The Man Behind the Blue Door

 Photo courtesy of Nick Salinas

Photo courtesy of Nick Salinas

At a time when many Sarah Lawrence students of color feel that the college does not care about them, Nick Salinas, the director of financial aid, is central to the conversation. In March, students used the Bates free speech board to accuse the administration of “using” people of color and of being racially insensitive in general. The message clearly had a fiscal connotation, which led many students to believe the message was directed at the office of financial aid.

Salinas and his staff work tirelessly but are also aware that they will not always be able to satisfy all of the students at one of the top-ten most expensive schools in the country. When I encounter Salinas in his Westlands office, the first thing I notice is that he, like many men in their early forties, is going bald. He seems to have embraced this reality and has shaved the rest of his head. He is a solidly-built, slim man who rises from his desk to give me a handshake that is, like his voice, firm but not overwhelming.

The darker color in his blue-and-white checked shirt noticeably matches the robins-egg hue painted on both the stone and wood walls in his fairly spacious office.  The color is cheerful and homey against the dark brown desks and chairs and the clean white trim on the large windows overlooking the North Lawn and Old Dorms. Sitting on the windowsill is a framed picture of three young children. “Niko is the oldest. He’s seven. Angelina is five and Gia is two; she’ll be three in July,” he says proudly. We sit on opposite ends of an empty round table a few short feet from his crowded rectangular desk. Salinas’s profile is sharpened by the afternoon sunlight at his back.

“So let me guess. You’re Italian.” I grin at Salinas, and he laughs amiably. He is, in fact, half-Italian and half-Peruvian. His mother was born and bred in Yonkers while his father immigrated to the U.S. from Peru as a teenager. Salinas and his older brother grew up in nearby White Plains, a fact that doesn’t surprise me once I notice the huge framed puzzle depicting a large bridge and the words “New York” in large printed letters. The puzzle dominates the wall across from his blue door, which he calls “my escape route” though he does not seem to mind being in his character-filled office.

To the right of the puzzle, Salinas keeps a printed flip-calendar featuring the New York Yankees; on the other side of the room a trio of toy figurines play an unmoving game of soccer, and above them nine international soccer jerseys hang proudly. Salinas’s whole family loved sports. He inherited his love of baseball and basketball from his mother and his passion for soccer from his father. “My brother was a big baseball player, had tryouts with some professional teams and all that later in life, so I learned from him. I played basketball just for fun, but organized soccer was the only thing I played. I started when I was five and played through college competitively.”

White Plains always felt like a melting pot to him. “You have every kind of nationality, religion, anything that you can think of is there,” he tells me. “A lot of the kids I played soccer with, their parents were immigrants from other countries too, so it was interesting. I never felt out of place in that way, so I was kind of lucky to be surrounded by so many different people.”

It wasn’t until Salinas was in middle school that he started to recognize what he calls “the stigma of Westchester.” Salinas speaks on the topic in his steady, even voice. “You know, when you live in the more affluent areas of the county… You’re already well aware of that. But you grow up in let’s say Yonkers, or White Plains, or Elmsford, which are very, very diverse socio-economically and everything…” He pauses to choose his next words. “Growing up you don’t really think about that kind of thing, and it is what it is, and it’s just you are who you are.”

Playing soccer helped Salinas avoid the divisions of Westchester. “The teams that I played for were very competitive, so even though it was in our view, we put it aside when it was time to play and it was all about winning at that point.”

“Do you think that you ever felt more inclined to win because you wanted to… prove yourself a little bit?” I ask.

“Yeah. Absolutely. You always get more competitive when something like that exists. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong but it’s human nature I think.”

Salinas’s competitive drive and talent helped him get recruited to St. John’s University in Queens during his senior year of high school, but the car he was supposed to commute with was totaled over the summer in an accident. “I decided, alright, I’ll take a year off. After that I was still playing soccer at the club level where we would travel to different tournaments, so I was still getting seen by college coaches.” During the year off Salinas knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to just goof off. “When I was growing up and getting out of high school, my dad basically said, ‘You’re gonna learn a trade, you’re gonna go to college, or you’re gonna join the Marines. Choose.’ And I was probably this close to going to the Marines. I went into the office and everything, sat through a listening session and all that.”

Instead, Salinas was recruited by a coach from Oneonta University in upstate New York, but a bad case of mono and party-going eventually lost him his first spring semester of college. At that point he needed to fix his grades before transferring to any other colleges, so Salinas attended Westchester Community College before being recruited one final time by Manhattanville College in Purchase where he stayed for the next three years.

“At times I feel terrible for not doing as well as I should have when they sent me to Oneonta and I partied too much,” Salinas says ruefully. “You feel bad in retrospect… I kind of wasted some of their money. And my money, too, because I was charged and I had to repay some of that.” Mostly, though, Salinas is grateful to his parents for the sacrifices they made to support both him and his brother. His father has worked full-time as a cook at the White Plains Presbyterian Hospital for more than forty years and often took side jobs as an electrician, while his mother has worked in retail.

Salinas’s parents instilled an intense work ethic, pride in self-sufficiency, and a sense of responsibility in their son, which came in handy when applying for colleges. Not only was the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form more complicated in the 1990s than it is today, but it had to be completed by hand in suitably legible penmanship, a painstaking horror that Salinas recalls that makes me feel grateful for the online FAFSA families now complete. Salinas filled out the form at least six times with no guidance during his college years, and had to explain the whole process to his parents, neither of whom have college degrees. Salinas took this challenge in stride.

“Even through high school, my parents never asked to see a report card or anything like that. They knew if I went to school that I was going to do the work. They counted on me to be responsible for my future.”

Salinas thinks about the future a lot now that he has kids of his own. He sounds hopeful and a little wistful when he tells me that his son, Niko, loves to come home and tell him everything he learned at school. He is glad that both of his older children are engaged by their lessons, and he seems excited to see how their interests develop as they get older and ascend through the grades of their public school. Even though it’s far away, he’s definitely thought about his own children in relation to college.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it,” he laughs ironically. Though he is lighthearted at first, Salinas is dead serious when he brings up the topic of his family’s impending college debts. “I know it’s an expense, but it’s also an investment. You’re investing in the future, you’re investing in the future of their families… It’s an investment that statistics have proven to benefit the student and family.”

Graduating from Manhattanville with a degree in business management in 2001, Salinas may have thought that his days of college finance forms were behind him. After a year working in his hometown following up on contacts made at school, he landed a job on Wall Street running the trades for bonds. Mere weeks later, the unthinkable happened.

“That morning I got off the subway, because I was living in White Plains still. I got off the subway... I was on the phone with somebody and the first plane hit the first tower. Right above my head.” Salinas’s voice is even when he speaks, but his tone changes perceptibly when he recalls this shattering day.

He recalls the events almost mechanically. “I get to my building and I’m with my crew, my friends. We have a clear view of the towers, and next thing you know, you see the second plane hit the second tower. We were obviously in shock. After the second plane hit the tower we knew something was not right, it wasn’t an accident. At that point we’re all looking at the towers, and you can see people throwing themselves out the windows, and then my boss is like ‘we gotta get out of here, everybody get out of here.’”

In the face of one of America’s most shocking experiences of violence, what Salinas calls the “defining moment” of that day was an encounter with a fireman. “While we’re walking towards the subway, a car just screeches up on the road and the back door opens and all you can see is somebody kicking all this fire equipment out. Tank. Coat. It was a firefighter, and he couldn’t get any further because the crowd was walking in the streets. He was taking all his gear and running towards the scene, and I always think to myself: did he ever make it out, did he ever make it there, did he make it out if he made it in? I just remember saying ‘Good luck, be careful’ to him.”

The experience touched Salinas so deeply that he could not bear to stay on Wall Street. “When I was back down to work, it was hard. Everything was covered in dust, everything smelled terribly. The experience itself was life changing. I knew at that point I wanted to get out of there and I didn’t want to stay down there any longer.” Luckily, another contact came through with a surprising position as a financial aid counselor at Fordham University in the Bronx. Salinas’s experience with the FAFSA form and his innate desire to help people told him that college counseling could be a good fit for him; Fordham thought so too, and offered him the job on the spot.

Salinas’s personal experience with FAFSA was not enough to prepare him for a career in financial aid counseling. He attended a three-day “novice training” with hundreds of other individuals new to the industry that was part math-class, part legal-training, part social networking. “You go through that and then you come back with the knowledge that you learn and you start counseling students and families,” Salinas said. “The financial aid industry changes every day, so its fast-growing and very dynamic. If you don’t learn something new every day, you’re not doing your job.”

Much of his early learning came from his experience with his mentor and supervisor at Fordham, Brian Ghanoo. Ghanoo sat in the cubicle next to Salinas and would coach him after counseling sessions. “Afterwards and he would say, ‘O.K., here’s what was great; work on this a little bit.’ It’s crafting a skill in how to talk to people, how to make them feel comfortable and let them talk to you... let them tell you what they need to tell you, [to] really understand and listen to what they’re saying.”

These tips were invaluable for Salinas in a job that initially made him nervous. “You don’t know these people, but they’re trusting you enough to tell you very personal things or to guide them through the financing of an education. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

For three years Salinas continued working at Fordham, learning from Ghanoo how best to counsel families and students, when he caught wind of an opening at Sarah Lawrence College. He already knew the then-director of the department, Heather McDonnell, from conferences and trainings, but he still researched the school and knew that “it was a different kind of place.” When he went to McDonnell's office twelve years ago for his initial interview, dressed in a suit and tie, “she closes the door and says, ‘the next time you wear a suit here, you better be going to a funeral or a wedding.’ So I said ‘I need to work here.’” Salinas got the job-- for the next ten years he would act as Assistant Director, Student Employment Coordinator, and was later promoted to Associate Director in the office until McDonnell retired in 2016 when he replaced her as head of the department.

McDonnell had a profound effect on Salinas as a mentor, and he credits her with teaching him everything he knows about the industry. “Besides financial aid and all that, she taught me that it’s just a job,” Salinas remembers. “She was always one to say family first, you have to do something just let me know and take care of it. Five o’clock she would always go around the office shutting the lights. ‘You have other things to do, [the work is] going to be there tomorrow.’” Salinas also points out how, like Ghanoo, McDonnell shaped his tactical approach to his job. “She taught me to humanize the process, to be comfortable with the people you’re talking with and make them comfortable. I think she taught me to be a better person as a whole.”

Though he may not have come to the industry by chance, Salinas takes his job incredibly seriously. He’s at his desk in Westlands by 8:30 or 9:00 every morning and doesn’t leave until 6:00 or 7:00 each night, unless he has to pick up his kids from school. His weeks are spent number-crunching and navigating a stream of meetings: with his staff, his boss, Kevin McKenna, the IT department, the president— anyone and everyone who might affect the running of his office.

He even comes in on weekends just to get a jumpstart on the week, or to catch up from the week before. Most of his time is spent emailing— “I’m pretty much on 24/7” he admits. “If I get an email that needs a quick response— whether its a student, a parent, my boss, somebody in administration— I’ll do it from my phone. But I’m at home on my computer doing that too.”

“We try to pride ourselves on getting responses back to our families and students as quickly as we possibly can, between 24 and 48 hours, so that they get the customer service that they deserve.” Salinas is very serious when he describes his team’s efficiency. This idea of customer service is not one that I would have considered before Salinas invoked it. As a student I always think of myself as such, and separate from the status of “customer” or “consumer;” it is clear that in Salinas’s eyes, I am both.

Salinas conducts financial aid nights at high schools in the local New York area and sits on the Sarah Lawrence Diversity Committee. Salinas is frank about the effect of the free speech boards on the committee, which is comprised of key staff, faculty and Student Senate representatives. “With the campus climate and everything, there’s a lot to do in respect to diversity on campus. There’s always a lot, but obviously it’s heightened now. It’s challenging, but it’s good work we’re trying to do.”

Every issue the Diversity Committee deals with is nuanced, and changing campus for the better takes skillful and patient management of many moving parts. One of the committee’s most recent priorities has been implementing chosen name on school documents. Salinas points to the option extended by the registrar to include a student’s chosen name on their diploma as a step in the right direction, and adds, “you want to make sure the process works throughout campus where it needs to-- class rosters, MySLC, things like that. So we want to make we’re not just plugging a hole and saying ‘O.K., we did it for this year.’ That’s not a good way to operate.”

