This past weekend, students, staff and faculty joined to partake in the annual PossePlus Retreat (PPR). Situated in Salt Fork Park Lodge, a two-hour drive away from the College, this year’s participants were treated to the fun exercises and valuable activities that usually characterize PPR. This year’s theme was “PPR 2020: The State of Politics,” which couldn’t have come at a better time as the 2020 election approaches and it becomes increasingly impor- tant to engage in healthy and productive political discourse. Students, staff and faculty alike got the opportunity to engage in an informal setting and discuss both comfortable and uncomfortable topics.
“I learned about tools to use when having a political discussion: consider being wrong, attack the idea not the individual and just be an active listener,” said Delitza Nieves ’22, who attended the retreat. This can be seen in some of the activities the retreat involved: “One exercise that stood out to me the most was when we were presented with 11 or 12 different qualities posted around the room to make a productive conversation. We were then asked to stand next to the ones that we have the most difficulty with and the ones that we thought we had a good read on; just hearing people reflect on the things that they weren’t good at was nice to hear because it gave people a chance to think about why they were having difficulties in the first place and to think about what steps they can take to become good at it,” said Aryana Rhodes ’22, who was invited to the retreat by a Posse scholar.
Moreover, the retreat involved activities that engaged everyone in simulations of real-life issues so they could have a better understanding of the delicate balance between politics and issue resolution. For instance, one exercise involved a scenario in which a city was hit with an unexpected drought, and the members of the exercise acted as policy makers and had to decide which problems took priority and what the most effective wayof handling the situation was in a designated time frame. These exercises, of course, were not lacking in their production of diverse opinions. “The politics portion of the weekend reminded me of how everything in this country is politicized, and it seems as though you have to have an opinion on something,” added Posse Scholar Perry Worthey ’21. Although the focus of the retreat was embracing different beliefs and discussing difficult topics with an open mind and no judgement, PPR was definitely not short of fun, relaxing activities too. A no-talent talent contest and “warm and fuzzy” (an activity involving writing sticky notes to people to compliment them on their qualities) were just some of the numerous playful events everyone got to enjoy during the weekend.
There was also an emotional event as the last activity of the retreat. “Taps” involved sitting with your eyes closed and everyone taking turns to tap participants on the shoulder in response to prompts such as “tap someone who inspired you.”
“I’m usually sitting in a puddle of emotional tears by the end of it—it is a moving experience to be the recipient of these anonymous gestures of appreciation,”said Director of Campus Dining and Conference Services Marjorie Shamp.
Overall, this was yet another successful and well-rounded PPR and matched the expectations of the previous years. The wide range of events and topics from stimulating political issues to fun icebreakers and activities made the PPR experience one to remember.
Have you ever wanted to share your own unique story with others around you? Do you wonder if others in The College of Wooster community have shared a similar experience? Do you want to feel more unified with your classmates at the College? Wooster Threads was created with these exact ideas in mind.
Wooster Threads, an Instagram page created in the fall of 2019, is dedicated to giving individuals at the College a platform to share their personal stories to inspire others. The idea came to fruition through the efforts of campus photographer Matt Dilyard and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Melissa Anderson. The idea is inspired by Humans of New York, a photography project created in 2010 by Brandon Stanton that highlighted the many stories of people who inhabited the city.
Anna Russell ’23 was a fan of the idea and decided to aid the creation of the page and make it her goal to feature Wooster students in their truest form. “I believe that everyone deserves a voice — an opportunity to share their story undisputedly,” Russell said. “The mission of Wooster Threads is really to highlight tidbits of individual students’ lives within the larger Wooster community and hopefully continue to unify the community.”
Each Instagram post focuses on one particular student or member of the campus com- munity. Interviewers consist of Russell, Kennedey Bell’21, Patrick Redrick ’21 and Yuta Nitanai’21.“I think the people I interview often surprise themselves with how much they are willing to speak about,” Russell said. “Life moves so fast and there is very little empha- sis on actively listening to others, but I think everyone just wants to be heard. If you ask people with genuine interest and show empathy, there’s very little they won’t share, even with a complete stranger.”
The project soon collaborat- ed with the Soft Power Project (SPP) to gain more traction. After hearing about Armel Lee ’19’s Independent Study — which focused on expanding cultural relationships on campus — SPP was conceptualized this past year. “Armel’s project inspired an entire organization dedicated to forming cross-cultural communication on campus with a desire to expand into the greater Wooster community as well,” Bell said.
