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PossePlus Retreat raises conversations about “hope, hate and race”

Desi LaPoole
A&E Editor

Last weekend, Wooster Posse scholars brought two guests with them to the annual PossePlus Retreat (PPR), a weekend full of activities aimed at guiding participants through discussions about issues individuals face at the national and campus level. Each spring semester, people from different sections of the College community come together to discuss topics of political and social issues in the country. This year’s theme, “Hope, Hate and Race in the United States,” hoped to dive deeply into the conversation about race.

Over the course of last weekend, Feb. 9-11, participants in PPR conducted heavy conversations about race in America, specifically America under President Trump. Through this year’s theme, facilitators of the retreat raised questions about the changing landscape of discussing race in this country, some of which included: What are we talking about when we discuss race? What are we leaving out? How does allyship play a role in these conversations, movements and marches?

Discussions throughout the weekend focused on answering these questions by looking at different topics such as cultural appropriation, identity and whiteness.

Vy Vu ’18, a Posse scholar’s “plus,” said that she felt fortunate to be with a group of people who were able to openly have vulnerable, honest and constructive conversations. “I learned a lot about others and felt driven and more committed to working towards changes,” she said.

One of the primary goals participants agreed on accomplishing in the weekend was thinking of solutions to the issues raised during these discussions. Kamal Morgan ’20, another “plus” on the retreat, particularly enjoyed one activity focused on solving issues within identity groups. In this activity, participants broke off into small groups based on different subcategories of identities, such as “Black in the suburbs,” “Latino” and “first generation and low-income college student.”

“You can go and feel comfortable with other people, because you might not have known they identified the same way as you,” explained Morgan. “You can go on to tell your personal stories within the group and find ways to improve your group’s conditions on campus.”

Korri Palmer ’20, a Posse scholar and member of Posse 9, recalled that “the most challenging discussion for me was deciding what change I actually wanted to see within our campus and national environment.” According to Palmer, solving a problem as large and complex as racism is easier said than done.

These conversations would not have been as successful if participants had not established common ground before diving into a three-day long discussion on race. Friday evening was primarily focused on introducing participants to the topic and to each other. About 81 participants from the College went on the retreat this year, and for some participants, many of those were new faces.

Group ice-breaker activities were used to introduce participants to each other, not only by name but through life stories. Pairs were given questions such as, “What in your life has recently given you joy?” in order to help familiarize people who would otherwise be strangers. These types of ice breaker activities not only helped introduce people to one another, but also brought them together.

Morgan noted the inclusive atmosphere during the retreat. “I felt my value wasn’t diminished because I wasn’t a Posse scholar, but that I am important in many of these people’s lives,” he said.

The accompanying staff and faculty members added to the inclusivity of the retreat. Palmer said, “I enjoy PPR because it allows me to connect with faculty and staff along with my fellow scholars on campus. I always feel like I come out of PPR with stronger bonds than before.”

These bonds helped participants feel comfortable to discuss the topic of the retreat together. Meonyez Goodwin ’18, a “plus,” stated, “Sometimes, being at The College of Wooster makes it difficult to have certain conversations, but PPR makes it easy to feel comfortable with others who are different than you.”

PPR has served as a forum for students, faculty and administration to come together to discuss these issues and possible solutions. Many participants are hopeful that through these talks, people within the College community will start to see progressive changes on campus.

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Art history students curate new exhibit in CWAM

Ellie Kahn
Contributing Writer

Throughout the semester, Wooster students have been collaborating with The College of Wooster Art Museum (CWAM) for an interactive multi-dimensional approach to learning.

CWAM has been an integral part of the upper-level art history course titled The Art of Medieval Devotion, which is taught by Professor Kara Morrow. Students in the course have also been working alongside Kitty Zurko, director of CWAM.

The Art of Medieval Devotion has a variety of focuses. Mackenzie Clark ’19, a student in the course, explains that the class has been learning about “devotional arts of the Middle Ages, as well as the kind of work that goes into curating an art exhibit, like loaning items, marketing the show and arranging a gallery space.”

Students in the course have put these concepts into action by planning the upcoming art exhibition “Saints, Relics, and Images: The Art of Medieval Devotion Research Lab.”

