June 29, 2010 - 3:27 PM
As announced last week, Turned Inside-Out magazine has arrived! I've spent the last week distributing it to faculty and staff here at the university, as well as getting it sent out across the country to the Inside-Out instructors at the 100 universities nationwide that are currently teaching Inside-Out classes. What we accomplished here at the University of Oregon will have implications all around the country, and in other countries. (We sent copies to Singapore, France, Canada, and Ireland, to instructors and past participants there)
But, even better than the broad scope represented above, was the release party for the magazine. On June 24th, last Thursday, we celebrated the magazine at the Oregon State Penitentiary, with more than fifteen of the Inside contributors to the publication.
People who are incarcerated have so few opportunities to work on a project that is truly meaningful and that will be celebrated in the wider public. It was incredible to hand out the publication and to be able to tell everyone about the 200+ person mailing list, about the outreach work already begun with this text, and about the strong positive reactions we've received. We told everyone that the National Inside-Out Center would be distributing this to new professors, as well as utilizing it for fund raising and recruitment. Turned is something that represents the best of education: the potential to reach beyond our situations to be inspired and challenged to new levels of scholarship, empathy, and creativity.
But aside from the magazine itself, it was incredible to be back at OSP, seeing those Inside students. Some had been in the 2008 class, which I did not participate in, but I had read their essays and felt like I knew them, even in an abstract way. Then there were the students from the 2009 class, who I had known well for those ten weeks of spring term a year ago. That class was the true basis for my thesis, and what inspired me to work for the Inside-Out program. So many of the guys from that class are doing remarkably well: taking college courses and living the best and most optimistic lives they can given their circumstances.
But then there were my classmates from the 2007 class. I said goodbye to them in June of my freshman year, more than three years ago. When I shook hands and told them goodbye, I didn't know I'd be creating a magazine, writing this thesis, or working for Inside-Out. I said goodbye assuming I would never see any of them again. I fully believed that the farewell that day was the final moment of a friendship. Then, with the magazine, I had a chance to use their words and artwork to show their incredible talent and scholarship. Then I got to distribute their copies, shake their hands, and tell them how important their work really is to the national program, and to me.
In addition to the Inside students and Madeline (the other Outside coeditor) and myself, we brought quite a crew of outside folks who participated in the publication or made it possible through their support. The magazine adviser, Katey Gries, and the designer, Annie Vrijmoet were both there, and it was amazing to see how they intereacted with the Inside students and celebrated the collaborative process of creating a magazine. Our Professor, Steven Shankman, attended and celebrated his students. Melissa Crabbe, the Assistant National Director of Inside-Out, provided the context and enthusiasm of the program at large. Herb Chereck, of the UO registrar department, was responsible for arranging credit for the Inside students, and is an amazing supporter. David Frank, the Dean of the Honors College, was the most honored guest. Not only did he provide the funds to create the magazine, but it was also his enthusiasm that led to the project in the first place. Additionally, the Inside students were able to talk with the man who has provided the support for the classes in general, and someone who has made high-quality education the focus of his entire career. To hear his support for the program makes an incredible difference.
I feel so lucky to have participated in this program, at every level and at all times. Last Thursday I was reminded again the true value of what I've been able to do: that it is the individual people and the ability to communicate across social barriers as severe as prison walls in order to create understanding and beauty.
June 20, 2010 - 8:40 PM
This afternoon I had the very special privilege of witnessing two of my best friends performing belly dance with a group of local belly dance professionals and student groups. Leah and Maddy have been belly dancing with Lindsey Tandingan since January. Lindsay also teaches our Zumba dance classes.
Their performance was incredible. I took video of their two songs of American Tribal Style belly dance, which is a group-based dance that is not choreographed-the leader of the group decides the moves as the song plays.
Please see the two videos of their performance here:
The style is described on the website of the dance company that trained Lindsey, Fat Chance Belly Dance. They write:
"Tribal Style Bellydance is both a celebration of the female spirit and a physical display of the strength and beauty of women. It's roots can be traced back to the rituals of past matriarchal cultures and to the secular entertainments evolved as the gypsies traveled through India, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.
What distinguishes Tribal from other styles of bellydance is the way in which steps, movements, gestures, even costume, are redesigned to suit the common denominator of a group dancing together. The music is selected for it's clarity, the steps for their universal application and yet, whether performed as choreography or improvisation the result is one of simple elegance and rhythmic style."
