This year’s Students of Color Leadership Conference (SOCLC) was held at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio on November 1-3, 2019. The Theme of the conference was “Still I Rise: Dreams of Our Ancestors” and was attended by over 195 students, faculty and staff. This year’s theme revolved around the appreciation and gratitude for our ancestors who made it possible for us to thrive in the modern-day world!

Student led presentations on Saturday included Hypervisible: How to Navigate the White workplace as POC, Imagine a World without Cages: Modern Abolitionist Movement, That’s My XXX: The Power of Words and Self Perception, The Grind Don’t Stop, We Refuse to Be Silenced to name just a few.

Along with student led presentations, keynote speakers Cathleen Richardson and John Quinones presented as well. It was a weekend of powerful messages, explorations, and learning. Next year’s SOCLC will be held at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Liberal arts colleges observe two kinds of ceremonial events.  One of these – commencement – centers on students as new matriculants or graduates, commending their hopes and achievements as they embark on a next phase of life.  The other – inauguration – involves similar academic regalia and ritual, but its subject centers more on the college itself – its founding, notable achievements, leaders, and events that have brought it through the decades to the present moment, when it celebrates the installation of a new president to lead the institution into the future. 

A recent presidential inauguration of Dr. Hilary Link at Allegheny College exemplified the ritual in grand style.  These are events in which the extended community of the college assembles; all of those who participate can see and feel themselves to be part of something larger than themselves.  There is emotional power as the procession advances across campus to the inaugural gathering place:  faculty and staff, students, alumni, trustees, members of the community, and beyond.  Delegates from other academic institutions signify that this is a celebration not just of one college, but of liberal arts education in the U.S. and abroad, with all the values and aspirations it affirms. 

Beyond these elements, the speeches of welcome to a new president collectively tell the story of a college.  There are recountings of its humble beginnings in the nineteenth century as an institution of learning founded at the edge of the frontier by leaders of a protestant denomination for the purpose of training clergy. The details include the number of students first enrolled (less than two dozen) and of faculty (two or three), the initial cost of tuition (less than $50), and increments of growth through time.  Sometimes there is particular notice of an extraordinary president who served for two decades or more, as well as transformational moments, including the decision to admit women to the student body.

Events of this kind in any era express hopes for the continued vitality of a college, while also acknowledging forces that could prove challenging in the time ahead.  Our liberal arts colleges face heightened challenges today, ranging from financial and enrollment concerns, to growing questions about the value and utility of a liberal arts education. 

This balance of affirmation and apprehension was evident from the speeches given at the Allegheny inauguration.  Three of the key speakers addressed the relevance and importance of a liberal arts education in the current age. 

Some paraphrases of such statements affirming the liberal arts included these:

  • Independent liberal arts colleges are a small segment of higher education in the U.S., but the small campus residential experience prepares students especially well in fostering respect and celebration of differences.  Inside and outside of class, our colleges prepare students to reflect seriously on the possibilities of democracy, including the development of empathy for others.
  • Puzzles can be solved by assembling pieces that are all readily at hand, but to solve a mystery requires a deeper process, entering a world of possibilities not yet foreseen and drawing on other realms of knowledge.  We may think we know what we are preparing for, but the study of liberal arts helps prepare us for futures we haven’t imagined. 
  • Immersion in the study of languages was a window into other ways of seeing and thinking.  It was a way of shifting the angle of the lens and seeing familiar things from an altered perspective.  The experience of otherness – whether though the study of language, study abroad, or other means of experiencing different cultures – is a key element of learning and development. 
  • Liberal arts education can teach students the humility and openness to see things from other standpoints, to pursue avenues that offer different ways of understanding, and to embrace rather than reject otherness. 

These paraphrases cannot express the richness of the speakers’ statements in the context of their full remarks.  Collectively, however, the thinking delivered at this inauguration offered compelling narratives of the power of liberal arts education to shape and transform a life beyond what one might have imagined.

An inauguration demonstrates that the ability to tell stories of the impact of the liberal arts on individual lives is one of the most effective strengths our colleges possess.  Individual story-telling of this kind is an advantage that could be applied to even greater effect in making the case for the liberal arts beyond our own academic communities.

