April 2000

Vision of a Catholic College Identity

When Father Hilary Thimmesh returned to teaching English after nine and a half years as president of St. John's University, he had had considerable opportunity to reflect on the nature of Catholic education.  In fall of 1997, he shared the richness of his thinking with faculty at both St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict, first by summarizing the concepts and attitudes in The Church in the Modern World, one of the documents to emerge from Vatican II, and then by examining what Catholic higher education in the new millennium could be if the approaches in that document were to genuinely shape Catholic campuses.  The following article reprints much of his talk to faculty.  The original text of his address was published in Symposium 15 (1997).

The Church and the Campus in the Modern World

Hilary Thimmesh, O.S.B.

 

The Church in the Modern World is an honest and serious attempt to describe the human condition as it actually is today, not as it was in the past, not even as it might be ideally. It proceeds in a series of chapters to explore the dignity and the worth of the individual, the importance of community, the right to freedom and self-expression, and, as one commentator puts it, the role of the church as "a force for shaping the temporal world so that human dignity can be realized more extensively and more profoundly."

Part II of the document deals with a number of particular topics: marriage and family, the proper development of culture, socio-economic life, the political community, the community of nations.  It concludes with a brief summary exhorting Christians to pattern their lives on the gospel and to work together in rendering service to the human family.

I have briefly described the general tone and content of this remarkable document in order to show how it changes the framework for thinking about Catholic higher education.   The document takes an inductive approach.  It starts from the present and the observed characteristics of modern life.  It recognizes and welcomes the benefits of science and technology.  It welcomes the contributions of other religions and of all people who labor in the service of humanity.  It sees the church as part of human society, not set apart from it or isolated in a closed system.  It can do all of these things because it sees God at work in the world, God not limited by human categories of secular and sacred.

The document also recognizes the ills of modern society; and it recognizes the difference between good and bad in the actions of individuals, societies, or whole nations.  In other words, it recognizes the need for standards of morality which ultimately derive from God.  It is not naive about the dark side of human nature, but it dwells by preference on the human potential for good.

So much for a summary description of The Church in the Modern World.  To see how it bears directly on education, we need to turn to what it says about the proper development of culture in Part II, Chapter 2.

The topic of this section is the cultivation of human potential.  Here are some key statements:

  • "The possibility now exists of liberating most people from the misery of ignorance" (60).
  • "Efforts must be made to see that people who are capable of higher studies can pursue them" (60). 
  • "Everyone should acknowledge and favor the proper and necessary participation of women in cultural life" (60).

It says the human spirit must be cultivated so that it grows in its ability "to wonder, to understand, to contemplate, to make personal judgments, and to develop a religious, moral, and social sense" (59) .

It pays tribute to the exact sciences, to recent psychological research which explains human activity more profoundly, and to historical studies which enable us to see things in their evolutionary aspects (54).  It credits literature and the arts, mathematics, and philosophy with distinctive contributions to human advancement.  It calls on the church to acknowledge "new forms of art which are adapted to our age" (62).

Repeated references to recent studies and new questions in various fields affirm the importance of research.  Particularly in theology, the effort to formulate doctrine in terms meaningful to the times is urged (62).  Without using the term, the document defends academic freedom.  It recognizes the autonomy of the arts and sciences in following their own principles and methods (59), and it requires that "within the limits of morality and the general welfare, individuals be free to search for the truth, voice their mind, and publicize it" (59).

 

 

The Church in the Modern World is "a watershed document which can have a direct and liberating effect on Catholic higher education."

In all of this, I would argue, the church quite simply abandoned the notion that Catholic education should in any way be restricted to approved authors or schools of thought and welcomed the competition of ideas in the open forum. Subsequently Rome quietly relegated the Index of Prohibited Books to the dustbin of history.  From now on Aristotle, Aquinas, and Newman would find themselves keeping company in the curriculum with such various thinkers as Luther, Freud, Marx, and a whole range of newer voices clamoring for attention.  In this respect The Church in the Modern World is undoubtedly a watershed document which can have a direct and liberating effect on Catholic higher education.