Working closely with Zurko and Morrow, each student was assigned an art piece for the show to thoroughly research, analyze and write about.

By becoming “experts” on a specific piece, the students have been able to learn about devotional arts in the Middle Ages, as well as develop the skills needed to curate an art exhibition.

The pieces included in the exhibition were loaned to CWAM by various organizations, including the Kruizenga Art Museum in Mich., the Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Art Galleries.

According to Clark, this exhibit is particular noteworthy because “it is the first time that CWAM has loaned objects from other museums to use in a student-curated show. This has provided a great opportunity for the students to learn not just about the objects, but about all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into getting the objects here and planning for such a collaborative show.”

The gallery will be open as a Research Lab until March 8 for students in The Art of Medieval Devotion to closely research the objects and put their curating skills into practice. During this time, there will be updates available on CWAM’s social media pages, as well as in the gallery itself.

The gallery space is open to visitors as a research lab during the museum’s regular hours which are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m to 4 p.m.

The exhibition opens to the public on Tuesday, April 17 with a reception from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Burton D. Morgan Gallery, where the students who have curated the exhibit will be presenting and speaking about their research.

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Songwriting Club brings collaborative spirit to the arts

Claire Wineman
Contributing Writer

Being a student at Wooster provides plenty of songwriting material: how many times you’ve eaten cereal in Lowry this week, the deeply philosophical questions posed in class or how cute the black squirrels look in the freezing snow.

For many people on campus though, songwriting already provides one of the best mediums for sorting through their lives — both the trivial and the difficult parts of every day.

According to Jeremy Smucker ’19, “Music is a great combination of both therapy and expression, and a special art form because it connects really quickly to people. When you hear something climactic in a symphony or pop song or folk tune, you feel it in your bones and get goosebumps. I’m attracted to that and want to do it myself.”

Smucker’s lifelong interest in writing songs led him to create Wooster’s new Songwriting Club, which had its first meeting on Saturday, Feb. 10. The club has already attracted students with interests in a variety of genres — everything from folk to electronic music — and included representatives from a wide range of experience levels. Some people had never written music to go with their lyrics, while others struggled with writing words. The mix of students lends well to Smucker’s goal for the club, which emphasizes the process behind songwriting rather than the final product.

“Songwriting is a discipline where it’s really easy to get in your own personal hole and spend lots of hours in your bedroom not talking to anybody, trying to create something that you like, which is really hard to do,” he said. “Creating a club like this allows people — in a very Wooster way — to collaborate with others but do their own independent art.”

Jonathan Guez, a professor of music theory at the College and the faculty advisor for the new club, sees the organization as an opportunity for students to overcome some of the obstacles that plague young songwriters, especially the desire to create a perfect composition from the beginning.

“The process of writing a song should be the process of trying to make it better. The worst thing you can possibly do is have it crystallize as an object that’s protected from revision. The worst imaginable thing is that that object somehow becomes protected from revision. Take it apart, break it, try it with this, take the chorus out and put a new chorus in and feel it with all these different options! Don’t think of that utterance as being unalterable.” Guez said.

For now, the club plans to hold three-part meetings: sharing group members’ songs, learning about and discussing some aspect of songwriting and the presentation of an interesting new prompt for everyone to write to before the next meeting.

“Jeremy said something yesterday about how this will be a no-judge place, and I think that’s what it needs to be and that’s wonderful, but I would qualify that a tiny bit by saying this, ideally for me, if I were a part of it, I would want to come in there and have somebody say, ‘Look, that could be better. Maybe you could do this or could do that,’” Guez said.

The activities are open-ended to play to everyone’s interests, while still creating a sense of camaraderie in the common experience of songwriting; nothing beats creating a song alone in your bedroom, but time spent going through the process with others may very well be a close second.

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“12 Strong” is Weak

There are many thought provoking, artful and compelling war films — “12 Strong” is not one of them. Throughout its two hour run time, I was amazed by how blatantly bland and formulaic the film was, especially because it was based on a compelling true story.

