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Seeing Them Through

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LindseyThis morning I had the pleasure of participating in a dissertation defense for a student I had years ago at Lehigh. I was outside reader for Lindsey Livingston Runnell’s dissertation committee. She’s completing her PhD in Criminal Justice at Rutgers (after having — by the way — already received her law degree from George Washington University Law School; and about to embark on a tenure track job this fall for which she’s already lined up and ready to go).

This is the second time I’ve been able to do this for one of my ‘old’ Lehigh students (the first was my student Maggie). I sit on dissertation committees at Lehigh, and am sometimes asked to be outside reader for committees elsewhere. But it is really different — and really special — to sit on a dissertation committee for a student who you, yourself, had as an undergraduate. It is like seeing them through. And, in a special sort of wonderful way, you can see through them– because you knew them when.

You knew them when they were just getting started on forming their own ideas. You knew them when they were sort of an intellectual “child,” not really grown up yet into the lifeworld of their belief systems and not yet fully wrapping their own minds around their opinions and judgements and viewpoints and stances; when they were just beginning to bloom and blossom; when they weren’t yet in the driver seat of their own ideas. Teaching undergraduates is so special, at least in part because they are just starting out on the path of intellectually individuating. Every once in a while one really takes off. But then, often, you send them off on their way to law school or med school or a PhD program — and while you may see them from a distance, you don’t often get to really see the fruits of your labor up close.

So, to get to play such an intimate, inside role as sitting on a dissertation committee of a student whom you had as an undergrad…. well… that is like really coming full circle. Now they are intellectually fully in the driver’s seat. They are living it, owning it, and running with it. They are at the pinnacle of intellectual blossoming. It is pretty amazing to witness the transformation, and then be there for the culminating moment.

Thank you, Lindsey, for letting me be part of it. I am humbled by watching you, and I am so grateful you’re doing your good work in this world. We need you. And I’m proud of you. Love, Heather

{photo credit: I stole the photo at top from Lindsey’s husband’s Facebook wall! I had called into the defense this morning, since I wasn’t able to be there in person. So, I missed the ritualistic celebratory post-diss-defense champagne. Lucky for me, I have Facebook to give me glimpses. I love this photo of Lindsey.}

Living at Lehigh – Spring Swirl of April Angst and Awesome Opportunities

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IMG_7753Last year, right around now, I wrote this post: Annual April Angst. Ditto that. That’s just about exactly what’s happening right here right now.

I live at work and work where I live, and there is no separation (let alone balance!) between work and home. This is my life, and it is a chosen one. But right around now — April — I’m just about going crazy. All five of us are. But me the most. Because I hardly ever get off campus (at least Braydon goes off to work, and the kids go off to school); and I (more than any of us) have been living in a fishbowl for the past 8 months; and because April is just hellish for academics even when they have a healthy balanced separation between work and home (although, I’ll admit: I don’t actually know any academics who have a healthy balanced work-home life). Anyhoo– you get the point– It is that time of the year. I’m just about as done as done can be.

Which is why I sometimes have to pinch myself to snap out of the haze and craze and daze and remember that this living-on-campus-gig is a deliberate and voluntary choice on my part, and the good of it very much outweighs the bad of it. There are lots of “good’s” to living on campus — not the least of which is that we get to enjoy the beautiful grounds (it is like living in a gorgeous park), without having to plant, maintain, mow, or prune them (the daffodils are in full bloom right now and I savor the sight of them, knowing that someone else is taking care of all those bulbs and garden beds). But today I’m thinking about one of the other major “good’s” of our scenario as a Faculty Family in Residence: the awesome experiential opportunities we have as the result of living at Lehigh.

IMG_7913When we made the decision to move onto campus, one of the biggest reasons we did it was to give ourselves the opportunity to access the many diverse experiences offered on campus. Like many universities, at Lehigh there are literally hundreds and hundreds of events, lectures, performances, symposiums, and experiences-of-all-varieties offered on the campus each year. As a professor, B.L.C. (Before Living On Campus), I often felt frustrated with myself for not taking better advantage of all these things. I felt especially annoyed with myself for not taking better advantage of it all for my kids. B.L.C., I’d see posters for events and think, “Oh my gosh! The bambinos would love that!” or “Ugh, I should really take the kids to that!” or “Geez, we’re missing out by not going to that.” I always felt that one day I’d regret it if I didn’t pick up the pace and figure out how to get my kids more exposure to all these things that were right there at our fingertips. But dragging them to campus, and taking the chance that it might be a total flop, and having to coordinate how to make it all happen for a family of five seemed — more often than not — just not worth the hassle. So, 9 times out of 10, we just didn’t go. Living on campus, I theorized, would remove some barriers and make it so much easier to just go for it and take advantage of all the on-campus perks my job provides. My hope was that we’d flip-flop so that 9 times out of 10 we’d go instead of not go.

