Five Lessons about Appalachia and Berea’s Eighth Great Commitment

Chad Berry photoDr. Chad Berry, academic vice president and dean of the faculty, spoke on this topic at a recent conference held at Berea. The following is a guest post adapted from that presentation. 

 Lesson 1: Appalachia is the country’s most misunderstood region.

Heavily stereotyped because of America’s cultural history, people from Appalachia bristle at perceptions of so-called “hillbillies” who are backward or stupid. These perceptions are conveyed pervasively through novels, reality-TV shows, movies, and even popular, romantic assertions that an Appalachian accent is a long-lost Shakespearean dialect preserved through isolation from “modern” American life.

Just as no child is born racist, no child is born thinking these things about people from Appalachia. If they can be learned, they can be unlearned.

Lesson 2:  You may think of Appalachia as poor. But it was not born poor; it was made poor. 

The region and its people are not poor because of some innate defect. They were made poor by an unjust economic system in which human beings were not beneficiaries of economic activity, but rather just another exploitable ingredient. Extractive economies worldwide are often characterized by poor people living amid rich natural resources.  Central Appalachia is no exception, and its residents are still paying a high price for a mono-economy based on extraction that is now in decline. The region and its people need more sustainable economic development centered around diversity and justice.

Lesson 3: “Appalachia” is a social and cultural construct.  How and when it was constructed still influences the way we think of the region and its people today. 

“Appalachia” as an idea didn’t exist until the late 19th century, when powerful elites created, invented, defined, and labeled the area that came to be known as Appalachia.  Sometimes abetting the economic interests that moved in to exploit the resources of the region and its population while other times resisting those interests, these powerful elites included educators, doctors, missionaries, ministers, and novelists. Those constructed viewpoints still dominate national perceptions about the region, and as a consequence, we still think of the region as the No.-1 place of rural American poverty.

Lesson 4: “Appalachia” serves a particular function in the U.S.  If Appalachia hadn’t been constructed, another region would likely have been created to take its place.

In the more than 50 countries I’ve visited, all had their own version of Appalachia. For England, it’s Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. In Cuba, it is Pinar del Río. In France, Brittany, and in Ghana, the northern region. One scholar suggests that U.S. culture creates an image of Appalachia out of nostalgia for the past and fear of the future. The result is a viewpoint of the region that is sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but always stereotypical. People may lament the loss of the old ways through buying a commodified piece of traditional Appalachian culture like a quilt or a basket and wishing they could be more like the artisan that made these items. At the same time, they might travel through the poorest parts of eastern Kentucky, remembering movies like Deliverance or Wrong Turn, quietly feeling relief for not having to live like those people, not realizing, all the while, how much more dynamic, resilient, and complex are those cultures than they have been conditioned to believe.

East Pinnacle

Berea College students enjoy the morning view from the east Pinnacle.

Lesson 5: Unlearn what you think you know. 

Yes, there are challenges in the mountains. At Berea College, we acknowledge the challenges, but we also emphasize the region’s assets. The Eighth Great Commitment of Berea College is “To engage Appalachian communities, families, and students in partnership for mutual learning, growth, and service.”

Appalachian communities, families, and students are assets, not challenges. They hold wisdom and local knowledge, and we can learn deeply right in the place we serve. The aim is to listen to local voices, aspire to mutually beneficial relationships, and to work for significant changes in the systems and structures—laws, behaviors, attitudes, policies, and institutions—that make a difference to people and their communities in Appalachia and beyond. We are not here to fix the region or its people. Instead, the Eighth Commitment moves us to invest in the skill sets and self-confidence people need to improve their lives and act collectively to increase opportunity for themselves and their communities.

—Dr. Chad Berry has served as Academic Vice President and Dean of the Faculty since ­­2011. Formerly the director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center and president of the Appalachian Studies Association, Dr. Berry has authored, edited, or co-edited four books—one of which won the 2015 Weatherford Award for nonfiction. 

Matilda Fee and Elizabeth Rogers: Heroines of the Berea Story

In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to retell the harrowing stories of Matilda Fee and Elizabeth Rogers, who joined their husbands on a dangerous interracial mission in slave-holding Madison County more than 164 years ago.