Salinas’s had complicated feelings when he first heard about the message on the free speech board. “I felt sad. Angry. And confused. It kind of ran the gamut of those three.” He sounds tired when he later adds, “I think we’re moving in the right direction, but things have to get done. We have to do things, not just say we’re gonna do them.”

In terms of what his office can do specifically in terms of diversity, Salinas is clear. “When we want diversity in the class the population itself, we’re not just talking about gender, race, or anything like that. We're running the gambit of diversity.” In order to achieve that kind of diversity, Salinas says, the school spends approximately thirty-one million dollars a year on financial aid for its students. Still, he is frustrated since he knows that many prospective students and families are intimidated out of applying to the school when they see the full cost of attendance. “That hurts us because you don’t look a little further and say, ‘wow, they offer 38, 39 thousand dollars: that’s an average. Maybe I can get more,’” Salinas explains.

Salinas wants to start bridging that gap, but he knows better than anyone that change is a slow process. In the meantime, he can become disheartened when students assume bad things of his office. “A lot of the times it’s not due to malice and it’s not someone spreading a rumor— sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s hearing what you want to hear and then relaying that information to someone else. And it’s like the game of telephone.” Salinas also wishes students felt comfortable coming straight to the source for facts and clarifications about financial aid.

Salinas pauses, deliberating silently over the right words. “I want you to make the best decision for your family. So there’s an ethical and a moral issue. You want to make sure that the family is aware that you’re not here to just say, ‘you can do it, don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine,’ and then put them in jeopardy down the road.”

If anyone understands the fear of this burden, it would be Salinas. The first college graduate in his family with three young children to one day put through college, he extends the same respect to his clients as he would hope for his children one day.

Salinas sees his respectful, realistic interactions with students not just as a matter of morals and ethics, but as an extension of their education. “If they don’t pay their bill on time with student accounts, they get a late fee, and then they’re angry at us. Ok, let’s put it in perspective. If you have a cell phone bill and you don’t pay it, you’re going to get a late fee. If you don’t pay your bill and the late fee, they’re probably going to turn your service off. There are teaching moments everywhere. I find myself thinking more and more of that because we’re all educators; we work in the education industry, so learning and teaching should not just happen in the classroom. Especially if our goal is to make you world citizens; then we want to celebrate your successes and to help you understand that there are consequences to certain actions and inactions.”

Salinas’s own children are recipients of their father’s holistic take on education, though their learning is driven by youthful curiosity. As Niko and Gia have grown up, they’ve started to pay attention to their father’s conversations when they visit him at work. Recently Niko asked Salinas what he does.

“In a nutshell, to a seven and a five year old, I tell them that Daddy helps students and families find resources to attend college and make it affordable to them,” Salinas explains. Then he does his best impression of his son’s wide, uncomprehending eyes and tells me that Niko simply responded, “what?” Giving up, Salinas just told his son that he helped students get a college degree. Understanding that, Niko asked if students have to pay to go to college. Salinas was unequivocal in his answer to that question. “I try to teach them nothing is free in life.”

Salinas is usually very cautious when he speaks about his job, but he brightens up when he speaks about the students whose lives he wants to shape positively. Salinas loves the close-knit community on campus, especially after working at Fordham, a college with almost twenty-thousand undergraduates. “I know a lot of students on campus and they’ll sometimes just come in and say hi, ask how my day is going, or any of us. They build a bond with us because we’re already talking about sensitive information, finances, family structure, that sort of thing. So once you already feel comfortable enough to talk about that, they feel comfortable enough to think of you as someone you can come and talk to.”

What Salinas misses most about his old position is the constant contact he had with students and families, which he emphatically describes as his favorite part of the job. Last year, as part of his campaign to strengthen the connection between the office of financial aid and the student body as a whole, Salinas did what any good New Yorker would do to get people’s attention: he threw a pizza party.

“We opened these doors,” he points to the internal door the office, “and those doors,” he nods to the the blue external door, “and we sent out through social media, MySLC, ‘come pick up a flyer and learn about filing financial aid for the next year…’ It got a lot of attention. We got a lot of visitors in the office, made a lot of people aware at least, and then met students that we may not have had a chance to meet.”

For Salinas, commencement is the best day on campus. “It’s very exciting and I feel a sense of pride because I may have played a small role in [students] reaching their goal.” He doesn’t sit in the audience or up on the stage, though. “You’ll probably laugh at me, but I will be working,” he admits.

He sits in his office until the commencement speaker begins their speech, when he walks to the shade of the Reunion Terrace patio on the West side of Westlands and watches the speaker quietly. He then returns to his office before going back to his hidden spot to watch the names being called. “Then I’ll hang out back here usually cause they always have everybody out there as far as the toast goes, then I’ll go say hi to any students I know.”

Ceylan Swenson '21

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Advocacy at Sarah Lawrence: Academic Freedom in Venezuela

 Sarah Lawrence students participated in Scholars at Risk Advocacy Day in Washington DC on March 8, 2018. Credit: Sarah Almeida

Sarah Lawrence students participated in Scholars at Risk Advocacy Day in Washington DC on March 8, 2018. Credit: Sarah Almeida

Just before Spring break, SLC for Scholars at Risk (SAR), a student group at Sarah Lawrence, traveled to Washington D.C. and took part in a seminar on academic freedom advocacy as well as organized a multitude of meetings with senator and congressmen staffers to discuss and lobby for the topic. SLC for SAR is an organization created in conjunction with Janet Reilly’s “People on the Move: Narrating Displacement, Critiquing Crisis, and Advocating for Refugees” Politics seminar. The activism in this group has focused on the current violations of the right to Academic Freedom in Venezuela.

In Venezuela today, there is severe repression of freedom of speech and academic freedom, creating a political environment in which the current regime cannot be formally questioned in any way. Within higher education, professors and students who are perceived as “challenging” by the Venezuelan government are being unlawfully detained and imprisoned. This is a clear violation of the rights guaranteed to all people that are stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On Feb 23, 2017, Profesor Guevara, a retired economics professor at the University of Carabobo, was brought before a military court and charged with “treason,” “incitement to rebellion,” and crimes against the “security and independence of the nation.” He spent 9 months unlawfully imprisoned for the crime of writing academic papers about the Venezuelan economy. He is still awaiting his trial. In addition to this continuation of suppression to individuals like Guevara, the entire population suffers from a humanitarian crisis perpetrated by Nicolas Maduro’s regime. Issues include but are not limited to a severe lack of access to medical supplies and a failing economy dependent on a dwindling resource of oil. The value of the Venezuelan Bolivar has been rapidly plummeting. As of 2018, the current currency configuration is one Venezuelan Bolívar being equivalent to $0.00003 US Dollars.

The international community is allowing President Maduro and his regime to suppress the education of Venezuelans. As long as this continues, there will be no social platform for discussion of other gross human rights violations in Venezuela. We must call for action and pressure from our government officials in the form of denouncements, sanctions, and reports on the inhumane regime that remains in power today.

On SLC for SAR’s trip to Washington D.C. students met with other college groups that are also involved with the Scholars At Risk organization and lobbied to their representatives on the hill.  In addition to the meetings with congress staff, students had time to do drop-in meetings. Two students from Vermont dropped by the office of one of their representatives and were given the chance to sit down and share Guevara’s case and our ask with them without prior meeting planned. These staffers were very grateful for the students’ interest and passion on the issue at hand.

But why should Sarah Lawrence students care about academic freedom? Issues like these matter because this doesn’t just affect countries like Venezuela, threats to freedom can happen anywhere. Two of the most important tools that we have as students are our minds and voices. If we have an opportunity to raise our voices and advocate for others, then we must do so.

SLC for SAR is hosting a panel that concerns Venezuelan academic freedom on April 20th at 5 p.m. in the Titsworth Lecture Hall. Please join us to learn more about the ongoing restrictions against academic freedom in Venezuela.

 Be sure to check out the panel on Academic Freedom in Venezuela on Friday, 4/20 at 5 PM in Miller Lecture Hall. Credit: College Events

Be sure to check out the panel on Academic Freedom in Venezuela on Friday, 4/20 at 5 PM in Miller Lecture Hall. Credit: College Events

If you have any questions or want more info, you can reach SLC for SAR at slcforsar@gm.slc.edu, on Twitter @SLC_for_SAR, or on Facebook @SLCforSAR.

This piece was submitted by members of SLCforSAR, Ilyssa Daly '20 and Joe Hille '20.

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Loneliness and Social Support at Sarah Lawrence

 Credit: @sarahlawrencecollege on Instagram

Credit: @sarahlawrencecollege on Instagram

“The natural thing at Sarah Lawrence seems to be isolation. There doesn’t seem to be the need for friends. People here put up walls and it’s hard to climb over them.”  It was  October of  1966 when Judy Brin, an SLC student,  offered this observation in an article for The Phoenix entitled: “Do you ever get to feel at home here?” Now, 52 years later, how do things stack up?

In the SLC Student Satisfaction Survey, which was open from Oct 12 through 31 of 2017,responses were collected from 615 students, mostly first-years and transfers. The first six weeks of college are often considered to be the most crucial time for incoming students to transition to campus. The survey asked students questions regarding residence life, use of on-campus resources, and especially socialization. The results were remarkable. 95% of respondents said that they felt welcomed in the SLC community. 84% felt they belonged and were truly part of the community. 19% felt lonely. Compare this to a 2016 survey of nearly 28,000 students on 51 campuses by the American College Health Association, in which more than 60% of respondents said that they had “felt very lonely” in the previous 12 months and nearly 30% said that they had felt that way in the previous two weeks. That difference is absolutely something to take pride in--though it should not overshadow the undeniable amount of students on campus who struggle to make friends, or feel lonely.

Sarah Lawrence may be largely unaffected by what has been described as an “epidemic of loneliness” across college campuses in the U.S., but many of the same problems are still as present here as elsewhere, and they need addressing. Dina Nunziato, Director of SLC’s Counseling and Psychological Services, notes that adjustment issues in the transition to college are a major contributor to loneliness.

“Adjustment to college is a huge transition for many students,” Nunziato said.“For many students it’s the most or one of the most significant transitions they’ve made in their lives to date.” Technology and social media may also play a role. “It can be difficult to make new connections when it’s so much easier to maintain the old connections from home.”While it’s good to keep in touch, with social media as a backup or buffer, people may have “less of an entrée to meet new people” and may struggle to “really connect to the people who are in [their] suite or FYS.”

So, what can people who are feeling lonely do to help themselves, and what can others do to help?

One way is to make use of the Health and Wellness Center counseling services, which offers individual and group therapy as well as outreach programs. Nunziato recommends group therapy especially, as these “can be places where students dealing with similar issues can meet and support one another.” Counselors have set up specialized groups for specific issues such as anxiety, depression, and ‘family drama’ or particularly difficult family dynamic issues. There are also groups that specifically coach students on socialization, dealing with social anxiety, improving public speaking, or simply ‘how to talk to people and how to be assertive and communicate.’

Nunziato further recommends the De-stress With Pets events, in which pets are brought to campus several times each semester to play and interact with students. An outreach program only recently started by the Health and Wellness Center, its results have been particularly successful in helping students who feel isolated. “It’s been amazing,” Nunziato said, “to see two people who might never have otherwise said hello to one another, because  there’s a puppy there, or because they’ve having some kind of common experience, start talking to each other and really bond.”

Beyond that, there are also health fairs and events hosted by Residence Life that might help with feeling connected on campus, as well as resident advisors that are always there to support students. According to the Student Satisfaction Survey, 70% of respondents said that their RA was an important resource and had used them for help, 94% considered them approachable and available, and 99% had been invited to an event by their RA.

As important as these resources are, however, it may very well be equally important to make a difference by taking steps towards reaching out. Nunziato encourages people to take a little risk, despite a culture that normalizes ignoring one-another so frequently that the action of it is named after the school itself. “I think that we need to put it on ourselves as a community of scholars, and a community of individuals at Sarah Lawrence, to see if we can encourage ourselves to reach out and just make a connection. Say hello. Say good morning. If you see someone walking by or if you see someone having lunch by themselves, maybe they want to be by themselves, but maybe you could say do you mind if I sit down or do you want to come join us.” She also emphasizes the importance of promoting face to face communication. At Orientation, President Cristle Collins Judd memorably made the promise to stay off her phone while walking across campus, and instead make eye contact and conversation. Nunziato recommends that other students to follow her example in helping people feel that they are making real human connections.

