On & Off Campus

Pride and Prejudice

Had it seen the light of day, the panorama of posters, pink flags, paintings, and signs radiating outward from Hathorn Hall would have been the most public expression of gay and lesbian pride ever seen on the Bates campus.But the exhibit, organized late at night by several student organizations to coincide with National Coming Out Day in early October, never made it to morning. Due to administrative errors, the exhibit was dismantled by College personnel just hours after students finished putting it up.

In angry response to the administrative snafu — indeed, hell hath no fury like student activists scorned — the students demanded and got from the College a signed agreement to pursue initiatives to eradicate what some students and faculty say is a homophobic climate at Bates.

“During the putting up of the display, [the gay community] was feeling really good about themselves and what was happening. We thought it would make the Bates campus a safer place for people who are questioning their sexuality,” said Evette Rios ’99 of New York City. “I thought I would wake up the next morning and it would be like Christmas.”

Though the students had “blueslipped” the area, meaning they had registered with the administration their plans to construct an exhibit on the Quad, the paperwork never made it to campus security. After the students completed the display — after midnight, two days before National Coming Out Day — security noticed the display and reported it to Dean of Students F. Celeste Branham. Believing that no blueslip existed, she asked maintenance to remove
the display.

The move (in particular its swiftness, as the exhibit came down in the early-morning hours just after it was put up) stunned the approximately seventy-five student organizers.

The students were particularly shocked because they had organized the exhibit in the face of a growing number of homophobic acts on campus leading up to Coming Out Weekend. In particular, a series of “Questioning Your Sexuality” posters, put up by the campus Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual Alliance, had repeatedly been defaced and/or torn down.

“It’s very important for people to recognize that instances of homophobia constantly occur that threaten the emotional and physical safety of students. It’s not pretty, but it’s true,” said Erica Rand, an associate professor of art history who is an on- and off-campus activist involved in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

Branham and her staff publicly apologized for the error, posting a written mea culpa on large, multicolored pallets in Chase Hall. But by then, the student activists had solidly organized into a political movement. They advanced a list of demands and insisted that the deans not just agree to their list, but sign a document as well.

The entire episode culminated a week later in a morning-long, sometimes raucous sit-in attended by nearly one hundred students at Lane Hall. By noon, the students had their signed agreement.

“During the whole production of the display, we followed every rule,” Rios said when asked why the students demanded a signed agreement. “In that sense, when the display was taken down, we felt betrayed. We had abided by the system and the system didn’t allow us to do what we intended. We were feeling so deceived, and that led us to want something in writing.”

Branham said the sit-in did not coerce the College into signing the document. “Even before the sit-in, the deans were committed to hammering out language agreeable to everyone. My commitment when we started was intact. So the sit-in became peripheral to what we had already decided to do.”

Branham said she understood the students’ distrust. “The intensity of their response came not only from the dismantling of the display, but also from the general experience [for gays and lesbians] both at Bates and in society at large, which can be demeaning.”

Rand, who advises the campus Gay-
Lesbian-Bisexual Alliance, pointed to a “backlash” against minority groups “that is occurring everywhere in the United States right now. We have a rise in hate crimes and an increasing hostility” toward gays and lesbians.

Locally, Lewiston residents four years ago repealed a gay-rights ordinance passed by the city council, and last summer organizers in Maine gathered enough signatures to force a statewide referendum on whether to repeal Maine’s recently passed gay-rights law.

“Our society, and it’s reflected here at Bates, too, is expressing intolerance more frequently now” toward gays and lesbians, Branham said. “The climate is electrically charged. Everyone’s conscious of that, and it’s influencing how we exist here.”

A campus committee, whose members include the faculty, students, deans, and other administrative staff, has been established to work toward the goals outlined in the agreement (see sidebar).

(For another discussion of student activism at Bates, see President Harward’s column on page 5.)

What’s in a Name?

Rather than a cramped plot of land hard by the banks of the Androscoggin River in Lewiston, Oren Cheney and the other founders of Bates College decided to build their new school on a twenty-one-acre parcel a couple of miles east of the river.Last spring, the Bates Trustees voted to recognize the original owners of that land by naming a College-owned building at 227 College Street “the Nash House.” The newly named Nash House honors Ami and Julia Nash, who in 1855 sold their farmland and orchard to Oren Cheney for about $5,600. The building itself at 227 College Street is the original Nash farmhouse. Today, the house is a campus residence, home to students engaged in a range of community-service projects (see related story on page 10).