Photo of Matilda Fee

Matilda Fee

Matilda Hamilton Fee grew up in northern Kentucky, where she and her mother once served tea to a slave owner while an escaped slave hid in the basement. She may have been used to a certain level of danger, then, before she married the Reverend John G. Fee and joined his “covenant with God to preach in [their] native state the gospel of love, of justice, and of liberty,” and to found a school that would admit students regardless of color or gender.  Matilda, John, and three small children packed all their possessions in a two-horse wagon, and made the three-day journey into a wilderness that would become Berea.

In his writings, John describes Matilda as having a unique blend of qualities that supported the mission. It was “that affection, sympathy, courage, cheer, activity, frugality and endurance, which few could combine and which greatly sustained me in the dark and trying hours that attended most of our pathway.”

Much of what we know about Berea’s early days comes from the writings of Elizabeth Rogers, who along with the Fees, was one of Berea’s first teachers. Having grown up in privilege in Philadelphia, she was only eighteen when she joined her husband, John A. R. Rogers, on the journey to Berea, requiring travel by steamboat, train, stage coach, and livery carriage.

She writes to one of her children, “It was a rainy, March day, your father and I made our entrance into Berea. We stood on the hill, looking across through the trees at the little slab schoolhouse that was to be the beginning of Berea College. The unpainted schoolhouse with its broken windows hardly seemed a worthy field for my aesthetic, scholarly husband, but he saw the work with prophetic eye . . . On that drizzly afternoon, it needed a prophet’s eye to see in the most distant future, even a ray of hope. My vision was clouded, and the wet, drooping branches accorded with my spirit, and my heart was heavy. Once in the harness however, I never looked back, and entered upon the work with a zeal and enthusiasm second only to your father’s, and our work grew like magic.”

Elizabeth taught children at the school while J.A.R. instructed the older pupils.

By 1859, the area became dangerous for them. John Fee had gathered negative attention after an editorial passage calling for “more John Browns” was taken out of context, and the local planters believed Fee was calling for armed insurrection and slave rebellions. This is when conditions deteriorated, and talk of gathering mobs reached the Bereans.

Photo of Elizabeth Rogers

Elizabeth Rogers

“Daily we watched for what was to come,” Elizabeth wrote, “and we grew to fear the worst. The tension was terrible, and I believe I grew to wish the mob would

come, do their worst, and have it over….Yet all those days we never locked a door nor owned the simplest piece of firearms. We were a feeble few, entirely at the mercy of the mob when it should come.”

Though the men remained unarmed, Elizabeth took it upon herself to obtain at least some protection, keeping large sticks by her bed and “a syringe filled with a stinging chemical from her husband’s school cupboard.” (This was actually a diversion from the stores of the chemistry laboratory!)  She suggests in her writing that she knew this would accomplish little.

“I have the feeling that the mob, if they had ever come, would have gone away unmolested.”

The mob finally did come, two days before Christmas in 1859. While John Fee was away in Cincinnati, 62 armed and mounted men approached the Rogers’ door in a wedge formation. Elizabeth joined her husband at the door to meet them with “our little first-born clinging to my skirts.”

The men gave them 10 days to leave town. The Bereans appealed to Kentucky’s governor for protection, but he would only provide it if they left.

Matilda, without her husband, gathered up their children and joined the caravan of wagons for the journey. Elizabeth describes a treacherous journey made difficult by rains and melting snow.

“A drizzling rain was falling, the snow had melted, and everything was dreary without as our hearts within. One old man sat in an open wagon with his arm around his aged wife as if to shield her from every storm. Mrs. Fee with her carriage full of little children, a bride and a groom in another carriage, and these, with a few men on horseback and Mr. Davis and his family, and a great white covered wagon which carried our trunks, a lady or two, and waiting for me to climb into it with our babies, formed the crowd that was ‘a menace to Kentucky’s best interests’….I took my place under the rude shelter of the wagon, and the word came to move on.”

Though Matilda lost a son to the cold on that journey north, she was the first to return to Berea to live. In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Mrs. Fee, again without her husband, returned to Berea with her two older children in a buggy. The Union flag painted on the wagon enabled her to pass through where Union troops were stationed for the Battle of Richmond, which the Union ultimately lost. John was a day behind her, but as Matilda hid her horse and buggy in the woods so it would not be stolen on the day of battle, John and his 11-year-old son turned back. Again cool in the face of danger, Matilda hid her silverware in the eaves of the house and chatted with Confederate soldiers as they marched through town.

