I'm just stopping by for a quick post, having found a little window of free time between finishing a homework assignment and heading home for dinner at Spanish House. This semester has been one constant to-do list as I run around desperately trying to fit in every last "Hendrix experience" before I graduate. In addition to wrapping up my two theses and keeping up with my two 400-level classes, two 200-level classes, a job and an internship, I've been committed to having as much fun as possible with friends I'm afraid I'll never see again. Oh, and did I mention I got mono? I feel like I've crammed more feelings and events into this one semester than I even knew was possible.
I just got back from the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, which took place in charming Missoula, Montana. Hendrix consistently has one of the largest groups of attendees, despite being a comparatively tiny school; this year there were 42 of us. As I sat in on my fellow students' presentations and had awesome, intellectual conversations in the off-hours, I couldn't help but recall something I wrote three years ago:
The more upperclassmen I talk to, the more amazed I am. One spent his summer volunteering in rural Mexico. Others researched the vibrations from Hurricane Katrina. These are normal, average students: they stand behind you in the lunch line and sleep in the dorm room next door. The best part: within three years, each member of the class of 2010 will be saying, "I went to ___," or, "I researched ____."
When I wrote that, it was hard to imagine that it would come true some day. But it really has! I presented on my Odyssey research about Spanglish, which was also the topic of my International Relations and Global Studies thesis. Two of the other girls in my hotel room had conducted interviews for their research during an Odyssey trip to Geneva. Other people on the trip had gone to Rwanda and Ghana and Cambodia and Peru and, and, and.... What we keep saying is, Hendrix got us addicted to travel and learning, but after graduation we're going to have to pay to get our fix.
The past three days have been a planning nightmare. Perhaps you have been watching the Weather Channel as I have, seeing the "ARCTIC BLAST!" icon scroll across the screen after every commercial break. Although the weather in Conway has actually been quite nice (cold but sunny), the rest of the southeast has been blanketed in frozen precipitation of one sort or another. Which has made leaving on my roadtrip just a tad difficult!
We pushed our start-date back two days, so we'll leave Saturday morning (today) instead of Thursday. It was a simple change, but it required me to reconfirm with every person in the ten cities we'll be stopping in over the next nine days. Phew! I inverted the itinerary to go head east first rather than south through Louisiana. And then I switched back to the original plan. Then I scratched Jackson, Miss., and Atlanta, Ga., off the itinerary. Fortunately, the trip remains largely in tact and it looks like we'll have nearly twenty young women across the South willing to meet with us!
I got in touch with Dr. Leitz, a sociology professor, as a last-minute formality in order to get Odyssey credit. It turned out that her input has been invaluable. She helped me refine the list of questions I hope to ask, and to reassess my priorities on this trip. Since I'll be receiving Undergraduate Resarch credit for the experience, she made sure that we focused in on a single, main research point. Our primary question is, What is it like to be a woman (in the South)? We'll also ask what the best and worst things are about womanhood in American and Southern society, and whether the interviewees see a need for further political work to establish women's rights.
Our first stop (after a lunch break in Hope, Ark.) is Lafayette, La., where I'll be staying with my mom's cousin and her partner. Can't wait to post updates from the road!
"You are about to embark on a most enjoyable journey." That's the Chinese fortune cookie slip (from God knows how long ago) I found this afternoon when I emptied out all the crannies of my wallet. I'm back in Conway again, and I'm in major cleaning mode.
My roommate from last semester moved out to study abroad in Costa Rica, so I've taken the liberty of covering her empty bed with stacks of papers and piles of stuff. Things always get messier before they get cleaner.
I sorted through my notes and papers from last semester, recycling everything I know I'll never look at again. Books have been re-shelved, clothes sorted, drawers reorganized. I have a whole bag full of stuff to take to the Couch Hall Free Box when school starts again in two weeks. Then I ordered textbooks for next semester, did some research for an article I'm writing, backed up all the new files on my computer, uploaded some very old photos to Facebook, burned my friend Jordan a CD I said I'd send to him 14 months ago, changed the sheets on my bed, went to the gym ... you get the point. I'm doing basically anything I can to procrastinate on working on my thesis.
