January 23, 2015
I declared my majors the other week. This is how it happens: You walk into the middle of Tempel Green, spin around in a circle 10 times, shouting your major and adviser while the registrar sits 10 feet away, ringing her bell, asking you to be louder.
The above is decidedly not true. It's just something a professor told me when I came to her with the declaration that I was finally, after months of indecision, declaring two decisive majors. She looked me up and down; I was excited, like I was declaring a big secret. It really is not that big of a deal. She sarcastically joked that I was making a ritual out of it; most students get so stressed about majors, they forget about classes. I agree with her now, I think.
After declaring my majors, I felt no difference. No history or art god descended from the heavens to bless me or take me into their secret society. On paper, I simply declared a major, which did make me feel better. I had goals to work toward.
I think the reason this professor said this to me is because she could see the fear in my eyes. Declaring your major sounds like such a big deal. It seems like you're setting yourself up in life for something so specific. Like now, I can't be anything but a historian, and I'm restricted. All these things are just untrue; I'm still taking classes I want to take, whether they relate to my major or not. I'm working with people I like working with, whether they fall into my department or not. This is what makes a small college like Conn special — because of the high number of professors, you really can, even within the confines of your major, blaze your own trail.
So I went up to Tempel Green, signed my declaration form and spun in a circle anyway, content in the knowledge that I was still free. Majors don't restrict you — fear does.
January 21, 2015
In my two-dimensional art class, we've been learning how to create drawings that appear more full. A lot of our still life paintings were "floating" in the middle of the page with only a thin table line to spruce up the background. Our professor has been stressing that we should add more to the drawings so that they are more interesting, or draw the things we see behind our still lifes. Despite her gentle nagging, the class as a whole wasn't really getting the concept.
To solve the issue, our professor came up with a creative way to intervene in our bad habits. She took us down to the Lyman Allyn Museum, a fine arts museum adjacent to campus with which the College has a working relationship. First, we did some critiques of the pieces because, as an art class, we can't just ignore the masterpieces when visiting a museum. Then, we were told to pick a spot in the exhibit and draw the space. We weren't supposed to hone in on any artwork, just get the dimensions and perspectives of the complex interior design.
It was frustrating trying to capture the relationship between angles and objects and such, but I found that when I slowed down and really observed my surroundings, it became a lot easier to create a realistic drawing. By the end, I was really happy with what I had created.
Our walking-distance field trip to the museum proved a unique way to improve our work and technique. During the following class, when we were back in the studio, we were given another still life to draw. Again, we were told to pay careful attention to the space around the still life. There was a clear improvement after our museum intervention. We hung all of our drawings up for a critique and each pretty accurately reflected the still life, as well as the room behind the still life.
January 16, 2015
Here at Conn, Tuesdays and Thursdays are associated with one of our College's beloved traditions: "Soup and Bread Day." Taking place in Freeman Dining Hall, one of our smaller, more homey dining halls, Soup and Bread Day offers a variety of soups and fresh baked loaves of bread, in addition to the usual options. This means a stomach full of buttery, creamy goodness. Everyone develops their own soup and bread preferences. I, for one, think that the circular loaves with a thick crust are without competition. A slice of that with a bowl of butternut squash soup is magical. Others, however, disagree. Some of my friends, for example, prefer the whole grain breads, which I find ridiculous.
I've been going to Soup and Bread Day since nearly the first week of school. It's always nice to be able to take a break from Harris, the main dining hall, and be able to traverse campus a bit. My friend Anne and I generally head there after Latin class and, without a doubt, there are always crowds. Students from every corner of campus seem to flock to Freeman twice a week. There are a lot of regulars, like myself, as well as newcomers. It's always interesting to compare how many familiar faces there are versus how many new faces there are.
After a few visits, you'll find that more and more faces become familiar. Given the popularity of Soup and Bread Day and the intimacy of the dining hall, people often find themselves merging tables with strangers. It offers a great opportunity to make friends, or at least have interesting conversations with new people over a meal. Personally, I've met a couple of very close friends over soup and bread.
Now that it's getting colder, I can only imagine how satisfying warm soup will be in the winter.
January 14, 2015
There is only one word to describe the Upright Citizens Brigade: hilarious. This touring improv group based out of New York City, also known as UCB, is sidesplittingly funny. Lately, they have performed at Conn each year. UCB begins by interviewing a student about life here at Conn, and this year it was a first-year student named Carson (as seen in the photo above). This interview provides the material for their set, so the show includes our college's inside jokes. And, to add to the fun, our student improv groups, Scuds and N20, opened for UCB, making it a great night of comedy.