And finally: “I think that it would be important if we could help people who are feeling lonely to put it out there. It’s hard sometimes to say I feel lonely…but I think people would be surprised if they put into words that they’re lonely, I think they would be met with a fair bit of empathy from other people because I think just about anyone can relate to that feeling.” Easier said than done, perhaps, but feeling at home is very definitely within reach.

Chelsea Liu '21

SLC Students are Washington D.C. Bound for Scholars at Risk Student Advocacy Day

 Professor Santiago Guevara before (left) and after (right) he was released from prison. He has lost between 60 and 70 pounds since being imprisoned. Photo Credit: Scholars at Risk

Professor Santiago Guevara before (left) and after (right) he was released from prison. He has lost between 60 and 70 pounds since being imprisoned. Photo Credit: Scholars at Risk

On Feb. 21, 2017, the Venezuelan scholar Santiago Guevara, a prominent economist at the University of Carabobo, was arrested for voicing his opinions on the economic conditions and political unrest in Venezuela. Since then, he has been charged with treason, incitement to rebellion and “crimes against the security and independence of the nation” by a military court. In early Jan., Professor Guevara was released from prison but his health is in extreme danger and his trial continues to be delayed, therefore leaving the government in control of his assets and the threat of returning to prison looming over his head.

SLC students will be advocating on behalf of this scholar on March 9 at Capitol Hill. As part of the second annual Scholars at Risk Student Advocacy Day, students will be coming together from around the country to advocate for the release of wrongfully imprisoned scholars across the world. SAR, an “international network of institutions and individuals whose mission is to protect scholars and promote academic freedom” has previously advocated for imprisoned scholars in Bahrain, Ethiopia, Iran and the UAE. This year, each student group will be advocating on behalf of a different scholar, with SLC students being the sole group working on behalf of Guevara. These efforts are the focus of a year-long seminar taught by guest professor Janet Reilly, People on the Move: Narrating Displacement, Critiquing Crisis, and Advocating for Refugees and Forced Migrants, which explores “causes and consequences of forced displacement, and the politics of the international community’s response to refugee crises,” as well as “the human dimension and experience of forced migration.”

“It’s been extremely eye-opening,” says Dominique Xi (’21), a current student in the course. “Not only was I able to learn more about a country that isn’t really covered in the news a lot - although what’s happening in Venezuela is major - it’s also been amazing to have a glimpse into the advocacy world.” The class chose to focus on Guevara as “his case was very recent and didn’t have as much attention,” as well as for the fact that the many Spanish speakers in the class would aid in the advocacy effort, particularly with translating documents according to Xi.

The upcoming trip to Washington D.C. is the culmination of months of work. Throughout the fall semester, students have been involved in intense research, setting up a plan to assist with Guevara’s case through monitoring news feeds for relevant information, reaching out to experts and human rights organizations and hosting petition signing events on campus. They have worked closely with representatives from SAR, keeping in touch through emails and frequent Skype talks, and plan to present a combined report detailing the case and outlining steps for further action.

It’s been heavy work, but the class has also had the opportunity to listen to speakers and refugees about not only Venezuelan crisis but other cases as well, and as Xi comments, “the people we’re able to meet and the stories we’re able to hear” has made it all more than worthwhile. And while it’s been “amazing to see what we can do even from our little classroom,” the class is also well-prepared, if a little anxious, to campaign at Washington D.C.: participating in the advocacy effort up close and personal.

The event is planned to take place over two days, with a training day on Thursday March 8 on New York University’s campus in D.C. and an advocacy day on March 9 on Capitol Hill. It will include keynote speakers, case presentations, and panels from respected human rights professionals and government officials from the State Department, US Congress, and national and international NGO partners. Students will undergo advocacy training and preparation for meetings with representatives and their staff, learning how to advocate on the Hill. On Friday, the students will break into smaller groups to meet with staffers of their senators to appeal to their human rights policies and urge them to put more pressure on authorities that have pull in Guevara’s case.

This is only the start of a long and sustained effort to campaign for Guevara’s case. Following this, the class will be hosting a panel of scholars discussing the Venezuelan crisis on April 20 in Miller Lecture Hall.

Until then, the students ask that the SLC community continue to support their efforts and stay invested in the cause. “Stay informed about Venezuela, follow the SAR at SLC Twitter, and sign the letter on the SAR website urging for [justice for] Santiago. Pay attention to news, get the story out there on your social media,” Xi said.

And above all, they have a simple message for anyone willing to listen. “Before you have actually an opinion about immigration, it’s important to be educated about the topic before you decide you're anti or you're pro immigration. Especially because there are so many complexities, and so many hardships involved, and a lot of human aspects that go into it as well. These are people who are just trying to get to better places” said Xi.

Chelsea Liu '21

Student Investment Club Creates $1,000 Student Scholarship, Creates Space for Financial Education

  Gryphon Capital.

Gryphon Capital.

As an academic institution, Sarah Lawrence is no stranger to the concept of students taking responsibility for their own education. Such is the case with Gryphon Capital Management, SLC’s student-run investment firm.

Founded as a student club in 2014, it originally consisted of three students who were dissatisfied with the lack of classes and resources available to students interested in learning about finance. As is the case with many blossomings clubs on campus, initial growth was slow. Over the course of the past three years, however, interest in the group has steadily risen. The group is now a legally recognized partnership with fourteen members.

“Our main purpose is to help make the campus as a whole more financially literate,” said Alexander Wah, ‘19, president of Gryphon Capital, the umbrella group that includes Gryphon Capital Management. Part of that financial literacy is gained through the practice of stock market investment.

“Gryphon Capital Management's investment strategy is simple,” he said. “Together, we find companies that could be compared to the ‘Sarah Lawrence's’ of the stock market. Not the most well-known, not the biggest, but the ones that hold the most potential and intrinsic value. Through this approach, we have managed to double the market's return for the period in which we have been investing.”

Using profits generated from these investments, the group’s latest endeavor was pooling $1,000 to create an SLC scholarship, awarded to a student based on an anonymously submitted essay judged by a neutral body. Although the group initially planned to award only one scholarships, the group’s returns improved significantly while the essays were being judged. As a result, Gryphon Capital Management was able to award two $1,000 scholarships this week.  

“As a group, we have truly flourished under Alexander’s leadership,” said Samuel O’Brient,‘18. O’Brient is the group’s most senior member, having been a part of Gryphon Capital since its early days in 2014. “[Wah] has brought a sense of structure that our group needed.”

In addition to Gryphon Capital Management, the group has two other branches: Gryphon Capital Counseling and the SLC Economic Review, which O’Brient is the editor-in-chief. He also serves as Director of Recruitment for the whole group. The Review is the college’s only student-run financially focused publication. The other two branches are focused mostly on the educational aspect of the club.

“Gryphon Capital Management is all about teaching students how to invest, look at the market, and manage their money. Gryphon Capital Counseling, however, aims more to teach students how to learn the basics of accounting— like how to open a savings account and how to choose a good loan,” said Wah. As of now, lesson plans for Counseling has been made, but the classes are expect to launch in the spring and be headed by Cameron Carpenter, ‘19, who currently serves as Vice President of the umbrella group.

“My role in transforming this organization from a small gathering of students discussing economic and financial matters into a full-fledged investment firm managing real capital has taught me that the key to success in any venture is to team up with those whose skill sets complement my own,” said Carpenter. “Last year, when [Wah] and I were in the process of turning GCM into an actual private investment group, we were able to succeed only because of our successful division of labor. [Wah] utilized his charisma and intimate knowledge of financial systems to create opportunities for GCM, while I utilized my knowledge of law and business operations to ensure that GCM had the structural and legal capacity to make the most of those opportunities.”

Garrett Hsuan, ‘19, spent last summer independently day trading after joining Gryphon Capital at the start of the Spring 2017 semester. He now serves as the Director of Outreach for the group. “GCM was instrumental to my interest in finance and trading” he said. “Learning with peers equally as passionate has only excited my motivation to learn and tackle new concepts and challenges. Being able to apply what I learned this summer towards day trading was a satisfying accomplishment and testimony to the success of GCM as a responsible and educational family. One I know I can always count on for support and inspiration.”

Gryphon Capital has also worked  to foster relationships with distinguished alumni and other members of the Sarah Lawrence community. Last semester, the group spent a meeting with John Hill, chairman of the Sarah Lawrence College board of trustees and Vice Chairman of First Reserve Corporation. A month later, they met with Jeffery B. Engel, a member of the Class of 1984 who now serves as Director at GMP Securities, a leading independent investment dealer. Both men shared their experiences with the group and offered helpful insight.

In addition to their stock portfolio, the group has also recently launched a cryptocurrency fund. It is managed by Alexander Jermann, ‘20, and has yielded some impressive results so far. “Their Bitcoin research was on par with professionals,” saidEngel. “I showed it around my trading desk and everyone was impressed. GCM was completely right.”

 

Gillian Madans ‘19

 

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

SLC Economic Profile Part 2: A Look From the Inside

 Sending out acceptance letters for the class of 2021. Photo courtesy of Sarah Lawrence College Office of Admissions.

Sending out acceptance letters for the class of 2021. Photo courtesy of Sarah Lawrence College Office of Admissions.

Earlier this semester, the Phoenix published the first part of a series on socioeconomic diversity and economic outcomes at Sarah Lawrence. In our last edition, we published a piece that took a critical look at a popular interactive piece published by the UpShot, which featured socioeconomic diversity findings about schools all over the country. The numbers were based on a study conducted at UC Berkeley. A closer look at SLC’s ranking produced a few notable takeaways: first, that for all intents and purposes, SLC ranks well for economic diversity—that is, among elite colleges. The trouble comes when we look at the post-grad numbers. The Berkeley study paints a grim tale for SLC grads, citing alarmingly low rates of socioeconomic mobility. At age 34, SLC students had among the lowest median individual incomes with a 3.4 percent mobility rate. In fact, the school comes in dead last in the overall mobility index. That’s a problem.
 
We've given you the numbers. They’re alarming. It begs the question that SLC students ask perhaps far too often: what is the administration doing about this? The Phoenix sat down with Deans Kevin McKenna and Danny Trujillo to find out. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Why doesn’t the school have need-blind admissions?
Dean Kevin McKenna (KM): If there’s a short answer, it’s because we have to be careful about not exceeding the financial aid budget—and that’s true of any school that has to consider finances in any capacity. We consider it in the very last stage of the admissions process.
 
What is the admissions process like, with regards to knowledge of the student’s financial situation?
KM: If you’re going to have the limitation be need-blind, the admission staff should look only at the merits of the student. That’s why the counselors conduct a first and second read without access to any financial information. In that sense, though we are not need blind, we try to be as sensitive as possible and do as close to a need blind process as we can—meaning that it is only in the final step of the admission process that finances are considered at all.
 
We do have to pull down tentative admits for two reasons: the first is that we would risk being seriously overenrolled. One of the criteria for pulling down a tentative is if the student is already borderline in the lower academic standing. The other reason is ethical. We want to minimize the number of “empty admits.” We don’t feel it’s ethical to release decisions that students can’t afford to come here. People make their decisions based on where they actually can afford. Our philosophy is affordability for every student who is admitted.
 
Yet the school can’t guarantee full demonstrated need to admitted students?
KM: I would love for SLC to meet full demonstrated need, and most students do have it met. It’s a tricky concept in and of itself, because the formula to calculate demonstrated need was developed in the mid-1990s or so. The last major revision was in the mid-2000s, pre-2008. Anyone who applies for financial aid will agree that the calculated demonstrated need and the actual felt need are often two different things. Sometimes, we have to go above and beyond for students who actually need more than the calculation might suggest. That does mean that for some people, we’re a little bit under what the “felt need” calculation suggests. It’s a limitation of our resources. We do our best to balance it.
 
If you have a pool of students based on merits, is there a point when the council sits down to consider specific diversity and socioeconomic diversity needs?
KM: It starts with the recruitment process. Over the last three years, we’ve made a real effort to include in places we haven’t recruited in before. By socioeconomic diversity, I don’t mean that we’re just attracting students in the extremes. There’s a lot of middle, lower, and upper-middle. We’ve always had a strong applicant pool in New York and Los Angeles. But there’s a lot of good cities in between, and we’ve really ramped up the number of high schools we visit and the number of traveling counselors.
 