“12 Strong” dramatizes the actions of a dozen American Special Forces operatives who were sent into Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 to aid Afghan fighters battling the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Their story stands out from the thousands of other declassified missions by Special Forces in what we have come to call the War on Terror because, at a crucial point, these 12 fighters made a charge on horseback against the Taliban. The charge cleared a path for Afghan fighters to liberate the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a key victory in the fight against the Taliban. The city was taken and the soldiers returned home, resulting in the movie ending on a high note.

On paper, the film boasts an impressive cast, yet their talent is wasted by a shoddy script. Chris Hemsworth plays the team’s leader, and it appears he was cast with the purpose of looking rugged and not much else. The Hemsworths are not actors who are hired for their emotional range, and Chris is no exception. Veteran actors Willaim Fichnter and Rob Riggle both appear as senior U.S. Army officers, and yet their theatrical talent is squandered since they spend almost the entire film standing in a tent explaining the plot to each other.

The movie buys into all the popular American tropes of a film about modern war. The popular subplot of the benevolent American soldier mentoring a local kid, the one-dimensionally evil Muslim antagonist whose motivations are never explored and the incompetent local allies are all popular tropes seen before that are repeated in “12 Strong.”

The expected flag waving occurs; the Americans are, after all, the heroes of the movie, and this is accomplished by writing the Afghan characters so they come across as petty and at times downright cowardly. In the climactic battle, it is the Americans who lead the Afghans to victory.

In the end, what stood out to me the most was the film’s hollow message of revenge. Hemsworth’s character is handed a metal fragment from World Trade Center before he leaves on the mission. At one point, he turns to his men and says, “If we don’t stop these guys, what happened back home will happen again and again.” After the climactic battle, he buries the fragment in the Afghan soil as if to say that he has avenged the 9/11 attacks. No mention is made of the fact that tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers would soon enter Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, a war that continues to this day with no end in sight, and a death toll that conservative estimates put at 125,000 and counting.

In addition to this, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have by no means stopped terror attacks from happening. Therefore, the film rings hollow as we the audience know that while this battle was a success, the war was not, and no Hollywood puff piece can change that.

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Tartan Talks illuminate reality of success after Wooster

Katie Harvey
Contributing Writer

Described as a TEDx event with a “Wooster twist” by emcee Marcus Bowers ’19, the Tartan Talks brought four recent Wooster alumni to the Gault Recital Hall stage on Feb. 10. The event was brought to life by Marina Rosales ’15, the event planner for the College’s center for entrepreneurship in A.P.E.X. Her goal was for students to realize that their futures are uncertain but nonetheless bright.

“Whatever path they [choose] will have purpose. It may not be what they first planned… but it will all come together,” said Rosales.

During her talk, Shyniece Ferguson ’14 spoke to that oh-so-familiar feeling of uncertainty faced by college students. She recounted her own time at Wooster, saying, “I felt that I did not have an actual tangible idea of how to get to where I wanted to be.” Nevertheless, her education and persistence allowed her to combine her loves of hip-hop, feminism and Africana studies, eventually leading her to a career as a publicist at the 300 Entertainment record label.

Amelia Kemp ’21 explained, “it’s really interesting to just come and hear what people have done with their degree.” The speakers served as reassurance to her that her education will play a vital part in her future. “I’m going to be okay,” said Kemp.

Speaker Taylor Delhagen ’06, reflecting on his own education, participation in Teach for America and research in India, concluded that in a world of complexity, education should allow students to form their own views by investigating the whole story.

“We, as educators and learners, have to be willing to listen to other peoples’ truth with the same ferocity that we tell our own,” he said.

Abena Boamah ’13, founder of skin care company Hanahana Beauty, expanded on this discussion of education in the context of her own trip to Ghana. She explained that “every interaction you have with someone is a possibility of a learning experience.” Today, she lives out this ideal by using her business as a medium to share the stories of the Ghanaian women with whom she has formed relationships.

By attending the talks, Sam Casey ’21 took the opportunity to grow in his confidence that Wooster is giving him the tools to succeed in the future.

“They could bring in a speaker from anywhere… but I think that hearing it from someone who graduated from here makes it more relatable,” said Casey. “I can see a successful path for myself.”

