Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2010


College dedicates Green to Jean C. Tempel ´65

Visitors enjoy a shady spot in the new Outdoor Classroom on the Jean C. Tempel ´65 Green, dedicated on the Saturday of Commencement Weekend,. Photo by A. Vincent Scarano.

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Finding and Feeding Your Passion

Finding and Feeding Your Passion
Richard Greenwald ´87 and Frank Tuitt ´87. Photo by A. Vincent Scarano.

Baccalaureate Address, May 22, 2010

By Frank Tuitt ´87 and Richard Greenwald ´87

Greenwald: Introduction

President Higdon, Father Larry, faculty, staff, parents and friends, and most importantly, our fellow alumni from the Class of 2010: Greetings.

Frank and I are honored to be asked to speak today; thank you for making us a part of this special ceremony.

(The Rev.) Carolyn Patierno told us that Baccalaureate was a time for introspection — a time to be thankful and a time for us to reflect on our Connecticut College careers, what has inspired us, and how that affects us today.

As you reflect on your own story at Connecticut College it will include many similar characters that populate all our stories here: encouraging parents; high school counselors or a special alumnus in our hometowns; the Admission staff; a caring Financial Aid officer; someone working in one of the small dining halls; the great professor; a coach; a motivating administrator; the friends we made.

Carolyn reminded us that the next steps for you may be scary and intimidating. She said it would be great to let the Class of 2010 know they should be good to themselves and not fret about what is next. Carolyn said our purpose is to reassure you that you are going to be all right.

So: You are going to be all right.

With that out of the way, this has been a great opportunity for us. Frank and I spoke several times during the last few months to prepare for this. And we also brought another alumnus from our time, Eddy Castell (´87), in on those conversations, to help us sort through what we wanted to say.

We decided to spend our time talking about finding and feeding passion in our lives. In order to do so we are going to share with you how the ideas and situations we were concerned about 25 years ago are still important today and how it relates to our current work in the fields of education, and prisoner re-entry.

We will try to put in context what our world was like in the mid-´80s, including the night we locked down Fanning Hall. Taking over Fanning had a large impact on us, so I am going to explain a bit what happened.

Back in 1985, a group of students were having forums around how people of different races and backgrounds went about being students at our great school, Connecticut College. Out of those forums students began to organize. Frank and I were very much a part of that effort. We both were among a bunch of students, faculty and administrators who started a group called SOAR, Society Organized Against Racism.

It was one of a few groups on campus that was working on how we could do better as a school in all respects attracting, retaining and providing a diverse experience for students here. It was a very respectful effort that was less about doing away with things and more about adding and making our school better.

We were a responsible, concerned group and we felt like we were not being listened to and that there was a lack of follow-through on promises that were made.

So, under the cover of darkness, on May 1st of 1986, a group of 54 of us (Connecticut College undergrads) made our way into Fanning Hall. One guy shimmied up the front of Fanning to an open window and unlocked the back door. A few of us went in, armed with chains, locks and a list of demands. We hid as Campus Security did their last walkthrough for the night and then we locked the north door. In staggered small clusters, the rest of the group came around back within the next hour.

Once we were all inside, we chained the rest of the doors shut.

Then we waited for morning.

The rest of the night we re-worked the strategy we developed earlier at Unity House.

We were also in coordination with another 150 people or so who were part of the effort but were not in Fanning. (Not to be a Luddite, but this coordination and our interpersonal connectedness happened without the use of cell phones, PDAs and computers.)

Concurrently, while some of us were reviewing our plans in the stillness of Fanning Hall that night, some people were figuring out their contingencies — because it might have been our last night at Connecticut College. After all it was an illegal act, and if not illegal, then certainly it was going to be within the rights of the school to expel us all.

When the sun began to rise on that Friday morning, the Campus Security knew there was a problem. We could hear them pulling on the door trying to open them.

You could sense their confusion, then their concern, and then their reaction. Rapidly, intensity picked up.

By the next hour the police, the College president, Oaks Ames, and his staff were huddled outside the building.

During the next several hours, everyone on campus knew about our issues, and most people probably spent some time in the parking lot out front watching us periodically come to the windows on the second floor and make statements. We shared our literature and articulated our concerns in a strategic manner and many people were very supportive; even the Student Government Association snuck in food and drink to us.

And at the end of that Friday, after a day of press statements, a list of demands, and faculty emissaries coming and going, we finally met with the president, Oakes Ames.