I wanted to share these links for several reasons. The first is that these are two of my best friends, and I was incredibly impressed by their dance skills and poise on stage. They've come a long way in a few months, and have really enjoyed the experience of learning basic belly dance. But beyond the desire to show off my friends' talents, I also wanted to celebrate the event itself. Who would have thought there were so many belly dancers in Eugene? I watched more than thirty women perform various styles and ability levels of belly dance today. It was incredible to watch as women of all ages performed beautifully, either in groups or as solo acts, to the group of invited friends and family. I loved the costumes and the music, the cultural blurbs announced to the audience, and the vibe in the theater. We were all so excited to be there, so proud of the dancers, so taken in by the way they moved.
My roommate says she's starting lessons right away. I'm considering it myself. I'd love to be able to move that way on stage, with the grace and courage that Maddy and Leah showed-the confidence and control over their bodies. And I want to go see more dance performances, use the time this summer to explore the parts of Eugene I sometimes forget when mired in course requirements. This is an incredible community of activists, neighbors, artists, and dancers. It's a fabulous place to be a member of an audience. A place to sit back and notice what's happening, and how lucky we are to share this beautiful place.
A cheer for Maddy and Leah on their first belly dancing performance. May it be the first of many successes. And a reminder to us all to step out and do something new, whether that be as a bedecked dancer on the stage, or as a member of an admiring audience.
June 20, 2010 - 2:00 PM
I've just returned from a magical trip to the Oregon coast. My friend Nathan's family rented two houses on the beach and invited our group of college friends to join their extended family for the full weekend. Seven of my group of UO friends traveled out to the coast just south of Lincoln City and spent the weekend watching the waves, reminiscing, creating new memories, and saying goodbyes.
This is a complicated time. Graduation is over-we have officially finished our college years, turned the tassels, collected our diplomas, and toasted our successes. Now we have to pack ourselves off to the next stage. Today I have said or will soon say the last of my goodbyes to my college group of friends. To the eight of us who have been together since the first couple of weeks in the dorms. None of these are forever goodbyes, but they mark the end of an era and the loss of a certain time and place in life. It has been an incredible ride, this undergraduate experience, and I am so glad it closed with this time at the ocean, with space to think and the chance to be reminded again why I love these people so deeply.
The weekend was as perfect as any I have experienced. Nathan's family cooked us fabulous food and were great company, from the cousins our own age to the grandparents anxious to hear stories of our collective college experiences. We ate their homemade ice cream and cornbread (there was other food, perhaps more substantial, but those two items stand out in a particular way for me), and allowed them to pamper us by cleaning the dishes. We walked on the beach together, built bonfires at night, and took pictures. We saw two whales from the shore. We drove to a tide pooling beach and walked through the rocky formations that held pockets of water during the low tide, watching the sea anemones, starfish, and hermit crabs. We ate saltwater taffy and s'mores. We sang songs to guitar accompaniment, in the car, a capella.
It was exactly what we needed: a chance to be outside our normal patterns and preoccupations, to just be with one another.
I almost just wrote the words "one last time." Apparently the weekend has made me a bit melodramatic. I will see all these people again, and I plan to see several within the next month. But they have all moved away from Eugene. I am the last one standing, roots still firmly planted in this small city I love so dearly. Their houses and apartments, which have been a constant background to my life as well as theirs, are now standing empty. The near-daily walks from my home to theirs are over.
All melodrama aside, it will be years before the eight of us are together again. We are scattering across the world as we knew we would: called by our mishmash of passions and talents to travel, teach, begin work, and pursue continued educations. By August we will be living in four cities in Oregon, as well as in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Japan. Our friend Olivia has already gone: she left on Monday morning to start her internship on the east coast. So while I have no doubt that these most important people in my life will certainly see each other again, I also do not expect this to happen for three or four years.
So how appropriate that this set of farewells occurred in this beautiful place by the ocean. We fit so snugly into our roles as friends: the pranksters and practical of us, the laughers and leaders and chatters and readers. We are each so uniquely ourselves, and yet so firmly set within the group as a whole. We lounged by the ocean performing our various roles, singing and reading, drinking wine and naming our favorite memories.
Four years at the University of Oregon over. Ending in this beautiful place. And this next phase is just beginning.
June 18, 2010 - 11:14 AM
The best part of graduation was having my family in town. I say that without the slightest hesitation. It was so wonderful to have my mom, dad, and little sister here with me, celebrating this huge event in my life, and spending time in this city that I love so much. We managed to squeeze in quite a few adventures between the graduation-related activities, and I had the most fabulous time.
