June Report from Kate Barrett, Director of the Myser Initiative in Catholic Identity

Breaking the Impasse

The eighth annual Breaking the Impasse was held in the Rauenhorst Ballroom on Febuary 22nd and was co-sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cardondelet Justice Commission and the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity.  The theme of the event this year was "Moving Forward Together;” a discussion of ways we can strengthen our communities to move beyond a politics of divisiveness, with Sr. Simone Campbell, of NETWORK and guest, Courtney Martin, journalist for social change. (click here for more event information)

National Catholic Sister's Week

In other news, the Myser Initiative partnered with Campus Ministry and the Multicultural and International Programs and Services (MIPS) to celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW) March 8-14 on campus.  NCSW is a week each year to highlight Catholic sisters and raise awareness of their profound influence throughout the world. We are fortunate to have the NCSW program and staff headquartered right here on our campus.  Together, we all worked to offer programming throughout the week.  

  • NCSW showed (un)veiled - the making of an exhibit, a documentary film chronicling the creation of a multi-dimensional exhibit held at St. Catherine's in 2016 that examined the evolution and historical significance of the religious habit. 

  • Myser sponsored a panel discussion with CSJs “Sisters, Students, and Sustainability”.  The panel was very inspiring and as a result, the Biology club applied for a small grant through the Myser Initiative to support a project to help us become a more “Bee Friendly” Campus.  Be on the look-out for signs of this around campus in the fall. (click here for audio from the event)

  • Campus Ministry facilitated an opportunity for students to meet sisters and talk with them on Founder’s Day.

  • MIPS and the Myser Initiative sponsored a repeat of Habits and Hijabs, bringing sisters and Muslim students together to discuss similarities and differences on head coverings.    

The Myser Initiative also partnered with the Association of Colleges of Sisters of St. Joseph’s, a group of nine schools throughout the US.  We made pins and stickers (see picture) and all wore them throughout the week on our various campuses. Check out the following hashtag for more information on NCSW: #ncsw2017 and for information specific to the Association of Colleges of Sisters of St. Joseph: #dearneighbor.

Funded Mission Possible Projects

On January 24, during our presentation at The Learning Network (a.k.a. TLN), we announced a funding initiative aimed to spur mission-centered action at St. Catherine University. We called it the "Mission Possible Challenge" and invited staff and faculty to propose projects and programming that address our tripartite mission - liberal arts, women, Catholic - with the goal of enhancing our mission-driven educational culture. Many of you applied, and we are pleased to announce that we've funded three innovative and collaborative projects that integrate two or all three of the mission plaits. Financial contributions to the Mission Chair program funds make this possible; we are grateful to the donors for their generosity. Stay tuned for updates on these projects as they are realized in the coming months!

Women’s Mental Health Toolkit for the 21st Century
Susan Hawthorne (Philosophy), Lisa Kiesel (Social Work), Heide Malat (Counseling Center), Michael Peterson (Counseling and Student Development, MPLS), Laurel Bidwell (Social Work), Anne Williams-Wengerd (Psychology) Lynda Szymanski (Psychology), Amy Ihlan (MAOL), Geri Chavis (English), Lindsay Whipple (Student Affairs), Kim Dinsey-Read (Nursing)

The overall purpose of the “Toolkit” project is to bring increased awareness of issues surrounding mental health and illness to campus. Our top priority is to address the fact that many do not prioritize their own mental health, or that of friends, students, or colleagues. Our events will offer reasons and tools to do so. We also want to address roadblocks to success for our community members who have mental health issues; these roadblocks include stigmatization, lack of acceptance, the high prevalence of mental illness in young women, and lack access to or knowledge of care resources. Finally, we want to draw attention to wider social justice issues around mental illness—such as imprisonment, homelessness, and neglect— in which students, faculty, and staff could become involved.

CFA Online Orientation: St. Catherine University Mission Video Module
Cynthia Conley (CACL), Amy Fitzgerald (Academic Advising), Anne Weyandt (Academic Affairs), Kathy Mills (Academic Affairs)

The College for Adults will produce a high quality 3-5 minute video for all new CFA students that will be embedded in a required online orientation, placed on the CFA page within the University website, and potentially used in other marketing and educational venues as appropriate. Our purpose is to connect all new CFA students with St. Kate's mission. This is particularly important for our adult learners who have reduced time on campus and therefore have fewer opportunities to be exposed to the multiple ways the mission is expressed through campus activities.

