18. Just have fun with kids!

October 20, 2015

Now entering my fourth year of leading writing workshops for kids, and I am a changed person. This fall is a particularly wonderful group; of the
ten participants, eight are between 9 and 11 years old–those most magical years in the life of a child. (Or any adult lucky enough to spend time with that child)
So much more humor, creativity, and joy than the way adults interact!  I love the way they encourage each other.

Here are a few pages of our latest creation, Nabiki and Ruby: An Outer Space Fairy Tale.  (If you read it closely, you will notice it is a remake of  Charles Perrault’s 1697 classic tale, “Puss in Boots”)

First page of our book
Second page on Princess Paris drowning

Third page on drinking and being happy

Last page

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17. Do something cool with your summer

July 2014




This summer I am teaching a class called “The Night of the Soul” (Language Arts) for the ND-sponsored chapter of Upward Bound, during the three-week summer academy. It is a challenge but so rewarding to be studying and discussing great literature and art with local high school students from South Bend, Mishawaka, and Niles, MI. The class only lasts three weeks, which leaves lots of time to pursue scholarly research and the exciting writing that we all get done during our summers. If you have the chance to reach out to pre-college audiences like this, grab it! In order to whet your appetite, I’ve posted some favorite photos of students from 2012, the first year I taught for UB, when the class was called “Twice-Told Tales” and involved study of old stories recycled anew (e.g. Perrault, “Blue Beard” and Chamoiseau, “A Little Matter of Marriage”). The students ultimately wrote their own recycled story and created an altered book to display it, as seen in the photos here of the last day, when we celebrated our accomplishments and read each others’ work.

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16. Acting on Racism and White Privilege

Update on ND events; April 27, 2014
Since the Office of the President never replied to my request for a meeting, I sent the letter above, signed by 41 faculty and staff members, to him via campus mail. We received a reply on April 22 (available upon request). It stated the same thing as his letter to The Observer.
Since then, I helped organize, with senior Zuri Eshun and Prof. Jason Ruiz, an event called “Race on Campus: A Conversation.” 100+ people attended and some good suggestions emerged for transforming this place, such as: 1) changes to curriculum. Contributions by people of color should be visible and publicized in all fields of inquiry and included on syllabi in every discipline; 2) change focus to opening eyes of the privileged. On a campus such as ND and other elite schools, where wealthy white people form the majority of the student body, it may be more useful to focus on enlightening students to white privilege rather trying to combat racism (which is apparently invisible to many). The smartest strategy may be to promote common sense steps that the privileged can take so as to avoid offending those who are less fortunate. To that end, people may consider attending the White Privilege conference held annually, or reading books such as Paula Rothenberg, White Privilege. Our academic year at ND is winding down now, but I for one have found these last few weeks a powerfully transformative experience. I plan on following through on all three suggestions for my future life as a faculty member. I hope you have found these notes useful as well.

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15. An amazing example of life imitating art, or how the spirit of fraternity was sparked by a student

April 12, 2014

diderot-la-religieuse 2011-notre-dame-mascot
On Thursday night, I was reading and taking notes on Diderot’s novel, La Religieuse. I was following the epistolary dialogue between Suzanne and the marquis de Croismare in the “Preface,” which provides a play-by-play of her requests for his help and his letters of support, staged alongside a third party who relates the decline and pitiful death of Suzanne, when suddenly I received an email from a student entitled, “I need your help.” I print his letter, my response, and the letter to the President of Notre Dame here. More to come as this drama unfolds in the days ahead.

From: Curran Cross [mailto:ccross1@nd.edu]
Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:13 PM
To: Julia Douthwaite
Subject: I need your help.
As you may be aware, Ann Coulter was invited to speak at the University and, as you may also be aware, Ann Coulter is the author of incredibly hateful statements that absolutely transcend any standards of decent and acceptable conduct. Among her remarks are “”We just want Jews to be perfected [regarding wanting everyone to be Christian,” “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president,” “If I’m going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I’ll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot,” and “We should invade their [muslim’s] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” In light of this, her invitation to speak at the University of Notre Dame, which prides itself on an atmosphere of tolerance and love, is astounding. In response to her blatantly hateful speech and to express openly simmering frustrations about her invitation, College Democrats, the NAACP and the PSA (Progressive Student Alliance) organized a -silent- protest of the event to take place outside of South Dining Hall. It involved the distribution of her quotes with the hashtag #NOHATE, the wearing of all-black and nothing more. After hearing news of the incipient The President of College Republicans sent the following e-mail. This is an -exact- copy and paste of a forward from the College Republican ListServ:

Here’s where my old email style returns: racial rabble rousers in the NAACP and BSA are planning a “silent demonstration” ($100 to every club member if this thing is actually silent) on Wednesday at the South Dining Hall. Honestly, this type of hypocrisy is what gets me up in the morning. They plan on wearing all black and handing out Ann Coulter quotes that will likely be doctored by some “reputable” blog started by a welfare recipient in his step-mother’s basement who hasn’t seen the light of day since his trip to the 2008 polling station. Since we’re always right, we’re not in the business of protesting (hence why no one streaked the NDream illegal alien love fest), but these people actually plan on pinning these quotes to their shirts for Thursday’s classes. I’ll have a life-size poster of Ann taped to my shirt and and “Born in the USA” blaring from my fannie pack all day, but here’s what we ask of you: wear your college republican gear to class on Thursday to show your support for our club and for the Constitution that represents free speech. You all have a bro tank, many of you have the Frat Collection sweatshirt or hat. If you don’t have anything with the club logo, just wear a red shirt or something that screams AMERICA in an in-your-face sort of way. If I see you around campus wearing red or the club gear, I’ll come up to a few of you and give you one of the club’s old bro tanks or some club swag as a prize (Sorry for Grand ‘Ol Partying ones).
You can’t spell America without ‘Merica,
Mark- president

Madame, this is where you come in. For Mark to implicate the (uninvolved) Black Student Association and to further imply that the NAACP with its -silent- protests are “rabble rousers” is simply ridiculous. For him to make jokes about welfare recipients living in their mothers’ basements is crude and his comment about the “Ndream illegal alien love fest” is so flip and degrading as to be outrageous. He has compounded the abominable hate speech of Ann Coulter by using hatred to defend her presence. Thus far, however, there has only been one faculty reaction to this e-mail, courtesy of Dr. Maria McKenna. While many of my peers and I are incredibly grateful for her open letter to Fr. Jenkins regarding the -complete- unacceptability of such hateful, embittered, divisive and inaccurate rhetoric, it is wholly inadequate. I would appreciate it more than I could express if you would be willing to add your voice in a similar fashion to show both the students who are struggling with this hatefulness AND your peers that such actions will not be tolerated. I am so tired. After I, Too, Am Notre Dame, I had hoped to see some positive change and yet this arrives right on its heels. I completely understand if you are a) professionally unable, b) disinclined or c) uncertain how to help, but you were the first person that I thought of as a valuable and impassioned ally against hate – who also happens to be an eloquent writer. This is not your fight and if you wish to abstain, I absolutely respect that. But speaking as a person, and not simply your student, your support via open letter would be invaluable.


2014-04-10 22:36 GMT-04:00 Julia Douthwaite :
Hello again Curran,
The letter below is what I just sent around.
More to come, hang in there,
p.s. I’ll be happy to talk to you in person as well, just let me know.

From: Julia Douthwaite
Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:25 PM
To: ‘watch@listserv.nd.edu’
Subject: I need your help.

Dear colleagues,
See below for a heartfelt and heartbreaking letter from one of my favorite students. I plan to write an open letter to President John Jenkins and I’ll print it and put in a large envelope outside my office door by 4pm tomorrow, Friday afternoon. My office is 120 Decio. I am asking everybody to come by and sign it, to show your support for students like Curran.
I’ll leave it there until Tuesday at 5:00pm for people to sign, then I’ll send it to Fr. Jenkins.
I think a real letter is better than email for something like this.
Thank you.

From: Curran Cross [mailto:ccross1@nd.edu]
Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2014 11:37 PM
To: Julia Douthwaite
Subject: Re: This is the letter I’ve written to 3 groups FW: I need your help.


Your reply to me is so welcome that I find myself almost in tears. Thank you so, so, so much. You have absolutely no idea how grateful I am. Would you be comfortable if I copied and pasted your original e-mail to Facebook? I feel as though my friends would appreciate your words of support almost as much as I have, if not more so. If you wish it to remain private, then I will absolutely respect that.


From: Curran Cross
Date:04/11/2014 7:15 PM (GMT-05:00)
To: Julia Douthwaite
Subject: Thank you.

Seeing these e-mails from the faculty is so encouraging. My faith in this University is being slowly but surely restored. And the response to your e-mail on Facebook has been incredible. Your message has served as such a morale booster, you have no idea.


April 11, 2014
Letter to President John Jenkins, C.S.C.
We the undersigned are writing to express our dismay with the hateful language that has been publicly supported on our campus with the visit of Ann Coulter. We understand the university’s open door policy of free speech on campus, but we find it unconscionable that no official university statement was issued to distance the University of Notre Dame from the views of Ms. Coulter and to admonish the president of the College Republicans for fomenting racist attitudes among the student body.
As you will see on the attached letter from a 2nd-year student, Curran Cross, the silence from the university community and especially its leaders has profoundly saddened an important segment of our student body. It saddens us too. It makes it hard for us to do our job, that is, to inspire and guide students toward realizing their ambitions, when those same students are being slandered on the grounds and in the buildings of Our Lady’s university.
Thank you for your consideration and your reply.

