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September 04, 2007 - Image 29

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-09-04

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The Michigan Daily

Changing
our years ago, LSA senior nities th
Karen Soell had a life plan. just wor
After graduating from her sity," Al
small Catholic high school in La the way
Crosse, Wisc., she would study courses
English and political science at could do
the University with the hopes of Alexa
one day going to a prestigious law ing with
school, moving to New York City cal and
and becoming a corporate law- his cour
yer. For a while, everything was course,
going according to her plan. Then films wii
she took English 239 with Prof. left-of-c
William "Buzz" Alexander. help then
Soell says Alexander's intro- But h
ductory English course, "What is acting oi
Literature," changed her life. ful than,
She found herself taken in teaching
by Alexander's conversational rilla thea
teachingstyle, his faith in his stu- after.
dents and his belief in the power In the
of art. She eagerly enrolled in of Englis
another one of his courses, Eng- students
lish 310. nounced
It was this course - where causes.
students conduct art and theater "We
workshops in juvenile correction or the
facilities and poor high schools related t
- that Soell was fully introduced causes,".
to Alexander's prison reform In 19'
mission. After that, it wasn't long Glover a
before she was taking part in in the
hunger strikes and helping stage focus d
mock executions on the Diag. To Dixson,
students involved in Alexander's in Florei
courses, these were important ity in C
steps toward rights for a group enrolled
overlooked by most of society. heard ab
But to much of the rest of cam- of Alexa
pus, their fervent devotion to bringing
prisoners' well-being seemed a ments fo
little strange. courses.
Alexander came to the Univer- life sen
sity as an assistant professor of could at
English in 1971 after getting his brought
Bachelor's degree and doctorate taught tl
from Harvard University. For prison w
his first few years in Ann Arbor, students
Alexander taught relatively run- Those
of-the-mill courses. But after inspired
working with peasant commu- focus of
nities in Peru in 1978 and 1979, toward
he returned to the University the Pris
determined to continue his social Since
activism through teaching. ect, or PC
"I wanted to work in commu- referred

your life 101

it take for you to give up a law career for social activism? Would it take a

at had issues rather than
king within the Univer-
exander said. "I figured
to do that was to create
where my students and I
that work."
nder began experiment-
ways to engage in politi-
social activism through
ses. He began with a film
in which students made
:h labor unions and other
enter organizations to
im with their campaigns.
e believed that humans
nstage were more power-
videos, and so he started
what he called a guer-
ater course shortly there-
guerilla theater version
sh 319, Alexander had his
act in unplanned, unan-
skits to advance various
would disrupt classes
Diag social with theater
to various social justice
Alexander said.
90, two students, Mary
nd Joyce Dixson, enrolled
course and changed its
ramatically. Glover and
who were incarcerated
ne Crain women's facil-
oldwater Mich. but still
at the University, had
out English 319 from one
nder's students who was
them books and assign-
or their other University
Since they were serving
tences, neither woman
tend classes. Alexander
his course to them and
heater workshops in the
'ith the help of his other
S.
first prison workshops
Alexander to change the
his English 319 course
prison art and to found
on Creative Arts Project.
1992, Alexander's proj-
CAP as it is affectionately
to by many of those who

are involved with it, has put on
210 original plays in prisons, held
12 exhibitions of prisoner art and
changed the lives of scores of stu-
dents who have become wrapped
up in the project.
PCAPERS FOR LIFE
Alexander's English 310 and
319 are not typical University
courses. They are emotionally
draining and time consuming.
They take students from the rela-
tive comfort of Angell Hall into
the tense atmosphere of Michi-
gan penitentiaries. Students are
expected to hold regular work-
shops with inmates and students
in poor high schools.
And after they complete the
course, they are invited to join
the Prison Creative Arts Project.
Some become an associate of the
project after they graduate.
Alexander insists all students
interested in the course inter-
view beforehand to make sure
they are prepared for the course
and believe in the work they
would be doing and the prisoners
they would meet.
Taking Alexander's courses,
conducting art workshops in
prisons and working with the
Prison Creative Arts Project is
a transformative experience for
many students. Over the past 15
years, the project has effectively
created a campus subculture.
There is also a network of more
than a hundred former students
- many of whom are dedicated
social activists - remain con-
nected to the project and com-
mitted to prison reform long
after graduation.
Soell said Alexander's classes
changed the course of her life
by "180 degrees." Instead of law
school, she is now looking to go
into prisoner advocacy work
when she graduates at the end of
the month.
RC senior Laura Rosvrow,
who first took Alexander's Eng-
lish 319 course her sophomore