Troops to Teachers - and Other Careers
David Stricker (Education), Jennifer Seales (Admissions)

This funding will finance travel to at least four local campuses where we can connect with veteran-specific staff/faculty/advisors and articulate how a number of St. Kate’s programs, including – but not limited to teacher education – are already poised to empower a veteran-specific population. In addition, insights will be gathered regarding what St. Kate’s needs in terms of marketing efforts, campus resources, veteran specific connections in the area, and examples of institutions that have been successful at recruiting and retaining female veteran students. Through this work, we will develop an informed and rich perspective regarding higher education best practice service to a female veteran population and determine the viability of establishing St. Kate’s as a veteran friendly campus.

June Report from Allison Adrian, Endowed Chair in Women's Education

 Women's Art Institute participants, undated (Image Source: Patricia Olson) 

Women's Art Institute participants, undated (Image Source: Patricia Olson) 

The Otte Initiative in Women’s Education is excited to announce three separate Women-Centered Learning Communities [WLCs] for the 2017-2018 year. Small cohorts of six to eight staff and/or faculty will have the opportunity to focus on one of three themes for the 2017-2018 academic year: women-centered scholarship, women-centered projects, and women-centered pedagogy. This year Patricia Olson, Associate Professor of Art and Art History and Director of the Women's Art Institute, will facilitate the first six meetings of the cohorts using methods honed from her experience teaching the Women's Art Institute for the past eighteen years. WLCs will be exploratory, creative, and instrumental in enhancing how we activate knowledge and practices grounded in our women's mission.

Women-Centered Learning Communities, 2017-2018

 Women’s colleges as a whole have been powerful catalysts for positive change among women for more than 150 years.  -Eldred and Sebrechts 2002

 Looking at Art: Laurie Phillips, Catherine Kennedy, Kyrin Hobson, Women’s Art Institute 2006, Patricia Olson, 2006, oil on ragboard, 14⅛ x 8 inches (Image Source: Patricia Olson) 

Looking at Art: Laurie Phillips, Catherine Kennedy, Kyrin Hobson,
Women’s Art Institute 2006, Patricia Olson, 2006, oil on ragboard, 14⅛ x 8 inches (Image Source: Patricia Olson) 

Applications for WLCs are due Friday, July 21st. Participants will be notified by Friday, August 4th.

Please submit the short application form through this link.

If you have questions, contact Allison Adrian (aeadrian@stkate.edu) or Charlie Zieke (cszieke@stkate.edu).

Purpose & Design

Participation in WLCs will foster creativity and innovation that strengthens mission-centered work at St. Kate’s. WLCs will be instrumental in activating knowledge and practices grounded in our women’s mission. Each participant will receive $300 at the end of the academic year for active participation in their cohort.

WLC membership and composition guidelines are:

  • All faculty and staff (women, men, and gender non-conforming people) from all Colleges are eligible and encouraged to become members of WLCs.
  • Colleagues from within departments and offices are encouraged to apply together.
  • In addition, some interdisciplinary/cross-campus exchange is desired to enhance interaction, especially between professional studies and liberal arts programs.

WLC Activities

  • WLCs will convene for the first six sessions of the experience in a large group format facilitated by Patricia Olson, and then once a month for ninety minutes from November through April, for a total of twelve meetings.
  • Each WLC is expected to share the results of its work with the larger university community. Each cohort will determine together what form this will take and whether it will take place at the end of the academic term or the beginning of the following academic year.
  • Participants will submit a short reflection of their work to the Center for Mission Blog. Articles in Colleagues, break-out sessions at TLN, or other opportunities to share the communities’ findings are also encouraged.
 Looking at Art: Kristin Copham and Elizabeth Erickson, Women’s Art Institute 2004, Patricia Olson, 2005, oil on ragboard, 13¼ x 9 ¾ inches(Image Source: Patricia Olson) 

Looking at Art: Kristin Copham and Elizabeth Erickson, Women’s Art Institute 2004, Patricia Olson, 2005, oil on ragboard, 13¼ x 9 ¾ inches(Image Source: Patricia Olson) 


The first six sessions, facilitated by Patricia Olson, will be held in the Visual Arts Building 302 on the following dates:

  • Thursday, August 24th from 12:10-1:30pm.
  • Friday, September 8th, from 12:10-1:30pm.
  • Friday, September 15th, from 12:10-1:30pm.
  • Friday, September 22nd, from 12:10-1:30pm.
  • Friday, September 29th, from 12:10-1:30pm.
  • Friday, October 6th, from 12:10-1:30pm.