When it comes to decision-making, I think all of the admissions counselors are aware that diversity is important. In committee, they say things like, “this is a different perspective, they would bring an underrepresented voice to campus.” It’s not just about finances—they’re looking at parent occupations, the city where they’re from, the high school that they’re coming from.
 
When it comes to the final decision, we really bring the “slated-to-be-admitted” pool into different cells. It’s very much a matrix—it’s academic profile vs. estimated family contribution. We try to make sure that is as balanced as possible.

Wealth and money is the root of many tensions on campus. There is a serious resentment for people who seem to come from high and privileged economic backgrounds, who take little effort to understand the less privileged people that they go to school with. Is that something the administration thinks about and attempts to reconcile with?
Dean Danny Trujillo (DT): It is a perception that comes, in part, indirectly through SLC’s history. It’s true that 40, 50 years ago, this was a college for the wealthy. That’s changing. In the past ten years, we’ve seen dramatic changes in the socioeconomic diversity. That’s a small window if you look at just how much has changed. Financial aid has expanded considerably.
 
But there’s still this perception that it’s an elite college—not in the way we think of ourselves as elite from an educational standpoint, but elite from a financial standpoint. Students often times, who struggle, are an invisible population because there’s no way to optically identify a student who comes from any kind of background. To go to college in this era is a hardship for families. There’s money involved. Everybody feels the pinch. Some feel it more than others, and that creates a lot of anxiety. They struggle about whether they should stay at Sarah Lawrence or not—not because they don’t love it here, but because they can see what a financial weight it is on their families. I think that creates the stress, and it taps into the underlying stress, in that it’s great to be here, but there’s a lot of riding on this.
 
*The following question references data cited in Part 1 of the SLC Economic Profile

Students that come from the bottom 40 percent have a very, very difficult time post-graduate to come into the top 40 percent post-graduate. How aware is the school of these numbers and what resources or efforts are available to assist student postgraduate? Or is the problem based off the studies that people pursue at this school?
DT: Sarah Lawrence is right in the median as far the basic life-time earnings, earnings across different points in a lifespan. The problem with studies that center around post-graduate upward mobility is that they often focus on 34 as an age of measuring success. For liberal arts institutions, that’s problematic, because the nature of the degree is that it has low returns in the short term.
 
But if we talk about over the lifespan, consider two things when comparing liberal arts to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). 1.) Professional satisfaction—if you look at students around career satisfaction, it’s the highest-earning professions that the satisfaction is lower particularly as age increases. 2.) The economic peak for liberal arts grads statistically happens after 35, because the nature of the degree usually results in a career trajectory full of dynamic experiences. You’re changing, shifting, you’re adjusting to social and political changes in this world. These individuals change in a changing world so they don’t experience the economic or personal satisfactory benefits until they’re older.
 
It’s difficult to tell a student that you’ll be fine, in 25 years.
DT: That’s part of the pathway. If I hadn’t gone the path that I did, I wouldn’t be here.
 
Graduation is coming up. People feel the stress of how difficult it is to actually do what you want—knowing these things, that the odds might be stacked up against them. Those first years after graduation—those initial years of struggle—what role can the school play to help out?
DT: In the past 2 years, we’ve restructured our staffing of Career Services to address this very issue. There’s a great deal of sharing of information and opportunities, and a staff that works specifically with alumni. One part of our re-organization was to create a relationship with employers. We now have someone here to really actively sell the appreciation of a Sarah Lawrence education all across the country. Our alumni work very closely with advancement and employers and internships to create opportunities for our students. Recent graduates are encouraged to contact Career Services for development needs.

In short: socioeconomic diversity  read the fine print. There’s misleading frames when it comes to collegiate reviews, especially when it comes to liberal arts schools, where there is a longer-term payoff. As the deans suggested, the way to combat your fears is to contact Career Services. They are only a door knock, phone call, or email away. 

Kate Bakhtiyarova ‘19

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Broadway Star and SLC Alumna Donates Free Tickets to Students  

 Actress and slc alumna Tovah feldshuh. photo courtesy of the new york times. 

Actress and slc alumna Tovah feldshuh. photo courtesy of the new york times. 

If you’re searching for free ways to experience the magic of Broadway, look no further than our own office of Student Involvement. Critically acclaimed actress Tovah Feldshuh, a Sarah Lawrence alumna, has created the Tovah Feldshuh Broadway Ticket Fund, which allows easy and free access for the Sarah Lawrence community to travel and see performances in New York City. According to the Sarah Lawrence website, Feldshuh created the fund in honor of her parents with the purpose of giving students an opportunity to attend “live professional theatre, including Broadway, off-Broadway, opera, and ballet.” 

Just this past semester, students were given tickets to see two major Broadway shows. The first show was “Waitress,” based on the film of the same name, the creation of singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles and playwright Jesse Nelson. The second was the theater adaptation of the five-time Oscar-nominated film “Amélie,” starring Tony nominee Phillipa Soo.

Joanne Vrignaud, a visiting graduate student from the Sorbonne and a French language teaching assistant, was one of the students who saw “Waitress.” She recalled the opportunity as an “amazing experience.” The musical follows a woman whose passion for baking offers an escape from an abusive marriage. “They even had the smell of pie! I still have the ticket; I’m going to hang it somewhere,” Vrignaud continued. This being her first time seeing a Broadway production, Vrignaud recognized the importance of such a fund, and remarked that “donations like this do a great deal for the SLC community.” As a foreign student, Vrignaud said she was desperate to check off seeing a Broadway show from her New York City bucket list, and felt the trip gave her a unique opportunity to achieve this dream. “We live so close the city, but I don’t think we get to experience it as much as other universities,” she said. “The Tovah Feldshuh fund gives us a great opportunity to get there and actually experience the ‘New York’ lifestyle.”

Like Vrignaud, many of us would like to experience professional productions, but find it hard to come up with the funds to do so. Including the price of the Metro North and subway tickets, a trip to see Broadway headliners such as “Waitress” or “Amélie” would cost you upwards of $150 – not to mention the hassle of organizing train times. However, the Tovah Feldshuh Broadway Ticket Fund makes this process easy— and more importantly, free. The Fund not only provides you with a ticket for the show, but a shuttle from Andrews Parking Lot that takes you there and back, saving you a long walk to Bronxville or Fleetwood and the stress of travelling through Grand Central. 

On the Notable Alumni page, Feldshuh credits Sarah Lawrence College for teaching her to respect the artistic process, and more importantly, to dare. Since her graduation, she has starred in numerous films, television shows, and theatre productions, making a name for herself as an actress, singer, and playwright.  Feldshuh’s accolades include four Tony nominations, four Drama Desk awards, a Lucille Lortell award for her portrayal of Golda Meir in the play “Golda’s Balcony,” as well as two Emmy nominations for her work as Helena on the miniseries “Holocaust” and as defense attorney Danielle Melnick on “Law and Order.” With over 30 years on Broadway and on screens big and small, it is not hard to imagine why she would want to donate to the place that taught her to cherish “results [as a reflection] of the journey taken.”

Details on shows and dates are periodically sent out by Student Involvement. The next show is “Anastasia” on Tuesday, May 9. As Vrignaud put it, “Just do it! There’s no excuse not to!”

Christian Lutz (‘18)

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The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

JJ Warren: The Aspiring Pastor Brings Faith onto Campus

 JJ Warren giving a sermon. photo courtesy of jj warren.

JJ Warren giving a sermon. photo courtesy of jj warren.

Considering that the Princeton Review ranked Sarah Lawrence College second on a list of least religious schools, the clergy is not the first line of careers you would assume for its students. That is until you meet JJ Warren (’19), who can be frequently seen sporting a wooden cross and praying over his meals at Bates or the Pub.
 
“[Sarah Lawrence] is a place where people haven't necessarily had experience with religion before, and if they do, it is mostly negative. So it is a neat experience, because I get to be part of people experiencing, sometimes, faith for the first time,” Warren said.
 
The Spiritual Life Director, co-Chair of Christian Union and co-Chair of Interfaith Union is on the path to becoming a pastor of the Methodist Church. This vocation, however, was only recently realized. Until the summer before his senior year of high school, Warren was set on becoming an actor. “I, for a long time, didn't want to be a pastor, I wanted to be an actor, and I only applied to schools for acting. Sarah Lawrence was the only school that I applied to that wasn't a BFA program,” Warren explained. “The summer before my senior year, I already had done my interviews for colleges and I already had my list so I wasn't going to change that.”
 
But his career in acting shifted after a talk with his camp pastor at Camp Casowasco, a Christian youth camp. “When I was sitting at the lake with this pastor I just had this feeling like ‘this is what you are here for. You are here to take care of people’s souls and hearts.’ Since then it has been something I have been called to,” Warren, who lives in Penn Yan, New York, affirmed. Warren has since given sermons at several United Methodist Churches. 
 
Warren admitted to being, at times, uncomfortable expressing his faith at Sarah Lawrence College. “I have this shirt that is just really cheesy Christian that says, ‘Today’s weather, God reigns and the son shines.’ I was going to wear it today, but I thought people would look at me and be like ‘that is imperialistic Christianity that you are forcing upon us,’” said Warren.
 
But Warren does not let any negative interactions on campus stop him from providing spiritual lessons. For Christian Union, Warren has headed a seven part discussion series on “The Seven Big Questions”: does life have a purpose, is there a God, why does God allow pain and suffering, is Christianity too narrow, is Jesus really God, is the bible reliable, can I know God personally? No matter where a person is at in their spiritual journey, Warren argued, “everyone thinks about these questions. Asking questions is the Sarah Lawrence nature.”
 
Warren also extends himself beyond Christianity by working with Interfaith Union and taking classes in other religions, such as a class on the Koran. “We say that Sarah Lawrence is liberal, and we are to a certain extent, but we also sometimes don't accept what we don't like ... But to be able to come together and say that we all practice our beliefs differently, [that] we can come together for our campus and be here for each other is really special and really unique.”
 
Warren believes that interfaith dialogue can create solidarity within this Trump administration: “Interfaith as a way of expressing no matter what happens in our country, no matter what happens in the world, that we are all united by our humanity, by our belief in something more than us.” After the presidential election, Warren and other Interfaith Union members worked overnight to plan a prayer vigil, which resulted in a packed house in the North Room, Pub. “I think that shows while our campus climate tends to silence religious conversation and expression of faith, the people on our campus, like all people, are searching and asking these questions,” Warren expressed.
 
Warren who grew up in a religious household with six siblings, not only advocates for interfaith on campus, but also off campus. Warren has attended synagogue several times with Hillel members, and those Hillel members have accompanied him to church. “I don't think I would experience that anywhere besides Sarah Lawrence,” Warren said. “So in a way Sarah Lawrence is so difficult for religious people, but at the same time, it is so wonderful, because it encourages us to unite together. We question here so we can experience those and express those questions.”
 
Seemingly incompatible with his religious work and hopes for the clergy, Warren identifies as gay. “I do identify as gay and I do identify as a follower of Christ. I connect to God through Jesus and I think the message of the [religious texts] and the entire biblical canon is love and inclusion of those the world has rejected,“ Warren said. “Jesus came for the poorest of the poor and yet he said ‘I am the king of the world.’ That’s where I put my sexuality.” Warren attributes much of the church’s general oppression of the LGBTQIA community to misinterpretation of scripture, because the oppressed are those the church should love the most. “I think for me I am able to live as a follower of Christ and as a gay man, because they are one of the same, because I am valued by God,” stated Warren, who will be pursuing religious studies at Oxford next year.
 
Warren has a long road toward becoming a pastor. To be fully ordained, he must attend a three-year seminary for a Masters of Divinity degree, learn Hebrew, Greek and other faiths, and work in a hospital as a clergyman. He must also undergo a psychological screening and interviews with clergy and church laypeople. While he has many years of study ahead of him, Warren stated that he has learned one of his most valuable lessons in religion at Sarah Lawrence. “I feel like here, especially at Sarah Lawrence, because it is such a small school, I don't look at religions as ideas or structures anymore, but as people.”
 
Andrea Cantor ('17) 
 

 

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The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Students are Still Reeling Over the Reelies

 THE TROPHY PRESENTER THOMAS SPETA (LEFT)) AS HIS DRAG SHOW PERSONA MOLLY POPPINS. PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS SPETA.