This is one of the things we’ve really done as we’ve been living here on campus: we’ve been going to lots and lots of stuff. We can’t possibly go to everything we’d like to (there’s just way too much offered), but we go to a lot. And this time of year, while I’m in the darkest hours of my Annual April Angst, and I have zero white space on my calendar, and I am questioning my sanity daily (and often thinking, “OH MY GOD! WHY THE HECK ARE WE DOING THIS?! WHY AM I 42 YEARS OLD AND LIVING IN A DORM?!?!”), it is good to remember the awesome opportunities that we have as the result of living here. Here is just a little snippet of a slice of just some of the things we’ve done on campus in the past 2 weeks alone.

The monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery spent three days on campus creating a sand mandala. What an incredible thing. It would be cool enough to just see this once, but because we live right here, I brought the kids to see it each day. This allowed us to see the progress in the mandala day-by-day, which was pretty incredible to witness. And each day we visited we learned more and more about the monks, their art, and their beliefs and philosophies. The three photos below were taken on each of the three days. You can see the progress in the mandala on each day as it becomes more and more intricate and detailed.

Day 1Day 2Day 3The organizer of the event took this picture (below) and posted it to their Facebook page. You can see the bambinos and me in the photo.

PIC MANDALAAnother very cool experience was that the bambinos were asked to participate in a special event on campus that commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was an exhibition basketball game between the Lehigh Valley Freewheelers (a basketball team whose players are all athletes who play in their wheelchairs) and members of the Lehigh men’s and women’s basketball teams. Kyle and Owen were the water-boys, and Meera was the court sweat-sweeper! The bambinos took their roles very seriously, did a great job, and had a TON of fun hanging out and interacting with the LU basketball players (many of whom are idolized by K & O), and the Freewheeler players (who, it turned out, were super friendly and engaged in many-a-conversation with the bambinos). Braydon and I just watched and enjoyed the event from the audience. It was a favorite night for the bambinos for sure!


IMG_7776IMG_7778IMG_7782One of our favorite events of the year — Lehigh’s International Bazaar — was this past weekend. We love that event! And it was a gorgeous day! (And I got to eat some of the best dolmas I’ve had in a long, long time!)


IMG_7801I hosted a luncheon on campus for the Honors Program that I direct. One of Lehigh’s awesome a Capella groups, the Melismatics, gave us a special private performance. I had brought Meera with me to the lunch, and she got such a thrill from seeing the Melismatics perform so up close and personal!

IMG_7789I got to attend a great sociology talk on one of my favorite subjects: foodie culture! This was a talk sponsored by my department, and I probably would have gone even if we weren’t living on campus, but because we are living on campus, it was so relatively easy for me to attend it (in between picking up the kids from school, and making dinner, and getting K & O to/from basketball practice). The talk was by Shyon Baumann, from the University of Toronto, co-author of the book Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. His talk was so fascinating to me — it is fun, and rare, when the personal (hobby-type-subject) and the professional (academia as occupation) collide for a moment, and I really enjoyed that talk. …and I especially enjoyed that I could go without it wreaking total havoc on my family life for the night.

IMG_7835As part of living on campus, I teach as many of my undergraduate classes as possible in “Sayre Lodge” — a building that is part of the residential community in which we live (this building is sort of like a community center/lounge building, and it includes a classroom). My classroom is literally just steps away from our apartment. This semester I am teaching my Race & Ethnicity class there. Yesterday, when I walked up the path to go to class, this is what I found on the lawn between the classroom building and my apartment building:

IMG_7921Before my arrival the students took it into their own hands to determine that we were having class outside. They pulled adirondack chairs from all over the lawn to create a circle, and they were all there, ready for class to begin, as I walked up. It was so cute I could have cried. I almost did cry. Look at these sweet, strong, smart, amazing faces. I love each and every single one of the beautiful them. And now I only have four more classes left with this awesome group of students — only two more weeks of classes. It is bitter sweet to have another academic year winding down.

In the midst of my crazy spring swirl, when it often seems like my life is spiraling out of control, and the April Angst has me down (way, way down), it is good to stop and remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. And, even more than all the great stuff we get to go to and attend, and way, way more than the fact that we don’t need to worry about the groundskeeping, the first and foremost reason we’re living on campus is for the people.

The students are our people. And whether we are watching them perform, or living and learning with them, or hanging out together snuggling puppies on sunny spring days, it is our people who make life on campus more good than it is bad.