The following six sessions will meet on dates and locations agreed upon by each cohort.  The Visual Arts Building 302 has been reserved on the following dates should one cohort wish to retain this space and time.

  • Friday, November 3rd, from 10:30-12:00pm.
  • Friday, December 1st, from 10:30-12:00pm.
  • Friday, January 5th, from 10:30-12:00pm.
  • Friday, February 2nd, from 10:30-12:00pm.
  • Friday, March 2nd, from 10:30-12:00pm.
  • Friday, April 6th, from 10:30-12:00pm.

WLC Topics

I. Women-Centered Scholarship

Our institution was founded to provide access to an excellent academic experience for students marginalized from higher education. Our mission calls us to engage in scholarship with hope and desire for a more inclusive world, especially as it pertains to the knowledge, expertise, and experiences of women and gender non-conforming people.

This WLC will foster a productive support system for scholars looking to invest in scholarship that intersects with our women’s mission. Such a designation can refer to the content (what it is you study), purpose (why you study it) and approach (how you study it) – or a combination of the latter - to a particular topic. We are particularly interested in cultivating collaborative and/or community-engaged scholarship*. During the first six 90-minute meetings facilitated by Patricia Olson, participants will develop and distill questions about their scholarly ideas that are investigated throughout the year, and ultimately applied to scholarship.  

*“…an intellectually and methodologically rigorous endeavor that is responsive to public audiences and public peer review. It is scholarly work that advances one or more academic disciplines by emphasizing co-production of knowledge with community stakeholders.” -as defined by Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis

II. Women-Centered Projects

 Women's Art Institute 2007 (Image Source: Patricia Olson)

Women's Art Institute 2007 (Image Source: Patricia Olson)

Our work at a women-centered institution relies on the expertise and support of mission-driven staff. Graduates from women’s colleges are more likely to be “completely satisfied” with their education than peers from co-ed liberal arts institutions or public landmark institutions. This greater overall satisfaction of our alumnae is derived not only from curricular components of the education, but also from co-curricular opportunities and support. Staff, from gardeners to financial aid and career counselors, work directly and indirectly with students to create an inclusive and transformational educational environment. During the first six 90-minute weekly meetings facilitated by Patricia Olson, participants will develop and distill questions about women-centered work that will be investigated throughout the year, and ultimately applied to projects at St. Kate’s. 

III. Women-Centered Pedagogy

The purpose of this WLC is to cultivate expertise in the area of women-centered or feminist* pedagogy. This includes investigation, analysis, synthesis and implementation of practices within and across disciplines into your pedagogical strategies at St. Kate’s. During the first six meetings facilitated by Patricia Olson, participants will develop and distill questions about their teaching practices that are investigated throughout the year, and ultimately applied to current curricula at St. Kate’s.

*pedagogy, research, and work is ‘feminist’ when “it is grounded in the set of theoretical traditions that privilege women’s issues, voices, and lived experiences” (Sandra Harding, 1987:3).

Statement on Women's Education

St. Catherine University Statement on Women’s Education

When women do well, the world does well. St. Catherine has educated women to lead and influence since its founding in 1905. We take women’s experiences and knowledge seriously. Seeking a world in which all people* have opportunities for authentic lives, we educate women and men to work together toward a socially responsible world free of sexism, racism, and other forms of injustice. Our learning environments are women-centered in purpose and approach. We include women's scholarship and expertise in course content and question the absence of women’s voices. We empower all students* to contribute to society and challenge barriers to opportunity, both overt and subtle. This enriches the lives not only of women, but of all humanity. 

*across age, racial and ethnic identity, economic circumstance, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexuality, and physical ability.