Incidently, Cheney was disuaded from buying the riverside property by leading citizen Alonzo Garcelon, who pointed to the location’s impracticality. As explained in Alfred Anthony’s Bates College and Its Background (1936), “Somehow riverfronts seem to present an almost compelling value in the eyes of some romantic people.” But, Anthony writes, the river is an “insuperable barrier to expansion” and seldom is the layout of land “ample enough to allow provision for future growth.”

Civil War Letters Give Glimpse

During the recent renovation of a Bates-owned house at 32 Frye Street into a student-run coffeehouse, construction workers reached inside a knocked-out wall and discovered a treasure trove of six Civil War-era letters exchanged between a regimental chaplain and his wife back in Lewiston.The renovated home, once the residence of College treasurer emeritus Norman Ross ’22 and his wife, Marjorie ’23, opened as “the Ronj,” a student-run cafe, in September (see story).

Uriah Balkam was the chaplain for the 16th Maine Regiment during the Civil War. He suffered from nephritis, and the letters home to his wife, Annie, detail his unsuccessful efforts to petition his commanding officers for a twenty-day disability leave. He also wrote about the good fortune of finding a $125 “dapple-grey” horse to see him through the war, the sound of “brisk musketry fire,” and Union troop movements.

While the letters don’t feature much of the romantic prose made famous by Ken Burns’s The Civil War, in one letter there is the sense of a wife’s heartache: “I never wanted to see you in my life more than I do at this moment,” wrote Annie Balkam to her husband.

Balkam, a graduate of Amherst College and the Bangor Theological Seminary, survived the war and returned to his home on Frye Street. He served as pastor of the Congregational Church on Pine Street from 1855 to 1870, and received an honorary doctoral degree from Bates in 1867. He became the College’s Cobb Professor of Logic and Christian Evidences in 1873, but died a year later on March 4, 1874, when he was thrown from his horse on his way to teach a class at Bates. That evening’s Lewiston Evening Journal notes that the horse that threw Balkam was purchased one year earlier, ruling out speculation that this was the same horse that he rode for more than a year and a half during the war.

Civil War historian and Lewiston native Thomas Desjardin perused transcriptions of the letters from his office in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and said the rare find gives a glimpse into life from the battlefield. “What is so unusual is that they tell us Balkam obviously suffered from a serious kidney ailment, yet he was denied a disability leave,” he said. “Chaplains were noncombatant elements of Civil War regiments and while they were spiritually essential during this highly religious period of history, they were not a physically important part of any regiment.”

Upon discovering the letters last June, construction workers hand delivered them to Kurt Kuss, special collections librarian at Bates, where the letters are now stored. Transcriptions of the letters can be seen on the Bates Web site at www.bates.edu/Library/specialcollections/exhibits/balkam/balkam.html

Bates on the Bean

If heaven is where you want to be, head for 32 Frye Street where a stately College-owned Victorian home has been transformed into a campus coffeehouse.Jumping java. Open since September and managed and staffed exclusively by Bates students, the Ronj — named for the two-story house’s luscious orange walls — glows from within like a nocturnal pumpkin. The establishment serves up the likes of specialty coffees, tea, hot chocolate, and the wildly popular Fresh Samanthas: freshly squeezed “no-preservatives-shake-it-up-baby” juice concoctions. Beverages aside, the hungry
visitor can also choose from an assortment
of biscotti, muffins, cookies, or fresh bread
and peanut butter in the company of delectable jellies.

All the good food and good cheer is part of an effort to provide additional social options to students and their guests in a non-alcoholic setting. Faculty, staff, and alumni are also
welcome. Open from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. for most of the semester, this joe joint expanded its December hours into the midafternoon for reading and finals week. “The coffee house culture has finally caught on among students,” capturing an audience of regulars, said one of the four student managers, Rachel Simon ’98.

The house has been connected on both floors to the garage, formerly a barn, which is used as a performance area on the first floor and a gallery upstairs. Smoking rooms are available on each floor as are quiet study areas upstairs, including the Bean Bag room, where Indian prints hang from the ceiling above soft pear-shaped recliners. It’s practically psychedelic. A cream-colored anteroom boasts freshly applied bumper stickers advocating a variety of causes. Visitors are invited to participate in the on-wall discussion by applying their own points of view.