Update on Notre Dame politics
Last weekend I wrote the letter above and, via the website of the President’s Office here,requested a meeting. I requested a meeting for today, 4/16, and said that I would be hand-delivering a letter on behalf of a faculty group in response to the recent events of hate speech on campus.
The following things have happened:
1. The President posted a statement in the student newspaper, The Observer dated 4/15/14 that you can read here.
2. I have received no reply to my request to the President’s Office.
3. Many faculty and students are debating the President’s letter. I print a view that I admire here, with the permission of Professor Stuart Greene:
—–Original Message—–
From: NDPFSA organization [mailto:NDPFSA@LISTSERV.ND.EDU] On Behalf Of Stuart Greene
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 7:51 AM
Subject: Re: John Jenkins letter

I am not sure that this was very good at all. President Jenkins focused on rhetoric, not the students who were hurt. Yes, we need to be civil, but I wonder how a restorative justice perspective would have changed the letter’s content and tone. For Howard Zehr, who was at the CSC last week, Restorative Justice “begins with a concern for victims and how to meet their needs for repairing the harm as much as possible, both concretely and symbolically.” Zehr continues to say that restorative justice involves a conscious reordering of our thoughts on justice, all with the end goal of healing.

More to come on the faculty letter and the President’s reply.


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14. Create Bridges from Humanities to Economics

March 2014

In this day and age, it is hard for young people to justify studying literature to their parents, anxious about the marketability of their degree. Why not help them? By creating courses that bring Humanities content together with Social Science content and methodologies, we may retain enrollments and forge much-needed ways to prove the relevance of literature today. Below you’ll find one course that tries to do so, and I welcome your comments and suggestions for others!
ROFR 37500: Le patrimoine français, Past and Present
This course traces the rise and fall of the traditional French cultural legacy (le patrimoine): a concept of interest to students of economics, political science, gender studies, immigration, film, and cultural history. Class materials will include: economic history (Simmel, La Philosophie de l’argent), excerpts from Nora, Les Lieux de mémoire, journal articles, excerpts from great novels (Hugo, Les Misérables; Balzac, Eugénie Grandet), autobiography (Sartre, Les Mots, Carles, Soupe aux herbes sauvages), films (Bande à part by Godard; Une hirondelle a fait le printemps by Christian Carion), and popular songs by singers such as Jean Ferrat, Thomas Dutronc, and Alain Bashung. Guest speakers will include faculty from ECON, a wealth management advisor from TIAA-CREF, and a distinguished historian of the bourgeoisie in 19th-century France.
NB: Although the titles are listed in French, they all exist in English translation as well. This course could be taught as an interdisciplinary seminar in English.

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13. Partnership with former students!


I am delighted to announce that Alexa Craig (ND’12; currently in Law School at ND), and I have been working together for over a year to teach what I hope will one day become a regular feature in South Bend as part of the inspiring 826 National network. Our little class, “Write YOUR Story!” meets once a week for one hour to enable kids ages 7-13 to learn story-telling techniques, write their own story, illustrate it, and place it into a hard-bound book. It is particularly designed for those who may need a little extra help to experience the joys of reading and writing. The course is offered for free at the Saint Joseph County Public Library in downtown South Bend. As you can see in the photo above, the look on the kids’ faces when they finish their books is priceless.

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12. Let’s Be Less Productive (Homage to all you teachers, and to Tim Jackson)

Tim Jackson’s article, “Let’s Be Less Productive,” in the New York Times (May 27, 2012) was a much-needed breath of fresh air for teachers. It seems every day brings more venom and negativity to bear down on our workaday lives, as if it can be best to outsource teaching to “e-learning” via computer or to punish teachers for the poverty of the children entrusted to their care. Even those of us who work in the most favorable situations on college campuses have noted a sea-change of late, faced with an increasingly hostile student body that perceives education more as a service proffered to clients, and administrations eager to seize on bottom-line rationales to winnow out less “marketable” programs.
To this market-based profit-oriented way of thinking, Jackson provides a useful corrective. “The care and concern of one human being for another is a peculiar ‘commodity,’” Jackson writes. “It can’t be stockpiled. It becomes degraded through trade. It isn’t delivered by machines. Its quality rests entirely on the attention paid by one person to another. Even to speak of reducing the time involved is to misunderstand its value. … The endemic modern tendency to streamline or phase out such professions [such as teaching] highlights the lunacy at the heart of the growth-obsessed, resource-intensive consumer economy. Low productivity is seen as a disease.”
So on this day, on the cusp of summer vacation, I offer a shout out to all of you whose labor obliges work with devotion, patience and attention. Thank you for a job well done. May you have a summer un-plagued by productivity, and re-enter the fray next fall with renewed zest for the important role you play in generating, and keeping alive, hope for our collective future. We’re counting on you.

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