The best procrastination technique, the most time-consuming of all, has been planning the road trip my housemate Ashley and I are going on for the rest of Winter Break. We took Dr. Barth's Gender, Sexuality & American Politics class this past semester, and it changed our lives. I had always considered myself a feminist, but the class made me consider for the first time what exactly "feminism" meant and which issues were most important to me. Ashley and I started reading outside of class -- Reviving Ophelia, Full Frontal Feminism, Cunt, etc. -- and talking almost non-stop about what it means to be a young woman in the 21st century. Living in a house with seven other women, we had plenty of discussion material and lots of other voices to involve in our conversation.
The road trip plan crystallized when I went home for Thanksgiving break and read a book my sister had bought, Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism. After reading about what Nona Aronowitz and Emma Bernstein did, driving across the U.S. and speaking to more than 100 women, I told myself, I could do that. And moreover -- I should do that. I was inspired by their search to understand the female American experience. In the introduction, Aronowitz describes their ethos like this:
“We had no idea what other women around the country were thinking, women who didn’t post on blogs or put themselves in the media’s spotlight. … We were dying to know: What do other twentysomething women care about? What are their hopes, worries, and ambitions? Have they heard of this nebulous idea of ‘feminism,’ and do they relate to it?”
Reading that, I thought, That is exactly what I'm dying to know, too! The book was a great consolation to me, because that very week my plans to go to India had gotten cancelled. The trip my friend Caelan and I have been planning since freshman year, which got postponed last winter because of the attacks in Mumbai, was officially cancelled because of continuing security concerns and logistical roadblocks. It was particularly a shame because Caelan and I received a grant from Hendrix (similar to an Odyssey grant, but different) to support our travel. Thankfully, for some blessed reason, the College has been very flexible about how the grant may be used. So I've gotten permission to put the funds toward the road trip instead.
The nitty-gritty planning is just now taking place. One of the piles on my roommate’s bed is all the travel gear I expect to need – GPS, inflatable travel pillow, suitcase, etc. The past three days has been a flurry of phone calls and Facebook messages, talking with Hendrix friends across the South about whether I could stay with them, speak to them, and meet their friends. Everyone has been quite enthusiastic, so I've got plans in Lafayette and New Orleans, La.; Hattiesburg, Jackson, and potentially Columbus and Starkville, Miss.; Sulligent and Birmingham, Al.; Peachtree City and maybe Decatur, Ga.; and Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. We've got two weeks to cover all that ground and speak to as many people as possible to try to answer the question, What is it like to be a young woman in the South?
I'm looking forward to the opportunity as a test of my reportorial skills. I excel in one-on-one interviews, and I will consider it a professional success if I can convince reserved Southern young ladies to open up to me about their relationships, families, career goals, religious beliefs, political views and sex lives. Most of all, though, I want to see what kind of common ground we share and how I can learn from the other women's experiences. Realistically, I'd be better off academically if I stayed in Conway for the next two weeks and worked to prepare for the hellish semester that's ahead of me. (Two theses? Four classes? Two jobs?) But I can't say no to this plan.
I don't need to get Odyssey credit for the experience, since I already have more than enough credits to fulfill the requirements, but I am going to anyway so that it will show up on my Odyssey transcript and impress all my future employers or graduate schools. I’m thinking that the title will be Ladylike: Searching for Feminism in the South. The only hitch in the Odyssey credit plan was that I didn't have a project supervisor -- until I ran into Dr. Leitz at the WAC (the gym) yesterday afternoon. Dr. Leitz will be teaching the Sociology of Gender and Family class I'm taking this spring, so after we chatted about the class for a little bit it occurred to me that -- duh! -- she'd be the perfect person to advise us.