But liberty must be for a purpose.  If the only effect of this intellectual liberation were to put all disciplines, authors, and points of view on equal footing in the curriculum, one would simply have the formula for value-free secular education.   Context makes all the difference, and so the question becomes whether this liberating document also provides a new freedom and a new incentive to join forces in creating an academic context which is distinctively Christian in its ethical and moral goals.

 

 

Intellectual ecumenism "renders the historic exclusivity of Catholic and Protestant traditions of learning obsolete."

In looking for an answer to this question, "ecumenism" is I think the key word.  If the term "Catholic ghetto" is an apt description of the academic world that American Catholics once inhabited, that condition was in part the result of a kind of exclusivism by Catholics themselves.  If the academic establishment disregarded Catholic claims to intellectual and moral distinction because Catholic colleges stood apart from what Alasdair MacIntyre calls the Protestant engagement with culture which formed the dominant nineteenth-century college curriculum in the United States, Catholics for their part took pride in being the heirs of an older and larger synthesis of learning extending from Aristotle to Aquinas and the medieval universities, and tended to view the Protestant tradition of learning as marginal.

The intellectual ecumenism of The Church in the Modern World renders the historic exclusivity of Catholic and Protestant traditions of learning obsolete.  More than that, it opens the door to serious dialogue between Christians and non-Christians, between believers and non-believers, not because it regards religious faith as unimportant but because it rests on a superb confidence that God is greater than any of our formulations and is at work in the world in a thousand guises besides those that are explicitly religious.  It rests on a dynamic conception of truth as that ultimacy toward which research and exploration in every field of knowledge is always striving as it seeks fuller understanding of the human condition.  It finds its sufficient motive in the interdependence of the human family, whose advancement has to transcend differences of race, nationality, and culture.

How can a college take advantage of this new spirit in the church to contribute a religious perspective to the intellectual and moral development of its students?  I think the answer lies first of all in the dynamics of the faculty rather than in the structure of the curriculum or the role of campus ministry, important as both of these are.  Brought into focus on an actual campus, the core question about integrating faith and learning is whether the faculty can dialogue about its common purpose, can transcend differences in religious background and the limits of particular disciplines.

I emphasize dialogue in the faculty because it is in the mind of the faculty that the effective values of the institution reside, values which affect not so much what students are taught as the climate of learning.  If there is consensus in the faculty that over and above teaching individual disciplines their collective concern must be about the human condition, about how life is to be lived, about what principles will advance the common good, about what god or gods are to be served, then faith and theological thought will be seen to be relevant to the faculty's purpose and genuinely welcomed in its discourse.

A possible role for theology in faculty discourse is described in the 1990 Vatican document on Catholic higher education, Ex Ecclesiae Corde. Pope John Paul II speaks of a process of search and dialogue: search for a synthesis of knowledge, and dialogue between faith and reason.

Note that these terms are dynamic.  They suggest a continuing process in which theology "serves all other disciplines in their search for meaning, not only by helping them to investigate how their discoveries will affect individuals and societies but also by bringing a perspective and an orientation not contained within their own methodologies" (19).  Moreover, theology is also enriched in the process as other disciplines offer it "a better understanding of the world today" (19).   In other words, the presence of theology among the disciplines represented in the faculty can be the source of a genuine dialogue from which all parties benefit.

"...it is in the mind of the faculty that the effective values of the institution reside."

The Pope envisions a faculty "particularly well versed in the individual disciplines and . . . at the same time adequately prepared theologically" to take part in dialogue about "epistemological questions at the level of the relationship between faith and reason" (46).  If this lofty goal seems unrealistic, more modest but nonetheless important conversations between the other disciplines and theology can still be characteristic of Christian colleges.  One need not probe the epistemological roots of either science or theology very deeply to acknowledge in every field moral and ethical issues that bear on the human rights and moral restraints which are constitutive of the deepest freedom.  To achieve a faculty united in its concern to explore such issues in the light of the Judeo-Christian ethic would powerfully affect a college's educational goals and sharply distinguish a Christian college from its secular counterparts.