January 12, 2015
It's 1 a.m. and I'm sitting on my bed listening to Taylor Swift and eating enough espresso beans to fill 17 shots of regular espresso. They're fair trade espresso beans, though, so that compensates for some of my concerns regarding gluttony and sleep deprivation.
What is fair trade? It basically means that everyone involved in the process of creating the item and transporting it is treated fairly. For example, everyone gets paid a reasonable wage. This program also helps to promote sustainability (something that's very important at Conn, as well) and empower people in lower socio-economic groups.
I bought my fair trade chocolate at Fiddleheads, a local, non-profit co-op in New London that offers natural, fresh foods (plus a hodgepodge of other thing-a-ma-bobs) and promotes fair trade products. I also just learned that Fiddleheads visits campus every week, and they'll alert you when fresh products come in.
I'd never heard of the store before my friend Emma mentioned that a local artisan fair was being held there. So, I went with her, got some chocolate and socks, and learned a lot about the store. To be honest, before I went I had no idea what a co-op was, nor did I know what fair trade was or what the difference between "non-profit" and "not for profit" was. (Feel free to Google if you need to.)
To put it in a nutshell, all of those programs are meant to help make business more conscious of the ways in which they negatively affect other parts of the world, and then businesses work to counteract these negative effects.
After exploring Fiddleheads, my friends Emma, Michelle and I decided to go to another local fair trade store, Flavours of Life. There, I bought some decorations for my room and some cozy winter gloves. The two stores were in walking distance, and I'm sure there are many other businesses in New London with similar missions. We're fortunate to have a number of businesses nearby that care about their products and the people who make them — but also have really good chocolate.
January 9, 2015
It’s funny, but I'm not much of a summer beach person. The sweat, the sunscreen and sand that somehow manages to get everywhere — I’ve never found it appealing. Visiting the beach in the fall, however, is one of my absolute favorite things in the world. And lucky for me, I’ve discovered Harkness Park. It’s just 15 minutes away in Waterford and has become my go-to, I-must-escape-from-studying location. The beach is beautiful. Before winter break, my friends and I braved the 25-degree weather to watch the sunset. Bundling up in hats, scarves, mittens and down jackets, we swung by Bean and Leaf, a local coffee shop, for chai lattes and hot chocolate. Once properly prepared for the cold, we took to the sand and watched the sky change from yellow to orange to pink. Somehow nature always manages to take my breath away.
January 7, 2015
The College's Roth Writing Center offers free peer tutoring on papers and drafts for all students on campus. One becomes a tutor after being recommended to Professor Steven Shoemaker, the director of the center, after which there is an interview, a callback and a class offered in the Fall called "The Teaching of Writing." It's a 300-level English seminar. I was recommended last year by two professors, and went for my interview. (I wore my brightest paisley shirt, in an effort to be memorable.) Since English is not my first language, I want to help other non-native English speakers feel empowered through writing. I'm taking the seminar now, and as the semester winds down, the writing center is in need for more tutors. So the week before Thanksgiving, I had my first appointment. I was to tutor for the first time, finally, after the long, long process. I walked into the center five minutes early, set up my folder, took out my pen, and waited.
My first student was a first-year student who needed help with his first-year seminar. The center works this way: We ask the students to read their paper or draft out loud. If the student isn't comfortable reading aloud, we'll read it for them. The motto is to make sure the student is in the driver's seat; the tutor is a road guide, a map to the destination that the student must find themselves. I took notes as he read.
Collaborating with the tutee, working on problems, is a huge part of the job. The goal is to nudge, to prod students in a direction where their own thinking gets expanded, and to give them ideas, not to impose. This is hard for me; I love imposing myself on people most of the time. I have a specific way in which I do things, and this makes me a bit stubborn sometimes. I had to reign that in super hard when I was tutoring, and the results were a clear indication that this was the right philosophy. The student left with a better understanding of the paper, his assignment and what he might do better.
I left with an understanding of my own role in this, which is — and should be — minimal. I left with a better understanding of how my professors must feel when students don't understand what they're trying to do. Their job is hard. A teacher doesn't teach knowledge, I discovered. They teach the process of knowledge. The knowledge must be acquired oneself. I left knowing that our jobs as students are also hard: We have to come to conclusions ourselves, with the road map of learning in front of us. The destination is ours to conquer. This is a responsibility I felt heavy on my shoulders as I walked out, but it gave me more incentive to learn vicariously. If I'm being trusted as a student to make my own contribution, the responsibility also gave me agency. And students need agency to learn creatively. Most of all, I left with a giant amount of respect for this learning environment. If one doesn't take responsibility for one's own learning, everything falls apart. You can flourish or you can fail. The decision is in your hands, and that's kind of liberating. It means you're taken seriously. That's the path to adulthood, not regurging knowledge. It felt good to know.