Without the bravery and stalwart contributions of women like Matilda Fee and Elizabeth Rogers, it seems unlikely that Berea College could ever have expanded beyond a “little slab schoolhouse” with broken windows.

Much of the information for this entry comes from Berea’s First 125 Years, by Elisabeth S. Peck and Emily Ann Smith, which tells the complete story of Berea’s founders. In the coming weeks, you can read more about the First Ladies of Berea College in the spring issue of Berea College magazine.

Berea College: A Place to Have Difficult Conversations about Race

As we observe Black History Month, I have reflected on Berea College’s unwavering commitment to interracial education, interrupted although it was by the segregation laws of the first half of the 20th century. Since the beginning, this institution has been a place devoted to racial justice and a place that does not shy away from difficult conversations about race.

In July 1872, the Berea College Board of Trustees, led by founder Reverend John G. Fee, President Henry Fairchild, and J.A.R Rogers, Berea’s first teacher, honored the faculty’s request to discuss the topic of “social intimacy between white and colored students at the institution.”

The minutes of the meeting are light on detail, but suggest that faculty and trustees debated at length, with one faculty member offering his resignation. By the end of the contentious meeting, the Board resolved that white and African American students should not be prohibited from seeing or marrying each other. The resolution came with the caveat that the couples must be privately warned of the dangers that “would not arise in a different state of society” and that they must be discreet because of those dangers.

No doubt the state of society was more dangerous for students of color than for white students at the time, just seven years after the end of the Civil War. Over 146 years later, in what is certainly a different state of society, such discretion is not required or even suggested, but that does not mean dangers do not still exist for African Americans, in Berea and elsewhere. And we must talk about these issues. We must talk about how people of color still endure racial epithets hurled at them from cars passing through campus. We must talk about how white privilege means others never have to experience this. And if we are to prepare the next generation for creating meaningful change in the world, we must talk about how systemic racism smooths the way for some and not for others.

TRUTH Talks Flier There is much I am proud of here at Berea College, but I am especially proud that this institution continually seeks to address inequality, improve operations, and does not shy away from uncomfortable conversations. These are not easy issues to talk about, but they are very important issues to shine light upon. Recent events provoking national discussion of blackface, use of force by the police, and the open resurgence of hate groups that only seemed to have been driven into the shadows bring into stark relief how far we have yet to go in terms of race relations. If it still has to be explained why blackface is hurtful to African Americans or why we should care about people of color being disproportionately imprisoned or targeted by law enforcement because of their race, then we are certainly far away from where we need to be as a society. And the “arc of the moral universe” will only “bend toward justice” if we expose matters like these to the searching light of our collective attention.

An example of where these discussions take place at Berea is the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, which hosts the True Racial Understanding through Honest (T.R.U.T.H.) Talks. Here, the entire campus can have frank discussions on not only race, but also gender and sexuality, and other topics related to marginalized groups. The T.R.U.T.H. Talks even allow participants to use modern technology to ask questions anonymously, questions people are often afraid to ask. In that space, members of the campus community ask those difficult questions, get answers and engage in challenging but enlightening conversations. In short, it is a safe place to talk about hard things. The ultimate hope is that we can foster greater understanding and affection among and between all members of our campus community.

The issues of 2019 “would not arise in a different state of society,” a state of society we aim to make a reality through frank and honest discussion and the continuance of College policies that encourage diversity among the student body, faculty and staff. I am proud of our efforts and look forward to improving more and more over time. The July 2, 1872 Board of Trustees resolution on interracial romance is printed below for reference. It is not perfect by today’s standards, but it stands as testament to Berea’s devotion to racial justice from the beginning.