Two weeks ’till classes end. Three weeks ’till final exams are done. The countdown is on. I could cry from ‘done-ness’ right now. But just watch — in three weeks I’ll be crying tears of sadness that it’s over. The students will move out, summer will hit, and I’ll be counting down the days for the students to return again. (And Dash will be bored out of his mind, not knowing what to do with himself when he’s not fulfilling his very important job as Resident Pet Therapist!)


Kyle, W.E.B. Du Bois, Miracles, and Gifts

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Last night was the Swain School’s 3rd-8th Grade Social Studies Fair. To say that Kyle is passionate about social studies is a major understatement. He has long been truly intensely focused on history/political science/social studies. And for the past three years his teachers have been telling me about his clear gift for these subjects. He’s especially passionate about African-American history. So, for Kyle, the Social Studies Fair was a very big deal.

Kyle’s chosen project was a study of W.E.B. Du Bois. His interest in Du Bois is multi-faceted and includes everything from the simple facts that Du Bois is of Haitian decent and was the first African-American to receive a PhD from Harvard, to the comprehension of Du Bois’s influence on Martin Luther King, Jr., to the complexity of Du Bois’s large legacy for the Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements of today. Over the course of the past few weeks he has come to know more about W.E.B. Du Bois than I could really ever have imagined. The confines of a 4th grade project were way too tight for him — his field of knowledge and expertise on W.E.B. Du Bois quickly expanded and spilled over into the realm of overwhelming. I truly don’t know how long he’d go if you let him just talk to you about Du Bois with no time constraints; he may very possibly go on for hours and hours. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around just how much his mind can contain when it comes to this sort of stuff. His favorite person to talk with is a current Lehigh student he knows — a history major who is a long-time American History buff/prodigy — who tells me that Kyle quite possibly already rivals her in his depth and breadth of understanding of all-things-African-American-history-related.

Throughout the evening last night I checked on Kyle periodically as he stood at his ‘station’ during the Social Studies Fair. I must admit: I was a tad bit worried that he’d be overwhelming his audiences and scaring them away, and I felt a compulsive need to try to help him navigate the rocky terrain of trying to discuss something of profound importance (to you) with someone for whom the subject may not be (at all) quite as compelling [a terrain that I, as an academic sociologist, am quite familiar with!]. At one point, I found him giving a very long lecture on the topic of W.E.B. Du Bois to his sister and two of her 1st-grade friends. I watched from a distance as the three girls stood there diligently and patiently listening to Kyle’s very involved lecture. Kyle had a captured audience — they may not have understood anything at all (in fact, I’m fairly certain they did not), but they stood there for him and listened to him (or, at least, pretended to), as sweet little first grader girls looking up to The Big Boy. If truth be told, despite their inability to comprehend Kyle’s diatribe against the lynching of blacks in the American South during the 1800s and Du Bois’s pivotal role in the ending of such injustice, I am convinced that somewhere deep in their little psyches they were somehow positively influenced by Kyle’s passion for the subject.


The whole scene made me stop for a moment. In the fast-paced delirium that is our life, it is easy to forget the incredible miraculous profoundness of my boys’ life stories. And their influence on others. But, last night, seeing the scene I saw, for a split second I actually lost my breath in amazement at the realization of what I saw before me. Not because I’m a sociologist who understands the significance of  W.E.B. Du Bois (although, for sure, I do), but because I’m a mom who — for a brief moment — could see the significance of the miracle that is my son Kyle. This boy who, almost eleven years ago now, was born in one of most infamous slums on the planet; this boy who survived 8 months in a Haitian orphanage as the most destitute of the destitute; this boy who has become so healthy-bodied and strong-minded that he is — to most he encounters — almost larger than life; this boy who has overcome the most infinite odds imaginable to be who he now, at age 10, already is — not even taking into consideration what he might become. This boy. This boy is a miracle to behold. And I get to be his mother. (And the role of W.E.B. Du Bois, and many others, in making that reality possible, is never, ever lost on me. Or lost on my son.)

Kyle has a gift (many gifts, for sure, but his intense passion for history is identifiably an indisputable gift). And his life is a gift to all those he touches, including — in a very big way — me.

Kyle Du Bois

Commitment to hopscotch 

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This afternoon before we sat down to dinner as a family, Meera and I had a chance to build a fairy house and play a little hopscotch. It was 74, sunny and wonderful.  

We are lucky and I deeply appreciate that luck. 

Most Special One

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IMG_7814.JPGLook who came to see us today!!!!! Zahir! He asked me who was my most special one (student) of all time. I said, “You.” And he was, somehow, surprised by that.

I can’t believe what a joy it is for me to see my special ones grow up. And what an honor it is for me when they want me to meet their significant others. (And it is such a pleasure when I can honestly say, “She’s the perfect choice! I love her! I entirely approve!”)

