CLAS Acts March 2018

CLAS Acts March 2018

Monthly e-newsletter for CLAS TT faculty



Frederick J. Antczak 

Throughout the last month, it has been brought to my attention, numerous times and very palpably, what significant effects our faculty have.  As you may have heard, our 2005 Journalism alumna will speak on campus about breaking the US Gymnastics story about Larry Nassar.  Alex Nikitin was part of a study just published in Nature on the genomic history of Southeastern Europe. Physics’ Brad Ambrose has been selected as the recipient of the 2018 David Halliday and Robert Resnick Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Teaching. Alli Metz’s play at the Gerald R. Ford Museum reminded us of the importance of those who stood up when someone was asked to sit down for all the wrong reasons.

Your Faculty Council knows what an irrepressible, inspiring bunch you are and wants you to have the energizing opportunity to collaborate in new ways in your teaching.  At the Out of the Box events we heard you discuss some of the ideas you have for collaborative teaching as well as the concerns you have about what might impede you.  My message to you is simple—if you have an idea about teaching innovations generally and collaborative projects specifically, please come talk to us.  Clearing the roadblocks at the college level is a priority.  We have constraints, of course, but we also want to make more possible.

I brought up last month that “Each of us, and all of us, must take responsibility for the climate and safety of our own campus.”  In person and through social media, there has been a lot of discussion about this.  One recent call from a faculty member strikes me and all of the deans as very apt—that it is important to work hard at the prevention stage.  Having our Title IX processes in place is necessary and important, but action taken before something goes terribly wrong is the place to return our focus again and again, for the sake of our students.

So I’d like to mention the upcoming performance of our ReACT! troupe, "Sexual Violence, Trauma, and the Brain: Understanding Post-Assault Behavior with ReACT! for Brain Awareness Week" on March 20.  And I want to laud the efforts of our students who rose to national prominence for their good work on It’s On Us.  These activities do more than raise awareness, they are part of changing culture.  Quite a bit of this work is being done in your courses and co-curricular activities.  Let’s share where we can through articles and event announcements.  If you loop us in via, we may well be able to amplify the effect you are having.

Spring Break is just around the corner.  Hang in there.

Stepping Up for the Food Coop

Some service grows out of a faculty member’s disciplinary expertise and some springs from a series of life experiences.  Jason Herlands of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department specializes in Japanese, but his northern California farming community roots and his experiences with food coops in Ann Arbor meant that thinking about food sourcing is engrained in him.

He has always thought in terms of low waste, bulk foods, and recycling, but when he first came to Grand Rapids he was not seeing much of that.  While the area had big food retailers, those such as Harvest Health were rare.

Jason discovered a food coop and with his husband joined—only to find that he was member number nine!

Despite the modest numbers at the time, Jason soon found that this was a place to grow and contribute.  He’d tried other volunteer work that, though important, did not create lasting relationships.  He wanted more and with the food coop, he got it.

“I was talking with Jeremy [Robinson, chair of the department] about leadership.  It really is about stepping up and taking responsibility,” Jason observes.  Since joining the Grand Rapids Food Coop Initiative, Jason has had to bring forth a more extroverted version of himself in order to do the sort of outreach that was needed.  Now he is on the board.

“I like that the project is to grow community around something we all need.  Grand Rapids is blessed with philanthropists, but that is a different kind of influence.  The coop gives regular people one vote; it is truly democratic.  It meets needs without money being a determining factor.  It is community built, supports the local economy, and is sustainable.  We provide outreach and education on many topics such as how to use whole grains, wellness, and cooking.  We also focus on the equitable access to nutritious food throughout the city.  There is a multiplier effect when you can get two times the produce with your Bridge card, for instance.”

He has been so successful in his outreach that he now knows many of the area farmers and there is no longer such a thing as a quick trip to the Farmers Market.  “I can’t get out of there in under an hour now,” Jason grins.

“My students sometimes spot a flier on my office door and ask about the coop model.  We’re a sociocracy,” Jason explains. “So if a Swedish shipping company realizes that China is making bigger ships cheaper, then they need to rethink the way they work for a new era.  They adopt interlocking responsibilities and open communication.  Everyone has to consent, and every objection is addressed.”

Jason sees this as a natural evolution of capitalism.

In practice at the Grand Rapids Food Coop initiative, the group makes decisions about who would be good for the various needed roles.  Jason found himself on a finance committee because he had Excel skills.

“This approach builds a lot of solidarity and gets people on the same page,” Jason notes.  “I find that emphasis on collaboration in my classes too.  We create a free open space which helps lower students’ self-consciousness, and helps them make the sum of the parts stronger than what they would have come up with individually.”

The Grand Rapids Food Coop Initiative is looking for the space for a store, but already has its presence felt around town in Farmer’s Markets, on banners and flyers, and through talks they give.  Those interested in the initiative can find them online at or on Facebook