June Report from Amy K. Hamlin, Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts

 Dr. Gabrielle Civil leading her workshop "Experiments in Joy," March 20, 2017, in the Visual Arts Building. [Image Source: Amy K. Hamlin]

Dr. Gabrielle Civil leading her workshop "Experiments in Joy," March 20, 2017, in the Visual Arts Building. [Image Source: Amy K. Hamlin]

 Dr. Gabrielle Civil's steps for "Experiments in Joy," March 20, 2017. Used with permission [Image Source: Amy K. Hamlin]

Dr. Gabrielle Civil's steps for "Experiments in Joy," March 20, 2017. Used with permission [Image Source: Amy K. Hamlin]

On March 10, we were pleased to host our former colleague Dr. Gabrielle Civil for a lecture and workshop called "Experiments in Joy: Recharging Our Culture." Both events aimed to mobilize the mission of St. Kate’s by following the lead of Civil's creative and pedagogical practice. She states: “The aim of my work is to open up space.” Through participatory exercises, deep reflection, and robust discussion, participants re-imagined their role at the University through the performative lens of Civil’s “experiments in joy.” She provided aspirational and practical suggestions for how we might animate office and classroom spaces around our tripartite mission: Catholic identity, women’s education, liberal arts. Using her background in creative writing and performance, Civil offered creative visioning strategies for both personal development and institutional transformation. Her remarks came from a deep understanding and appreciation of the mission at St. Kate’s as well as her experience in helping to build and lead a new program at Antioch College.

"Deep Listening" and the Liberal Arts by Amy Hamlin

Dr. Amy Hamlin is the Alberta Huber, CSJ, Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts, Director of the Evaleen Neufeld Initiative in the Liberal Arts, and an Associate Professor of Art History at St. Catherine University.

 Susan Fiene Brown, Orizonte, 1978. Lithograph. Collection of St. Catherine University [Image Source: Fine Arts Collection, used with permission]

Susan Fiene Brown, Orizonte, 1978. Lithograph. Collection of St. Catherine University [Image Source: Fine Arts Collection, used with permission]

In February, I embarked on a yearlong listening tour of programs, offices, and departments at St. Catherine University. The goal of this tour is to establish a foundation from which to build a sustainable and innovative Evaleen Neufeld Initiative in the Liberal Arts. This is no small task. I am humbled to be in at the ground level of this mission-driven enterprise and honored to be working with and alongside my fellow mission chairs, Kate Barrett (Mission Chair in Catholic Identity) and Allison Adrian (Mission Chair in Women’s Education) in this effort. As the first faculty member to occupy the role of the Alberta Huber, CSJ, Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts, I believe that the shape, scope, and structure of the Initiative must emerge from the collective voice of individuals in community at our institution. Full disclosure: I have my own ideas about the liberal arts and what will nourish them at St. Kate’s, but this work is not about me. It is about us. Pronouns matter. Listening matters.

You may be wondering what a stop on this listening tour looks like. Charlie Zieke, our intrepid Administrative Assistant in the Center for Mission, and I arrange to meet for about an hour with a given group in a space determined by the office director or department chair. The following questions are furnished both in advance and during the meeting to give staff and faculty an opportunity to respond to specific prompts.

  • Recognizing that our tripartite mission already lives in the work you do at St. Kate’s, how do you relate to and/or understand the liberal arts in your day-to-day occupations? Please feel free to tell a story, use an example, or provide your own definition of the distinctiveness of the liberal arts at St. Kate's.

  • What would you like to see in the months and years ahead that would amplify, enrich, and/or clarify the liberal arts at St. Kate's? What’s on your wish list?

The gatherings typically begin with some combination of formal and informal introductions, an explanation of the meeting’s purpose, and an articulation of strategy. I have Kate, whose mission work is informed by the Sisters of St. Joseph, to thank for the latter. When I first contemplated a listening tour, she recommended I use Table Talk, a strategy espoused by the CSJs. Unfolding in three parts, participants are asked to reflect in silence on a given prompt, then invited to each respond uninterrupted to the prompt, followed by an opportunity to discuss in the group. This process ensures that everyone has an opportunity to speak. Charlie, whose many talents include expert stenographer, transcribes the dialogue as a deposit and archive of the discussion. Participants, who a week later receive access to the notes in a Google doc, are invited to amend and add to their reflection and also encouraged to continue the conversation among themselves.

I’ve learned a lot in these past three months. Among the ten groups that Charlie and I have thus far visited, there is generally speaking an intuitive appreciation of what it means to be a liberal arts university. This is testament in part to the strength of our seven Liberal Arts Learning Goals. Cemented in 2005 under the leadership of Biology professor Martha Phillips, the following goals have become both benchmarks and guideposts for how our institution practices and delivers our unique tripartite mission.