In the end, that distinction is crucial to our understanding of what Catholic higher education is about.  It is different from secular education. Secularism has been defined as "the ideological denial of the reality of transcendence."   Catholic education, on the other hand, is about providing an academic environment where people talk seriously about the transcendent, about the meanings and values that give worth to the individual and assure justice and freedom in society.  Catholic education is not about having all the answers. But it is about entering into dialogue with all who seek to better the human condition.  It is not about Catholics talking only to Catholics.  In fact, the religiously mixed composition of the typical faculty and student body will be an advantage in this dialogue, just as diversity in other respects is an advantage in the search for meaning and truth.

The Church in the Modern World puts this search in the broadest perspective and implicitly poses the fundamental questions that must guide it.  What kind of education will foster that freedom which paradoxically entails moral restraint and regard for the common good?  What kind of education will transcend partiality and advance the human condition?  Is it possible to embody in education the magnificent vision of a single human family united in its deepest longings?

I come back to that singularly catholic perspective on the world of our time, catholic with a small "c" in its unswerving sense of human solidarity, Catholic with a large "C" in its faith that the dignity of the individual and the foundations of human community derive ultimately from God.  This is the vision that lends urgency to rediscovering the intellectual excitement and the moral challenge of bringing deeply grounded religious thought to bear on the conditions of life in the modern world.


News from the Chair

      Ozzie Mayers

In February, Father Luke Mancuso, a member of the English Department since 1994, was granted the rank of Associate Professor with tenure.  As many know, Father Luke is a dynamic teacher whose enthusiasm in and out of the classroom is infectious.  In addition, Father Luke is an active scholar whose book The Strange Sad War Revolving: Walt Whitman, Reconstruction, and the Emergence of Black Citizenship, 1865-1876 (Camden House, 1997) has received high critical praise.  As a result of this recognition, he has been asked to contribute to the Walt Whitman Encyclopedia.   While on sabbatical next year, Father Luke will serve as a scholar-in-residence at St. Benedict's Monastery and Benedictine Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin.  In his year away, he plans to focus on developing bibliographies for the four main areas of his expertise: race discourses (in particular, the newly emerging area of white studies); English studies; critical theory and cultural studies; and popular culture and film studies.

In March, Professor Chris Freeman, a member of our department since 1995, was notified by the St. John's Rank and Tenure Committee that he has been awarded a positive third-year review.  The Committee concurs with the opinion of many in the English Department that Chris is a superb teacher.  He is also an outstanding advisor, evidenced by his recognition at St. John's in 1998 as Faculty Advisor for the Year among junior faculty in the humanities.  More recently, Chris co-edited The Isherwood Century: Essays on the Life and Work of Christopher Isherwood (see his description of that book later in this newsletter); and he is well on his way to writing a critical biography of Paul Monette, who, according to Chris, is "the most important chronicler of the AIDS crisis."

Sister Mary Jane Berger, who has been teaching full time for our department for the past three years, also received notice from the CBS Rank and Tenure Committee that she has been recognized with a favorable third-year review.  The committee noted her generosity with her time and guidance as well as her dedication and teaching excellence.   Sister Mary Jane is in the last stages of completing her doctoral degree in a unique graduate program in rhetoric and composition at the Union Institute in Cincinnati; this program is based on prior as well as new learning.  It also integrates service learning into her advanced degree work.  For example, in addition to the traditional research for her dissertation, Sister Mary Jane will include in this research her volunteer service at the Central Minnesota Task Force for Battered Women in St. Cloud from 1998 to the present.  The Department has already profited from her unique program: Sister Mary Jane has designed and taught writing courses which integrate service learning into them, an experience which she writes about in this newsletter.