t
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t
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c
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war in Iraq? A crisis in New Orleans? Or maybe just an English class2
year, said it changed the way she sentiment, describing Alexan- criticisms," Graziano said. "Like
thought about herself. She went der's courses as an interment set- why are all these kids following
on to conduct workshops mod- ting where you felt a strong bond (Buzz)?"
eled off of Alexander's classes in with the other students. To the rest of the campus
Senegal when she studied abroad Alexander's teaching style those watching from the outside,
there her junior year. Like many - his intense questioning - also seeing Alexander's students sim-
of the students interviewed for fostered a strong loyalty to him ulate-executions in costume on
this article, Rosvrow, who is bas- and a desire to meet his expecta- the Diag, and burst into classes to
ing her senior thesis partly on tions among many students. promote the Prison Creative Arts
Alexander's course, spoke of her "He has a lotof faith inpeople," Project, can raise some ques-
experiences in his class as a kind Rosvrow said. "And that makes tions. Why are these students so
of life mission. She frequent- you rise to higher expectations." passionate about this class? And
ly referred to the Alexander's But after a while, talking to isn't there something about the
course and the Prison Creative students involved with the Pris- Prison Creative Arts Project that
Arts Project not as a class, but on Creative Arts Project starts to seems a bit cultish?
as "my work" or "the work." And sound a bit like talking to Alex- Maybe there is. In the middle
like everyone interviewed forthis ander himself. And for some stu- of an unpopular war, and amid
article, she spoke collectively and dents, the strong message that a drought of student activism,
with a sense of ownership of the pervades the classroom can cre- it takes a particularly magnetic
Prison Creative Arts Project and ate a sort of echo chamber that personality to get students on
everyone involved in it. stifles some bigger questions. the Diag protesting anything, let
Emi Kaneko, a first-year law RC senior Caitlin Graziano, alone the well-being of prisoners.
student at Wayne State Univer- who took Alexander's English There's something more than a
sity, has been returning to help 319 course, said the class had a good cause, there's something
with the annual Prison Creative distinct culture and dynamic. about Alexander and his classes,
Arts Project exhibition since she She said this dynamic was partly that gets students to abandon
graduated from the University in related to the group's composi- their law careers for low-paying
2005. She said she wasn't sure if tion. "It's an enclave of really lib- social work.
she would pursue a field of law eral women," Graziano said. "It's It's a powerful feeling to learn
that allowed her to advocate for multi-white." about a problem one day and be
prisoners yet, but that she needs But she said she was able to told how to fix it the next. People
to have volunteeringwith prison- find her place in the group cul- come to college to find a purpose
ers as a part of her life. ture. in life and for many, English 310
"(Buzz) definitely influenced "It is a group of people who offers and ready-made answer.
me the most with my long term work really hard and are very That might not be such a bad
life," she said "With what I need proud of what they do," Graziano thing. As part of a generation fix-
to do with my life." said. "But I remain critical of the ated on success, many students
But not everyone who takes way that we talk, there is a rheto- who first enroll in Alexander's
the class is comfortable with the ric that gets easily exchanged class might never have consid-
culture thathas grownup around without any helpful criticism." ered campaigning for social jus-
the project. For some students, Graziano said she had some tice.
the tight-knit group is more dis- friends who were involved in the Despite her reservations about
concerting than enlightening. project, but she grew discouraged the Prison Creative Arts Proj-
with the group dynamic and left. ect subculture, Graziano stayed
FOLLOWING BUZZ "They loved their workshops with the project and, like Soell,
Alexander's courses are emo- and the mission of the group, but became another solider in Alex-
tionally intense both inside the they got frustrated with this easy ander's campaign to reform the
prisons and in the classrooms. rhetoricthat people fall into," she prison system.
He teaches in an informal setting said. "(Buzz) was pivotal to me,
and asks tough questions while For Graziano, the familiarity Graziano said. "He certainly
allowing the students to do most and echo-chamber mentality of gave my life a momentum and a
of the talking, what she said was a majority- focus on prison reform that I am
Soell described her English white group, became repetitive still sticking with."
310 class as being like a family - and stifled productive dialogue
where you could share anything. about the prison system. This article originally
Other students echoed Soell's "I have had my fair share of ran on April 4, 2007.