We agree:

  1. That persons of opposite races and sexes should not be universally prohibited from attending each other to and from social gatherings and public lectures.
  2. That if no obstacle but simply that of complexion exists they should have permission.
  3. That if in our judgment their going together would expose them to violence, they should be prohibited.
  4. That if they seem disposed to make an offensive display of themselves, it should be prohibited.
  5. If they would be seriously exposed to the charge of impure motivations, it should be prohibited.
  6. If they seem inclined to seek intermarriage they should be privately warned of the dangers to which they will expose themselves and their parents, especially if the parties are young, should be informed of the indications, and if they seem destitute of discretion they should be removed from the school. But the mere fact that persons of different colors are engaged to be married, is not sufficient cause for removing them, provided they can direct  themselves with appropriate discretion.
  7. In case of a large preponderance of either sex of a single color special caution will be necessary to guard against such consequences as would not arise in a different state of society.
  8. As far as practicable, young ladies should be guarded against receiving habitual acts of special attention from a person whom it would clearly be undesirable for them to marry.
  9. It does not seem to us that under existing circumstances it is desirable in general for those of either race to cultivate the most intimate social relations with those of the other sex and a different race, especially where the difference in race is quite marked.

 

Honoring Our Commitments through a Tobacco-Free Campus

No Smoking Sign

The Seventh Commitment of Berea College is “to encourage in all community members a way of life characterized by mindful and sustainable living, health and wellness…high personal standards, and a concern for the welfare of others.”  Honoring that commitment, Berea College will soon be joining other Kentucky colleges and universities by becoming a tobacco-free campus. The policy is straightforward: starting July 1, use of tobacco and vaping products will no longer be permitted on any College property.

The new policy was debated and approved by the General Faculty Assembly last year:

“Tobacco Products” means all forms of tobacco, including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes (hookah), bidis, electronic nicotine delivery systems, electronic non-nicotine delivery systems, smokeless tobacco products, and any product that produces smoke or vape.  “Tobacco products” do not include any cessation product specifically approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in treating nicotine or tobacco dependence.

No one could seriously argue that tobacco-use or vaping are healthy activities, so this new policy not only aligns with the Great Commitments, but also represents concern for the health and wellness of our community members.

There is also an important social justice aspect to the new policy.  Big Tobacco and vaping companies target the young and economically disadvantaged, the same lives Berea College is dedicated to improving through educational opportunity.  Should Berea College be complicit with those cynical and predatory enterprises?  Again, who could make a serious argument in favor of that?

Hopefully the new policy will lead some members of our community to reduce or eliminate their use of tobacco products.  As a former smoker myself, though, I understand that it is really hard to quit, so it may be more realistic to just hope that the new policy reduces the number of students who begin smoking at Berea.  (Like many others, that’s when I started smoking, in my first year at College, and I was not able to quit until three years after I graduated.)  For those who do want to quit, free smoking cessation assistance is available through our Wellness program.

At the same time, we are not unaware of the social aspects of smoking. The smoking gazebos have over the years become popular for hanging out or socializing.  Occasionally, while walking my dog in the evenings, we stop at the gazebos.  Even though we are not smoking, we are usually warmly welcomed.   And that seems to be typical of “gazebo culture.”  Not everyone is smoking—I suppose it would be more accurate to say that not everyone is smoking their own cigarette (everyone else is smoking “second hand”)—and there is a lot of interaction occurring.  That sort of gathering is a very positive thing—it reduces social isolation and builds community.  So the gazebos will remain temporarily as locations for (healthier) socializing while we develop other places where students can casually congregate–picnic tables, benches, swing sets– places to gather and blow off steam instead of smoke.

My sincerest hope is that through these measures, all of our beloved community can live healthier, happier lives.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post lacked the word “temporarily” in reference to the gazebos remaining on campus. 

Because of, Not in Spite Of: A Holiday Message

Berea College Christmas Ball Ornament

 “For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

This is a season when people of many different spiritual backgrounds celebrate holidays, and I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about Berea College’s commitment to inclusive Christian values, a guiding philosophy that drives us to accept, minister to, and embrace and learn from people of different faiths or no faith at all. This approach has its roots in our founding.

Our founder, Christian abolitionist, the Reverend John G. Fee, viewed the mission of providing an education to those most in need regardless of “caste” as a way to “promote the Cause of Christ.” The “Cause of Christ” was one of unity and social reform, hence Fee’s insistence on the school being nonsectarian, and one of providing for the needy in a way that transcends difference. Fee took the guiding motto of Berea, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” (Acts 17:26) from scripture to emphasize that kinship we all share has its foundation in faith. And that kinship means looking past the surface issues that divide us—race, class, gender or creed—to love and learn from each other in all possible ways.