IMG_7811.JPGKyle and Owen are away at a basketball tournament this weekend, so they missed out. Which made it extra nice for Meera to hang out with Zahir and AK without having to share the attention. (!) And me too… If the boys had been here I wouldn’t have been able to get a word in edgewise. (!)

When I started teaching I could never have imagined how much I’d love following along my students’ lives as they journey out in the big wide world. But it has become one of the most gratifying parts of my life and work. My most special one, and all my special ones, make me so, so proud.


“Working Out”

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Kyle and Owen have been “working out” together. They discovered that there is an exercise/workout app on their iPods. They have been doing 5K hikes/runs through the wooded trails of South Mountain. They bring Dash and he loves it! In this photo they are getting ready, about to head out. I don’t know how we got such athletic boys!

Spring Fling 2015!

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IMG_7648This is our 3rd year living on campus, and today was our 3rd year of attending our family’s favorite event on campus: Spring Fling! I cannot get over what an AMAZING, inspiring, invigorating event the Community Service Office pulls off with this each year. Huge shout out to Carolina Hernandez and the *450* Lehigh student volunteers who make this happen for the local community. Today over 1,500 folks from the neighborhoods around Lehigh’s campus showed up for a spectacular Spring Fling! Because of some not-so-spring-like-cold-weather, it was indoors this year. Grace Hall was packed with a rambunctious crowd and a “dude ranch” theme.

IMG_7661 spring fling '15It was awesome! As we were leaving, Meera said, “My belly hurts from all the fun!” I said, “Maybe it’s from the pizza and cotton candy and snow cone and Italian ice and candy?!” She said, “Nope! It’s from all the fun! It’s the funnest day of my life! I wish Spring Fling was every day!”


I asked Owen what his favorite part was: “Meeting up with my friends.” This is a special part of Spring Fling for us– the chance to see our friends from South Side Little League— and to be with them on campus. It is hard to explain the hugeness of this to folks who don’t understand the complexities of navigating the ‘town-gown’ divide. Let me just say: it is special, and it is such a gift to us to have opportunities to truly enjoy shared time with folks from the community. Watching our kids run around Grace Hall together today is something I won’t forget for a long, long time. Thank you to the unsung heroes of Lehigh who make this event possible. Thanks, especially, to Carolina Hernandez. It is only through her unwavering loyal commitment to the students of Lehigh University and the people of South Bethlehem that we — and so many others — benefit from this event. THANK YOU thank you THANK YOU to the LU CSO! Photos don’t do it justice!




IMG_7625 IMG_7664 IMG_7665


Last Snow Day of 2015

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snow day 1

In the past few months I have not blogged frequently enough to keep up with even a tiny fraction of a small slice of our life. To say that I have barely even scratched the surface doesn’t even scratch the surface. But certain things I don’t want to forget. So, over the next few months I’ll be trying to catch up whenever I can on some of the memorable moments that I want to try to remember. This is one of them.

Winter of 2015 involved many snow days. But one, in particular, really stood out to me.

The bambinos’ school was closed for a snow day, but — as is typical — Lehigh was not closed. So, life was — as is typical — chaotic at best on that day. I was about to head to my afternoon class (one of my favorite classes I teach: Race & Ethnicity), and was geared up to bring the bambinos along with me (I was to give the mid-term exam that day), when the notification went out to the entire campus community: Lehigh closing! Kyle, Owen, and Meera ran ahead to my classroom, where many students were already gathered. There was an excited moment when everyone was realizing at once that class was officially cancelled. And then an even more excited moment when I announced: “Does anyone want to come to our house for hot chocolate?!”

I don’t know who was more excited, my students or my bambinos.

But the real winner in all of this is me. A whole crowd of my Race & Ethnicity students, and my own three kids, all headed with me down the campus path to our apartment. The snow was falling clear and white and there was such a feeling of lightness all around. Everyone took off their boots and parkas and piled them in the hall, then crammed into our cozy apartment.

I had hot chocolate and marshmallows on hand (all winter I had been secretly waiting for the perfect spontaneous moment to impromptu do this), and everyone was amazed at how many mugs we own (when you live the kind of life we live, you gotta have enough to go around; one of the many strange details of our unusual lifestyle).

We sipped hot chocolate and cozied up to ride out the afternoon in the snowstorm.

snow day 2

It turned out to be the last really big snow of 2015 — the last time the bambinos had a snow day — and the only day that Lehigh closed this winter.

It was memorable.

I don’t know how much my students will remember from my lectures this semester. But I’m pretty sure they’ll never forget that snow day.

IMG_7372 IMG_7373I won’t forget that day either. It is such a gift to me to have those moments.