Recent performers have included the improvisational Strange Bedfellows, the Deansmen, the Merrimanders, and Mark Erelli ’96. Mezcla, a mesmerizing Afro-Cuban ensemble, drew capacity crowds in late November, while saxophonist Linda Williams, assistant professor of music, wowed an SRO crowd on the Friday night of study week with her jazz outfit, The Usual Suspects, whose Portland-based personnel included the following lineup: a circuit court judge, district attorney, defense lawyer and detective. Junior Amy McInnis, stopping by briefly for some music, coffee, and a deep breath, said: “I need this jolt of caffeine to get me through the night.”

Some Went Hungry

Most of the Bates community walked inside Commons to feast on culinary delights like roast turkey, chilled roasted eggplant componata, and baked salmon with shellfish sauce.But Shawn Draper ’98, the only Bates student who uses a wheelchair, and about a dozen other students stayed outside Commons to boycott the annual Harvest Dinner, quietly protesting what they say is insufficient handicap accessibility on campus.

“The Harvest Dinner is a peripheral thing the school does that’s nice, but with all that Bates needs in terms of handicap accessibility, should we be spending money on this?” asked Draper, a political science major from Plaistow, New Hampshire.

College officials agreed with Draper — to a point. “This college ought to be fully handicap accessible, and we’re going to do it as quickly as we can,” said Bill Hiss ’66, vice president for administrative affairs, who noted that five ramps at a total cost of more than $50,000 were constructed in the last year. “We estimate it will probably take well over $2 million to solve every handicap-access issue on our campus. But we don’t have the money to do that all at once.”

Hiss said current and future building projects, such as the new academic building, include full access for the disabled. Bates will continue to spend $50,000 to $100,000 annually to upgrade access to existing buildings.

Draper and Bates officials concur that the College is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Draper’s classes are scheduled in accessible buildings, and both his room in Parker Hall and Commons are accessible. But Draper argues that improving access now need not break the Bates bank.

“Even if someone threw up a few ramps and said, `Hey look, when we can deal with the situation better, we will, but for right now we’re going to put these up knowing they’re temporary,’ that to me would be the appropriate reaction,” he said.

Currently, Draper, who has cerebral palsy, must be carried up the steps of some residence houses if he wants to visit friends. David Lieber ’98, co-coordinator of the protest and Draper’s former roommate, noted that the lack of ramps has been dangerous for Draper, who last year hit his head on the pavement
after being accidentally dropped as he was
carried upstairs.

“Bates prides itself on not having exclusive [organizations],” said Lieber, “when in fact the physical structure of the campus is exclusive to some individuals and will be in the future. We need to make sure that this place is truly accessible and really is committed not only in theory, but in practice to its egalitarian ideals.”

A Conference Divided

The schools of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), of which Bates is a member, continue their efforts to forge a compromise agreement regarding their participation in national post-season tournaments.From its inception in 1971 until 1993, NESCAC forbid team participation in national (i.e., NCAA) tournaments. Only individuals, such as swimmers or runners, were allowed to compete at the national level.

But all that changed in 1993, when the eleven NESCAC colleges (Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Wesleyan, and Williams) allowed teams to compete in NCAA team championships on a trial basis.

Last fall, the presidents reviewed the experiment. When a straw vote revealed no clear agreement whether to continue NCAA tournament participation, student athletes at NESCAC campuses vigorously lobbied their presidents to approve continuation of tournament play. At Bates, several hundred pro-NCAA athletes turned out for an open forum in October.

In seeking a middle ground that promotes athletic excellence but guards against the pitfalls of big-time college sports, President Harward has stressed that Bates has upheld NESCAC ideals. “I am confident that at Bates, we are `doing it right,'” he wrote in a December memo to the Bates Board of Trustees. “We have achieved balances that are healthy and progressive…. We all want those to continue.”

But, Harward cautioned in his memo (which he wrote just prior to a NESCAC presidents’ meeting, at which he worked to broker a compromise), he opposes a rubber-stamp continuation of national competition. It is, he wrote, “unwise simply to agree to allow the continuation of post-season team play without using this opportunity to strengthen the agreements that define NESCAC.”

The NESCAC presidents are continuing their discussions over the winter and will reconvene in April.

Roll out the Barrel

The beer is flowing in Chase Hall, but expect no bashes. Recent renovations at the Den coincided with the establishment there of the Pub, where beer is served to those twenty-one years of age and older on Fridays and Saturdays between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m, with alcohol served only until 1 a.m.To step up to the tap (figuratively, that is, since customers are served only at tables by waitstaff), patrons must produce identification at the door, where bracelets are distributed to those eligible to drink.