Some educational communities strive to be religiously inclusive by diminishing the significance of any particular faith commitment.  We take the alternative approach of encouraging everyone on their respective spiritual journeys, realizing with Rabbi Sacks and so many other great religious thinkers that thereby our way will be more brightly lit.

In short, Berea College is inclusive of all people, regardless of faith, because of our Christian commitment, not in spite of that commitment. This approach gets beyond mere tolerance. It’s not just letting others work or go to school here, it’s about loving each other and wanting to engage with each other, agreeing that the spiritual commitment of others enriches our own and vice versa.

The Christmas season—a time for “peace on earth and goodwill towards men”—is the perfect time of year for reaffirming the kinship we all share and celebrating the myriad ways we can live and study alongside each other in mutual appreciation and work toward the common good of all humanity.

With that in mind, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a joyous season for all traditions. May we open our hearts and minds to one another in peace and love.

Of Forests and Foresters

The Berea College Forest has been a wonderful resource for Berea, both the College and the Town. This nearly 9000 wooded acres, much of it hilly and all of it beautiful, provides many dividends to the College and to all local folks who take advantage of it: hiking and climbing; bird and wildlife observation; a learning laboratory in sustainability and commitment to the natural environment for our students; wild flowers and other aspects of the flora of the region, water for our town and the area, wood for local mills and for use at the College, and our contribution to the challenge of dealing with the runaway atmospheric load of carbon dioxide.

Environmental prophet Aldo Leopold, in his most important work, Sand County Almanac, provides both our forestry motto, “Think like a mountain,” and our paradigm for managing this college asset.  Leopold wrote, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

The week of October 27th through November 3rd was Biological Woodsmen Week. Restorative foresters joined our own foresters, and horses Holly and Willow, to demonstrate sustainable forestry (Photo gallery below). While they were logging in the Berea College Forest, the foresters harvested thousands of board-feet of lumber, the horses replacing bulldozers and skidders that pollute and contribute to erosion.

On the final day, the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center hosted a Biological Woodsmen gathering and restorative forestry demonstration, which included selecting and felling a tree and showing those in attendance how these magnificent horses pull together to transport the logs out of the forest. Special guests for the day included founder of the Healing Harvest Forestry Foundation Jason Rutledge, Berea Mayor Steven Connelly, and Kentucky literary great Wendell Berry. Attendees followed the woodsmen into the forest, and observed the practice of sustainable forestry.

Rutledge entertained the crowd with his trademark wit, explaining that horse logging was not a thing of the past, but the future. Horses, he said, unlike machines, “are solar powered, self-repairing, and self-renewing.”  Emphasizing the last of those he noted, “You’ve never found a baby tractor in the barn!”   Rutledge recalled attending a traditional forestry conference.  After his presentation a skeptic suggested that surely Rutledge would agree that all the wood in Appalachia couldn’t be harvested with horses.  He responded, “Do you mean again?”  

We hope Aldo Leopold was also present in spirit.  He would have agreed that these loggers and their animals represent the correct approach to management of the Berea College forest.

I want to thank Clint Patterson, Berea College Forester, and Wendy Warren, Director of the Forestry Outreach Center, for their efforts to make Biological Woodsmen Week a success. I also want to thank Glenn Dandeneau, Trey Prather and the students of our forestry team for their hard work in sustaining this tremendous community resource while teaching Berea students to do the same.

A Cause for Sorrow

Below are President’s Roelofs’ remarks following the shooting in Pittsburgh, which went out to the campus community Sunday, October 28. 

Dear Bereans,

Yesterday we had another reminder of the tragic consequences of hate in our world.  All Bereans join in mourning with Jewish people, including those in our own community, as we try to come to grips with the unthinkable.   A deranged gunman, filled with hate for people different than himself, attacked innocent people, people who were praying and exercising their religious observances in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, reminding us of the evils that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston just four years ago and at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2016.

In Pittsburgh, we also saw instances of great bravery as law enforcement officers responded quickly to the reports and risked their own lives to rescue those who were in danger.  Tragically, some of them were injured, too, two of them critically, as the gunman was armed with very dangerous weapons.

