A Tradition Revised

For the first time since 1998, the Sarah Lawrence community gathered in September to celebrate the start of the academic year with an opening convocation.

Kicking off the proceedings, President Karen Lawrence emphasized the importance of unity in welcoming faculty, staff, and students. Writing faculty member Vijay Seshadri, who received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, gave the keynote address. He also spoke to the value of unity, framing his talk around a reading of the first section of T.S. Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton,” which relates, Seshadri said, to the “great theme of time itself, as it fashions our community.”

Maureen Gallagher, assistant vice president for facilities, and William Horn ’15 then read the Sarah Lawrence Compact for Mutual Respect, which was followed by a performance of Robert Schumann’s “Träumerei” by music faculty member Sungrai Sohn on violin. Fittingly, the ceremony concluded with longtime literature faculty member Ilja Wachs, gavel in hand, declaring the academic year officially open.

Card image Full Hearts

Full Hearts

While much of the campus is still bleary-eyed early on a Saturday morning, senior residents of a neighboring community impatiently watch the clock—and wait excitedly for the arrival of Sarah Lawrence students.

“Sometimes, if we get there even a minute or two late, they’ve already started without us. They all really look forward to our weekly visits,” says Kirsten Craig ’15, co-chair with Hayley Adams ’15 of an SLC student-run arts program for residents of the Wartburg, an award-winning provider of residential and day services for older adults in Mount Vernon.

Harts for Hope is one of a number of creative aging programs in which Sarah Lawrence collaborates with the Wartburg. Puppetry, painting, storytelling, oral history, writing, and dance and movement activities are also offered, while another project uses music to help seniors residing in the memory care unit.

Sarah Lawrence’s partnership with the Wartburg has allowed students to reconsider how they think about older members of society, says Craig. “By befriending people who are often largely ignored, I’ve begun to realize the power of narrative as we move through life—storytelling never loses its importance,” she says. “Working on Harts for Hope has absolutely been one of the most meaningful aspects of my time here at College.”

Photo by Dana Maxson

Card image Study Abroad in China

Study Abroad in China

Budding artists and scholars with a passion for Asia need search no further than Sarah Lawrence’s roster of study abroad programs. In 2015–16, the College will add Beijing to its Phileas Fogg–inspired list of destinations. Students will explore China’s cultural, philosophical, historical, and social development and will visit sites in and around the capital, sites that chart the country’s evolution from the ancient dynasties to the present People’s Republic of China. “Students will also live with families during their stay,” says Prema Samuel, associate dean of international and exchange programs. “It’s all about immersion and being part of a community.”

The program is offered in conjunction with the Alliance for Global Education in China, which provides the basic framework for the experience, including intensive Chinese language instruction. In classic SLC fashion, students will produce a research project and will choose from among electives that include Chinese foreign policy, documentary filmmaking, modern Chinese music, and contemporary visual arts.

A mixed-media course crafted by Sarah Lawrence faculty will give students an opportunity to work with a Beijing-based artist in his or her studio. “Assignments are designed for students to engage with the city, and Beijing will be the canvas for their work,” Samuel says. Another course offers students the chance to pursue an internship with a local company for academic credit. “The focus will be on sustainability, as environmental concerns in Beijing are so great,” Samuel says.

Conducted in English, the program is open to Sarah Lawrence students and guest students who have completed at least one year of college-level Mandarin.

Card image Keeping Company With Alvin Ailey

Keeping Company With Alvin Ailey

When MFA dance student Jonathan Gonzalez ’15 recalls the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater residency last fall, what lingers for him is the sense of camaraderie inspired among the dancers. “It was a transformative experience,” Gonzalez says, “that rare experience of feeling in harmony with the other dancers in the group, a harmony that’s nonverbal.”

Under the tutelage of Sylvia Waters, artistic director emerita of Ailey II, and Elizabeth Roxas, a former Ailey dancer and current faculty member at the Ailey School, 22 students in the 15-week performance project studied sections of iconic Ailey repertory, including his signature masterpiece Revelations.

“I’d watched the company when I was growing up. And now my understanding has been magnified,” Gonzalez says, alluding less to the heavy workload than to the sheer complexity of the choreography. “It was an intense experience.”

Photo by Chris Taggart.

Card image Meet the New VP

Meet the New VP

Last September, Sarah Lawrence welcomed Lyn Chamberlin as the new vice president for marketing and communications.

Chamberlin came to Sarah Lawrence with broad administrative experience in academia. She has served as director of business development at MIT, executive director of communications at Radcliffe College, and director of communications at Harvard University.

Immediately prior to coming to Sarah Lawrence, Chamberlin was vice president for external affairs at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), from which she also earned an MFA in writing. Earlier in her career, Chamberlin worked in television programming and news production for CBS and NBC. She also ran her own brand and digital marketing consulting firm prior to her tenure at VCFA. She is a graduate of Columbia University.

Card image Power to the Poster People

Power to the Poster People

A dozen years ago, physics faculty member Scott Calvin introduced an academic event that originated with professional scientists, who use “poster sessions” to present their research at national and international conferences. “Sarah Lawrence students do all this wonderful conference work, so I thought the practice was particularly well suited to us,” Calvin explains.

Not surprisingly, the symposium has become an interdisciplinary showcase that encompasses math, science, psychology, philosophy, human genetics (grad), and, most recently, projects conducted in collaboration with local agencies. The event is also proof positive that the College’s environmental studies program is flourishing. Fall semester, nearly a quarter of the poster presentations involved the environment, energy, ecology, urban design, or sustainability—including several based on research conducted at the Center for the Urban River at Beczak.

“It’s important for the campus community to see the ties our students have to the larger Yonkers community and to see how valuable it is to link theory and practice,” notes Mara Gross, director of community partnerships and service learning. “In demonstrating and sharing their work, it also helps students clarify for themselves the meaning and value of that work.”

Photo by Dana Maxson

Complete Candor

Former President Michele Tolela Myers returned to campus last fall to do a reading from her first novel, Fugue for the Right Hand (Harvard Square Editions). She also talked candidly about the challenges of the craft: “Writing is difficult. It’s tough. It’s miserable. … I’m never happy with anything I write.

It’s the most frustrating thing one can do.”

Now that’s a confession nearly every Sarah Lawrence grad can relate to, isn’t it?

Myers was SLC president from 1998 to 2007.

Card image An Arabian Night of Music

An Arabian Night of Music

When the Alwan Arab Music Ensemble came to Sarah Lawrence last November, the musicians arrived prepared not only to entertain but also to enlighten.

“The audience seemed especially interested to learn more about the maqam—which translates roughly as ‘mode’ in the Western musical tradition—and how the musicians were improvising the sequence of maqamat on the spot,” says Matthew Ellis, the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation Chair in Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs, who helped organize the event. With instruments that included the buzuq (a long-necked fretted lute) and the oud (a pear-shaped, lute-like, stringed instrument), the seven-piece, Manhattan-based ensemble performed a repertoire of regional folk songs, masterpieces of Egyptian cinema, Arab concert hall culture, and classical Arabic music.

Ellis says the accompanying commentary helped the audience better understand the music. “It became possible to understand both the wide array of musical styles that constitute the Arab music tradition and some of the linking threads that run through that tradition,” he says. “I don’t think we have ever featured this style of music before at the College.”

Illustrations by Vaughn Fender.