The three branches of the SPP — WooStories, OpenTable and Wooster Threads — all aim at starting themed conversations between campus and community members to get a glimpse of peoples’ unique circumstances that may be different from their own. “[The SPP] hopes that people will begin to reach out to others who don’t come from the same racial, ethnic, religious, socio- economic, etc. background as they do,” Bell added.
The addition of Wooster Threads was a way for the SPP to have student stories become more individualized and allow students to learn more about people on campus even if they cannot make it to a panel or discussion. “We think interviewing gives a special look into peoples’ lives,” Bell stat- ed. “WooStories and OpenTable are both themed and require people to show up; with WoosterThreads, our inter- viewers go out and find people they may know well or not at all … with sharing on social media, viewers hear deep stories from people who they may never get to have class with or be in a club or in Greek Life together. Wooster students can take five minutes looking through the Wooster Threads page and connect with someone they may only see in Lowry.”
Wooster Threads has already made an impact on students at Wooster and has encouraged them to be vulnerable and share their stories. Liz Olsen ’22 is one student that is honored to have been featured on the page. “I was approached out of the blue and I didn’t really know what to expect or who would end up reading my story, so I had to be vulnerable,” Olsen said. “I’m glad now that I shared what I did; I think it’s a great way for people to tell as much as they want and allow others reading to relate and appreciate others’ differences.” Even those who work for the SPP have been influenced. “I believe that reading about and learning the complex lives of the people around us helps us grow and maintain empathy for each other, which ultimately makes us feel more connected to the community that surrounds us,” Redrick said.
This past Wednesday, Feb. 26, an important event for women’s health and reproductive rights was held on campus — We Can’t Keep Quiet: A Benefit Concert for OneEighty, hosted by the all-treble a cappella group COWBelles.
The concert itself was nothing short of show stopping, but what’s even more amazing about the annual event is its inspired history. 2017 was a rather divisive time for the nation; a president had been newly elected, and the Women’s March had just happened.
Many COWBelles had at- tended the protest in Washington D.C. and wanted to put some of that spirit into their music. As Dzifa Adjei ’20 put it, they “all were feeling some kind of emotion about the election that [they] tried to channel into music.” In 2017, Heather Smith ’17 was approached by K(no)W which is now the Sexual Respect Coalition (SRC), with the possibility of COWBelles performing “’Till It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga at a screening of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which is about victims who have been sexually assaulted on campus fight- ing for justice.
Following that, Smith felt inspired to expand the possibility of a performance into an entire concert to benefit OneEighty, since the COWBelles had already been learning an arrangement of “Quiet” by MILCK, which was performed a cappella at the Women’s March. Smith approached Men Working 4 Change and collab- orated with them to make the concert a reality. Soon, McGaw Chapel was booked, and prizes from the athletics department, admissions and the bookstore were donated for a fundraising raffle, leading to the concert raising over a hundred dollars for OneEighty.
After Smith’s graduation, Adjei, who helped to get the initial concert off the ground, had the idea to make it an annual event. Since then, prize donations have been garnered from local businesses, and more student groups have joined in to perform. This year, in addition to COWBelles, A Round of Monkeys, Merry Kuween of Scots, Shades of Gold and Rat Queen all gave mesmerizing performances.
As the event has grown, so has its impact — donations have more than tripled since 2017. Still, through its evolution, some things have stayed the same. The COWBelles perform “‘Till It Happens To You” and “Quiet” annually. “Quiet” has become the de facto finale, with singers from COWBelles and other a cappella groups singing it onstage together in an often-emotional show of solidarity.
The benefit is important to the College and local community for not only increasing awareness about sexual assault and garnering donations for OneEighty; it also helps to encourage students to engage with the local Wooster community and increases awareness about the support OneEighty provides for both survivors and recovering addicts.
Perhaps most importantly, it provides a brief space for survivors to escape the stigma and hardship that comes with being a survivor and hopefully allows them an opportunity to experience at least some level of catharsis and connection with other students who support them.
For President of COWBelles Annika Balish ’21, “music expresses feelings that words cannot” and “unites” people together. It’s also rare for this many student groups to collaborate on this campus, which shows just how important the event is to the College community.