“What is your narrative? Think about that,” Avantika Daing ’95 concluded. Applause erupted from the audience in appreciation of the previous two hours spent indulging in the stories of four Wooster alumni. It was an awfully fitting way to end the first annual Tartan Talks: turning the narrative over to the audience full of Wooster students, faculty members and community members.

Daing attributed her success to the multitude of skills she acquired at Wooster. Although her career path has been a bit irregular, these skills and her incredibly hard work have helped her to write and rewrite her own narrative, eventually finding her true passion in consumer technology, opening career opportunities for those in minority groups. As the final speaker, she challenged the audience to write their own stories. “Your narrative is what’s going to differentiate you as you look beyond Wooster,” she said.

In the lobby, professors embraced their former students, and current students circulated trays of muffins and fruit, sipping and nibbling and discussing the stories that had just been told. The atmosphere was one of a community. A community celebrating the value of a Wooster education. A community indulging in the narratives of those who have passed through. A community inspiring the next generation to write their own.

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A weekly inside look at the unique faces and personalities that make up The College of Wooster community.

Sally Kershner
Features Editor

What did your path to your job at Wooster look like?

My professional career started off as a public school music teacher. I taught primarily middle school and high school and then decided that I wanted to go back for graduate level conducting. I ended up deciding to do a doctorate in conducting and then came straight from that to Wooster. I had done some adjunct teaching prior to that at the university level, but this was my first full-time college position.

You’ve taught a variety of age groups. How do you adjust your teaching style to those different age groups and what do you keep the same?

Actually, a lot of it is the same, which is surprising. I don’t think people are surprised when they see me work with older students, but they are surprised when they see me work with seventh graders, and a lot of my approach is really still the same. Obviously, some of the concepts need more explaining, and they’re obviously not as experienced in music, but the general teaching style actually stays pretty consistent.

How do you balance your work with Wooster and the Cleveland Orchestra? How do those two jobs inform each other?

The balance is tough, because I’m constantly learning new music and preparing for rehearsals, and they’re rehearsals in a completely different style. For example, Wooster does a lot of a cappella music, a lot of shorter works, and Cleveland does, of course, big symphonic repertoire. It’s a lot of preparation, and I’ve had to be even more careful this year just carefully organizing myself so I can keep myself from going crazy, so I can keep everything manageable and keep the schedule manageable.

I would say the two jobs really inform one another in a really profound way. My work with Cleveland — I mean, the musicians are at just such an incredibly high level, and I feel like I learn just so much from being in that environment on a regular basis. It makes me have an even higher standard which I, of course, then bring here. But what I take from Wooster is that there is this very special feeling of community and I would say the environment here is almost more — I don’t know if nurturing is the right word, but certainly a feeling of community that I now want to take everywhere. I certainly take that there.

In the Cleveland Orchestra, do you feel that your role is one of a teacher, or is it less so since you learn a lot from them?

Part of it is. Certainly in working with the orchestra chorus, since they’re all volunteers. So although there are some people in there who might be a high school director or elementary music teacher, most of the people have jobs that are not in music. So there is a pretty big element of teaching that goes into that. When I’m with the instrumentalists from the orchestra, there’s no teaching required whatsoever.

You’ve said that you need to balance your personal life as well, so how do you spend your free time?

I try to make time for myself every day because if I don’t, then I feel like I could just be consumed by work. I think I learned at a younger age that that’s just really unhealthy for me. Especially being in music, you’ve always got rehearsals and you’ve always got something else that needs to be done.

I try to make time for myself every morning, so I’ll wake up at least a couple of hours before I need to be somewhere — it sounds funny, but I’ll wake up and then relax. I’ll have coffee, and read the newspaper and just try to ease into the day that way, rather than hitting the ground running. I really like to read, I like to keep up with current events, whether it’s current musical events or political events, just what’s going on in the world. I have cats, so I like to relax with them.

Do you go to concerts that aren’t classical music concerts? Do you listen to other types of music as well?

I would say probably almost everything I see is classical now. I’m going actually maybe next weekend… there’s a group called Roomful of Teeth, I guess you would probably put them in the classical category, but they also do really modern, contemporary vocal literature with extended vocal techniques. I’m going to see them, and I go to see groups like that, but I’d say it’s mostly classical now.

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