The plan -- subject to the approval of Dr. Leitz and then the Odyssey office -- is to apply for Global Awareness credit. My other GA credits have come from immersion experiences in England and Mexico, but the Odyssey handbook specifically mentions that you don’t have to leave the U.S. to experience a different culture. Given that we’re doing several home-stays and talking to women specifically about their experiences in the South, I think the trip will be very immersive. GAs also require a reflection component, so in our Odyssey proposal Ashley and I promise to keep daily journals, record some of the interviews, and give a presentation next semester. I’ll be sure to post some of my journals entries here.
Here’s to a most enjoyable journey!
I woke up at 7 p.m. today (well, yesterday). I guess this means I’m nocturnal now. But I guess I already knew that. Since finals started two weeks ago, my bedtime has fallen somewhere between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. I’d wake up six or eight hours later, grab the books I’d need that night, stop by the Burrow for a Mountain Dew pick-me-up, and then head to the computer lab.
Now that I’m back home in St. Louis, I realize how deeply exhausted I must be. I just slept for 18 hours, and I think I might go back to bed once I finish writing this. But first, let me dwell on the horrors of finals. Thanks to innumerable cups of tea and several two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew, I powered through a 70-page journal, a 14-page paper on Afghan agriculture, three in-class essays, two take-home essays, and a chemistry test. My sleep schedule is ruined, and I am physically and emotionally drained. It was a nightmare, but -- as it is every semester -- a nightmare I kind of didn't want to end.
First of all, I always appreciate the challenge of completing a nearly impossible number of tasks within a short amount of time. It reminds me of high school, when I was even more of a workaholic than I am now. Finals week is a constant adrenaline rush, hurrying to memorize one last chemical formula before the test starts or to type one last paragraph before the midnight deadline. You know those people who procrastinate just in order to make a bigger challenge for themselves? Or who commit to too many things just to see how much they can handle? That is who I try not to be, but secretly am.
The other reason finals time was so pleasant was that I had a fantastic study buddy. My cool friend (the one who brought me gummy worms in the library) and I stepped it up a notch. We started bringing each other caffeinated beverages! (Whoa buddy! Gettin' serious!) Toward the end of finals week, once he had finished and I still had a 12-to-15-page paper to write, he even brought me food and cough drops, since I’ve been low-grade sick for like three weeks now. It was totally sweet. And he has an even more messed up sleep schedule than I do, so I always knew he’d be awake to look over my work and tell me whether my sentences made sense.
This photo [which actually refused to upload, sorry!] was taken as I finished up work on my 14-page paper about poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, and it shows the utter chaos of finals week. Please note (from left to right): the 600-page book A History of Agriculture; my phone charger, which I brought to the library because I was never home long enough for my phone to charge; my nerdy pencil bag; two of the nearly 50 sources I cited in the 14-page paper; my friend’s copy of Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia; my beloved cell phone; the screen of my favorite computer in the computer lab, with fourteen Internet Explorer tabs and five Microsoft Office documents open; wrappers from the PowerBar and cough drops my study pal brought me; an apple core; and a cup of Lemon Lift tea.
It’s incredibly depressing to ponder my final finals time at Hendrix, which (God willing) will take place next spring. First of all, I’ll have to recruit a new friend to bring me food in the library, because my original study pal will be studying abroad in France. All sarcasm aside, he's one of the coolest and best people I've ever met. Saying goodbye to him (since he won't be back at Hendrix until after I've graduated) gave me an alarming look into the future. Next semester, I’ll have to say goodbye to everyone. Forever. Of course, I have my best friends whom I’m sure I’ll go visit and stay in touch with. And Facebook will make that easier. But once finals end next semester, I will never ever regain the comfort of walking across the Hendrix campus and knowing almost everyone I see. Once you leave the Hendrix Bubble, the campus is never yours again.
I just keep thinking about swimming in the fountain and dancing in the gazebo and having camp-outs in the Brick Pit and even just using my key card to get into the Mills Building or M.C. Reynolds or the computer lab late at night. This campus is my campus, and I expect to have access to it; I take it for granted. But once I graduate, everything will be fundamentally changed.