“It’s not a police state,” said manager Pablo Colon, who insists that despite the need to scrupulously observe Maine liquor laws, the Pub remains a place for students, regardless of age, to relax and enjoy themselves. And those who can drink are encouraged to do so in moderation. “We promote responsible limits and drinking habits,” Colon said.

To entice clientele, the Pub has been serving a free buffet (“It transcends the french fry thing,” Colon said) and showcasing on- and off-campus performers. Karaoke nights have been the surprise hit of the season.

A former Navy man, Colon predicted the success of his operation. “After the christening of a boat, you always go on a shakedown cruise. The good ship will sail smoothly.”

Raising Amelia

The youngest and hairiest of thirteen residents at Nash House sleeps on a pink pillow and plays aggressively with a red rubber toy named “Kong.”Amelia, a six-month-old black Labrador retriever, lives on campus with the College’s blessing, even though Bates housing policy says “no pets.” That’s because sophomore Jessica Young, an art major from Thetford, Vermont, is raising the puppy as a seeing-eye dog candidate for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, based in Yorktown Heights, New York.

For Young and the other Nash House residents, raising Amelia and engaging in other community-service projects is a way of life.

Last year, Young and some fellow students petitioned the College to create a one-year residence focused on community service. Ten women and three men agreed to perform a minimum of one hour of service each week in exchange for the opportunity to live collectively at Nash House. In addition to individual projects, including collaboration with local AIDS and hunger organizations, each student works in some capacity at the Martel Elementary School in Lewiston. The group gathers weekly to share a meal, followed by a discussion related to community activism. “We want to get more students involved in community service,” Young said.

Amelia is the third dog that Young has groomed as a seeing-eye helper, but the first to accompany her to Bates. “It’s a great place because there are so many activities and people for her to meet,” said Young, who started working with guide dogs in high school.

As an ex officio member of the Bates community, Amelia follows a number of guidelines. She’s not allowed in Chase Hall, for example, and may attend class only with the permission of an instructor. As the fall semester drew to a close, Amelia had yet to visit a classroom. “She isn’t quite ready yet,” Young said. Her charge was still getting excited and playful upon encountering new faces.

The big test for Amelia will come when Guiding Eyes for the Blind puts her through a battery of tests to determine suitability for formal training with a blind partner. Assuming Amelia makes the grade, Young is ready to part with her friend: “It will be hard to give her up, but I know I’m doing it for a good cause. I’m so happy to give this dog.”

Wenzel’s Award

The face of analytical chemistry is changing. And it’s looking a lot like Tom Wenzel.The College’s Dana Professor of Chemistry recently was named 1997 Maine Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The award recognizes Wenzel’s revolutionary approach to the teaching of analytical chemistry.

The improvements, said Wenzel, have come though “project-based” learning, which has benefits both in the lab and in class.

According to Wenzel, he acts as a facilitator in the class, while the students act as both student and teacher to one another.

“I give them problem sheets, and they try to solve those problems,” Wenzel explained. “The students are both students and teachers, in that if someone appreciates a concept, it’s his or her responsibility to explain it to the remaining members of the group who don’t appreciate it.”

Analytical chemistry labs used to be fairly traditional, said Wenzel, where students struggled through one- or two-week sessions, grinding out results for a grade.

Wenzel, however, uses a different approach.

“What I’ve done instead is started having my students do semester-long projects that are very ambitious in their scope,” he said. “The problems tend to be very real questions people might ask,” he said.

For example, Wenzel’s students have analyzed caffeine in chocolate, chemicals in the air from car exhaust, and chemicals that show up in the water chlorination process. “The project approach has generated a level of independence, critical thought, and empowerment not observed in the previous format,” he said.

His students are inclined to agree. “Learning that involves working through problems yourself is more effective than a one-way flow of information from professor to student,” said Dave Richard ’98 of Hooksett, New Hampshire.

Scene 1, Take 7,418

The recent faculty attempt to revise general-education requirements could have been a Hollywood production: clashes between directors and cast, constant script revisions, and endless scheduling delays. And, like a film production, the process ultimately proved more grueling than glamorous.”It’s easier to move a graveyard than a curriculum,” said Dean of the Faculty Martha Crunkleton. The inside of Chase Hall Lounge, home to faculty meetings, never looked so familiar to professors who returned week after week to hash through new proposals and
often contrarian points of view.