We pray for all of those injured, both the innocent victims and among those who responded.  We also pray for all of those who lost friends and relatives in the tragedy, and those whose faith and confidence in their safety and the ideals of our nation have been so grievously shaken.  We also must pray, even if it is so very hard to do, for all those whose hearts are filled with the sort of hate that emerges in acts of such rage and blindness.

In times like this, we need to remind ourselves of the ultimate power of love over hate.  Even when it seems that hate is resurgent in our society, instances of love in their countless thousands, most of which go unreported and unnoticed beyond their immediate small circles, still do more good in the world than can be undone by hateful acts that command our attention.  Let us be sure that we, as individuals and as the Berea College community, are on the side of love, the impartial love of our founder that is the basis for a moral imperative that we can all, no matter our particular faith perspective, embrace and strive to live out every day.

In sorrow,

Lyle Roelofs, President

 

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

Mural at Old Mexican Consulate in Washington DC

Mural at Old Mexican Consulate in Washington, D.C.

September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage month in the U.S., and this blog is inspired by the wonderful cohorts of Hispanic faculty, staff, students, and alumni at Berea College.  As usual, we prefer to focus on the students at Berea, and so I am glad to say that for 2017-18, Hispanic-, Latinx-, or Spanish- origin students accounted for 11% of our student body, 12% of our admitted students, and 13% of our transfer-student admits.  In the current year, the admitted cohort constitutes 13% of total admissions— an impressive increase from the first year we collected the data, 2010, when the percentage was under 4%.  The U.S. Census reports that Hispanic or Latino people constitute 18.1% of the American population, with heavy concentration in Florida, Texas, California and the rest of the American Southwest.  As these areas are all outside our admissions territory, it is perhaps not surprising that our student body percentage is only about 2/3 the overall national percentage. The Hispanic population, however, is growing, particularly in the southern areas of our admissions territory, so we expect our admissions numbers to continue to increase.

These sorts of large-scale demographic classifications, of course, mask a great deal of diversity in a population.  So here are some more interesting facts.

  • Over the last decade, we have had Hispanic-American students from 24 different states/territories spanning from Rhode Island to Oregon to Puerto Rico, but with the largest numbers overall from our typical In-Territory regions.  From beyond our admissions territory, the largest numbers come, unsurprisingly, from Texas, Florida, California, and Illinois.
  • The nation of origin situation is even more complicated…
    • Some of our F-1 International students are Hispanic; in the incoming class last year, we enrolled a total of 13 students from 10 Central and South American countries and one from Spain, compared to about 30 international students overall, which means that about 40% of our international students are Hispanic.
    • You can also compare that number of 14 international Hispanics to 57 Hispanic students admitted from the U.S., so about 1 in 4 of our Hispanic students are internationals.
    • We also have a few non F-1 Hispanic students of international origin, typically American citizens who happen to be living in other countries when they apply.
  • According to national statistics, fewer than half of American-born Hispanics are fluent in Spanish, and the proportion is even less among the younger cohorts.  We don’t have precise data for the Berea student body, but based on reported primary language used at home, it seems that 50 – 60% of Berea Hispanic students are fluent in Spanish.
  • Hispanic Berea students pursue patterns of majors that are very similar to the student body as a whole, with biology, nursing, business and psychology leading the way.
  • Hispanic-American students have roughly similar urban rural patterns to the rest of the Berea student body.
  • We also monitor academic success carefully at Berea College, and here there is less diversity in this population, as Hispanic-American students outperform all other American Bereans in first- to-second-year persistence. That number for the current year amounts to 92.3%!
    Latinx Berea students demonstrate to raise awareness of DACA student struggles.

    Latinx Berea students demonstrate to raise awareness of DACA student struggles.

These differences, the fact of their connections to non-mainstream U.S. cultures, and a sense that America is becoming less welcoming to their ethnic group make identity a somewhat complicated matter for Latinos and Latinas.  Some have had to deal with hostility; some are DACAmented and face an uncertain future; some wonder where their homeland really is; and some, especially those whose families have been in the U.S. longer, struggle with the question, “Am I Latino/a enough?”  Yet, as individuals and as a group they contribute so much to our campus community and so these challenges are a matter of concern and sympathetic regret for all of their fellow Bereans.  It is important for us to know and care, as it is also so appropriate to celebrate these wonderful Bereans this month.