  • Leadership and Collaboration
  • Ethics and Social Justice
  • Diversity and Global Perspectives
  • Critical and Creative Inquiry
  • Discipline-Based Competence
  • Effective Communication in a Variety of Modes
  • Purposeful Life-Long Learning

Rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition and women-centered pedagogy, the spirit of these goals surfaced in the testimony I have encountered. For example*, Assistant Professor of Biology Curtis Hammond reflected on the principle of affordance and the spaces where the liberal arts might yet thrive, by providing students with opportunities for expression of their critical thinking and creative inquiry. Citing the Quad as one such space, he asserted: “I want to see random acts of liberal arts.” Mary Hearst, Associate Professor of Public Health, appealed to the potential for further collaboration between the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health and School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences by identifying “common ground” that could go a long way to bridge real and imagined divides between liberal arts and professional programs. For Craig Roger, Associate Professor of Business Administration, teaching The Reflective Woman has inspired him to integrate into his business courses questions around ethical practices and gender equality. The Director of Career Development, Tina Wagner, articulated her frustrations with the widespread myth in society at large, which understands the liberal arts as useless; she recognizes this myth is at odds with the sorts of skills twenty-first century employers are asking for. She asked: “How do we instill that excitement about the liberal arts and see it as possibility and not as limited?” And for Elaine James, Assistant Professor of Theology, contemplating the liberal arts at St. Kate’s sends her mind to the “ancient streams of wisdom traditions” as deep sources of universal questions that she and her students explore in the classroom.

Like I said. Listening matters. Deep listening. It’s a concept I borrow from the late avant-garde composer and educator Pauline Oliveros. I have Allison, and her expertise as a feminist ethnomusicologist, to thank for introducing me to Oliveros’ work, which seeds reflection and awareness in profound sonic meditation. In 1988, Oliveros famously lowered herself into an abandoned cistern, fourteen feet in the earth, in order to make a sound recording. The achievement of this exercise emerged in her notion of “deep listening.” It requires a level of vulnerability, presence, and concentration that activates all of the senses, thereby revealing subtler meanings available in the environment and the conversations within. I am by no means skilled in this practice, but it has encouraged a more active awareness of my own audism and ignorance while stoking my humility and curiosity; I have so much yet to learn. Understood as a skill, deep listening is certainly of a piece with the liberal arts, or artes liberales, which roughly translates to “skills for living fully and freely.” Ultimately, I hope that the very notion of deep listening informs the silences and conversations that mark the spaces of this listening tour, of the remarkable people and places that constitute St. Catherine University.

*all quotations and testimony used with permission

Phi Beta Kappa Keynote 2017: Liberal Arts and the Love of Learning: Compass for Everyday Life - Ruth Brombach

Ruth Brombach, Alumnae Liaison and Class of 1960, delivered this keynote address at the annual Phi Beta Kappa Initiation Ceremony on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Every year, the PBK Gamma Chapter at St. Catherine University invites a distinguished member of the PBK community to reflect on the significance of the PBK mantra: "love of learning is the guide of life."

I want to give congratulations to our Phi Beta Kappa initiates, and personal greetings to their families, President Becky Roloff, faculty members, alumnae, administrators and friends present this evening.

A resounding “congratulations” to St. Catherine University on celebrating, this year, eighty years since we were granted a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1937, the first Catholic College or University in the country to be so designated. The first initiation of members took place the following year, in 1938.  

How proud each of us is of her own membership: 1957 graduate Jane Habiger Purifoy wrote to the current initiates: “I was so honored to receive the key and have tried to continue the tradition of seeking and acknowledging truth in whatever venue.  Best to all!”

The chance, offered by my colleagues in Phi Beta Kappa, to ponder the reasons I am a completely devoted advocate of the liberal arts and to explore the place of the liberal arts in my everyday life, was a great opportunity. This terrific opportunity allowed me to articulate how the liberal arts form a compass and create a foundation that helps a person to decide direction in all aspects of everyday life.

First, I want to try to be very clear about what I mean by “everyday life.”  By “everyday life” I mean my life outside the St. Catherine space with family and friends, my work in Alumnae Relations within the walls of St. Catherine University and wherever and whenever I am in contact with graduates, and, then, “everyday life” includes the way I approach, plan my  journey and decide my route through the world in general.