THE TROPHY PRESENTER THOMAS SPETA (LEFT)) AS HIS DRAG SHOW PERSONA MOLLY POPPINS. PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS SPETA.

This past weekend marked the second annual Reelies awards show and film festival. The event was started last year after the Reels on Wheels club reimagined the Sarah Lawrence College film festival that had existed in previous years. Nick Ransom (’17), who was involved in the original creation of the Reelies in 2016, said that the awards show started with the idea to do a faux-Oscars night. They wanted trophies, a red carpet, and formal attire.

When they first started the event, they had no idea how it was going to turn out, or if it would be popular at all. Ransom was pleasantly surprised. He said that last year they had “plans for what probably should have been forty people. But then everyone and their mother showed up. It became this big success on campus. They talk about it on the tours now.” Ransom said that he and other members of the club have been thrilled with the popularity of the event so far.

The Reelies were just as well attended this year as they were in 2016. Tickets sold out, and the Donnelly Theater in Heimbold was filled. People from the waitlist were turned away.

Najah Diop (’17), who was also involved in the organization of the event, said that she felt overall, the Reelies went well this year. “We had a couple of sound issues but I think this year was definitely a step in the right direction.” Diop added that since this is only the second year of the Reelies, they are still working to improve the event.

Ransom said that his overall goal for the Reelies is for the event to serve as motivation for people in the film department. “I hope people say to themselves, ‘I want to win a Reelie next year, so I am going to work extra hard on my film. I’m going to do as many cinematography gigs as I can because I want to get nominated. I want to win a trophy.’” Ransom admits that he bought the trophies on the Internet for about $4, and there is also no prize money awarded to the winners. Ransom said, “It’s all bragging rights.”

There were fourteen categories for awards including: best actor, best sound, and best picture. Ransom explained the two-tier system used to pick the winners. After gathering all of submissions, the Reels on Wheels team take each film and “put it into everything that it could possibly win, and then we watch everything and then we give everything a score, a one through five. Then we crunch the numbers and give everybody an average. From those averages, we pick the top five and those are the nominations. We then send those nominations to professionals in the industry that were referred to us by faculty members.” From there, the industry professionals pick the winners.

Diop, who won the Senior Achievement award, said the recognition was an honor. “A lot of it I owe to my film peers. Without them, I wouldn't have had the space to create the work that I wanted to do,” she said. “All that I do is for the love of the craft (and occasionally for a conference). But mainly because I love film, and I love helping those around me.”

In addition to the awards ceremony at night, the club held screenings of the student films during the day. “It is important because students here, in general, don’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase their work to their peers unless their peers are directly in their class,” said Amanda Wall (’20), who helped organize the event. Wall said that these film screenings provide a way for students work to get shown. Wall also said that she thinks sharing work this way helps build community.
 
There was some controversy around the event. On social media, people made comments about the lack of diversity among the nominees. This was referenced throughout the awards show by the host of the event, Julius Powell (’18), and by a few other presenters as well. Annie Willis (’19), a member of the Reels on Wheels team said, “It’s a reflection, not of just the Sarah Lawrence film program, but directing and film in general. There is a lack of people of color, lack of women, or any minority. And we want to show more of that,” she said. 

Duncan Richards (‘19) said that after winning a Reelie, outside of feeling gratitude and excitement, “I also was glad to just be included. I was thankful that my hard work was just as rewarded as my cisgender (more specifically white male) counterparts in the film department,” Richards said. “That said, the Reelies should seek to a better job including and supporting POC, Trans, and Queer stories.”
.
Later in the week, Diop reflected on the Reelies as a whole. “There is some room for improvements,” she said. “At its core its an event that celebrates the spirit of collaboration.” 

Nora Thomas (‘19)
 

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The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

The Philosophy of Gwenda-lin Grewal

 From her upcoming book on beauty and truth, entitled, good looks. photo courtesy of gwenda-lin grewal.

From her upcoming book on beauty and truth, entitled, good looks. photo courtesy of gwenda-lin grewal.

Dr. Gwenda-lin Grewal’s desk, nestled in the corner of a large office at the top of Swinford, appears to be that of any other philosophy professor; it has stacks of paper, a copy of Sophocles’ Antigone, and a white bust of someone with an important and thoughtful looking face, reminiscent of busts of Plato and Socrates. However, as she and her friend Dr. Michael Davis like to say, everything is not as it seems. The bust is not of a philosopher but of an equally profound thinker — Beethoven. 

“I like going to the symphony, to museums,” she said. “New York is one of my favorite places on Earth, besides Rome, because of all of its grandeur. That, and the fact that you can come here, thirty minutes north, where it’s like a paradise of trees.”

Dr. Grewal has known this “paradise of trees” before. She came to Sarah Lawrence College from Anaheim, California, as an undergraduate, and immersed herself in Ancient Greek and Latin with her professors Sam Siegel and Michael Davis. Coming from a family of mathematicians, she studied math and physics from a philosophical perspective with Dan King. She graduated in 2006, pursed her Ph.D. in Classics and Philosophy at Tulane University, and studied at Yale on an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship. She taught for the first time here at Sarah Lawrence during her graduate school days. 

“I came back here for a year during grad school and taught with Michael Davis,” she said. “It was a course on Plato’s Euthydemus, a shorter dialogue that we translated together; we used the translation together in the class. It was the first time I had ever taught—totally terrifying,” 

An ardent admirer of the Classics, Dr. Grewal has translated dozens (if not hundreds) of texts from Ancient Greek and Latin, starting from when she was an undergraduate student. 

“I translated a handful of [Plato’s] dialogues when I was a student here,” Dr. Grewal said. “I would handwrite everything, so I have notebooks of handwritten translations that I did of these dialogues and some of Aristotle’s work.” 

Since she taught at the University of Dallas after her time at Yale, Dr. Grewal has spent almost every summer in Rome, teaching Latin alongside the monuments of Ancient Roman life and culture. 

Students may be familiar with Dr. Grewal from her class, Philosophy and Fashion, the title of which drew attention during interview week. She characterized her relationship with fashion as lighthearted and longstanding. 

“When I was in grad school, I started an ironic clothing business,” she said. “It was about taking things that didn’t look expensive and making them look expensive. I made gloves out of underwear and I wore them to expensive fashion shows. People would think they were made out of fine lace, when actually I just got them from Target.” 

Dr. Grewal is still involved in the world of fashion, collaborating on art installations and attending fashion shows from time to time. However, most of her involvement with fashion has been from a philosophical standpoint. Since her postdoctoral work at Yale, she has inquired into the connection between “having good looks and being good at looking,” which led to her Philosophy and Fashion class and to a forthcoming book on the subject. 

“I’m lucky, because what I get to do for my work is what I think about all the time,” she said.

Not much has changed about Sarah Lawrence since her undergraduate days here, including her relationships with her old professors. “It’s actually not weird,” she said, to work alongside her old teachers as their peer. Despite the decade or so that’s passed since she was a student here, Dr. Grewal’s feelings for the place remain unchanged. 

“I loved Sarah Lawrence; it was, academically, the best thing for me,” she said. “I only have love for this place.” 

Ricky Martorelli ‘19

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

SLC Economic Profile Part 1: A Look at the Numbers

Sarah Lawrence College: home of the wealthy wearing rags for fashion, and an ever-present omniscient elephant in the room labeled “SOCIAL CLASS.” Each attendee of SLC is guaranteed to be asked a handful of questions in their lifetime—among them, isn’t that an all girl’s school? Is that in the city? And, of course, isn’t that the most expensive school in the country?
 
To which we as a collective might respond—not anymore, not quite, and was—it was the most expensive school in the country. Columbia and NYU have beat us out, by now. Yet the point remains. A conversation about SLC is a conversation that inevitably revolves around income, yet inside the bubble of school life this is a point rarely discussed. There is no easy or correct way to gauge the consequences of this muteness—whether transparency about family income should be acknowledged as a means of recognizing privilege is a debate that foremost, requires a look at the numbers.
 
So let’s look at the numbers.
 
In January, TheUpShot of The New York Times published an alarming headline: “Some Colleges Have More Students from the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.” The article is chock-full of color infographics and provides an analysis of a study, conducted by a handful of professors at UC Berkeley, which looked at “how well or how poorly colleges have built an economically diverse student body.” Method-wise, the data is taken from the anonymized tax returns from the families of about 30 million students born between 1980 and 1991.
 
The study, which can be read in full at www.equality-of-opportunity.org, concluded a number of shocking finds—among them, the title of the piece; that 38 colleges had “more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent.” Sarah Lawrence falls far from the top 40, ranking at #143. For the record, Washington University at St. Louis ranks #1, with a whopping 27.1 percent of its student body coming from the top 1 percent ($630k+), compared to a measly 6.1 percent from the bottom 60 percent (<$65k). In comparison, 7.3 percent of the Sarah Lawrence student body comes from the top one percent, and 24.5 percent comes from the bottom 60 percent. Those numbers add up to 31.8 percent of the student body—and of the remaining, about 60 percent of students come from the top 20 percent.
 
These numbers might appear discouraging nonetheless—but, in the realm of elite colleges, Sarah Lawrence ranks well for economic diversity. It is in the top 10 for enrolling the highest percentage of low- and middle-income students, at 13.1 percent of its student body coming from the bottom 40 percent. In the 2016-2017 school year, 17 percent of students on campus have a Pell Grant, which is a need-based federal grant for low-income students (compared to 14 percent in 2006-2007).
 
Unsurprisingly, however, Sarah Lawrence students as a whole come from among from the highest family incomes, relative to other New York schools. Yet among 71 other highly selective private colleges, SLC ranks #35—making its average family income of $137,000, well, pretty average. Relatively speaking.  Figure 1 offers a more detailed look at how student income at SLC compares to incomes at peer institutions. 

Fig. 1 shows economic access of SLC students compared to those of peer institutions 1.) in the Skyline (athletic conference) 2.) in New York and 3.) among other highly selective private colleges. Source: TheUpShot

That being said, it’s important to note that despite a high average family income, a majority of students at SLC are on some type of financial aid—71 percent in the current school year, to be exact. Those numbers are a significant increase from ten years ago, when only 58 percent of students were on financial aid. For a school that does not have need-blind admissions (meaning that a student’s financial situation is a factor in the admissions decisions), a 13 percent increase in aid demonstrates an increased effort on the part of the administration to increase socioeconomic diversity in the school.
 
But what do these efforts manifest into after receiving an SLC degree? In the study, the most surprising reveal comes from the “outcomes” section of the study, which quantifies how SLC students perform after graduation. For almost categories—median individual income at 34, average income percentile, share of those who end up in the top income percent, and the average income of a poor and rich student—Sarah Lawrence students rank among the lowest. See Fig. 2 for a visual reference.
 

 Fig. 2 shows how SLC students fare later in life compared to students of peer institutions. Source: TheUpShot

Fig. 2 shows how SLC students fare later in life compared to students of peer institutions. Source: TheUpShot


So, what does all of this build up to? The fact of the matter is that according to the UC Berkeley study, Sarah Lawrence has one of the lowest mobility rates—that is, the ability for students coming from the bottom 40 percent to end up in the top 40 percent post-grad. A mere eight and a half percent of students from the bottom 40 percent succeed in climbing the income ranks. That puts Sarah Lawrence at an atrocious 3.4 percent mobility rate. Of 71 highly selective private colleges examined in the study, Sarah Lawrence comes in dead last in overall mobility index. In different terms, that means that on average, only 1.2 percent of SLC students coming from a poor family become rich adults later in life. Beyond that, it appears that no matter what economic background they come from, SLC students are economically worse-off compared to their peers post-graduation.
 
Now, let’s turn our attention away from the infographics, and shine the limelight back onto you: our readers. Fellow SLC students, whose fates have been allegedly calculated by researchers in California, what are we to make of these discouraging findings? In part three of this series, the Sarah Lawrence Phoenix will publish a survey of student reactions. If you have a reaction, please write to us, and send your feelings to ybakhtiyarova@gm.slc.edu. Your letter can contain anything. Maybe you are re-evaluating your post-grad plans upon learning the numbers. Maybe this isn’t shocking to you at all. Maybe you think it’s about time we start talking about class in this school—or maybe, there’s another side to the story that we aren’t looking at. We look forward to reading your thoughts.
 