At the meeting, President Ames was calm and respectful. He agreed to our demands that included a commitment to more diversity in all aspects of student life and some targeted actions that would achieve that goal. We all signed a pledge to that effect and then proceeded to walk out of the building.

What we came out to was a group of sympathetic and supportive people from the Connecticut College community. The next day I found a campus-wide letter in my mailbox from President Ames acknowledging the events of the previous day and strongly committing the College to the list of demands and, more importantly, committing the school to the work that would be needed to meet such ambitious goals.

Tuitt: Context

In many ways our current work is directly related to what we experienced as undergraduates here at Conn.

I think it is safe to say that for all students, going to college is a transition. However, for me, coming to Connecticut College was an extreme transition. I remember visiting Conn as a senior in high school during Eclipse Weekend and having the time of my life. There were so many people of color around — current students, prospective students and alums. I think I slept about four hours total that entire weekend. I left Conn that weekend thinking that this was definitely the place for me.

However when I arrived in fall my first reaction was, Where did all the people of color go? In the fall of 1983, I was one of three black males in my class. Ten seemed to the magic number at Conn: there were 10 black men in the entire school, which contributed some interesting gender dynamics, and 10 students of color in the freshman class. Back then, Unity House was our home away from home that came with our own set of adopted parents: Rick McClellan and Grissel Hodge.

In a lot of ways, my personal, demographic and psychological makeup was not unlike the other students of color in my class. I came to Conn as a fairly confident young person who had experienced a decent amount of success in high school. I came from a very close-knit family who had instilled in me a strong sense of racial and ethnic pride. In my case, growing up in Boston during busing had already sensitized me to the existence of racism, but what I was feeling at Conn was not the straight, blatant, in-your-face, I-don´t-like-you-´cause-you-are-black kind of racism. It was more of the polite, stab-you-in-your-back, hit-you-when-you-are-not-looking, fake kindness type of racism that made you feel like all eyes were on you and at the same time nobody knew you were there. This psychological, warlike engagement was new to me and for the first year I did not adjust well. It´s kind of funny now, but it wasn´t back then. My academic claim to fame my freshman year was that my roommate, Eddy Castell, and I had a combined GPA of a 3.0.

Fortunately for me and the other students of color on campus, there was this place called Unity House, and it was the one place on campus that was ours. It was the one place where we could turn off the antennae and just be ourselves. It was the place where the scents and sounds were familiar. The place where you could kick off your shoes, relax your feet and leave all that baggage across the street. Unity was the place that reminded us through its constant feedback that we had earned the right to be here and that no matter what signals we got elsewhere, our experience at Unity reinforced that we were smart, intelligent and beautiful black and brown people. In essence, Unity maintained, restored and strengthened our identity on a daily basis.

Beyond supporting us so that we could cope, Unity also taught us how to support ourselves and each other. Whether it was the leadership development retreats or attendance at regional conferences, Unity sought to make us aware of the different survival strategies that were at our disposal. Overall, Unity taught us how to grab hold of the steering wheel and take control of this journey through the land of “Club Camel.” Through our individual and collective efforts, Umoja, La Unidad and SOAR began to move from being reactive to proactive. Organizing became the way of life, and Unity House served as our command center. The night before the takeover more than 100 students from Unity, La Unidad and SOAR met to discuss whether or not we should occupy Fanning Hall. Boy, did we strategize that night, putting to good use all of the leadership skills that we had honed. In allowing us to develop our own survival strategies, Unity House gave us the kind of training and support to believe that we could make a difference.

Today, it is this desire to make a difference in higher education that feeds my passion, and I have no one else to thank for that than Connecticut College. I go to work every day, not because of the lifestyle or the high salary or the potential of tenure, but because I firmly agree with bell hooks that higher education — in spite of all its limitations — remains a location of possibility, a place where paradise still can be created. It is this sense of hope that feeds my passion.

Think about the number of people I come in contact with in an academic year by being involved in higher education. Each one of those encounters has the potential to have a profound impact on an individual´s life, the people they come in contact with, the organizations in which they work, the communities in which they live, and society as a whole.

The point is that through access, higher education provides a unique opportunity to transform the ways in which people view the world and their role in it.

Greenwald: Context

When Frank says education is a location of the possibility, that is the United States too, a place of incredible possibility. The United States is an ideal we live and we strive for. As citizens and graduates of Connecticut College, our role is to add value and protect its promise.