Since fall, the English Department has had a busy (or perhaps I should say busier-than-usual) year, searching for a new faculty member who specializes first in the multicultural literatures of the United States and second in the literatures of the diaspora (works by culturally displaced writers who relocated either voluntarily or involuntarily).   Although we have department members who have studied multicultural literatures of the United States as well as, to some extent, diasporic literatures, we do not have specialists in either of these areas.  Our search comes out of the changing needs of our discipline, which require that we expand the works we offer to our majors and minors as well as meeting needs generated by the gradual diversification of our student body.  Our search for this new faculty member has caused many of us to re-examine issues of pedagogy, the canon, affirmative action, and the mission of our two institutions.  Such a re-examination has meant more meetings, added demands upon our professional and personal lives, and a heightened sense of anxiety; but it has also given us a way to clarify our vision as a department and do some genuine self-reflection.  In the long run, perhaps our endeavor will prevent us from becoming what Paul Neely, publisher of The Chattanooga Times, says is the "real threat" to liberal arts colleges: ". . . that as a culture we choose trends over permanence, image over substance, money over values, and the market over meaning.  It is the liberal arts that can spare us from that world; if that fails, however, the colleges that hold the ideals of liberal arts in the highest esteem will be threatened themselves" (Luther Alumni Magazine, Winter 2000).


Faculty Member Co-Edits Anthology

Chris Freeman has put together the first anthology of essays on Christopher Isherwood, which should be available in bookstores by the end of April.   In his article below, Professor Freeman explains how collections such as his own move from simple ideas to final publications. 

The Isherwood Century

Chris Freeman

When I came to St. John's in the summer of 1995, I knew one person in the state of Minnesota.  James Berg, a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Minnesota, and I had met on the graduate student conference circuit.  Our work was somewhat similar, and we decided, given our geographical proximity, that perhaps we should collaborate on some kind of scholarly project, one which grew from an idea into a conference panel and then into a book.

The Modern Language Association holds its annual conference just after Christmas.  For the conference, Jim and I proposed a panel on the transplanted English writer Christopher Isherwood (1904-86).  Since he had been dead for about a decade and very little work had been done on him, we called our panel, "Christopher Isherwood: Ten Years Gone," and we selected papers that attempted to assess Isherwood's legacy.  Best known for The Berlin Stories (and especially their later incarnation, Cabaret), Isherwood had written more than a half dozen novels and several autobiographies, including Christopher and His Kind.

At the panel discussion, we issued a somewhat casual call for papers.   Then one of our panelists mentioned that she had interviewed Isherwood in 1973 but had not published any part of that session.  From this beginning, Jim and I worked for about four years.  Now, in the spring of 2000, the University of Wisconsin Press is publishing a 300-page volume called The Isherwood Century: Essays on the Life and Work of Christopher Isherwood.

Our book is divided into four parts.  We wrote an introduction to the volume as well as shorter introductions to each section.  We also solicited, edited, and constructed the volume, all of which proved to be considerably more work than either of us imagined it would be.  Among the twenty-four contributions in the book are essays from Carolyn Heilbrun, who published the first book-length study on Isherwood in 1970 and who received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the MLA convention in 1999; from Katherine Bucknell, who is the editor of Isherwood's voluminous Diaries; from acclaimed poet Michael S. Harper, who in the early 1960s had been taught by Professor Isherwood in California; from Don Bachardy, Isherwood's life partner and a portrait artist; and from Armistead Maupin, author of the Tales of the City novels.

Jim and I are proud of this volume.  We see it as a tribute to Isherwood and as a chance to revitalize interest in a writer whose work and influence should not be forgotten.  For more on the book, see our web site: www.TheIsherwoodCentury.com.  Both the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University will sponsor promotional events this spring and next fall, and Jim and I will be making appearances in the Twin Cities as well.


  Writing Lives: Partnering with the Community

      Mary Jane Berger, O.S.B.

Classroom experiences can easily seem more artificial than real.   For years the academic world has been striving for ways to bring the community into the classroom.  More recently, however, innovative educators have begun looking for ways to take the classroom into the community.  Although few models exist for such a plan, community agencies are eager to work with faculty who want community-classroom connections.  One local agency paving the way for others is Country Manor of Sartell.  Employees at Country Manor see their agency as prime territory for first-hand research and experiences for students who want to partner with the community in service-learning projects.