Kate Bakhtiyarova ‘19

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Joe and Ann Lauinger: A Love of Literature, SLC, and Each Other

 Professors joe and ann lauinger at slc. photo credit: victoria mycue

Professors joe and ann lauinger at slc. photo credit: victoria mycue

Sarah Lawrence College’s faculty has several married couples. One couple, English professors Joe and Ann Lauinger, sat down to discuss what it is like being married and working not only at the same institution, but also in the same field:

How long have you two been working here?
Ann: I usually duck the answer to that. I’ve been here for more than 40 years.
Joe: I’ve been here for almost 30, so it’s about 70 human years between us. Together we make a very old man.
 
How did you meet?
Joe: We met in London. Ann and I both went to the University of Pennsylvania, and we won a scholarship—I won a scholarship a year before her—to study in England. This fellowship has a banquet every year, and I had been there for a while, I had been there for a year, and she had just won it, and I met her at the banquet, and we’ve never been parted.
 
So you both went to the same college?

Joe: Both went to the same college, but didn’t know each other there.
Ann: We figured out that we were actually in one class together. It was a lecture, a Chaucer lecture, that had about 90 students in it, and we did take it the same semester. Then we also discovered that we did have some mutual connections, but we didn’t know it at the time we were there. I had a friend who was friends with someone that Joe was friends with. That was the extent of it.
 
How much later did you start working at Sarah Lawrence?
Joe: Well, we studied at Oxford, then we came back to graduate school, and we got our degrees, and Ann started teaching here, and I was teaching at another college, and I guess it was about 15 years after you were teaching here that I started teaching here.
 
At first, was it really nice to be together or were you scared that it would be a little weird?
Ann: Well, we wondered if it would be difficult, but we figured that it wouldn’t, because it wasn’t like we were starting out, either in our marriage or our careers. It might have been different if it had happened at the very beginning of our lives.
Joe: It was just nice to carpool, take care of the kid more easily. 
Ann: It was just wonderful for Joe to get to be here, because it’s a much better opportunity for him.
Joe: Oh, I love it here. This is the kind of teaching that I love, and Ann was used to it.
Ann: Right, I was already complaining about it. He was grateful.
 
What is the carpool like? Do you still drive together everyday to and from?
Ann: I guess three days out of the four our schedule permits it.
Joe: We try to do it. If there’s a committee meeting or something like that where one of us is going to be very late and one of us is going to be very early, that’s when we don’t. But we try to do it, because I don’t mind driving and Ann would rather not.
Ann: I don’t like it.
Joe: She’s a Manhattan girl.

You both work in literature. Is there ever any friendly competition or do you work in very different areas of literature?
Ann: We have some overlap, because we both teach Shakespeare.
 
But the overlap is good?
Joe: It’s great. We actually teach Shakespeare from two different points of view. We try to make sure Shakespeare is taught pretty much every year, and I take a much more performance-based approach to it, you know, and Ann’s more historical and poetical. Although, I do historical stuff. We both went to Princeton for graduate school, which really does try to root you in the historical approach to literature. We both have essentially the same way to think about literature critically. But as I’ve become more and more interested in theater and theater history and playwriting, the idea of performance as meaning itself is something that I really focus on. So Shakespeare and then all the other playwrights that I do from Aeschylus on to Beckett, whereas Ann takes a more literary approach.
.
 Interesting. So there’s never any disagreements about an analysis?
Ann: Yeah, we disagree, sure, but we don’t come to blows.
 
Do you ever feel like you’re getting too much Sarah Lawrence?
Ann: Yes. It’s easy to feel that, even when you’re only one person. Don’t you feel like you’re getting too much Sarah Lawrence sometimes?
Joe: We try not to bring it home. We try not to talk about students too much.

That’s what you do to escape too much Sarah Lawrence—just talk about other topics when you’re home?
Ann: We just do, because we have a life
Joe: We talk about why we don’t like “Catastrophe.” It’s a sitcom.
Ann: Is it on Netflix? Amazon, it’s an Amazon series.
Joe: Or what the dancing is like in La La Land as opposed to any swingtime, any Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and all that.
 
And what do you think? La La Land doesn’t live up to that?
Joe: No. It’s a very charming movie, but it does that it on purpose: it’s very amateurish about the dancing on purpose to make them normal people as opposed to Astaire and Rogers.”
 
Do you think this has worked so well for you because you’re a certain type of couple, like an academic couple, or would any couple in this environment be able to be fine working in the same place with their spouse?
Joe: This is a very nice environment. You don’t have to worry about competition and rank and all those other things that might... But our son is an academic, and our daughter is an academic, and they teach at the same institution. They’re in different programs, but they get along fine, too. And they’re in a large university, so it’s different.
Ann: It is the dream for academic couples to be employed at the same place. They very much want that.
Joe: Or extremely nearby.
Ann: Or closeby, because you want to have a life. If somebody gets a job in San Diego and somebody gets a job in Boston, that’s not happy. So there are a fair amount of these doubling-up things. If somebody gets a good situation at a big place, they’ll try to see if there’s a possible hire for somebody else. So I think if you ask most academics like us, they would say, ‘Yeah, it’s a good thing.’

Victoria Mycue '20

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

SLC Alum Brings Free Classes to Bronx and Westchester Area

 Some of the earliest members of We Read Together;&nbsp;(left to right) Victoria Lepore, Benjamin Lambright, Amelia England, Mary Beehm, Jeremiah Driver. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Lambright.

Some of the earliest members of We Read Together; (left to right) Victoria Lepore, Benjamin Lambright, Amelia England, Mary Beehm, Jeremiah Driver. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Lambright.

When Benjamin Lambright (MFA ’15) began tutoring children and teenagers, it was just his way of putting himself through graduate school. But when the growing need for more affordable and effective educational programming in the Bronx and Westchester area became apparent to him, Lambright started seeing beyond his bills. With that understanding, he created We Read Together, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that provides free classes and low cost tutoring.
 
What started Lambright’s career in education was a Sarah Lawrence Career Services email that listed The Institute of Reading Development (IRD) as needing tutors. Lambright cites the job as putting him on the path of discovering his passion for teaching, but he didn’t agree with the methods of the organization.
 
The institute had universities lend their names and spaces to the program, he explained, but not their resources. They also underpaid the teachers: “It was $400 a class for a student and they paid $600 to a teacher. There were 30 high school kids [in each class]. I just didn't like the idea. Most of the parents also thought I was a Fordham professor and not a grad student.”
 
IRD prohibited teachers from tutoring students on the side, but after hearing some of the pleas from the families, Lambright was unable to resist. Lambright started tutoring for a lower charge and from there, he said, “demand kept growing.”
 
To continue his side business, Lambright would reserve Science Center room 204 for tutoring sessions. “I did it for six months straight,” said Lambright, whose favorite Sarah Lawrence professors are a tie between David Ryan and David Hollander. 
 
After finding out that several of his students were struggling to travel to Sarah Lawrence and to make payments, he reevaluated the trajectory of his business: “I found out that the parents of two of my best students, Andy and Grace, were borrowing money to send them to me [at IRD] and I thought, how can I do this cheaper?”
 
This was the inception of We Read Together. Lambright set up a Go Fund Me page and raised the $1,000 goal in ten days. “I took that $1,000 for initial fees and insurance and then we became We Read Together officially June 1, 2015,” Lambright said, adding that learning tax code was the most challenging part of the process.
 
Since then Lambright has been working with public libraries, particularly Clason’s Point Library and Parkchester Library, and setting up free classes for the public. “We fill the rooms pretty regularly. 20 kids and usually in the 30 range with parents in the room too,” said Lambright who hopes to partner with Sarah Lawrence’s Early Childhood Center in the future.
 
The mission of We Read Together is to be interactive. “The methods are really simple, but effective. We want absolutely everything we do to be fun.” He continued to explain the challenges of having a large non-English demographic: “Children of parents who are learning English, just push the kids harder, but then you just get a child who is really resistant to reading. So we provide fun and enjoyable ways to go about this. I don't see this as, let me give you some parenting advice, but, let me show you how to give your kid 45 high fives reading this book.”
 
In addition to the free classes, We Read Together has tutoring services to keep the organization afloat. Unlike his past job at IRD, Lambright makes sure that his employees are paid a livable wage. “I create everything in a modular and self-sustaining way. We pay our tutors 20 bucks an hour and make a profit margin of 3-4 bucks. It is not an empire, but it is livable.” Lambright hires many Sarah Lawrence students as tutors, because as he said, “It is a very well-read campus, half the people I hire are better read than I am,” he said. “There are no shortage of people who want to make a difference [at SLC], but there is a shortage of people who have transportation.”
 
In keeping with the self-sustainable mentality, Lambright is launching a new program, Food For Thought, in Summer 2017. “When school gets out, kids not only lose their best source of intellectual stimulation, but also nutrition,” Lambright explained. The program that will meet 12 times over a six-week period provides both educational programming and free meals.
 
Lambright realizes a grant would be the easier route in creating programs, but he is adamant about self-sustainability. This way he can easily pass the programs onto someone else when he decides to branch out We Read Together to other regions. “I don't want to keep going back to the well,” he said.
 
We Read Together’s volunteers have also designed an original board game, coloring books and worksheets that are given away for free. The organization is always looking for new volunteers. 
 
If you would like to make a donation to We Read Together, please go to: http://wereadtogether.org/support-us/ 

Andrea Cantor ’17

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Professor Profile: Jo Ann Beard Discusses Writing and Pups

 Jo Ann Beard at the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter.&nbsp;Photo credit: Ann King

Jo Ann Beard at the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter. Photo credit: Ann King

Holding a tea-filled mug with a printed image of a dog on it, professor Jo Ann Beard unraveled the details behind her double life as a teacher and a writer: “[For three days of the week,] I come in, I get my cup of tea, I teach my class, I do conferences back to back." she said. “[And then] I leave here, I go to the faculty house or the hotel. I lie on the bed and stare at the ceiling for a while, then I get up and I drive to Gino’s pizza. I get two slices and a bottle of beer, some M&M’s.”

When Beard isn’t busy teaching at Sarah Lawrence, she lives in upstate New York. "[At home], I get up in the morning and I read the New York Times everyday and then I wander to my studio to write," she explained, adding, "And I stare out at the big field with binoculars and I watch what the animals are doing.”

Beard’s professional and personal life appear to be very separate, but they are linked by one common bond – her obsession with dogs. Beard has always had dogs in her life. Currently, she has a red nose Pit Bull named Autumn, an 11-year-old, deaf, foster dog from the Mount Vernon Shelter, and Jet, an adopted, black mutt.

“Dogs are even a big part of my Sarah Lawrence life because when I come to Sarah Lawrence, I usually have a block of hours from time to time while I’m down here in Bronxville and for the past ten years or so, I used that time to work with dogs in local shelters, the Yonkers Animal Shelter and the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter,” Beard said.

While working at the dog shelters, Beard met a local dog trainer. Shortly after bonding over their love for dogs, they created a local Pit Bull rescue organization called “Best Bullies.” The duo looks for dogs that would suffer within the shelter environment or be otherwise overlooked. Their rescue mission is to provide medical care and training for the dogs. More information can be found at bestbullies.org.

Not only does Beard devote a lot of time to helping dogs, but she also writes nonfiction pieces about them. She’s written about her previous pets, rescue dogs and the wolves at Yellowstone National Park.

In addition to being inspired by animals, she gets her writing ideas from her own life experiences. “If you pay attention, even the most dull life is glittering in its own way,” Beard said.

Beard’s published work includes In Zanesville, a novel about the struggles of becoming a teenager. Originally, the story was supposed to be a memoir, but Beard decided to face her fear of writing fiction. “I just didn’t feel like putting my family and friends through the trials and tribulations of having to be written about, so I began changing their names and their identities and once I did that, they stopped being the people I remembered and became new characters who behaved in new ways,” Beard explained.

While Beard self-identifies as a nonfiction writer, some people have called her a fiction writer because of this novel. “I still am startled when people remind me that I’ve written fiction. They say things like ‘you’re a fiction writer’ and I go ‘no, I’m nonfiction’ then I go ‘oh right, there was that book,’” she said.

Beard has also written The Boys of my Youth, a collection of essays that she mostly wrote as a graduate student. She did not initially intend to write the essays for the book, but years later Beard realized she had a ton of essays that could be compiled together.