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This year three new presidents have been appointed  by member colleges of  the GLCA – Matt Scogin at Hope College, who was inaugurated on September 13, 2019; Hilary Link at Allegheny College, who was inaugurated on October 18, 2019; and Anne Houtman at Earlham College, whose inauguration is yet to be scheduled. 

By Gregory Wegner

Photo by Bill Owen

GLCA staff joined administrators from four of its member colleges in a visit to Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan on November 8, 2019.  The University was founded in 1882 and today enrolls nearly 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students.  Its mission is to educate students to make positive contributions to a changing world and contribute to the public good as global leaders. 

Among Waseda’s educational priorities is to promote global competence in students through opportunities to interact with people of other nations and cultures.  One way it does this is through a partnership with Earlham College called the Japan Study Program, which is one of the GLCA’s Recognized Study-Away programs. 

A GLCA gathering in the office of the Japan Study program at Waseda: From left: John Woell, Albion College; Simon Gray, GLCA; Mickey McDonald, GLCA; Anne Houtman, Earlham College; Michiyo Nagayama, Waseda University, Jorge Gonzalez, Kalamazoo College, Dyron Dabney, Earlham College; and Sam Pack, Kenyon College (Japan Study Faculty Director 2019-20).

Up to 35 students of GLCA or ACM colleges per year enroll in the Japan Study Program at Waseda to enhance their liberal arts studies with a deep experience of international culture.  American students take courses taught in English in addition to at least six units per semester of Japanese language study.  Students benefit also from the experience of a major university in the vibrant metropolitan setting of Tokyo. 

The recent American visitors to Waseda University included Mickey McDonald, President of the GLCA; Anne Houtman, President of Earlham College; Jorge Gonzalez, President of Kalamazoo College, and John Woell, Associate Provost at Albion College.  They were guided by Dyron Dabney, Director of the Japan Study Program at Earlham College. 

The visit culminated in a lunch with the President and senior officials of Waseda University, in which there were exchanges of gifts and expressions of good will for the strong partnership that exists between these institutions. 

GLCA President, Mickey McDonald (left), presents gifts to Aiji Tanaka (standing, center), President of Waseda University, and to Masahiko Gemma (right), Waseda’s Vice President for International Affairs.

The Earlham/GLCA/Waseda Japan Study Program now celebrates 56 years since its founding.  For information about the Japan Study Program, contact Dyron Dabney at dabnedy@earlham.edu.


Marcelo Hernandez Castillo and faculty members at Kalamazoo College.  From left: Oliver Baez Bendorf, Shanna Salinas, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, and Francisco Villegas

The season’s first campus visit of the GLCA New Writers Award (NWA) took place Monday, October 28, at Kalamazoo College.  Marcelo Hernandez Castillo is the 2019-20 winner of the NWA poetry award for his collection entitled, Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018).  

Castillo is a poet, essayist, translator, and immigration advocate.  He was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and immigrated at the age of five with his family to the California central valley. As an AB540 student, he earned his B.A. from Sacramento State University and was the first undocumented student to graduate from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan. His immigration case was used by the Supreme Court to justify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) under president Obama.

His visit to Kalamazoo encompassed a series of events with students who were interested in his life as well as his writings.  In the morning he visited a sociology class on “Race and Racism,” taught by Dr. Francisco Villegas.  At lunch he met with creative writing students and faculty.  In mid-afternoon he met with an English class on “Reading the World: Identities,” taught by Dr. Shanna Salinas.  In the evening he presented a public reading and book signing at the College’s Intercultural Center. 

Kalamazoo College had structured Castillo’s visit to recognize and celebrate his achievement not just as a writer, but as one who has experienced the life of an undocumented immigrant.  His poems and comments expressed what the GLCA poetry judges called, “a story of undocumented immigrants, border crossing, transgression, and the tantalizing fictions and facts of the American dream.”  During the reading Castillo described his determination in writing to “take back the joy in life” from the state of uncertainty that has often characterized his experience.   

Over 40 people attended Marcello Castillo’s reading and book-signing at Kalamazoo College.  He has scheduled readings at several other GLCA member colleges in the winter and spring terms. 