The biggest event was the picnic with the full group of friends, our families, and several of the professors and other adults who have been important in our lives. It was wonderful. Suddenly almost all of the central people in my life were all in one place together, sharing bratwursts (my dad makes world-famous beer bathed bratwursts) and clustered around the chocolate fountain. Several of my favorite professors were able to attend, and I had the great joy of introducing them to my parents. My little sister schmoozed with my friends, and I got to spend time with the parents of various friends. Even our Zumba instructor came, and brought her children. My friend Nathan's family brought their dog. It was a mess of strangers, all connected through one or many of my tight-knit group of friends. Four years of connection and incredible friendship came together out in the sun on a beautiful day. I could not have been happier.
Then there was graduation itself. I hope that every graduate has the supreme joy of crossing the stage and being able to see their loved ones smiling with such pride. While giving the commencement speech, I had a clear view of my family and the friends who came to support me. It was such a wonderful feeling of being loved and held by so many people I love so dearly.
Celebrations aside, we got to tour Eugene. My dad and sister had never seen my house in Eugene. We drove around the neighborhoods and the central places in my life these days. We walked around campus, drove to Skinner's Butte for a view of the city, and they put up with me when I excitedly pointed out my grocery store (Sundance), my favorite coffee shop (Allen Brothers) and the best Italian food in Eugene (Beppe and Giani's).
Then we ate. Oh, and how we ate. Belly, in the 5th Street Market, was by far the favorite. But we also ate at Tasty Thai and had two breakfasts at my favorite neighborhood bakery, The Hideaway Bakery. And, as is the custom with our family, we spent meal times telling excited stories, talking over musical ideas with my guitar-playing Dad, books with Mom, and acting with Kelly. We talked about my adventures and plans in Eugene, and the people we now knew in common. We made up for the months that had passed without seeing each other. And, as always, we had a deck of cards to keep us occupied in the ongoing Hearts tournament while waiting for our meal.
Once the Eugene celebrations were complete, we skipped town for a family trip to Portland. We stayed at a beautiful hotel on the waterfront. We went to Powell's bookstore and the Pioneer Courthouse Square. I took them on an abbreviated tour I used to take with the international students when working for the American English Institute. Then, in the evening, we went to Montage, a fabulous Cajun restaurant under the Morrison Bridge on the sketchy side of town. My spicy macaroni and spam was to die for, and tasted especially delicious when eaten under the ecclectic artwork and deliberately esoteric atmosphere of the place. They wrapped up our leftovers in foil sculptures, including a crab/scorpion creature, a person sitting in an easy chair, and (everyone's favorite) someone hanging from a chair. Portland can be so incredibly funky!
Then we headed over to the original Voodoo Doughnuts. Everyone from Oregon should know this landmark, and for the out-of-towners I can only affirm that this is a must-see landmark, and the doughnuts will be unlike anything experienced anywhere else. My Voodoo Doll doughnut, complete with pretzel stick stabbed through its jelly-filled heart, was a delicious as I remembered.
We also had the hilarious adventure of a pedestrian crossing of one of Portland's many bridges, only to have the lights start flashing and a voice urging us to run immediately because the bridge was about to be lifted to allow a ship to pass. We looked at each other with a mutual sense of "we don't have bridges in Denver!" and raced to the end of the bridge. We then casually watched the boat pass as though we had not just crossed the Willamette River at a dead sprint.
We then skipped town to see the Columbia River Gorge. This is possibly the most beautiful place in Oregon. Well, aside from the coast. And Crater Lake. The point being, the Gorge is a place of incredible natural beauty, with amazing rock faces and the powerfully green vegetation that is so astounding to Colorado eyes. But the best part of the Gorge is the collection of waterfalls. Driving along the historic Columbia River Highway is to encounter waterfall after waterfall, connected by a series of trails and accessible right along the roadside. We saw so many beautiful places that day, one quickly following another. The final waterfall, and the most famous, is Multnomah Falls. So amazingly beautiful.
I miss my family living out here in Oregon. I am so glad I was able to share so much of my college life with them in such a short time: my campus, my work, my home, my roommates and friends and their families, and the places I escape to when I find the time.
I hope they know how special their visit was for me. It was the perfect graduation time: the chance to be with everyone I loved, from college friends to my beloved family. What an adventure, and a whole new set of wonderful memories. I hope they know how much that trip means to me, and what a difference their presence made.