I want to be clear about one other term we commonly use: Liberal arts is the historically correct term that includes the arts, humanities and sciences; generally, when we say liberal arts, we mean the range of liberal arts and science subjects; however, occasionally it just feels right to me to say “liberal arts and sciences,” and, in those instances, I use the wider term.  More than once in alumnae work I have had someone question the inclusion of a chemistry or mathematics major in a discussion of the liberal arts.  It is helpful to be clear that all sciences and mathematics are part of the liberal arts category.

Where do the liberal arts fit in this frame of what I do every hour of every day, as I make my journey through each week, taking turns and going one way and, then, another, making my ongoing choices of the best directions?  Reflecting further on what I do all day, every day – the main business of my life, I decided is really making decisions.

As a small person, I might have had to decide whether to go looking for someone with whom to play or to turn toward home to complete some chores or studies. Over the years of work, family and outside activities, those decisions about which way to turn became increasingly complex with much greater consequences about where the road would lead. In alumnae work I have been immersed in everyday decisions throughout the years, and, then, in time, a major challenge arrived:

How would I walk the high road and offer the Alumnae Association guidance and leadership as it transitioned from an independent organization to an important department of St. Catherine University?

What is best for St. Catherine University?

What is best for alumnae?

What is the best destination for the journey of the hundreds of alumnae volunteers who have nudged, pushed and pulled forward this organization and the relationships it fostered over the years? 

Not easy decisions but keeping the common good of both alumnae and the University in front of us – not impossible decisions- because I have the foundation, the compass created both through my education and my knowledge of ways to learn; both help me decide where to turn.

How do the liberal arts and sciences play in these deliberations and discussions?  For more than 50 years I have been enormously fortunate to be involved in reading and discussing 10 to 12 books, fiction and nonfiction, each year, first with English professor Catherine Lupori, more recently with Professor Cecilia Konchar Farr and our reading friends Mary Jo Richardson and Judie Flahavan.  We have read about new thoughts, new movements, new ways of doing things, different ways of looking at things.  We have agreed, disagreed and revised our positions and directions –all giving experience and base to our ways of making decisions.

We have absorbed information directly related to decisions we are making.  We have watched characters in fiction struggle with similar decisions, decide in an opposite direction and make a huge mistake.  What a great way to learn! What a way to build a sense of direction, my own GPS.

Whatever the topics, each day is filled with decisions so – how do we build for ourselves and for our students the best and strongest foundation for making those decisions? 

Reading history, absorbing the geography of the world, asking why, why and why? Why do one group of people do things this way? And those who live in other countries do it another way? Why do one group worship trees and another worship certain animals? Or the sun and the moon and the stars?

It always comes back to why? And how do we find the answers? We find them through digging, hunting, searching; we find them wherever we choose to do our learning. A person might choose computer, books, online resources, video – or the narrative of someone teaching?

And, as many questions as one clears up on any one day, I suggest that we open an equal number of new questions and possible new roads to follow and new directions to go; and so the process goes on – and all of the answers pour into and influence the decisions we make, big and small.

Some questions might be: Where to go to school? For whom to vote? What to cook for dinner? And bigger issues: What kind of work to do? Do I want to be an attorney? How about medicine? Should I be a professor? To marry or not ? And, if yes – who to marry?

In my own case, I was fortunate to find a great person to marry, with history and English undergraduate majors, a strong compass created through his belief in the value of the liberal arts and the ability of the individual person to create a path forward by imagining destinations and creating the roads to achieve them.

And, then, for us, the little ones appeared and, with additional responsibilities came the need to guide each young one in a right direction – when we didn’t even know what direction was correct. Watching, learning the personality of each, was part of the process.

I will tell you a quick story that you might not believe but it is absolutely true! 

I remember looking at the tiny face of our first child wrapped in blankets and directed at me in either complete rebellion or serious indigestion and whispering to the two-hour-old child: “You will major in a liberal arts subject, whatever you want, whatever subject you love, and then frost the bachelor’s work with a post-baccalaureate degree to prepare yourself for some life’s work.”

And, apparently, the indigestion went away because child three gained a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology from St. Catherine’s and earned a master’s degree in counseling; child two loved history and used his subsequent MBA to work in the world of finance; it was child one, the one to whom I first whispered about the liberal arts in his early hours, whose response jolted me most: He duly reported that he was declaring a major.

I responded, “Wonderful!  What is the major?”

Our oldest, child one, said: “Microbiology.” And, even after all of my talking about and promoting the liberal arts, I stared at the phone and actually said: “What in heaven’s name are you going to do with that?”  But, because it’s a liberal arts major, I gulped again and said, “Great!”  - knowing it would fit beautifully into professional fields; now, with his liberal arts base and graduate studies he is well prepared to make the tough decisions he needs to make, all day every day.