The New Writers Award, now in its 49th year, provides students of GLCA’s member colleges with the opportunity to meet and engage with writers of promise who have won distinction in a first-published volume of fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction.  Judges of this national contest are faculty members of our GLCA member colleges in the fields of creative writing and literature.  

The 2019 winner for Creative Non-fiction is Dawn Davies, Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces, published by Flatiron Books.  Judges in Creative Non-fiction were:  Matthew Ferrence (Allegheny), Marin Heinritz (Kalamazoo), Rhoda Janzen (Hope).  Our GLCA judges note:

Dawn Davies’ Mothers of Sparta deftly weaves her experiences as a woman with a simplicity of language, an elegant structure and a depth of emotion in these often redemptive essays. "Mothers of Sparta," among the book’s most powerful pieces of writing, explores parenting with compassion and responsibility, making a significant contribution to our cultural conversation about disability. These essays examine our modern ways of being and becoming.

The 2019 winner for Poetry is Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Cenzontle, published by BOA Editions, Ltd.  Judges in poetry were:  David Baker (Denison), Joe Heithaus (DePauw), and Lynn Powell (Oberlin).  Our GLCA judges note:

Castillo’s narrative itself couldn’t be more timely and significant:  it’s a story of undocumented immigrants, border crossing, transgression, and the tantalizing fictions and facts of the American dream.  To read these poems is to participate in a journey – and an unexpected one towards illumination and the complexities of longing and belonging.  Castillo’s sweep is large but his voice is particular and clarified.  This is mature, engaged poetry.

The 2019 winner for Fiction is Lesley Nneka Arimah, What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, published by Riverhead Books.  Judges in Fiction were:  Danit Brown (Albion), Eric Freeze (Wabash), and Jennifer Hayward (Wooster).  Our GLCA judges note:

Lesley Nneka Arimah's larger themes explore generational conflict, transnational migrations, and the unexpected ways that the past can reach forward to throw the present off course. Her voice is always assured, the writing often beautiful and occasionally breathtaking. These characters have stories they want to tell – about family, especially mothers and daughters; about love and its dangers; about the struggle of women to be heard against the social chorus of gendered expectations.

Each of these writers has received invitations to visit several GLCA members colleges to give readings and meet with students and faculty in the fall or spring of this year.  Check the Events page of this web site to see where these writers will be.  For a fuller account of the writers and their achievements, see the GLCA New Writers Award Newsletter.  For questions about the visits of NWA winners, contact Colleen Monahan Smith of the GLCA: smith@glca.org

Three faculty-student research teams completed ten days of intensive research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on July 17, 2019.  The teams participating in this program are selected on the basis of proposals submitted by faculty members of GLCA colleges and the extended international institutions of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA).  

The topics of this year’s research teams, their faculty leaders, and institutions are: 

“White Supremacist Thought and the Struggle for Union in the Civil War Era.”  Marcy Sacks, Professor of History, Albion College, Albion, Michigan, USA.

“Coming to America:  The Early Arab-American Generations.”  David Tresilian, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature, American University of Paris, Paris, France.

“Poetic Modernisms, Gender, and Sexuality in Four Indian Languages.”  Kedar Kulkarni, Assistant Professor in Literary and Cultural Studies, FLAME University, Pune, India.

The program makes it possible for a faculty member to work collaboratively with a team of two or three undergraduates to research a subject in a humanities or social science discipline.  Jurretta Heckscher, a Reference Specialist at the Library of Congress who is also the project director of this GLCA partnership observes, “In this program we have created a model of service that is fairly unique – that of the research liaison for a faculty-student team.  As liaisons, we at the Library don’t have expertise in all research topics, but we know who does and can bring our teams to the door of a reading room specialist.  We position the teams to walk through those doors.”  

On the final day of the program each student and faculty member described their research to all other participants in the program.  Following those presentations, which demonstrated the range and depth of the students’ thinking, Gregory Wegner of the GLCA said, “Being taken seriously by their Library liaisons and other staff helps our students develop confidence in their own abilities as researchers.  I know that the students will carry what they have learned – about their topics, and about themselves – through their lives.”

For questions about this program contact Gregory Wegner at the GLCA:  wegner@glca.org