Thursday, March 26, 2009

At Home With a Cup of Tea

Now I am home with a cup of tea and my laptop, trying to record some final thoughts. As usual, the day strengthened my conviction that we have the best students and the best faculty in the world. I wish more people could have the opportunity to spend the day as a Whittier student and see our excellence for themselves. I want to do it again – tomorrow and next week. Maybe especially next week. Are there any takers to switch places on the trip to Costa Rica?

Thank you, Caitlin, for the opportunity to share a bit of your life. “Walking in your shoes” was interesting and fun. And let me tell you: watching you sit on the stool in a Stauffer classroom tonight, directing the U.S. team headed for Model UN and confidently mentoring and encouraging your peers affirmed my belief that the College was in good hands with you as our President-for-the day. We will all want to follow news of your adventures after graduation; you will make us proud.

Go Poets!
Sharon Herzberger

Model UN

Tonight marked my first visit to the revered Model UN program, led by a cadre of experienced students (including our President-for-the-day) and supervised by Professor Mike McBride. We heard about the sequence of events at the upcoming Model UN conference, reviewed resolutions that will be made by our representatives, and listened to students’ intended presentations. Since Caitlin and I were switching roles, I delivered her speech, representing the United States and blasting the government of Sudan for its expulsion of aid workers. It was fun, and I can imagine what it must be like to deliver the speech in front of delegates at the real meeting a few weeks from now in San Francisco. I was impressed with students’ diplomacy and forthrightness in suggesting improvements to each others’ presentations, and I wish others could have heard students discussing world affairs from the point of view of Iceland, Zambia, Angola, the Central African Republic, and the United States. They would have been so proud of our Poets. No wonder we have so many alumni who are doing well in careers in public policy! What an invigorating and affirming way to end my day as a Whittier student!

I Was Glad That I Wore Sneakers

After class, I headed to Platner to work with Professor Fred Bergerson’s other assistants, Melanie Abe, Ian Costello, Colleen Daly, and Jessica Underwood. After returning a book to the Bonnie Bell Wardman Library and running up to Caitlin’s room to get her laptop (even her room is neat!), I had only a few minutes left at work before returning to my own office to check my email and review a speech I needed to give tonight at Model UN.

I arrived at the Campus Inn again at 6:00 and had a chance to chat with many students before sitting down to eat a very quick dinner with Wesly Peterson and Sasha Trejos. We talked about their plans for spring break before I ran back to my office, grabbed my backpack, and ran to get to Model UN on time. With all of the rushing and climbing the campus hills, I was glad that I wore sneakers.

Modern American Social Movements

After lunch, Joselynn and I headed to Deihl Hall for Dr. Laura McEnaney and Dr. Overmyer-Velasquez’s class on Modern American Social Movements and a discussion of the beginnings of the conservative movement in America. Dr. McEnaney started the class by saying that some students would have already received mid-semester warnings due to poor attendance, not turning in assignments, or poor grades. She reframed the “warnings” as not meant to condemn or intimidate, but as invitations to come in for discussion. Then a lively conversation ensued about the history of modern conservatism being traced to the rebellion against New Deal liberalism. Parallels were drawn between the arguments used by early conservatives and arguments being espoused today in response to Obama’s “big government” program to correct our current economic woes. I was impressed by two things in this class. First, almost everyone contributed to the discussion, many with hands raised over and over as students vied to be heard. And second, Professor McEnaney talked of the historian’s obligation to “empathize” (if not, sympathize) with the subject under study and to approach each social movement under examination without disdain or dismissal. This was clear evidence contrary to some people’s stereotypes of professors trying to indoctrinate students to particular political perspectives!

Great Conversation Over Lunch

Back at lunch with seven of Caitlin’s friends (Martina, Callan, Joselynn, Lauren, joined by Karla Cortez, Alexis Paich, and Leslie King), we talked about the Amethyst Initiative (the group approved of my call for a renewed examination of evidence and reasoned debate about the drinking age), and I heard a critique of the vegetarian options at the CI (continuing to improve, but “not there yet”). The group applauded the decision to stop using trays. And I heard more talk about what students had learned in classes that day (more mention of Derrida) and praise for their professors. One student asserted (affirmed by another) that the Spanish department was filled with excellent teachers; others chimed in about the history department, and this stimulated conversation about Professor Orozco’s high expectations - especially for writing - that made students proud to earn a B.

Time For Class

After studying for a few minutes in the Ettinger Lounge and making sure that Callan was not going to have an allergic reaction to the sting, Lauren and I headed off to a class taught by Dr. Cheryl Swift and Dr. Becky Overmeyer-Velasquez. We viewed a YouTube video of the impact of the changing diet in Japan (e.g., unhealthy weight gain, more imports of food from far away, less food production in Japan), which summarized some of the themes that the class had been exploring. Then students presented information on the projects that they will be doing over the next couple of weeks. Some members of the class will travel to Costa Rica with the professors for the next 10 days and will have a chance to tour coffee and banana farms and learn first-hand about production methods; other students will remain in the States and concentrate on library research of the topics. When the class returns, we will hear about Costa Rican efforts to grow products that are more environmentally friendly, with less deforestation and lower pesticide use, and also the challenges of meeting global demand.

Painting The Rock - A Whittier College Tradition

Following breakfast, we painted the Rock -- purple and gold, of course (although we ran out of gold and had to complete the lettering in yellow). I learned that Societies schedule rock-painting throughout the year and that other groups have to ask permission from the relevant Society to use a day. I asked why other groups don’t protest this reserved ownership, and no one knew the answer, but surmised that Societies are the groups most organized to take responsibility for this important tradition. We survived painting without getting paint on clothes or hands, but Callan Martinez was stung by a bee. President Finley dropped by to oversee our work and handed me a backpack with her notebook and readings for the day’s classes. Her backpack was too neat; I did not feel comfortable giving her my disheveled briefcase in return.