January 5, 2015
What better thing to do on a Friday ... than visit the United Nations?
Recently, I, along with around 30 other gender and women's studies and public policy students and professors, spent Friday morning with a tour of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Walking through the headquarters — listening in on multilingual meetings, traipsing through grand conference rooms and photographing famous artwork — felt like a dream.
After the tour, we attended a debriefing session with representatives from UN Women, during which we discussed the organization's recent feminist movements and iniatives (including Emma Watson's recently-launched HeForShe campaign).
The trip was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And certainly not a bad way to spend my Friday.
January 2, 2015
The Sophomore Research Seminar I'm taking this semester has been rife with interactive learning. Titled "Visioning the Invisible," the course focuses on secrecy, power and privilege as it relates to studio art and art history. It's funded by the Mellon Mays foundation and two professors, Denise Pelletier from Studio Art and Chris Steiner from Art History, teach it together. Already this semester, we've had a magician in our class and a professor from UConn talking about surveillance and pornography. We've also been working on small projects that will add up to a larger research paper/studio art project that we submit at the end of the semester. The best part of the seminar was, no doubt, a trip to New York City to look at "invisible" or "secret" art; I've been excited for this trip for a while.
We gathered outside Cummings Art Center at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to catch a bus to the city; our first stop was the Museum of Sex, curated by Sarah Forbes, who happens to be a Connecticut College graduate. The many exhibitions on display included one about non-heterosexual behavior amongst animals, chastity devices from the 19th century, and a critical look at Linda Lovelace (the first mainstream pornstar) and her involvement in the anti-pornography movement.
The most interesting exhibition, to me, was an interactive one, where spectators had to walk inside a mirror maze and climb a wall, where instead of rocks, one had to grab various human body parts (made of foam, of course). After we were finished at the museum, we went for lunch (generously paid for by the Mellon Mays foundation) in Chinatown, where we met "Inspector Collector" artist Harley Spiller, who collects and exhibits take-out menus, coins and plastic spoons, finding the beauty in the ordinary. We talked to him about the history of Chinatown and visited what was once a place where rival Chinese gangs used to fight each other in the early 20th century.
We also visited the Mmmuseumm, which is a museum built in an abandoned elevator in Chinatown; the museum itself is kind of secretive and only known to those told about it. It houses a collection of forgotten art objects: soil from Auschwitz, plastic spoons from the '70s, kitsch art objects that were not remembered. I spoke with the person there; everybody volunteers to work there, and has other jobs. It's a collection of fairly young college graduates who hope to make seen the unseen.
We ended with a trip to the art supply store and various bookstores, where both Denise Pelletier, my professor, and I gushed over art supplies. We got back to campus around 10 p.m., exhausted, but filled with knowledge. Not only was this great for my class, it gave me a chance to get to know my professors a little better, go to secret places I would never have discovered otherwise, and explore, in life, art. One can't truly study art without being in its presence, and I'm glad to have taken a class that understands and reinforces that. It was a pretty fantastic experiences.
December 31, 2014
Connecticut College keeps you incredibly involved. With papers to write, student performances to see and tours to give, a little break can prepare me better than anything for the coming week.
At the beginning of every week, I've come to relax by exploring the area. At promptly 9:30 every Sunday morning, I rent one of the Zip Cars located on campus and drive with my girlfriend down to Muddy Waters for breakfast and a coffee. Muddy Waters is by far my favorite restaurant in New London. The counter is piled high with sweet breakfast treats, and music by The Temptations plays over the radio as we sit and eat our breakfast. When it's warm enough outside, we sit on the deck and watch the boats going in and out of the Thames River. I’m fascinated by submarines and Muddy Waters is directly across from Electric Boat, so it is always fun to watch them building submarine components across the river. When it's cold outside, we sit inside the restaurant, which resembles an antique shop. Every chair and table in Muddy Waters is a different shape or size and, with walls covered in pictures and newspaper clippings, it feels cozy and safe.
After breakfast is over, it is back in the car for my favorite part of the day. We start off by driving out to Guthrie Beach and the windy streets in the southern part of New London. Looking out at Long Island Sound through quaint neighborhoods is always a good reset before going back to the College. Our final destination is sometimes Harkness State Park, a massive stretch of land that has tall trees, broad marshes and crashing waves on a beach of golden sand. It's cold, but the views are very relaxing. With only 15 minutes to spare, I rush back to the College and finish up my homework from Friday night.
Guthrie Beach, New London