English 315, a special topics writing class, gives students the opportunity to write the stories of real people who have lived long and fascinating lives.  Recently, Country Manor of Sartell asked the College of St. Benedict to find students who could write the stories of people who live in its care/retirement center.  Some of these residents have had exceptional lives; they also remember many of the key moments of the twentieth century.  In this spring's special topics writing class, students are investigating the world of care centers and retirement facilities in mid-central Minnesota, the state of Minnesota, and the greater American scene.  In doing so, they explore topics such as ageism, aging in place, growing old graciously, retirement opportunities, and retirement agencies.

One goal of this exploration is to give students opportunities to handle secondary research--all of it as background, before they meet the senior citizens whose stories they will write.  Another goal is to have their research provide a basis for interaction with senior citizens.  When students and seniors meet, they search together for topics of interest from seniors' rich backgrounds.  Students spend enough contact hours with residents of Country Manor to produce a booklet of collected writings and edited articles about Country Manor, its citizens, and its care facility.  The course, then, is designed to help students understand an increasingly important contemporary topic, introduce them to writing biographical memoir, and provide them with enough research background to make their writing publishable.  The booklet that results will be shared with local libraries, the county historical society, and a regional newspaper.

When a community agency invites a class to help it with a project and the class can provide the desired service, the partnership proves easier in some ways.  More often, however, service-learning projects are available through the CSB Coordinator of Service Learning, Cindy Pederson.  Part of Pederson's job is seeking out community organizations and agencies who might be interested in collaborating with the academic world.  These partnerships provide a unique way for students to integrate their classroom education with their responsibilities as citizens.


English Majors Earn Top Honors

     Mara Faulkner, O.S.B.

English majors Sheri Ann Coudron, Kathryn Francis, and Laura Stengrim were among eleven College of St. Benedict students inducted into the Omega Chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma on February 13.  DES, a national Catholic honor society, recognizes outstanding scholars who use their knowledge and talents for the common good.  Since the award is the highest honor that the College of St. Benedict grants its students, the English Department is particularly proud to have three of its majors earn this distinction.

Sheri, Kate, and Laura live in big emotional and intellectual worlds, and although they inhabit those worlds enthusiastically, they also ask the kinds of questions that unsettle their own comfort and the comfort of those around them.  They are deep and original thinkers whose interests cannot be confined to one academic discipline; for all of them, service to others is as natural and quiet as breathing.   The following thumbnail sketches only sample their achievements and contributions.

Sheri Ann Coudron

 

Sheri is a senior from Marshall, MN, with a double major in English and Spanish.  One of her English professors calls Sheri "a superb writer with a fine creative sensibility."  Both her essays and her poems "express her remarkable ability to make connections across familiar boundaries."   One of those boundaries is international.  Her semester in Spain and her travels in Europe made her realize how little she knows about her own family, home town, and country.  She came home, she says, "determined to be a tourist in my own country."  In the years after graduation, Sheri hopes to teach English as a second language and to continue working with the Hispanic community, as she has all through college, in the roles of teacher, learner, and advocate.

 

Kathryn Francis

 

With a double major in theater and English, Kate spends her days and nights on stage at the Benedicta Arts Center (she has one of the leads in The Illusions, a spring production), in the Writing Center tutoring uncertain writers, or in the computer lab long after midnight, where she is often meeting a deadline for the Record or writing an essay or memoir.  One of her theater professors says that Kate "recognizes the importance of research and how it informs production.  Kate is a catalyst among her peers for good scholarship and imaginative work."  Last semester, this junior from Jordan, MN, studied in Beibei, China, an experience that unsettled her plans and broadened her interests and aspirations.  She has begun to study the Chinese language as well as China's history, culture, and literature.   She hopes to return to teach English in China's countryside.  Other plans include a graduate degree in theater performance.

 

Laura Stengrim

 

A junior from Westminster, CO, Laura brings an intense concern for social justice to her study of literature and writing.  She is especially interested in the problem of urban poverty, which she has encountered in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels as well as in the soup kitchens and homeless shelters where she has volunteered.  As she says, "To view such issues from a variety of perspectives has strengthened my commitment to find solutions to them."  One of her professors says, "As a critical thinker, Laura is a natural."  She is also creative, venturing into the world of poetry writing during January term and recently participating in a poetry workshop with visiting poet April Bernard.  Laura is uncertain about her future plans but knows they will include graduate study and volunteer work.

