Dear Macalester community,
In the fall, I will start teaching at Rutgers University where both my husband and I have been offered faculty positions. Those of you who have been my advisees or students know that I encourage students to write to scholars who have written something that opens their minds or stretches their thinking and to thank them. So I thought I should follow my own advice and express my appreciation to the entire Macalester community.
Traveling to Macalester in April 2013 for my interview was the first time I was away from my then six-month-old daughter, Ada. After spending two days with faculty in the international studies department as well as the media and cultural studies and anthropology departments and meeting with many students, I left with a very clear sense of two things: Macalester exuded a culture of curiosity and this was a school I would want my daughter to attend.
Students were asking me questions about my research on journalism. They were eager to tell me about their own research and community engagements whether in Minneapolis or Mongolia. I had never spoken to a group of students who took as much responsibility for their own learning. I immediately sensed that there was room here to debate ideas and that teaching could be about more than policing requirements and grades.
The five years I spent at Macalester were by far the happiest in my academic career. I was surrounded by people who cared about their community from the custodians and security staff who checked in on me when I arrived very early, to the librarians who dove into my research and made bold suggestions, to the students who carefully read the challenging texts I assigned and came to class ready for discussion, to the colleagues who always found time to share mentoring tips. My time at Macalester was about engagement with others.
Scholarship, in the end, is about conversation. Macalester taught me how broad a conversation can be and how many people create the conditions that make rich ones possible. There are many ways to be engaged in conversations, but it begins with people willing to dare to think new things rather than merely confirm long-held ideas, people who are curious. I am on sabbatical in Switzerland, and in German curiosity — neugeurig — literally means being greedy for that which is new.
During my first winter at Macalester, Ada and I spent many hours in the library where she loved climbing into the returned books box. This spring she is just beginning to read books on her own. So much of my parenting has been shaped by reflecting on extraordinary Macalester students I met both in and out of the classroom and thinking hard about how to foster the curiosity and creativity that animated them. Macalester is still a school that I would love for her to attend.
But cultures of curiosity need to be cultivated, and they need to be maintained. I am leaving Macalester at a very interesting moment when there will be lots of conversations about core values, visions and new leadership. At another school, the search for a new president might come down to a corporate hiring firm and salary negotiations, but, at Macalester, I suspect the year ahead will be full of meaningful conversations. I trust that all will take the opportunity to engage in such important debates. I will be sorry to miss these conversations for they are sure to provoke much thought on what it means to teach and learn in the 21st century.
With gratitude for all I have learned here as a scholar, a teacher, a citizen and a parent.