Thus, we come back full circle to the essential work of all our lives: making the day-in and day-out decisions; and what best prepares us for the turns and bumpy patches in this life of decision-making? The core ingredient is the study of liberal arts and science subjects: grappling with the thoughts of philosophers over the ages; walking with theologians who try to reconcile the lives and needs of women and the post-Vatican II work of the Catholic Church; considering the volumes of new work by environmentalists, some gentle and cajoling and some angry and impatient, but all worthy of our time and thought – because continual learning and continual exposure to new thoughts, new research, and additional insights give us the background, the foundation, and the basis for making decisions, knowing which direction to turn, the essential and common ingredient in the lives and professions of us all.

Many more times than one, in working with alumnae, I have come up against a dead end, a road to nowhere, and I have had to mentally retreat, regroup, revise my direction of discussion to find a common base, a common beginning point before attempting to move on for the benefit of St. Catherine.  I really believe my background, my reading and most of all, my experience based in liberal arts gives me the capacity and strength to do this.

There is one more challenge to a liberal arts major: You have all heard it. It is the challenge that a liberal arts major is an impractical major. I do so love to consider this idea!

We can actually measure the value of learning scientific methods and the newest discoveries in science; understanding the psychology of how people think is enormously helpful in all areas; if we study enough history we shouldn’t make all the same mistakes over and over, should we?  Languages and literature open up entire cultures to us – we can even understand why some people don’t get along very well with others.

Is that practical learning? It is the most practical. It is the learning that opens our eyes, opens our minds, enables us to see and understand others and enables us to live in increasingly cramped quarters on this planet.

It is the learning that shows us the right direction – that becomes our compass!

Liberal Arts on My Mind by Charlie Zieke

Note: This article originally appeared in the Mission Chairs December 2016 newsletter

The Office of the Endowed Chairs for Mission was pleased to support The Women’s Art Institute’s three-part series, "Art on Our Minds: a bell hooks listening experience", hosted in the Visual Arts Building on the St. Paul campus.

 bell hooks lecture, San Francisco Art Institute archive #848, digitized and photographed by Anna Garski, February 13, 2015.

bell hooks lecture, San Francisco Art Institute archive #848, digitized and photographed by Anna Garski, February 13, 2015.

The Women’s Art Institute (WAI) was founded in 1999 to “create the art the world has waited five thousand years to see”, explains director and associate professor Pat Olson. The Institute brings a diverse roster of artists, art historians, and critics to campus, as well as leading a woman-directed studio intensive in the summer. WAI’s work has directly influenced hundreds of students, including Anna Garski ‘13, who is working towards her second MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute [SFAI], as well as acting as coteacher with Olson during WAI’s Summer Studio Intensive. While working as an archivist as part of her graduate program, Garski came across a tape recording of a bell hooks lecture given at the 1992 SFAI’s Summer Art Writing Conference. Unarchived, hooks wrote this lecture before publishing her esteemed collection Art on My Mindvisual politics. At a recent listening event, Garski asked the audience if Art on My Mind would have even come to fruition if SFAI hadn’t asked hooks to speak to the experience of marginalized people with art. Garski describes hooks’ theory as “subversively accessible”, a sentiment many Feminist Theory scholars share. hooks speaks specifically about growing up in the recently desegregated
South and being exposed to only white art, at school and home.

In the unnamed lecture, hooks discusses how a lack of representation within mainstream art leads to the devaluation of art in Black communities. Without recognition of themselves in the art world, hooks says, the Black community has little to gain from white-made art that perpetuates racism and colonization. As a way of countering this internalized bias for future generations, she urges her community to establish diverse teaching methods that incorporate art into education: “…to move to a decolonized self, we must set our imaginations free.” hooks goes on to explain that within a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, white folks have better access to Black art than the Black community themselves. hooks is a proponent of switching this access through the diverse model of liberal arts teaching methods in order to promote marginalized representation in the art world, saying “the way we experience art can enhance our understanding of what it means to live in an unfair world.”