Yet Crunkleton also noted that she was pleased to see an “engaged” faculty, adding that she believed its members to be “nearing the end” of the discussion. Indeed, the weekly series of extended meetings should yield gratifying results that benefit both students and faculty alike.

The current process, while agonizing, is nothing new. Throughout its history, Bates has expected all students to pursue certain common patterns of study, known today as the General Education (“GenEd”) requirement. In the 1960s, for example, the general education requirement included the famous “Cultch,” the Cultural Heritage course advertised as “great-ideas, great-issues, great-men, and great-books study rolled into one.”

Every few years, the faculty debates, reviews, and alters, if necessary, the GenEd requirements. The last extensive GenEd review was nearly two decades ago. The current review, begun several years ago, was spurred by an accreditation process as well as the general consensus of the faculty.

The present GenEd production went into high gear last spring when the faculty Educational Policy Committee (EPC), overseers of the College’s curricular offerings, submitted a revised proposal calling for more skills-based graduation requirements (such as language proficiency), which would replace the current, more departmental demands.

That brought flashes of disapproval from language and science departments, who worried they would be inundated with students whose numbers they could not manage. Then came a proposal for a multicultural requirement, which then evolved into a proposal that students take courses addressing issues of social justice. Then came discussion, dissension, and finally consensus necessary to craft a second social-justice proposal. With scarcely a breather came new proposals for international literacy and environmental literacy, both of which stepped in as substitutes for language and science requirements.

By the conclusion of the fall term, the GenEd proposal, to be discussed and then voted upon in the first months of 1998, included, among other requirements, the following components:

* mandatory first-year seminars in which professors will also serve as academic advisers until students declare a major;

* required senior thesis or project for all students (past exceptions have included a variety of comprehensive exams for some science, math, and language majors);

* a social justice requirement;

* an international literacy requirement;

* and an environmental literacy requirement.

In discussing the proposed curriculum changes, Crunkleton described the faculty as “transitional — struggling intellectually and generationally. Do we keep what we know and have done for twenty years?” Or, she asked, does the faculty need to make radical changes?

Not to be forgotten in these curriculum explorations, students actively contributed to an ongoing, online GenEd discussion, taking a variety of critical and supportive stands in relation to various proposals. At one point, senior Jessica Brown chastised a faculty member who suggested that the process be tabled to give everyone a break: “This runs along the lines of `it’s too hard, I can’t do it,’ something students often apply to classes or concepts we feel are too difficult.” In counterpoint, Shawn O’Leary argued that “the faculty could meet once a week for three years and not reach a conclusion. It is a quagmire. Give the faculty their break.”

In the waning days of the term, biology professor Eli Minkoff hopped online, invoking Otto von Bismarck’s Iron Chancellor quip that “to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” And, perhaps, curricular review.

Home Is Where the Giving Is

A cooperative effort involving Bates and three Lewiston-Auburn non-profit groups hopes to increase awareness among area residents of planned-giving opportunities.Calling itself the Androscoggin Charitable Collaborative, the group includes representatives from Bates as well as the two area hospitals (Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center) and the United Way of Androscoggin County.

“We want to raise the consciousness, both among local residents and estate and financial professionals, about the tax benefits, the community betterment, and the personal satisfaction that comes from philanthropy,” said Gene Taylor ’56, planned-giving officer at Bates.

An important first step, said Taylor, is educating residents to appreciate the importance of seeking professional help when making
difficult decisions about one’s estate.

The group’s ultimate goal is to increase the number of bequests and life-income gifts for the area’s many charitable organizations. “Planned charitable giving benefits everyone involved: the donor and his or her family,
the charity involved, and the community as a whole,” said Win Brown ’89, executive director of the Sisters of Charity Health System Foundation, the charitable-giving arm of St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.

CBB Cooperation

With a three-year grant awarded recently by the Andrew Mellon Foundation of New York, Maine’s big-three liberal arts colleges continue to pool their resources to improve teaching and learning.The $975,000 grant will help faculty and staff from Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby use technology to improve efficiency and cost-
effectiveness of teaching and associated
support programs.

Administered by Bates, the grant will fund a new library electronic access system, video conferencing equipment, and inservice training for faculty to use new technologies. In
addition, a small planning grant will also allow the three colleges to develop a consortial study-abroad program.

Beginning in 1986, with the creation of a CBB library consortium to promote sharing of collections and informational access, the three colleges have cooperated on many fronts to improve the liberal arts experience through the use of technology. Two years ago, the three colleges received another major Mellon grant to explore and implement interactive multimedia technology in language instruction.