As a survivor, Adjei calls working on “We Can’t Keep Quiet” “incredibly affirming” and says it is “one of the first spaces that I really felt heard as a survivor,” and that what she hopes to achieve with the concert “is that someone feels less alone, or feels heard, or seen, because [they] chose to be vulnerable and tackle a topic that is difficult to discuss.”
A particularly moving personal anecdote Adjei graciously shared was how the solos in “’Till It Happens To You” weren’t auditioned for in the first year, the reasoning being that those who were comfortable enough to be vulnerable enough to sing it would do so with the confidence of the group supporting them.
On stage, overwhelmed by emotion, the solos were unexpectedly hard to deliver — so Adjei and Smith held hands and ignored the mixed formation of the group to provide each other with emotional support, despite being told to separate to retain the formation of the group.
After Smith graduated, Rachel Tomei ’20 told Adjei that she “knew she wasn’t Heather” and “couldn’t feel what [Adjei] was feeling” but that she would still hold her hand as Adjei sang, and when it came time to perform, Tomei squeezed Adjei’s hand as Adjei delivered her solo while crying.
At this year’s concert, the COWBelles fittingly per- formed an arrangement of “Dog Days are Over” by Florence + The Machine, imbuing the night with a spirit of positivity and hope for the future, along with the usual repertoire of “’Till It Happens To You” and “Quiet.” This year’s concert was focused “more on the uplifting message that one can get through the pain and find happiness after trauma,” according to Balish, rather than the heavy, emotional atmosphere it had in past performances.
Surehouse, Broken Rocks, Bosco’s, Underground’s and more local businesses donated to the concert.
As an attendee, the concert was both moving and uplifting. Seeing all the effort put forth by the COWBelles and other student organizations for an issue that impacts every survivor’s life was deeply comforting, and the tangible solidarity between the performers and attendees made me feel safe and supported as a woman on this campus.
Two Wooster graduates returned to campus on Monday, Feb. 17 for the tenth annual Hochhauser Alumni Panel. Students and faculty gathered in Babcock Formal Lounge to hear from guests Dr. Aaron Lane-Davies ’90 and Elena Soyer ’17, former members of the anthropology and sociology departments, respectively. Both Lane-Davies and Soyer discussed their work in health professions as well as the impact that Independent Study (I.S.) had on their college experiences and life beyond Wooster.
The Hochhauser Alumni Panel is funded by a gift from Lisa Hochhauser ’89, who was one of the first graduating seniors to utilize ethnographic methods in her I.S. Often associated with sociology and anthropology, “ethnographic methods” refers to the systematic collection of data through participant observation, interviews and conversation. While Ethnographic Methods is currently offered as a course to Wooster students, this is a relatively recent development; when Hochhauser was completing her I.S. in 1989, she was individually taught the research methods by Professor of Anthropology Pamela Frese, who served as her advisor for the project.
According to Frese, “When deciding how she wanted to give back to Wooster, [Hochhauser] thought about how important the ethnographic context was for her and wanted to support the sociology and anthropology department in bringing back alumni to speak who incorporated ethnographic methods into their Independent Studies.” Thus, both Lane-Davies and Soyer were chosen to speak on the panel based on their exceptional utilization of ethnographic methods in their projects.
Lane-Davies, current chief of quality for the Bronson Medical Group, was also one of the first anthropology students at the College. After doing housing justice work in West Virginia, he was inspired to document cultural change in post-Industrial Revolution Appalachia for his I.S. Echoing Hochhauser’s experience just a year prior, the existing sociology department did not offer the sort of ethnographic research that Lane-Davies hoped to complete. Thus, Lane-Davies and a cohort of 15 other students decided to build a new anthropology department under the guidance of Frese. The group used their convergence of interests to blaze new trails and establish the department that remains at the College today.
Soyer, now a health associate at Mathematica, completed her sociology I.S. on the healthcare access of the Spanish-speaking populations in both Wooster, Ohio and Portland, Ore. She had the idea to connect with a local clinic for research after taking the class Globalizing Healthcare in her junior year. Once partnered with the clinic, Soyer focused on interviewing healthcare providers about their perceptions of healthcare access. Her I.S. was also unique as she co-facilitated interviews with another student. The two complemented each other’s work; Soyer’s friend’s interviews with local community members provided another angle to perceptions of healthcare access.