We live in a great and dynamic country. And Connecticut College is an enclave in it, our special four-year zone for intellectual and personal growth. Conn is an island, but in terms of our country´s history, racial and otherwise, we don´t exist in complete isolation of its surrounding seas that include the legacy of slavery, a Constitutional compromise, a Civil War and Civil Rights Acts, great waves of immigrations and migration searching for opportunity and liberty complemented with stories of hardships and discrimination.

We are a country that struggles how to address and honor our past and at the same time struggles to move on, to progress, to take accountability and responsibility. The world is different since we graduated. In the last 25 years people of color and women made the workplace and productivity explode forward. At our highest levels of government the court, the State Department and the presidency reflect much of this change. Yet while our wealth has grown, our wages for most families have stagnated or slid backwards, while the disparity between the rich and others has dramatically widened.

Tuitt: Our Work

One of the messages we want to get across to you today is that you are a part of a rare group of people who have the opportunity to take advantage of increased access to higher education. And while for some of you there may have been some days when you feel that this is the farthest thing from truth, being a student at Connecticut College has been a privilege, not something to be taken for granted. It is a privilege because for many students, access to a world-class education — that is, access to the American dream — may be nothing more than a fantasy, something to be sought but never achieved.

It didn´t take me long to realize that my accomplishments as a black male in this country was an exception and not the norm. Consider for a moment that, according to the Black Star Project, only 45 percent of black men graduate from high school in the United States; just 22 percent of black males who began at a four-year college graduated within six years; and 53 percent of black men aged 25-34 are either unemployed or earn too little to lift a family of four from poverty. The Bureau of Justice reports that 32 percent of black boys currently in the second grade can expect to spend time in prison over the course of their lifetime.

Greenwald: Our Work

Since graduating Connecticut College, we have made an effort to focus our work on the “important.”

During the last two decades, I chose to work with people who were on welfare and the employers who hired them. For the last few years, I have been especially engaged in what is known as prisoner re-entry for ex-offenders.

If nothing else, prisoner re-entry is about lowering crime by helping people transition back to their communities so they are able to live up to their “social contracts.” It is also about making public and private investments, particularly in jobs and family support.

Prison re-entry is an important matter, and the work feeds my passion.

In 1985, when Frank and I began to work on issues of diversity at Connecticut College, the U.S. prison population was about 750,000 people. Now, it is more than 2.2 million, or 1 in 100 adults. More people are incarcerated here in the United States than almost any other country in the world. The costs to neighborhoods and families are enormous. The financial costs are too, some $65 billion a year. And unfortunately, 65 percent of people who are released from prison end up recidivating.

It is not just these ex-offenders we are worried about. We are worried about their children too. Half the people behind bars have children, and half of their children suffer some anxiety disorder. And 1 in 7 kids whose parents are in prison will end up in prison themselves one day.

Frank and I participated in many other activities at Connecticut College outside of our activism and classwork. And you had a variety of experiences here too, discovering who you are and what you are about — and what you think is the important.

One of our favorite professors here is Art Ferrari, who expected his students to learn to be good problem solvers. There are great problems for us in the world to address and he needs us to utilize this privileged education to do important work.

We chose access to education and prisoner re-entry as being the important. What will you choose?

Tuitt: Closing

In closing, we want to leave you with some final points that we believe are essential for finding and feeding your passion.

6. Always consider yourself a lifelong learner. Getting a Conn College degree is an important accomplishment, but that doesn´t mean that you now know everything you need to know.

5. Stay in touch with the people that you got to know here. One of those individuals will be in a position to make a difference in your life and the lives of other people.

4. Get involved with some organization that allows you to feed your passion. Be a mentor, teach Sunday school, coach a team, be a tutor — whatever it is, find a way to reach kids. You wouldn´t be here today if it were not for the folks who stepped up to the plate and decided you were worth mentoring.

3. Strive to become socially conscious. By socially conscious we mean that you continually strive to understand how your race, ethnicity, gender, class status, religion and other ways in which you identify impact the way that you understand and interact in the world.

2. When you find that thing that you are passionate about, feed it. Your passion is the window to your soul. The organizations and institutions that you choose to work in may not be invested in finding and feeding your passion. Nurturing and protecting your passion will be your responsibility. Be attentive to it and you will do just fine.

1. Whatever it is that you choose to do in life, engage in it as a whole human being. We believe that you will be most successful in life if you draw upon your personal, political, intellectual and spiritual ways of understanding. The strength of your humanity will come from uniting these elements.

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