I conclude with the words of a song by Gloria Estefan that captures some of this identity complexity…

 

Mi Tierra

Tiene un quejido, mi tierra

Tiene un lamento mi tierra

Nunca la olvido mi tierra

La llevo en mi sentimiento…

Oigo ese grito mi tierra

Vive el recuerdo mi tierra

Corre en mi sangre mi tierra

La llevo por dentro como no

Canto de mi tierra bella y santa

Sufro ese dolor que hay en su alma

Aunque estoy lejos yo la siento

Y un día regreso yo lo sé

 

My Homeland

My land has a regret, a lament

I never forget my land

I carry it in my heart, yes

I hear the cry of my land

My land lives out the memory

My land runs in my blood

I carry it inside

I sing of my beautiful and sacred land

I suffer that pain of its soul

Even though I’m far away I feel it

And I know one day I will return

 

Losing Weight: Where Does It Go?

It seems that one of the universals of human experience is that many of us would like to lose some weight.  Whether it is a “late middle-aged” person like myself whose doctor says I should do it or a first-year student distressed at gaining the legendary “freshman 15” thanks to the plentiful food options in the Mountaineer Dining Room and not enough time for exercise, we might find ourselves above our optimum weight for our height and age and want to do something about that.

We all know that the physiological formula for weight loss is relatively simple: a person must burn more food calories than they consume.  That would seem to involve more or different exercise and less or different eating.  I am not a weight loss professional or a nutritionist, so this blog is not about the complex topic of how we should approach the challenges of actually getting ourselves to do either of those things.  There are real experts who can be more helpful.

Rather, I want to discuss an interesting question of physics and chemistry that lurks here, too.  That question is: if we are succeeding in losing weight, where exactly does that weight go? The somewhat surprising answer is that you breathe it out.

Our bodies make energy from the food we eat, combining it with oxygen from the air we breathe. When the metabolic process is complete and energy has been supplied to our cells and used for all of their complex processes (running, walking, lifting weights, even thinking!) what is left behind are molecules of water and carbon dioxide. If we are normal, healthy individuals, the water component of our weight stays in balance, equal amounts in and out (through various means including breathing out air that is more moist than what we breath in) so permanent weight loss is not explained by the water component.

The carbon dioxide, CO2, is the key.  Each breath in is the same volume as each breath out, a couple of liters for the normal person.  But the constitution of the breath in and the breath out is not the same.  About 20% of the air coming in is oxygen, O2, and of that 20% some is consumed in the above metabolic process and replaced with an equal number of CO2 molecules.  So THAT is where the weight loss actually occurs—it is the replacement of some of the lighter O2 molecules with their weightier cousins.

Of course, it is discouraging that molecules are very light and so each molecular replacement does not involve much weight loss.  Fortunately, there are a lot of them.  A little bit of first-year chemistry establishes that replacing the oxygen in 50 regular breaths with carbon dioxide would result in a loss of 12 grams of mass, which converts to a weight reduction of about 0.03 lbs.  And, on top of that, our bodies are not 100% efficient in replacing all of the oxygen with carbon dioxide in each breath.  It’s only about 20%, typically, so that it actually takes 250 breaths to expel just 0.03 lbs, or about 8000 breaths to lose a single pound, or to compensate for a pound of carbon in the food you ate in your last meal.  I breathe about 20 times per minute when I am just sitting there, so at that rate, it takes me 400 minutes or about 7 hours to breathe out a pound of extra weight.

Still, it is heartening that just sitting there (or even sleeping!) and breathing is doing something.  (That’s why you weigh a bit less in the morning than when you go to bed.)  When we reduce what we are eating sufficiently, the carbon to make the carbon dioxide exhausts what we take in by eating and has to come instead from fat reserves in the body, and that is when we start to see in the mirror the physiological effects of breathing out the carbon.