“Returning to campus for the Hochhauser Panel was an exciting experience. I loved having the opportunity to talk about my I.S. with current Wooster students, as well the chance to reflect upon how my I.S. has impacted my work experiences since graduation,” said Soyer. “Writing I.S. was a highlight of my Wooster experience. It was great to hear about some of the I.S. ideas of current students and to have them ask me questions about my experience as they prepare to begin the process themselves. I also loved the chance to reconnect with my Wooster professors,” she said.
Both Lane-Davies and Soyer expressed that their work on I.S. informed their career choices after graduating from Wooster. Lane-Davies went on to medical school and found that he still uses skills from I.S. in his clinical career. He explained that skills from conducting ethnographic research have been beneficial in clinical practice, such as speaking to families, understanding cultural differences and finding points of shared understanding. Soyer also felt that her skillset from I.S. transferred to her work at a non-profit now; her research in medical sociology has given her a strong background to focus on health policy at Mathematica. “My Wooster experience inspired me to find work that is intellectually stimulating and gets me excited. Being a student at Wooster, especially working on I.S., requires you to care so much about what you’re working on. My I.S. helped to hone my interest in the healthcare field and was a large part of the reason that I decided to pursue work in this space,” she said.
The panelists also encouraged attendees to take some time after graduating to explore career options. Lane-Davies continued his housing justice work for two years after his time at the College, and Soyer spent the summer after graduation working on a farm. She later went on to a job in institutional review board training before settling into her current work at Mathematica. “It’s hard to know what kind of work you want to pursue after college,” Soyer said. “Keep an open mind about what types of work you could be interested in and remember that the skills you learn at Wooster can be transferred to many different workplace responsibilities.” Both felt that having other experiences after leaving Wooster allowed them to discover new interests that later would provide career opportunities.
To conclude the panel, Lane- Davies and Soyer expressed that there were a number of new career opportunities in medicine that sociology and anthropology students may find exciting. According to Soyer, “There are many, many jobs that you could wind up applying to that you’ve never even heard of while still in school, and there is no harm in not knowing exactly what you want.” Lane-Davies spoke about possibilities around innovation in medicine such as new care delivery models, payment models, technology and community-focused treatment.
In discussing the Hochhauser Alumni Panel, Professor of Sociology Tom Tierney reflected, “We hope that students learn the value of the research skills they develop as sociology and anthropology majors, and that there are many opportunities to use those skills after they graduate from Wooster … Very few people follow a straight path in their professional lives, but the College prepares students to take advantage of even unanticipated opportunities that are presented to them.”
Frese echoed Tierney in his sentiments surrounding life after Wooster. According to Frese, using ethnographic research methods — like Hochhauser, Lane-Davies and Soyer did — is beneficial “because the world is turning so number-oriented, we’re missing the ‘people part’ of looking at the world through other people’s eyes [and] using their words. I’d like folks to know that it isn’t just an Independent Study, but you carry these skills into a job … Ethnographic research skills learned in College make you so much more successful in various positions.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Latinas Unidas (LU) hosted the event “Cafe Con Leche.” Held in the new Latinx Lounge in Armington Hall, board members Annays Yacamán ’22, Mia Villavicencio-Eschinger ’22 and Margie Sosa ’20 led a discussion about colorism in the Latinx community. “Latinas Unidas was inspired to hold our Café Con Leche event to celebrate milestones and accomplishments made by the Afro-Latinx population, but also to bring a light to colorism and anti-Blackness in the Latinx community,” said Villavicencio-Eschinger, vice president of development for LU.
“I found that it’s sometimes surprising to individuals who aren’t a part of the Latinx community that there are such issues; we hoped to bring light to said issues,” she said. Yacamán, Villavicencio-Eschinger and Sosa gave a short presentation on the history of colorism within the Latinx community. Each member talked briefly about the community’s diverse roots, but that whiteness is still the standard of beauty due to the colonial history of Latin American countries.
The board also discussed ways to start difficult conversations with friends and family about colorism. “We realized that not everyone fits the same description when you think of someone Latinx and we’ve always wanted to touch upon Afro-Latinidad but were a little hesitant because not many of us on campus identify as such,” said Vice President of Finance for LU Gabby Vasquez ’22. “And because it is February, Black History Month, we thought it would be perfect to really plan an event to pay tribute and respect to the importance African heritage has had on Latin America,” she said.