Among her other published work in literary journals and magazines, her favorite essay that she is the most proud of is her piece on Cheri Tremble, a patient dying of breast cancer. Even though she never met the subject of the story, she was able to talk with her friends and family members to gain insight into Tremble’s life story.

“Even though it sounds very depressing to other people, I found it really fascinating and moving and interesting to think of somebody facing their own death with such clear-eyed determination and focus,” Beard said.

Due to Beard’s success, she visited several schools to talk about her experience as a writer. In 1999, she became a guest teacher at SLC and loved the school so much that she got a permanent position. She currently teaches graduate and undergraduate writing workshops, mostly consisting of nonfiction courses.

“I love nonfiction and teaching it gives me an excuse to have to read it, to have to stay up in that world of what’s happening in nonfiction writing,” Beard said.

Not only is Beard ecstatic about nonfiction, but she’s passionate about teaching it. “I feel like sometimes I walk into class with the same thing in my mind, like I really want to understand this piece and the only way we are going to understand it is for all of us to talk about it and to begin in one place and end in some place completely different. To do that you really do need to have ten or twelve voices chiming in and I really love that process,” Beard explained.

Although Beard keeps her students busy, she realizes that there is the need for a balance between work and play. “I understand that writing is really hard and so I say to them ‘no assignment, go relax and think’ which is also a part of writing but it’s the part that’s harder to find time for,” Beard said.

SLC’s dog-loving, nonfiction-enthusiast teacher is also a feminist and a vegetarian. “I didn’t want to eat a chicken, I wanted to know a chicken,” she said. While students are able to have open discourse with Beard, Autumn and Jet will never know how much of an impact they have on this woman.

Alexa Di Luca '19

 

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

History of these Halls: The Teahaus

 The Teahaus as it stands today. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor '17

The Teahaus as it stands today. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor '17

Before Sarah Lawrence College opened its doors to its first class of women, before the College acquired surrounding houses, before the first three dormitories were erected, there existed only the Lawrence estate upon which William Van Duzer Lawrence built a mansion and an accompanying gazebo. Today, we call these Westlands and the Teahaus.

After the gazebo era and before the “Teahaus” era, the house lived a number of lives, most of which is unknown to current students.

A few years after the college’s establishment, the gazebo became known as the “Senior House”—as students could not smoke in the dormitories, the gazebo became a gathering place where seniors could sit and smoke cigarettes.

Soon the structure was given each of its four walls, and in 1934 smoking privileges were extended to the dormitories, leaving the room largely under-utilized until 1935, when the Alumnae office relocated to the house and redecorated with a new color scheme: the "blue and rust" colors that remain today.

By the 1940s, the office relocated again elsewhere, and the structure became known as the “Community House” since various organizations on campus held meetings there. Two recorded examples of such use occurred in 1946.

One group of students worked through the Save the Children Federation to package and send food, clothing and school supplies to students attending the Lycee Saint Germain, a school in Paris. According to the Sarah Lawrence Alumnae Magazine from spring of 1946, many of the students at that school were in "dire need"—during World War II the school "was used as Nazi headquarters and was left in considerable disorder."

In the same year, a “Field Work” course was held in the Community House in which students, for the first time, sponsored a group of boys from a nearby youth shelter, Children’s Village. The group threw the boys a Thanksgiving party and a Christmas party, where they gave the boys gifts, and among other charitable activities, repainted part of their cottage at the shelter.

In 1953, history professor Charles Trinkus turned the Community House into his office. In the early 1960s, however, architect Philip Johnson, who designed what is now known as the "New Dorms," attempted to have the Community House torn down. Apparently it took away from what would appear an ideal “quadrangle” after the addition of the new dormitories.

Students took to protesting, and one petition by Wendy Gibson ('63) made a number of points, and a succinct plead: "We consider it a beautiful little house which adds much to the campus. It is, among other things, a Sarah Lawrence tradition. It makes a nice dividing line between the old buildings and the new dorms. We expect, also, that tearing it down would involve spending Money. Isn't this what the administration is trying desperately to avoid? We understand that the argument against the 'community house' is that it detracts from the architect's conception of an 'even quadrangle.' It is our contention that the layout, with or without the community house, resembles a quadrangle in only the haziest sense. Let's not try to fit the campus into a mold that does not exist."

The house was nearing a state of deterioration from disuse when, in the 1980s, Rebecca Reynolds ('87) spearheaded a project to revamp the site and transform it into the “Communitea House.” That remains its official name today even as students know it simply as the “Teahaus.” 

All of the profits made by the Teahaus are directed to the Students for Students Scholarship Fund (SSSF). The Teahaus is the cozy space on campus where students study, drink hot beverages and eat pastries made by student workers– the oasis with a long history. 

Victoria Mycue ‘20

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

What is C.A.T.S.? Inside SLC's Independent Arts Collective

 A poster for C.A.T.S., an independent arts collectice on campus.&nbsp;Photo courtesy of Shy Adelman

A poster for C.A.T.S., an independent arts collectice on campus. Photo courtesy of Shy Adelman

 Voices bounce off the high ceilings and bright walls of room 106 on Oct. 3, demanding the attention of any passerby shuffling through the dark outer basement of Heimbold. A box of half-eaten donuts lies on the table, the leftover evidence of someone’s recent return from the city. Six students sit on one side of a long rectangular table, spitballing ideas for the theme of their next show. These students are part of Creative Arts Thinking Space, also known as C.A.T.S.

According to their mission statement, C.A.T.S. is a “student-run collective supporting and engaging the creative arts community at Sarah Lawrence College.” Past show themes have included “Everything Must Go,” the last show of the 2014-15 school year where work could be bought, sold, or traded; “Kiss Me Thru the Screen,” a showcase of art representing love in the digital age; and “SLC Anon,” where all work was anonymous and willing artists were then revealed in a zine visitors took home. After roughly 30 minutes of open discussion, the next show’s theme is decided upon: “What’s in Your Backpack?”

Started in 2009 by a group of students, including Simran “Simi” Johnston and Zoe Alexander Fisher, who co-founded the Brooklyn gallery 99¢ Plus, C.A.T.S. has existed independently of SLC administration every year since then. Although there has always been a core group of students who organize the events—namely, those who participate regularly in meetings and shows—anyone can become involved to whatever extent interests them. 

According to Shy Adelman (’18), who has been involved since her freshman year, C.A.T.S. tries not to emphasize membership, but instead strives to be a space where all people feel included and involved. Gabby Johnson (’18) believes this objective is better reached through the group’s being an independent collective. 

“I think [C.A.T.S.] works better being less attached to administration,” Johnson said. “It was started by students who just wanted to do it and thought it was necessary to have something like C.A.T.S. So I feel like it being something that the students continue because they want it for themselves as opposed to administration pushing it on students to continue is good.”

Inclusivity, and the need for more inclusiveness this year, was a main talking point at the Monday night meeting. Luca Casson-Milstein (’19) suggested pushing the C.A.T.S. social media presence to a wider audience, while Adelman discussed the circulation of more posters with Johnson. 

“We weren’t inclusive enough last year, and so pretty much this year we’re trying to make it much more of a welcoming environment,” Casson-Milstein said. “Not that we had any intention last year of making it seem closed, but this year we want to make sure everyone knows that no matter what, you can submit whatever and you’re part of C.A.T.S. because it’s not a club.”

While most C.A.T.S. participants can agree that administrative involvement is not the right choice for the group, it also means there is no club funding involved and students are on their own for any extra costs. According to Adelman, however, this has not been a problem with setting up shows. Equipment can be rented from the A.V. desk and promoting events online is cost-free. In the past, shows have exhibited projects of varied media, including projected images and short films on portable televisions. 

Any student can submit work to display at a C.A.T.S. show by emailing catssubmissions@gmail.com or through the C.A.T.S. Gryphonlink portal. If a student wishes to remain anonymous, work can also be submitted through Tumblr at slccats.tumblr.com/submit. To become involved in organizing shows, any student can participate: meetings occur every first Monday of the month at 9 p.m., in either the Heimbold Atrium or basement room 106.

Gloria Cowdin '19

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Students Improve Health of School Through Peer Health Education

 Photos and bios of 2016-2017 Peer Health Educators. Photo Credit: andrea Cantor '17

Photos and bios of 2016-2017 Peer Health Educators. Photo Credit: andrea Cantor '17

Every fall for the past three years, a new group of Sarah Lawrence College students have gone through a nine-week training program to become Peer Health Educators. In the spring, after becoming certified, these students take on health related projects to improve the wellbeing of the community. Though the certification comes from an outside organization, BACCHUS, the Peer Health Educator program is unique to Sarah Lawrence. 

Gabriella Edwards (’20) is in the middle of this training program. Edwards studies pre-health at Sarah Lawrence, and thought the Peer Health Educator Program could help her with her career goals. She said she has already found the program valuable and it has taught her new ways to support and connect with her peers. The program goes beyond what health and wellness could do previously, Edwards added, and allows students to be involved in a new way.  

Anica Mulzac, a psychologist, and Sheryl Last, a nurse, who both work in the Health and Wellness Center,  currently facilitate the program. Mulzac said that they took on the project, “because there is only so much that we can do as staff. Students will only tell us so much, and we only have so much access to them. We can’t be in the dorm with them and find out what is going on. Students can help us be in tuned and be more informed about the needs and issues on campus.”

Last year, the Peer Health Educators addressed the issue of the arrangement of food, water, and alcohol at formal. The Peer Health Educators (PHEs) worked with student life to strategically re-design the tent so that students would be more likely to eat before having a drink, and have water in-between drinks at the dance. This student initiative succeeded, and no students went to the hospital with alcohol poisoning at the event. Last reflected, “The PHEs identified a need, they implemented a plan, and there was a positive outcome. That is really our goal.”

The Peer Health Educators also worked on a project last year that promoted night safety, and helped organize the different health fairs that health and wellness puts on every few months.

Last said that these programs have been successful because, “peers are more likely to listen to their peers then they are to listen to us. We might be giving them the exact same information but coming from peers, it can be received better.” Last feels that getting students involved in health initiatives on campus has definitely had a positive impact. 

Kendal Flowerdew (’19) is also currently in the training program. “We started learning about how to be effective communicators, and how to help students make their own decisions about healthy living as opposed to forcing these ideas on them,” she explained.  Flowerdew feels that this program can effectively help improve the Sarah Lawrence community. 

This semester, the Peer Health Educators already have several projects underway. In addition to organizing an upcoming health fair on February 14, they have been conducting a survey on student satisfaction of AVI with the hopes of making improvements to food services on campus. 

The Peer Health Educators are also creating a Sarah Lawrence spirit week. Mulzac said that spirit week should make students, “feel more connected to each other, feel more pride, and feel more connected to the school.” The Peer Health Educators want to work to increase positivity and community at Sarah Lawrence, and feel that initiatives such as spirit week could help to accomplish that. 

The Peer Health Educators set up an email, phe@sarahlawrence.edu, for students to get in contact with their peers in the program. Last said that they created the email for students who need support. She feels that this resource is great for students who want to be connected with one of the PHEs to have a one-on-one mentoring session. The Peer Health Educators are not trained to be counselors but are certified to have listening, problem solving, brainstorming, and conflict resolution skills. The PHEs can also help connect other students to additional supports available on campus. Last said that ultimately, she wanted to emphasize peer-to-peer support within the program.

Lesedi Ntsele (’17) was involved in the Peer Health Educator Program last year. Ntsele said that the program helped her give better peer support, “I feel like I have these tools to still be a friend to people but also I have a way to help them find the resources that they need or to act as a resource for them.” She said that often times in college, it is hard to know where to get help for yourself, and it can be equally difficult to support your friends. She said that the Peer Health Educator Program is helping with this issue. 

Last said that the overall goal of the program is to improve student life on campus, and improve retention. She explained, “If needs are being met, and students are happier, they are more likely to stay and continue their education here and succeed.”

Nora Tomas '19

 

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

History of these Halls: The Yoko Ono

 rock pine station, commonly referred to as The yoko ono.&nbsp;photo credit: andrea cantor '17&nbsp;

rock pine station, commonly referred to as The yoko ono. photo credit: andrea cantor '17 

“I’ll meet you at the Yoko,” one SLC student calls to another across the Pub. The other knows exactly where to go: to the multi-tiered structure of wooden platforms, two sets of slim steel stairs, and a boulder that sits on Westlands lawn between the Pub and the Performing Arts Center.