It is really hard to reduce one’s eating to that point, so the other alternative is to breathe more, to breathe faster and more deeply.  That’s why and how exercise helps.  When we walk briskly or run, we breathe more rapidly—likely twice as fast and 50% more deeply—and the outbreaths have increased carbon dioxide, too.  That way we use up the carbon from eating more quickly and start dipping into the reserves.  So, the key is to do both.  Control the intake of calories and exercise to increase your respiration.President's dog joining a run

With that little lesson in physics and chemistry in mind, I would like to invite everyone to join us for the Run/Walk Club, which meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 a.m. We start at the Seabury Center, and everyone is encouraged to go at their own pace. Walkers go down to Middletown School and back, about two miles, and those who run with me continue on to the Artisan Center, which is about four miles round trip. The Run/Walk Club is a great opportunity for us to encourage each other to stay healthy by increasing the amount “exhaust” we produce.

[I want to thank Dr. A. J. Mortara of the Health and Human Performance department for his capable assistance with the technical details of respiration and exercise in the above.  You should know, too, that Dr. Mortara has equipment for doing detailed metabolic measurements on you while you are exercising, and that he is the campus expert on all of these matters.]

Kierra’s Legacy: No One Comes Here Alone

Kierra Moore outdoor headshot

Kierra Moore ’18
(Photo: Jennifer Lance ’20)

As we begin a new academic year, I wanted to share a little inspiration. Many Berea students come from difficult backgrounds, yet they overcome and succeed here at Berea College. Kierra Moore, who graduates in December, is a great example. I first met Kierra at the Carter G. Woodson Legacy Award ceremony last spring, where she delivered a spoken word piece to the students visiting that weekend.

Kierra’s story is longer than I can share fully here.  She is a first-generation college student and describes growing up in a high-crime neighborhood in an abusive environment that eventually led to a struggle with homelessness. Determined to better her situation, she applied to Berea, and was accepted. It was a brave leap of faith to make the 10 ½ hour journey from Maryland alone to a place so quiet she couldn’t sleep at first. This summer, the senior communications major interned for Eli Lilly and a very bright future awaits her.

The poem Kierra presented at the award ceremony is included below. Its title,“Legacy,” is so apt because, as she explains, Berea College students don’t come to school here alone—they bring the hopes and yearnings of others with them.

“It’s not just you you’re going to school for,” she said. “A lot of Berea students are first generation. They’re going to school for everyone in their family, the generations before. The people where they’re from may not see a way out but they give them hope. I have people calling me from back home asking how they can get out of their situation. They want to know how they can go to college, too. I just love talking to them and telling them what they need to do.”

In that way, every Berea student becomes a legacy, and Kierra’s poem reminds students they, too, can be a Carter G. Woodson, a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or a Rosa Parks, inspiring and showing the way for others. What an important message!!!  That’s why I wanted to include her poem here at the beginning of another school year, reminding us all that we are legacies, striving, in turn, to leave even brighter legacies for future generations.

Legacy

By Kierra Moore

“If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” – Dr. Carter G. Woodson

As we walk through the front door at peace and with ease, we tend not to remember the men, women and children that picked cotton on their hands and knees, with whip marks and blood running down their backs.
Strong, yes, we are that.

As we walk through the front door of a library to pick up a book, we must remember the education that was denied because slaves weren’t allowed to read books.

As we sit on the front seat of a bus, we don’t expect to be told sit in the back. We don’t expect to be spit on or arrested, not any of that, but do you reflect on Rosa Parks’ brave act?

You know I wasn’t supposed to be here today.

A statistic,

Most likely

But here standing before you, no not me

Oh yeah

Father in prison

Domestic violence

Sexual abuse

Homelessness

These are just some of my truths

Yet I walk through the front door with a crown on my head because Dr. Carter G Woodson was one of many people who paved the way for the Kings and Queens in this room today.

Yes, Kings and Queens, hold your head high and wear your crown with pride

And begin to recognize that you have a legacy to uphold

A legacy that is the hope for families, communities and generations to come

A legacy so complex that it can only be compared to the diamonds found on your crowns

It will not be broken or shatter like glass

Yet, it will bring true meaning to “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last”

You, like the people before us, must pave the way for future change

You are a leader, a world changer and a way-maker

So hold your head high and wear that crown as you walk through the front door never forget the legacy that you are a part of now.

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