Following the presentation, the board hosted guest speaker Valeria J. Martinez via Skype. National training specialist for the Posse Foundation, Martinez shared her own experiences with racism from a young age with the audience and opened the floor to discussion. Martinez offered further advice on how to have difficult conversations about colorism with family. The discussion provided space for members to share their own experiences with colorism and seek solidarity with one another.
“I just hope that people left Café Con Leche with a little more knowledge about the impact Afro-Latinidad has on Latin America. I hope people have become more aware of the vast struggles that people of different heritage, of different skin colors and other features have gone through and continue to go through. I hope people appreciate the strength through adversity that was shown through our guest speaker and video,” Vasquez said.
Villavicencio-Eschinger echoed her sentiment. “We hope that the audience took away new knowledge regarding the Latinx community and a further understanding that people within the community unfortunately face different issues than others within the community,” she said. “We also hope to continue the conversation and to support our Afro-Latinx community members.”
Those who are interested in further supporting the Latinx community on campus can attend “Concha Fridays” for pastries and coffee from 3-5 p.m. in the Babcock Formal Lounge starting Feb. 14, 2020.
The “prison course” isn’t the friendliest nickname for a class, as one may be inclined to think of dreary and depressing lectures about the broken criminal justice system. At Wooster, however, the “prison course” refers to professor Anne Nurse’s Deviance and Criminology course that aims to bridge the gap between the “inside” and the “outside.” Offered each spring, Deviance and Criminology is a sociology course hosted at the Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility, roughly half an hour away from Wooster. The class is comprised of both “outside” students from the College and “inside” students who currently reside at the facility.
The course began in 2005, when Nurse received an email about a new kind of course — one that followed the “inside- outside” model and was held at a juvenile correctional facility. A professor at Temple University was doing trainings for this new model and invited Nurse to participate in the first sponsored national workshop in Philadelphia. At the workshop, the instructors and participants brainstormed how to teach a course using the “inside-outside” model.
Once returning to Wooster, Nurse immediately pitched the idea to the dean. The College was highly supportive and Nurse connected with the directors of Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility who were interested as well. The first class was conducted in the spring of 2006, making this year the 14th anniversary.
Deviance and Criminology is taught just like any other college course, with a syllabus, ex- ams, group projects and grades. Nurse explains that she was motivated to start this course at Wooster because “inside” students don’t typically have the opportunity to experience or learn about college. This can be a barrier to “inside” students entering college post-incarceration, despite having the same levels of intelligence, motivation and dedication as their “outside” counterparts. Courses such as Deviance and Criminology help them “test drive” college to prepare for their futures and offers critical skills such as drafting and writing papers. The course also gives “inside” students the opportunity to interact with students around the same age as them.
Deviance and Criminology also allows the “outside” students to witness the criminal justice system from within, challenging biases and preconceived notions about those confined. According to Romeo Philippe ’23, “the ‘inside students’ … are no different from any other [people] I’ve ever met. They have the same dreams and aspirations as the rest of us.” As he continued, “Seeing those students in a juvenile detention center shows me how our society ultimately failed these students and did not provide the opportunities or resources for them to achieve their dreams,” he said.
In order to create a positive and constructive learning environment for all students, Nurse hosts a mandatory informational session for prospective students; this is followed by a thorough application process. Occasionally, both “inside” and “outside” students will volunteer personal anecdotes in class, but this is not an expectation of the course. Instead, it is a reflection of the positive classroom environment fostered by all of the participants.
Nurse also notes that it is important to maintain teachable moments in the class — when faced with the rare uncomfortable moment, she makes sure not to shut people down and instead turn it into a learning experience for the entire class — especially since the “inside” students are used to being silenced.
Sidney Senita ’20, a sociology major, said it was “nerve-wracking” going to the prison for the first time, and that the “anxiety of ice breakers on the first day of class [was] multiplied by having to go through a metal detector and double-locked doors.” After the initial unfamiliarity, however, the class settled into a “normal flow” and has “opened [her] eyes to some of the things [she] takes for granted, like [her] laptop and our library.” Over- all, Senita is “thankful for the class because it has allowed [her] to reflect on criminology while visiting and connecting with people who the policies [they] talk about in class have affected.”
Deviance and Criminology provides a wonderful learn- ing experience for both “in- side” and “outside” students, teaching many of the skills needed to succeed in higher education. Yet it also teaches less academic lessons in understanding and empathy.
If interested in taking the course, it will be offered next in the spring of 2021. Fur- ther information about the application process will be available this coming fall.
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