On top of the usual post-finals readjustment (normalizing my sleep schedule, breaking out of my caffeine addiction, and remembering how to enjoy free time), I’ll have to somehow say goodbye to Hendrix: a place and a group of people and a lifestyle that have been so good to me. It will be a bumpy end to a great four-year ride.
It's been a long time since I've been so excited about a meal. The lunch line today wrapped through the cafeteria and almost out the front door, with hungry Hendrixians waiting to enjoy the Christmas Luncheon theme day. On theme days you can pick as many entrees as you want, instead of just one, and the menu included baked ham, roast beef, breaded shrimp, vegetable curry, cheese tortellini, and -- most importantly -- the world-famous Honolulu chicken, which is what I was waiting for. After hours and hours of hard work last night, I had woken up around noon, famished.
So I stood in line and waited. And waited. The lines on theme days are unmatched. I was standing next to a girl I didn't know, and whose name I still don't know, and we got to chatting. She saved my spot while I grabbed us some appetizers (mini quiches, yum!) from the reception table in the middle of the caf. By the time we were close enough to smell the Honolulu chicken, we were practically BFFs.
And then -- surprisingly, since I didn't think the day could get off to any better a start -- I saw the gold, glimmering sparkles ahead of me. The guy immediately before me had picked up a green cafeteria tray to reveal ... a disco tray! There are eight remaining disco trays, which are glittery relics of the 1970s. They endow the recipient with good luck, and despite all the luck-requiring situations I've faced this semester, I had only received one so far. But this second one came just in time to help me through a crazy finals week, plus an interview for an internship next semester.
The disco tray and the impromptu friend-making in the caf today reminded me about why I love Hendrix so much. My Hendrix happiness also stems from last night, when a hodge-podge group of 15 students stood around in the wet and cold for half an hour to listen to our friend, who is not actually even Christian, play Christmas carols on his trumpet. He is also a beginning trumpet student, so he asked us to sing along -- loudly -- to make him less nervous. Crowded into the gazebo in the middle of campus, holding mugs of hot chocolate, we sang along to songs I didn't even know I remembered the words to. Several of the audience members were foreign exchange students and international students, and there were also some athiests and Jewish folks, too. And some people who can't hold a tune (me). But everyone sang along as much as they could, and it was a damn good time. It was the kind of united-in-the-spirit-of-humanity feeling that Christmas church services don't really give me. It was beautiful.
I've also been feeling really politically motivated recently. The immigration conference was heartbreaking, as I spent Saturday listening to story after story of parents being deported and families being torn apart, and of undocumented students who graduated from high school with top grades but had no access to college education and no legal right to work. The people telling the stories were not human rights activists, but the undocumented immigrants themselves, speaking to one another about the urgent need to reform immigration law. My classmate Hannah and I were two of a handful of white people there, and after ten hours of being utterly depressed and overwhelmed, I cracked. I walked out of the conference room and went and sobbed in the bathroom -- the kind of shaking, gasping sobbing that I haven't done in probably two years, since my dad nearly died. The need for gasping was augmented by my stuffed-up nose, since the lack of sleep last week left me susceptible to a cold.
Then, on Sunday, the conference leaders helped us put our emotion into action. We six attendees from Arkansas assigned ourselves roles in the state-wide Reform Immigration FOR America
campaign and began to plan a state-level training program to recruit local leaders. We also began to plan two events: a march in Little Rock, and a potential Valentine's Day fundraiser or awareness program to shine light on the many couples who are split apart by current immigration policies. It seems like everyone is genuinely, deeply committed to creating change on immigration policy. And if they're in, I am so in. The role I picked for myself in the campaign, by the way, is media director.
I should also mention that my face is on the front of the Hendrix website
this week. The photo links to an article, "A Tale of Two Katies
", which describes an alumna from the class of '41 who shares (almost) my same name. It was great to meet the elder Katy Rice this summer, and now that the article is published there have been several strangers who have stopped me to say, "Hey, aren't you Katie? Sweet article." It's a nice addition to all my pro-Hendrix happy feelings.