How David Halperin taught me to
be gay (sort of)

ou were in class. I was at a
party.
Don't get me wrong. Eng-
lish Prof. David Halperin has many
lessons. The man behind the Univer-
sity's "How to Be Gay: Male Homo-
sexuality and Initiation" course
that sent conservative regents into
a furor when first offered in 2000
(and for years thereafter), Halperin
is an accomplished scholar, and the
merits of his employment are not in
question. He's brilliant, and he'd be
the first to tell you.
Yet when I first registered for his
"Queer Fictions of the Past" course
last fall, I knew I was in for more
than a bunch of books about Oscar
Wilde and AIDS. I was OK with
that. This was the man who inspired
state legislators to propose a bill
that would scrutinize higher edu-
cation funding because they didn't
want a public university "promot-
ing" homosexuality. There had to be
something there.
I entered the class the first day
under the reasonable assump-
tion that Halperin's courses were
not intended to be a threat to the
regents' children or an affront to
taxpayers. The last day, I left think-
ing they were both.
Let me explain. Walking into that

third-floor room in Angell Hall was
one of the strangest experiences I've
had at the University. Designed to
hold 40 students, the class had only
about 15 registered, mostly good-
looking men who all seemed to know
each other. (As it turned out, they
did: A fellow classmate later told me
that half the guys in the class had
already hooked up.)
Everyone also seemed to know
Halperin, which struck me as
strange, but later made perfect
sense. Most of them were return
students or kids from other majors
who were there because of the pro-
fessor's reputation.
Ten minutes into the class, Hal-
perin apologized for the section's
meeting so early on Friday morning.
"I'm working on it," he told us. "I
know it's not a very gay hour."
That pretty much set the tone for
the entire semester. Every comment
like that got the requisite laughter
but also some uneasy looks. The
only straight people in the room
were a few doe-eyed female English
majors, most of whom dropped the
first week. On the first day, a fresh-
man girl admitted she took the class
because she went to a private high
school and wanted to take the "least
conservative" class she could find.

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or
be offended, but people kept talking
like that. Usually first-day icebreak-
ers are all stilted conversation about
John from West Bloomfield who's a
sophomore and an econ major and
an Aquarius. The first day here peo-
ple were speaking more freely than
most do in the 16th week.
Maybe it was because there were
so few of us, but I don't think so.
The classroom was permissive and
expectant. It was like we were in
a different place altogether. There
was a sense of collectivism, and
that's exactly the way Halperin
would have it.
Every time I went to class after
that - and before long it was the
only class I wentto - I looked atthe
people across the hall, thinking how
different an experience I was hav-
ing. It wasn't the coursework, which
was fine, but the atmosphere, the
conversation. Every so often David
would often talk about his past and
tell stories, and everyone would just
listen, like they were somewhere
else entirely.
And I'm serious when I say the
class was an event. There were
actual parties, though I never went
to them, but I'm not talking about
See HALPERIN, Page 10C

Here's how...

You've got males
S Inside the University's most male-dominated major

When she was growing up, LSA
senior Laura Bickle heard stories
from her mother about the gender
gap in many fields of mathematics
and science.
It didn't deter her, though.
Bickle is one of only 21 female
computer science majors at the Uni-
versity. Males outnumber females
eight-to-one in the program.
Computer science is the under-
graduate major at the University
with the highest ratio of females to
males.
The most female-dominated
major is dental hygiene, which has
84 female students and not a single
male.
Although Bickle came to the
University with the intention of
studying business, she quickly
switched into the computer science
program.
"What the students were doing
in Engin 101 looked like a lot more
fun," she said.
At first, computer science classes
were intimidating, Bickle said.
"Guys on North (Campus) wear
much more casual clothing and are
also less likely to sit next to girls
they don't know," she said. "I used
to be afraid that I smelled bad but

was assured that it wasn't me."
Bickle said gender balance isn't
her most serious concern with her
major, though.
"My mom still thinks I'm going
to be living in a box in Silicon Val-
ley when I'm 30," Bickle said.
Randall Brown, an LSA sopho-
more majoringin computer science,
said some male computer science
students are uncomfortable having
females in their classes.
"There are usually open seats
next to the girls in computer sci-
ence classes," Brown said. "Maybe
we are afraid of them."
Not all male computer science
students are afraid of their female
counterparts, though.
School of Music junior Myron
Bishop, who entered the University
as a computer science major, said he
tried to reach out to the females in
his classes.
"I tried to befriend a lot of the
women and make them feel more
comfortable," he said.
The question remains: Why do
some majors attract more males
and others more females?
Brown said his major is male-dom-
inated because males are more likely
to be obsessed with their computers.

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LSA junior Steve Santure, a computer
science major, works in the Computer
Science Building on North Campus.
"Computer science is mostly
male because after guys are done
looking at porn, we're too lazy to
leave the computer, so we find other
stuff to do," Brown said.
DANIELLE KRUIZENGA
This article originally
ran on Feb. 5, 2007.

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