Practically all SLC students also know this structure by the appellation “Yoko Ono,” or “Yoko” for short, but what many may not know is the sculpture’s original name, “Rock Pine Station.”

The piece is an art installation—the only piece left from a 1985 art exhibition on campus called "Builtworks/Installations," curated by then visual arts faculty member and artist, Marcia Hafif. The exhibition showcased five artists whose works were to involve some aspect of construction, one of these artists being George Trakas, a self-described environmental sculptor and the artist of “Rock Pine Station.”

Trakas, like the other four artists, had been an established artist in the New York area for at least a decade when Hafif invited him to participate in the exhibition. His previous works had mostly been site-specific installations as well, and such projects, for him, generally involve meticulous study of an area from the outset. In preparation for his SLC installation, Trakas reportedly spent time walking through the entirety of the campus.

According to the exhibition catalogue, Trakas specifically studied the trees on the east end of campus, the “place where the sun falls on a grass mound to the west of Bates,” and the area of land between the fence and the sidewalk on Kimball Avenue before finally finding the boulder on Westlands lawn where he would eventually build his sculpture. He reportedly intended for his piece to bring “paths, stone, pine, and passersby together.”

Though the sculpture is certainly an art piece, there was never an accompanying museum-esque “Please do not touch the artwork” sign. Rather, according to the exhibition catalogue, Trakas created the piece with the intent in mind to “engage the viewer physically and psychologically.” 

In his interview with Hafif for the exhibition catalogue, Trakas said, “If you see stairs, the first thing that you’re going to think is I can walk up those stairs. If the stairs are really narrow and they’re a little beyond the base of a tree, you realize that you would be able to use the tree as a support. There’s a whole process of identity there.” 

Though Trakas was referencing another one of his installations, he used a similar psychology to design Rock Pine Station to induce a temptation for interaction from the viewer. As students to this day eat, work, and talk while sitting atop the structure, it seems Trakas' psychological aim for his piece indeed holds.

As for the name of the sculpture, “the Yoko Ono,” this wouldn’t be its first nickname designated to “Rock Pine Station.” SLC students apparently have a habit of renaming the sculpture, as within a year after the exhibition it was nicknamed “Restless Desolation” according to the winter 1986 edition of Sarah Lawrence College Magazine. In the 1990s it was nicknamed, “the Structure” according to a 1997 letter from the Student Senate.

It is not clear when the sculpture was nicknamed “the Yoko Ono,” nor is it clear why. SLC admissions staff member Pauline Stanfiel, MA ‘17, said there are quite a few rumors as to the origin of this nickname. Though Yoko Ono did study at the college, she attended in 1953, long before the sculpture’s construction, which demystifies the rumor that she played some part in its assembly during her attendance.

Stanfiel said, “The rumor that I heard was that she did a photoshoot on it, as in she stood on it and someone took pictures.” Though these rumors for the sculpture’s fairly recent nickname are merely speculative, we do have legitimate, though somewhat forgotten, information on the origins of the structure and creator itself. 

Regardless of students’ knowledge of the sculpture’s given name, “Rock Pine Station,” or its artist, George Trakas, SLC admissions counselor Elizabeth Benedict said she thinks students still appreciate the piece and what it stands for at the college: “I think it’s a really cool embodiment of how Sarah Lawrence values the arts.”

Victoria Mycue ‘20

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

"De-Stressing with Pets" Program Back for its Fourth Year

 Students playing with one of the dogs on the North Lawn last September. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Schaffler.

Students playing with one of the dogs on the North Lawn last September. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Schaffler.

At Sarah Lawrence College, conference week is the equivalent of writing endless analytical papers, consuming large quantities of caffeine - and, playing with the staff’s beloved pouches. Three years ago, nurse practitioner Cynthia Schaffler and registered nurse Sheryl Last created the “De-Stressing with Pets” program, which occurs about four times a year on the North Lawn of the SLC campus. 

The nurses said they were inspired to create the program based on resources their own college kids had access to. For example, Last’s daughter was able to spend time with service dogs through a program at Lafayette College, Schaffler explained.

“I think it just started spontaneously,” Schaffler said. “At the time, I know my dogs had died and I had just gotten two puppies, and Sheryl [had] a very friendly, great dog who [was] missing her kids and we said I wonder if we could just do that with our own dogs.”

The process of starting the program was very easy, though they did have to schedule it around the weather forecast and their work hours at the clinic.

“We looked around to see if we needed any special permission and the campus doesn’t really have a lot of rules,” Schaffler added, “so we figured that since we were staff and we were bringing dogs that we knew, we would just try it, and our medical director was really supportive.”

The first time that the nurses arranged the event, thirty to forty students showed up.

“We did it in the spring thinking around conference week that people needed a break and it was just an opportunity to get out of the library for a little while and have some puppy love,” Last said.

The initiative received an immense amount of positive feedback.

“It’s funny because within a couple of days, people were calling asking ‘When are you going to do that again?’” Schaffler said.

For the past three years, Last, enthusiastic owner of seven-year-old Cockapoo Reggie, and Schaffler, proud owner of two three-year-old Pomeranians Leo and Gus, have brought their dogs to the events regularly. A few other faculty members and friends of the SLC community have also attended with their dogs.

“Dogs in general provide so much love and affection towards people and it just makes you feel good,” Last pointed out.

While dogs may appear to have a mystifying effect on people’s emotions, there are specific scientific reasons behind the calming elements within the interaction.

According to animalsmart.org, “Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.”

The hormones that are released can lead to some major health benefits.

“Studies have shown that pet ownership seems to decrease coronary-disease risk factors involving blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, among other things,” Marlene Cimons wrote for the Washington Post.

In addition to the scientific reasons behind de-stressing with pets, the nurses explained what they believe are the best health benefits of interacting with their dogs.

“[At the event, the students] started socializing and interacting with one another and talking about their dogs at home. So not even was it great from a standpoint of them playing with our dogs, but they were socializing with each other,” Last said.

While many are thrilled with the program, some students wish that they could have the opportunity to bond with other animals, such as cats.

“It is called ‘de-stress with pets,’ so that’s a more inclusive term than just dogs. Don’t forget about us cat people - we need to de-stress, too. This is a great campus. There are so many squirrels and chipmunks here. They’ll have so much fun,” Katy Greskovich (’19) said jokingly.

Last and Schaffler have already gotten requests from students about including different types of animals in the de-stressing sessions. While the nurses are open to the idea, they also had concerns about the practicality of it.

“We would almost have to do it indoors somewhere, like find a place like the Black Squirrel and set up a room and see if some [...] shelter was willing to bring some cats that maybe just needed some socializing,” Schaffler explained. “But again it’s hard to supervise because we are always worried about the animal’s and the student’s safety. So you get a little limited.”

Besides one unfortunate instance of Reggie peeing on a student’s backpack, the “De-Stressing with Pets” events have been a success at providing student with the opportunity to bond with the dogs and to get outside and enjoy the weather.

Alexa Di Luca '19

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Meet the Couple who Funded the Gilbert/OSilas Renovations

 Si and Vicki Ford on their visit to Sarah Lawrence. Photo credit: JinRun Han

Si and Vicki Ford on their visit to Sarah Lawrence. Photo credit: JinRun Han

Vicki Ford slowly takes in her surroundings: the brand new green and gray carpeting, the radiant mustard-colored walls of the common room and the crisp white color of the hallways. She makes her way into one of the dorms and gasps as she steps foot in an open room, seeing the newly refurbished residence hall, OSilas, for the first time. 
 
Trustee and alumna Vicki Ford (BA ‘60 and MA ‘87) and her husband Si Ford began working on this renovation gift to the college about two years ago. Since being closed for a year due to construction, the hall has officially reopened its doors to students for the 2016 fall semester. 

The hall, formerly known as “Gilbert,” now entitled “OSilas,” is a combination of Vicki and Si Ford’s given names, Olivia and Silas, respectively. But it was a name they did not create. In the early 1990s when electronic mail was first becoming popular, there was a computer glitch that conjoined their names. Amused by their new couple name that was, as Vicki Ford stated, “made up by a machine,” they began adopting it as a kind of brand, using the name for their family foundation and a few other philanthropic projects.

As a trustee, Vicki Ford serves as the liaison between the board and the Physical Facilities Committee. After a survey of the campus’ infrastructure, the committee produced a written and detailed evaluation. According to Vicki Ford, “there was 30 years of delayed maintenance throughout the entire campus.” 

Having lived in Gilbert during her freshman and sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence, Vicki Ford decided to focus the first round of renovation efforts on her former residence hall through a large donation from her and her husband. The couple worked with Ellen Reynolds, the Associate Vice President of Advancement, to execute the renovation. Reynolds noted Vicki Ford’s nostalgic appreciation of the past and her optimism towards preserving it, but added, “We walked through [Gilbert]—it definitely needed a lot of work.”

However, as Vicki Ford said, when Gilbert was built in 1927, it was very “forethinking.” Abby Lester, College Archivist, relayed the history of the residence hall. The building was named after Frank B. Gilbert, one of the college’s original trustees, who served from 1926 until his passing in 1927.  As a former Deputy Commissioner of Education of the State of New York and a lawyer, Gilbert played a crucial role in gaining the provisional charter for Sarah Lawrence College’s founding in 1926. According to Reynolds, like Gilbert, Vicki Ford has also played a crucial role in the development of the college. 

“She is one of the most extraordinary philanthropists I’ve ever worked with, and she is one of the most dedicated alums to this college,” Reynolds said.

The Fords have been important donors to many Sarah Lawrence projects.  They have contributed funds to beautifying Sarah Lawrence, the Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB), and “Ahead of the Curve”, which is the $200 million campaign for Sarah Lawrence. According to Reynolds, most of Vicki Ford’s philanthropy work strives to build and strengthen communities.

Reynolds said, “[She is] changing communities in all the ways that I think would make this college proud and also make the college a richer place because of what she has done.”

Vicki Ford said her mother, also a Sarah Lawrence graduate (‘36), was a major influence in her attending the school.

“She thought that the way they taught around a round table and did the seminar system was the best way to learn information,” Vicki said. “She said that the curiosity that a human being can have and the confidence to ask questions and to frame your own direction was the most important thing that could happen. So that’s what she wanted for me.”

Vicki said she had a similar college experience as her mother, and it's for that reason she's continuously donated to and worked with the college for most of her life. Vicki Ford hopes that the renovations to OSilas will only amplify Sarah Lawrence’s exceptionality.

“I think people, if they really are happy living in a place that is up to code, up to standards, that’s attractive, it’s going to make their experience of being in college nicer, and they’re going to feel more at ease about being here,” Vicki Ford said. Reynolds agreed with Vicki Ford’s assessment, saying, “[Vicki] wants [the students] to have all the resources and the same culture and the intimate and transformational experience she had when she was a student.”

While touring OSilas, Vicki Ford talked to one of the residents, Sarah Noonan (‘19), who relayed her first year experience in Westlands: “There were two or three times when we found cockroaches in our room.” But she affirmed, “It’s really nice [in OSilas], and since it’s brand new, it’s probably not going to have that issue.”

One of the most noticeable changes to OSilas is the common room. “It’s all so new, so everything is just really nice," Noonan said. "The living room area is amazing [...] there’s a massive flat screen TV. I haven’t done anything with it yet, but I’ve already got plans.”

Developing the common area was a significant focus for Vicki Ford. She found that room to be exceptionally crucial during her residence in Gilbert. A few decades after she graduated, however, the room was transformed into faculty offices, and walls were erected that divided the room. Vicki decided to have the walls torn down and the room turned back into a living room.

“I think that the most important thing for our group when we were living there, way back when, was having a common meeting place where everyone could come,” Vicki Ford said. 

Although the basement, which will have new laundry facilities, is still under construction, it will be finished later this year. Otherwise, OSilas’ plumbing, study rooms, tiles, walls, and carpeting have all been redone. Vicki said she hopes that this OSilas Gift inspires other alumni donations so that the school can continue its facility repairs.  

“I think that’s what’s most exciting, that you can take an old shell and you can make it come to life,” Vicki Ford said, sitting in her old dorm living room that she has now made anew.

Victoria Mcyue '20

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.