 


Viewing the Publishing Industry from the Inside

    Several years ago, Cindy Malone created the English Department's first course in editing and publishing.  She, with the help of Mark Conway, the special projects director, initiated a cooperative program with Graywolf Press, bringing some of Graywolf's key people to campus to help teach that course and simultaneously launching a continuing partnership between Graywolf and the College.  From these beginnings, the CSB Literary Center has developed several new programs, including an exciting workshop in early July.  Cindy asks, "Are you a book-lover seeking a career?"  Her answer to those who say yes: "Register now for Inside Books, a week-long introduction to publishing."

Inside Books

Cindy Malone

In July 2000, the College of St. Benedict will host the first session of Inside Books.  This program, which runs from July 9-16, provides an insider's view of the publishing industry.  Inside Books will focus primarily on small presses, literary magazines, and alternative publishing.  Participants will see the entire process of producing books and magazines--from acquisition of material to marketing the finished work--and hear from literary agents, writers, editors, critics, book artists, publicists, and electronic publishers.

Presenters at Inside Books will include Fiona McCrae, publisher of Graywolf Press; Todd Maitland, Managing Editor of The Ruminator Review (formerly The Hungry Mind Review); Joseph Parisi, Editor of Poetry; and Jay Walljasper, Editor-at-Large of Utne Reader.  Renowned poet Jorie Graham, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, will read on Friday evening, July 14.  Course work for Inside Books will be intensive, including lectures, hands-on learning opportunities, field trips, and chances to meet with members of the publishing industry.  We recommend that participants stay on campus to take full advantage of the lectures, readings, and other activities.

The week-long program has two parts.  A five-day session, held Monday, July 10, through Friday, July 14, provides a broad view of the publishing process.  This program will include representatives from alternative and electronic publishing, large trade presses, and independent publishers.  The weekend program allows participants to see the basics of publishing through the lens of a specific interest: children's publishing, literary reviews and magazines, or independent publishing.  Attendance at the complete weekend program starts with Jorie Graham's reading on Friday night and continues through the programs on Saturday, finishing with a brunch and a tour of the book-arts studio at the College.

Tuition for the Monday-through-Friday program is $500.  Room and board provided by the College costs $300, based on single occupancy in an apartment-style dormitory room with air conditioning.  Board includes three meals per day.  Tuition for the weekend program is $100; room and board costs are $75 for one night or $150 for two nights.

Applications for Inside Books are due May 1, 2000.  For more information, see the Inside Books website at www.csbsju.edu/insidebooks or send an e-mail to [email protected].


A Teacher of Fish Farmers

  One of the remarkable traits that characterizes students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University is the phenomenal number who volunteer their time and their energy to better the lives of others.  Sarah Pasela, who graduated with an English major in 1997, is one such woman.  But when she joined the Peace Corps, she could have had no concept of the ways in which her life would change over the next months.

Graduating from Mwenge

Sarah Pasela (1997)

I sit alone in a mud hut with a grass roof.  Insects fly in and out as they will.  My worldly belongings sit next to me in four cardboard boxes and a large green bucket.  I am in the Peace Corps.  I am in Zambia. The local department of fisheries has just dropped me off in Mwenge, my home for the next two years.   I speak the local language, Ici Bemba, poorly.  The nearest volunteer is 60 kilometers away, which is a four-hour bike ride.  The nearest town with electricity and running water is 100 kilometers away, a two-hour bike ride, a ferry across the Chambeshi River, and, depending on luck, three to eight hours of hitchhiking.  A short three months ago I was on the cozy campus of CSB.  How did I get here?

I have been assigned to Mwenge village, population 200, to teach fish farming.  Even touching a fish is something I hate.  How can I be ready for this? Before being dropped in Mwenge, I completed three months of cross culture, language, and technical training, but these can hardly help me with the feelings of loneliness and fright that are swallowing me up.  Not knowing what else to do, I cry and begin to unpack. 