June 16, 2010 - 8:31 PM
Announcing the release of Turned Inside-Out, a publication of literature, art, and testimony from the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at the University of Oregon!
If you haven't read about the process and history of this magazine, please read my previous blogs:
The magazine has been distributed to the previous participants in Inside-Out at the University of Oregon, and to the Inside participants at the Oregon State Penitentiary. It has also been sent to Inside-Out Instructors across the country, and will be used for recruitment, development, and fund raising across the country. It is something I am immensely proud of, and which has been a joy to work on. This was the most important project of my college career, and something I will cite forever as a formative experience and something I believe to be immensely important in my development as a writer, student, leader, and advocate for social justice in the world.
I'm including several pictures of individual pages of the magazine. It will soon be available on the Honors College website in pdf form, and I will be sure to alert everyone as soon as that happens.
For now, here's a press release I wrote to publicize the magazine, complete with ideology and program background:
The Robert D. Clark Honors College, in partnership with the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, is celebrating the release of the magazine Turned Inside-Out, a collection of essays, artwork, and testimony by students of the Inside-Out Program: Honors College students and inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary.
The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is a national education program based at Temple University that brings together college students and inmates of correctional institutions for integrated dialogue-based courses. These classes are offered at more than one hundred institutions across the country, and involve thousands of individuals each year. This publication includes letters of testimony, artistic pieces, and student essays examining the five texts studied during three years of Inside-Out classes at the Oregon State Penitentiary through the University of Oregon's Robert D. Clark Honors College. They were literature classes examining novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky and philosophy by Emmanuel Levinas taught by Distinguished Professor of English, Dr. Steven Shankman.
Turned was coedited by two University of Oregon students: Katie D. and Madeline, and one Inside student, James, who is incarcerated at OSP. Their intention for the publication is to showcase the academic and artistic talent of their classmates (both Inside and Outside) and to document the powerful transformative experiences participants routinely report. Students often report that Inside-Out classes are among the best offered at the University of Oregon, and challenge them intellectually and formatively to interact with the text on an intimate level and to explore their own preconceptions about society and academic study.
The founder and National Director of the Inside-Out Program, Lori Pompa, writes that "In a most unlikely setting, Inside-Out provides a space of liberation, a place in which each person is recognized and celebrated for the unique contribution that he or she brings to the whole." David Frank, the Dean of the Clark Honors College, adds that "The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program demonstrates that higher education and the liberal arts can serve as forces of enlightenment and liberation." These leaders at the local and national level have encouraged undergraduate students on the Inside and Outside to challenge themselves, learn in new ways, and to work together. This publication is a model for what can come of transformative education of this scope and caliber.
In his introduction to Turned, Professor Shankman writes: "Over the more than thirty years of my academic career, I've had the privilege of teaching literature at a number of fine universities, including Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Oregon. My most memorable and transformative classes, however, have been taught at none of these esteemed institutions, but rather at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Once you read the selections in this publication, I think you'll see why."
A University of Oregon student stated that "Inside-Out was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. It exposed me to realities that are largely ignored in this country and forced me to develop a stronger sense of self. It was a rare opportunity to interact on a deep level with people in completely different situations than my own. If everyone would interact directly with the "Other" this country would be a very different place.
An Inside student of this class wrote "In attempting to explain the Inside-Out class, I realize how few words I truly know. "Awesome, life-changing, hope-inspiring," cover just a part of the experience. I learned from the books we studied, and from my fellow classmates. I wasn't judged for where I lived or my past. I was given the opportunity to be me, to learn, to grow, and gain friendships and memories that will last a lifetime."
These classes represent the best in liberal arts education: the opportunity to step outside our normal habits and preconceptions in order to fully experience the breadth of the world. Many of the Inside student have continued to take college courses while incarcerated, and have become increasingly involved with creative writing and artistic efforts as well. Outside students have gone on to work for Teach for America, to volunteer for peace initiatives abroad, and to work for the expansion of education within prisons. While still at the University of Oregon, Inside-Out students have distinguished themselves as members of the university community, including a student body president and a member of the 2010 Oregon Six. Several won awards for excellence in undergraduate research. This publication showcases the work and transformation of dedicated students, both inside and outside, who are willing to enter into dialogue with one another and to be profoundly changed. The editors of the magazine invite you to celebrate this publication with us for the achievement that it is: the celebration of undergraduate work, undertaken in partnership across social boundaries.