While sitting in the lecture hall, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s warning of single stories and who has the power to tell them came to mind. Adichie, a Nigerian-born feminist, author, and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, is wellknown for her theory on the dangers of reducing groups of individuals to an isolated and biased narrative. In her 2009 TEDTalk, Adichie remembers growing up in Nigeria reading only Western children's books, with characters and objects foreign to her. Although her daily life was not represented by these authors, she idolized these books and sought to replicate them. By failing to recognize herself in the pages she loved, she felt isolated, later concluding that “[its] unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature.” Adichie’s theories speak to how power interacts with social status, specifically what story will define a group of individuals. Adichie’s and hooks’ experiences are examples of when institutions refuse to recognize diverse communities as complex and nuanced.

Through WAI’s work, a space is created that not only allows analysis of power structures, but also shifts discussions into solutions. A liberal arts education rejects the narrative of a single story, in art or in the classroom. Students well-versed in the liberal arts aren’t satisfied with the simplistic idea of dehumanizing complex individuals to fit in boxlike narratives. Ultimately, allowing a group of individuals just one facet of their rich and complex story robs them of dignity, and reduces others’ perceptions of their experience. The mission of our University has long held that diverse voices reflecting the makeup of our body will lead to better opportunities and education for everyone. Our work in the Mission Chairs office seeks to embrace difference and move beyond tolerance into a radically inclusive community. We are so grateful to have an incredible community, formed by feminist revolutionaries like hooks (and Mother Antonia), come along with us on this journey.

Opening Workshop Feedback by Allison Adrian

Note: This article originally appeared in the Mission Chairs December 2016 newsletter

Thank you to all faculty and staff who offered feedback about our tripartite mission at this year’s Opening Workshop. We asked you about your hopes, your concerns, how you currently deliver a mission-centered education, and your ideas about the future. Here’s a
snapshot of our community’s responses.

Best Hopes
There was a sense of optimism about all three mission chair roles being filled, and a desire for equality in terms of the visibility of each plait. Respondents reported a belief that the infusion of our mission into our curriculum and co-curriculum creates an environment in which students are valued as whole people. Many asked for more visibility of our mission and greater
clarity around the definition of the mission plaits. There was a deep sense of gratitude for Sr. Amata’s work in the Myser workshop and how she infused Catholic identity throughout our University. You expressed a desire for the Myser workshop to continue. Furthermore, many voiced pride in being unapologetically feminist in spirit, and fervently hoped that the liberal arts would continue as the central focus of our educational practice.

Some think that our external perception is quite different from the reality of our institutional culture and wonder how that impacts recruitment and retention. You recognized many intersections as well as tensions among the three plaits. One of the more frequent concerns was the tension that exists between liberal arts and professional programs. Some commented that market demand was not in line with our mission’s commitment to women and the liberal arts, and wondered how we were going to maintain the integrity of our mission as the number of women’s colleges continues to decrease, and professional degrees continue
to outnumber those in the liberal arts. Fears about slippage of the women’s mission resounded
loudly throughout the feedback. Many of you wondered, in particular, how the new coed
bachelors program would affect our women’s mission. Amid concerns about our
women’s mission, the fundamental question became: How do we provide a strong, safe, coeducational culture for women at our University? How does our history as a women’s college, and the male-dominated culture of the U.S, help us think about how we define “women” at a time when gender roles and labels are in flux? Other concerns included ensuring inclusivity for students who practice faiths outside of the Catholic religion, those who identify outside the gender binary, and men. Finally, some wondered how we advocate for adjunct faculty, and support them teaching in a mission-centered way.

Current Delivery of Mission
Some of you are confident in connecting our mission to your work at St. Kate’s, and many of you expressed curiosity in how to do so. The most frequently cited answers had to do with promoting creative thinking, critical questioning, and deep listening to make informed decisions and invoke positive change in the world. You believe in women pursuing careers in male-dominated fields, empowering marginalized students to share their experiences, and educating the whole person. Many responded that your mission-centered interactions and work guide your purpose as members of our community.

Next Steps
Many of you asked for training on incorporating mission into your work. We are so glad; that is why we are here! Our goal is for all to feel connected with and included in each plait of the mission. The most frequently cited suggestions included a desire for each college and school to articulate how they deliver our tripartite mission on campus and online, a focus on the presence of the mission on the Minneapolis campus, an appeal for faculty input on changes to the liberal arts core, and the integration of workshops that focus on women’s education and the liberal arts at St. Kate’s.

Thank you.
We are enjoying working with you, and inspired by the challenge of responding to your hopes, fears, and the future of our mission.