos: A Grammy nod on the road to a life in music

Evan Bravos ’10 calls Chicago home but he has performed all over the country and Europe: “The Midwest, and Chicago specifically, has always remained my musical epicenter.” (Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography)

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Evan Bravos ’10, an opera singer who is featured on an album nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Opera singer Evan Bravos ’10 has a new entry for his already impressive and growing resume — Grammy nominee.

The Greek-American baritone is prominently featured on a recording nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for best choral performance. Sander: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, composed by Kurt Sander, is an original recording of Russian Orthodox choral music in English language. It’ll be in contention for a Grammy at the Jan. 26 awards show in Los Angeles.

The nomination is the latest win for Bravos as he builds an opera career from his home base in Chicago. In the past year, he has debuted with the Milwaukee Symphony in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, sang the role of Inman in the West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain with Music Academy of the West, and made his debut with the Ravinia Festival in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.  

Up next is a production of The Merry Widow (Jan. 24-26) with New Philharmonic in Glen Ellyn, Illinois — Lawrence alumna Alisa Jordheim ’09 joins him in the cast — and then the Chicago premiere of Jake Heggie’s Two Remain with Chicago Fringe Opera in late March and early April before embarking on a series of performances of The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 9 Songs.

Another Grammy connection: Lawrence’s Albright featured on Bon Iver album.

Bravos came into Lawrence with the Class of 2010. He stayed for five years, graduating in 2011 with a double major in vocal performance and music education. He would go on to earn a master of music degree from Northwestern University.

“Lawrence prepared me for a life in music in more ways than I could have ever imagined,” Bravos said.

We caught up with Bravos in advance of the Grammys to talk about the Sander album, his blossoming opera career, and the work he put in at Lawrence to prepare him for the stage.

On being involved with the landmark Sander album:

Peter Jerminhov, music director at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, asked me to join him in recording an album in the summer of 2017. Chicago has been my home base since graduating from Lawrence, and I had come to know many of the churches and directors in town. Peter has quite the extensive resume, and I was very excited to join his project.

For the Kurt Sander album, we rehearsed and recorded at the New Gračanica Monastery in Lindenhurst, about an hour north of Chicago. The week of recording was monastic in and of itself. We arrived on the grounds every morning at 8 a.m. and rehearsed well into the late afternoon. For daily lunch in the humble church hall, a few of the monks and nuns prepared us very filling traditional Serbian cuisine. We were completely absorbed into the culture. The majority, if not all, of the singers recruited for this project were of Orthodox heritage — be it Greek, Russian, Serbian, Armenian or Romanian — so it was really a very exciting and collective collaboration. 

On why the project was so personally satisfying:

I grew up attending an Orthodox church in the suburbs of Chicago, though my heritage is Greek, not Russian. Growing up, I sang in the church choir, occasionally cantered for baptisms and weddings and played as organist. I had always had a fondness for Orthodox music: simple and down-to-earth, but also divine. Professionally, I had sung some of the featured works in various choirs, but this was the first project dedicated exclusively to the genre that I had been fortunate enough to work on. 

While at Lawrence, I also served as choir director of St. Nicholas, the local Greek Orthodox parish in Appleton. The job served me twofold: it helped me maintain my cultural ties while allowing me to cultivate my musical tastes. By my fifth year, the choir had grown to be the focal point of that small church. Frankly, it was the glue holding the community together. This choir was made up of only six singers, but we always sang in four parts, a rarity in most Greek churches. I can honestly say that those five years were very important to my spiritual and musical growth.

On the excitement of the Grammy nomination:

There had been some earlier buzz about it potentially happening, but I was completely shocked the day that nomination was announced.

On how his Lawrence experience prepared him for the opera stage, this recording and a myriad of other musical opportunities:

The academic and musical rigor of the college/conservatory combo was invaluable in every way. Being fully immersed in a culture of curiosity and of unending learning and surrounded by other deep thinkers who even during their college careers wanted to do more than just think was infectious in the best way possible. When I think of Lawrence, I think of Midwestern work ethic meeting global perspective: Age-old, tried and true values intersecting with an ever-more-demanding modern world. My time at LU taught me how to organize words, thoughts, and time, not to mention my craft as a singer — thank you, Kenneth Bozeman — and how to help shape my own world as an artist and the world around me. 

More here on Lawrence Conservatory of Music

See more Lighting the Way With … features on these Lawrence alumni: Yexue Li ’10, Rana Marks ’12, and Terry Moran ’82, and additional alumni features here.

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

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.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu