A week ago, I went to work at 9 a.m. in Ruane's Den, a coffee shop located in Harkness, one of the College's residence halls. I work the opening shift on Mondays and after a long, tiring Sunday filled with homework, I wanted nothing more than to escape into the warmth of the coffee shop and make myself a chai latte.
Turns out, I didn't have to. As I walked up the steps to the patio of Harkness, I encountered a strange sight: two open boxes of Dunkin' Donuts and a large box of coffee on a table. A student was sitting in one of the chairs and a slightly older man was sitting in another. They were chatting and laughing, but the scene looked strange still; why would two people need 20 donuts? I then saw random people coming by, conversing with the older man, grabbing a coffee or a donut, and leaving for class. I had to investigate.
The housefellow of Harkness — each residence hall has a "housefellow," a student in charge of the house — had decided to throw a surprise breakfast for the dorm custodian. With the help of the Office of Residential Education and Living (REAL), she'd gone down to Dunkin' early in the morning and brought donuts for all her residents, and she'd asked the custodian to take a few minutes off and just relax with the students. As sappy as it is, I couldn't help but feel a warmth inside me; I didn't even care that people would skip my coffee shop to get free coffee from the table — the custodian looked so happy!
Last year, another student at Conn filmed a short video asking students if they knew their dorm custodians, and quite a few did. I remember leaving notes outside the door of my first-year custodian, and I remember friends going out of their way to clear rubbish just so there would be less work for our friendly, resident custodian. Sometimes, simple acts of caring can really make a difference.
I sipped my coffee and was 10 minutes late to work. My manager didn't care.
One of the things I absolutely love about Conn is the sheer disregard for class year by the student body. Let me explain; I was a first-year student last year, and by the end of my second semester, most of my friends were seniors. Frankly, I don't quite know how this happened, but it did. While I was attending their graduation, it occured to me that I'd be losing a lot of my friends.
Well, I didn't. Two of my best friends from last year are still around; one in Boston, the other in Waterford — one town away from New London. As I couldn't go back home this holiday (I'm from Pakistan; home is 8,000 miles away) and I've never really celebrated Thanksgiving before, one of these friends, Evelyn, invited me to her house. I drove there with another alum, Ben, and we were all seated around her table by 4 p.m.
Evelyn, like most people on Thanksgiving, had extended family over, and I got to meet some really amazing people. One of the perks of the night was us setting up a kids' table for those who were under 25; it was a riot. Amongst the amazing food (seriously, we don't have turkey back home and I think it ought to be a trend at this point; it was so good!), reconnecting with people I don't get to see as much, and laughing uproarously most of the time, I didn't at all feel the absence of my own family.
One of the hardships of coming to a college so far away from home (I'm from Pakistan) is the strange limbo I find myself in during holiday time. I don't really celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hannukah, and I knew my peers wouldn't really celebrate Eid or Diwali, which is the Indian festival of lights.
Well, I was wrong.
This year, ATLAS, the international student organization, organdies a Diwali celebration in The Pink House, which is home to the Gender and Women's Studies Department. Religious studies professor Dean Accardi explained the festival and ATLAS provided Indian food for everyone to enjoy — some of which was home-cooked, the rest ordered from a nearby restaurant in Groton. I ran into the most unlikely professors there: from Sunil Bhatia in human development, to Priya Kohli from mathematics (whom I had never met), to Blanche Boyd, my fiction teacher this semester. The event seemed truly familial. The students argued loudly — in Hindi and Urdu and Punjabi and English — on who had to serve the food, who could lounge around and who got cleaning duty. It was a truly south Asian experience, with multi-linguality, camaraderie and a good amount of fun bickering.
My friend Chloe Jones '15 recently brought a basket she'd woven for an ethnobotany class to dinner. I was fascinated to hear her describe the process of its creation. She extracted strips of bark from a tree, then learned how to soak and weave the strips together from a member of the nearby Mohegan tribe. In the process, she learned about the pawpaw — tiny, green, tropical-tasting fruit native to Central America, the Midwest and the Great Lakes region.
Chloe thought she might have seen some in the Arboretum. I suddenly had a great idea: What if we went and foraged for pawpaws in our own Arbo and collected them in the basket? For some reason, the prospect of foraging our own fruit got us really excited and, right after dinner, we walked to the Arbo.
We found only one pawpaw tree, and it was pretty tall. Chloe and I aren't very tall, so we came to the logical solution of using found sticks to fish the fruit from the tree. We could see about five bunches of fruit on the tree, so we quickly got to work. Chloe held down a branch (the branches are pretty flexible) with a long, forked stick while I knocked the pawpaws off the tree with the branch I was holding. We then celebrated the fact that should an apocalypse strike, we'd be the first to find fruit for survival.
This image is our handiwork — both Chloe's basket and our collective forage. You can't eat more local than this.
Last Wednesday, I was one of a few lucky people invited to have dinner with Rob Richter, director of arts programming, and Khumariyaan, the band that he helped bring from my home country of Pakistan to perform in the U.S. I ran into quite a few familiar faces at the dinner, including friends and faculty, and I was introduced to some new professors and the band members themselves.
I was excited to meet the artists from back home, and I asked to go to the dinner because I couldn't attend their onStage concert during Fall Weekend. In Lahore, the city that I'm from in Pakistan, I'd only heard of Khumariyaan in passing; they usually perform at a city about five hours away from mine and they sing in Pashto, a language I don't speak.
It was kind of surreal to be introduced to this folk-rock band that I'd only heard of — not from my friends back home, but at Connecticut College — 7,000 miles away. Rob told us about the process of finding bands and artists in different countries and how this international program was sponsored by the State Department to bring in artists from other countries to broaden the American perception of that country's people.
What's strange to me is that the program brought a culture that I probably would not have been introduced to. I don't usually listen to folk music and I rarely visit Islamabad, the city this band is from. I am kind of giddy over what a treat it was. Having dinner with the band and their awesome tour manager, as well as a several friends, a professor who's probably going to be my adviser, and another professor whose work I'm very interested in felt like a personal gift.
To anyone curious about Khumariyaan, I'd definitely recommend them. Their music will make professors and parents dance, as I witnessed that evening, and it'll probably make you dance, too.
Following the success of a community discussion about issues of race in Ferguson, Mo., our Office of Residential Education and Living (REAL) decided to continue the conversation, this time bringing the discussion closer to home. The event, titled, “How Not to Talk About Race at College,” included a panel led by professors Sunil Bhatia (human development), David Kim (religious studies), and Rosemarie Roberts (dance), as well as students Ramata Diallo '17 and Maurice Tiner '17. The discussion sought to answer a number of questions: Why do conversations on race become deadened in the classroom and amongst students? What is that block that’s created that prevents people from expressing their feelings? How do we generate a more open environment in which race can be talked about, not as an abstract concept but as a real, human experience that a lot of people have to deal with.
I don’t know if the panel completely answered all these questions, but the audience was spirited and engaged on that Wednesday evening. As 70 students and faculty members informally gathered in a circle, students shared personal stories about experiencing racial prejudice in their lives.
The event was illuminating on so many levels. After the event ended, I was approached by a professor I’d never met — she teaches French and Africana studies, departments I've never taken courses in. She stood next to my friend and I, put her hands on our shoulders and told us that although she had to run, she'd love to continue the conversation, passing along her name and email address. David Kim also made himself available after the panel so students who didn’t have a chance to speak would be able to in a more personal way.
Professor Audrey Zakriski from the Psychology Department had some choice words to say about approaching one’s own racial biases and confronting them, and Dean of the College Caroline Denard proposed a “color-brave” narrative performance piece, that would bring together art, dance, music and monologue to share stories about discrimination and acceptance. Another student proposed “issue-tables” in the dining halls where you could move to and from different topics of discussion. I suggested there be a disclaimer in every class' syllabus about any incident of prejudice a student might face and a third party to contact — just as the syllabus already has an addendum about sexual misconduct, resources available in the Office of Accessibility, and the drug and alcohol program.
On our campus, the difficult issues of sexual violence prevention, disability and personal health are already part of conversations we have openly and often. The leaders of offices that work with students on these topics are are incredibly engaged, and are often on a first-name basis with most of the campus, helping to create a lively, open and honest community. This event was an attempt to do the same with issues regarding race.
“One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four …” The voices are in unison. I stare around me; these are the people I’ve known for a year. We’ve met three times every week in the College Center at Crozier-Williams to practice improv. We’re N2O, the short-form improvisational comedy group at Connecticut College and it’s our first show of the year.
The warm-ups are done and the rituals begin: we sit in a circle and talk, and have quiet moments to prepare. Each one of us is nervous — this is also our first combined show with the long-form comedy group on campus, Scuds. A lot rests on this show because we have auditions the day after and we want a good turnout. We want some of the spectators to show up because the people who often think they’re not funny are actually the funniest.
I joined N2O last year in the beginning of September. I heard about the auditions from a friend and almost didn’t make it. In those first few days after Orientation, you run around like a headless chicken and want to join everything — and that’s good, because that’s how you discover things you never knew you were good at. How was I to know that my inherent awkwardness and desire to engage with even the most minor of things would translate to improv? I got to the auditions, however, and I was scared. So many people were so good. The members of the group were informal, though. They could have been ruthless but instead, they were the kindest, nicest people I’d met yet. I got called back and I joined improv.
Joining a club is not just a time commitment, it’s a commitment of spirit. In an English seminar I’m taking this semester, “The Teaching of Writing,” I had to analyze my own writing process in a fair amount of detail. When I got to the end of the paper, I realized that my writing is influenced by improv. I’m committed to the principles of “yes” “and” (agreeing and adding on, to make the scene work) and it’s honestly made me a better writer and storyteller. Even in my personal life, improv has made me more direct, but also better able to engage with the absurd and the fantastical. Between the number-counting and the limb-shaking of a warm-up before a show, I feel immensely glad that I tried something completely new and it paid off.