My first months were filled with pain and loneliness.  Living in the wilderness of Zambia took serious getting used to.  I learned how to cook on an open fire and get my water from a stream.  I hand washed my clothes in the river.  Most difficult, though, were the people.  They were generally dirty due to their constant toil as subsistence farmers and their lack of soap.  They begged me incessantly for my few and precious belongings.  They knew at every moment of the day where I was and what I was doing, including my time in the outhouse.  My monthly trips into town for support from other volunteers, mail, and decent food seemed hardly enough.  I hated it.  I cried.  I wanted out.  I screamed at planes flying overhead, begging them to stop and pick me up.   

Gradually, as months passed, I discovered myself beginning to enjoy Mwenge.  I didn't have a boss looking over my shoulder.  There were no deadlines.  Time in Africa is elastic, and I learned a new way of thinking.  Things don't need to be completed by a certain time, as long as you are happy and healthy and not hungry.  Work will get done when it needs to be.  I could hike from my hut in almost any direction for hours and find only untouched forest, streams, and peace.  I looked forward to the smiles of the neighborhood kids when I handed out bubble gum.  I learned that the village women didn't ask me for my things to annoy me or to make me feel unwelcome.  Instead, they lacked soap, sugar, salt.  In their culture, if you don't have something that someone else does, you ask them for it.  In Zambian culture if you have and someone else does not, you are expected to give.  With my three hundred dollars a month I was a millionaire, and I was simply expected to share some of my richness with my friends who didn't have.  I realized my own wealth, and I valued being able to give some of it away.  The villagers of Mwenge do not suffer from the fiercely independent identity that we Americans do.  They understand generosity. 

Still, there were times when Zambia almost drove me to losing my mind.   Due to lack of fuel and poor vehicles,  I couldn't get fish from town to the village to stock the first Peace Corps project ponds.  After six months of digging, sweat, and blood--literally--the ponds lay useless for another six months because of constant transportation problems.  Eventually, though, the fish did come.  Things get done as they need to get done, or you learn to live without them. 

When I said goodbye to Mwenge in December 1999, it was a tearful farewell.  I left behind a strong aquaculture project, one that should give the people in the village an increase in protein and a healthier life.  Their diet of meat only twice a month is not enough.  I am proud of my work as a teacher of fish farmers.  Even more important, I am proud of the friends I made and the experiences I shared with them.  They taught me a new way to think.  I left them, I hope, with another way to see the world. 


English Club in Action

     Maria Stanek (2001) and Stephanie Frerich (2003)

Since January, our English Club has sponsored two events.  During J-Term we invited students to a showing of Shakespeare in Love.  We also provided a discount for students who attended the Guthrie's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud.  Both events were successful, prompting a wealth of positive comments from those who attended.

Currently, members of the English Club are helping organize and promote the Spring Banquet that recognizes senior English majors.  In addition, we co-sponsored with the Career Resource Center the career exploration series called "What to Do with an English Major," which was held at the end of March.  Other events are still in the planning stages.

For more information or to offer suggestions, contact Maria Stanek at [email protected] or x5764, or Stephanie Frerich at [email protected] or x6174.


The Man on the Corner

     Sandy Longhorn (1993)

In another time he could have hidden
his insanity in the wide spaces of the West,
lived alone, singing at the moon, directing

stars the way he directs traffic today.
One driver honks and smiles,
another tosses a, "damn crazies!"

out with his cigarette, and one woman
just looks away, while the man shifts
his hips to a song playing in his head

and circles the small island of cement
beneath the light pole with a partner
only he can see. His hands caress the air.

As the light turns green, he lets out a whoop
and ushers a stream of cars through
with his once-white cowboy hat,

yellowed now with exhaust. The wind fills
his Western-cut shirt, and he's so lean,
it seems as if that cloth could fly him away.

He must be a hundred, but he can still move -
limber enough to bow and sweep his arm
toward the intersection when I pass.

In my mirror, he dips to his music, then tilts
back on his heels and laughter erupts
from his upturned face. He looks

as if he could eat the sky and still be hungry.