Tigers took to the Francis Quadrangle one final time as graduation weekend commenced at Mizzou. A total of 5,292 students received degrees in ceremonies Friday through Sunday. Mizzou also gave Peter Hessler, an award-wining author and Columbia native, an honorary degree during the Honors Ceremony.
Cancer survivor and classics major first in family to graduateFrom MIZZOU magazine
Columbia native Peter Hessler writes for The New Yorker and National Geographic and has penned three books about China. MU will award him an honorary degree during the May 2013 commencement ceremonies.
On his way to middle school, Peter Hessler often rode past the Ming-dynasty lion statues that guard the entrance to the School of Journalism on Ninth Street, a precursor perhaps of adventures to come and a life he never would have imagined as a child.
Now an award-winning author and literary reporter, Hessler writes about his adventures as a global citizen in countries where the language, politics and culture offer unusual challenges.
None of it sounds easy. To write his articles for The New Yorker, Hessler lives in Egypt with his wife and twin toddlers and is developing proficiency in Arabic. To write his books on China, Hessler lived in the country for two years, learned Mandarin Chinese and developed the mettle to interact with people who weren’t particularly interested in getting to know a foreigner.
MU will recognize Hessler May 18 with an honorary degree during the commencement Honors Ceremony. It’s a fitting return home for the Columbia native, who says he feels honored to receive the degree from Mizzou.
“It meant so much to grow up in a university town, especially one with such a strong tradition of journalism and creative writing,” Hessler says.
Hessler grew up in the shadow of the Columns, about a mile from campus on Westmount Avenue, where much of his early life intersected with Mizzou and with academia. Hessler is the son of MU Professor Emeritus Richard Hessler and Columbia College Adjunct Professor Anne Hessler.
“It was a wonderful place to be a kid. The university was so close that it essentially became my back yard. I knew the layout of every building on Francis Quad, especially the old sociology building, where my father was a professor,” he says.
The School of Journalism gave young Hessler his first job in journalism in 1978 when he was in third grade. As part of his daily routine, Hessler would wake up at 5 a.m. to deliver the Columbia Missourian before school. He kept the job for six years and, at the same time, began developing a “voracious” appetite for reading newspapers.
For Hessler, there were other brushes with MU that he credits with helping him realize a writing career was possible, not just an abstract dream.
The Hessler family, including Peter’s three sisters, lived one block from Professor William Peden, a novelist and founder of the University of Missouri Press. Hessler was particularly interested in fiction when he was a student at Hickman High School, so he “carefully” read MU’s literary journal, The Missouri Review. He also became aware of Mizzou writers such as alumnus William Least Heat-Moon.
After graduating from Princeton University and while waiting for his application to the Peace Corps to be processed in 1996, Hessler spent nearly a year in Columbia. He made use of the time by tutoring at MU’s Writing Center, run then by Professor Elaine Hocks, and teaching a couple sections of English composition, “a great experience” that helped prepare him for teaching in China.
Hessler also formed a lasting relationship with Douglas Hunt, then director of the Campus Writing Program. Hunt was the first to read a draft of and comment on Hessler’s book about his experiences in China. The book, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, won a Kiriyama Prize for encouraging understanding of the cultures of the Pacific Rim and South Asia.
Since then Hessler has asked Hunt, now an emeritus professor, to help edit “pretty much everything I’ve written,” which includes four books.
Hessler, his wife, non-fiction writer Leslie Chang, and their 2-year-old daughters live on Zamalek, a green and relatively quiet island in the Nile.
The Hesslers’ home is on the ground floor of a beautiful old building with high ceilings and Art Deco design touches. There’s a garden where the twins can play, but at the same time, the residence is just a bit more than a mile from Tahrir Square and downtown Cairo.
“If something happens in the city, I can get out quickly and report on it. I’ve spent a lot of time on Tahrir, that’s for sure,” Hessler says.
Hessler finds it easier being a foreigner in Egypt than it was in China, where decades of Maoist isolation still affect the Chinese people. Egyptians are very comfortable with foreigners, he says.
“Life here feels surprisingly normal. This is probably the hardest thing to communicate to people in the States because the images they see on television are often very violent,” Hessler says.
Because the unrest in Cairo is usually localized, Hessler doesn’t consider it an issue for a foreign journalist. Even as protests erupt on Tahrir Square, life in Cairo often goes on as normal, with people calmly sitting at coffee houses or shopping.
“My feeling has always been that Egypt will survive this transition period without too much violence. Clearly there’s something that holds society together despite the political chaos. Some of it is religion, and some of it is a tradition of community feeling,” Hessler says.
Even for locals, the current press freedom in Egypt is remarkable, Hessler says. He sees no comparison with the routine censorship and arrests of journalists that occurred before the revolution.
A great deal of Hessler’s material comes from his daily routine, and he often writes about the lives of ordinary people. Hessler knows all the people at the local shops on the active street by his house. One of the people he talks with most is a garbage man, Said, who sometime stops by for dinner. “Picking up garbage is a much more personalized task here in Egypt,” Hessler says of the relationship.
Lately Hessler has been traveling regularly to research the rural areas of Upper Egypt in the southern part of the country, which has helped him gain a better understanding of Egypt. His work in Egypt is funded by a “Genius Grant,” a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship.
The Hessler twins, Ariel and Natasha, are learning Arabic the easy way, by natural assimilation, and understand it quite well for their age. The girls attend a neighborhood nursery school and have an Egyptian nanny who speaks only Arabic with them. Many of their first words were in Arabic.
Their parents, however, are learning Arabic through classes, exams, tutors and lots of study sandwiched between writing assignments. It’s not easy, but the Hesslers wanted to move to a place with a rich language and a rich history that “stretches back to ancient times.” The Hesslers say the Middle East was a natural choice for them.
“Arabic is hard, but it’s significantly easier than Chinese. I can hold a very good conversation and do a solid interview on my own,” Hessler says. He still needs a translator for more sophisticated topics, but he has friends who don’t speak English, which is a big step.
In China, Hessler learned Mandarin quickly, gaining oral fluency in two years. After leaving the Peace Corps and becoming a journalist, he never had to use a translator.
“I lived in a small city with only one other foreigner, and we had no Internet access. There wasn’t much to do apart from wander around and talk to people,” he says of his time in China.
Hessler isn’t sure how his international wanderlust developed. His father had a sabbatical in Sweden in 1977-78, so Hessler attended a Swedish school there, which had a big impact on him. Still, he couldn’t speak any foreign languages when he graduated from college, and he had never traveled in the developing world.
After college, he believed he should spend time in a place less developed than the U.S. and with a different culture. He sensed it would be critical to his development as a writer, so he joined the Peace Corps and believes that a similar experience would be good for anyone.
“The main benefit was that it gave me a new perspective. On the most basic level, it’s valuable to live in a place where you look totally different from everybody else. It makes you much more sensitive and sympathetic to outsiders after you return home,” he says.
Zahra Rasool, a student from India, graduates from Mizzou this semester with a journalism degree, a multicultural certificate and plans to cover the world.
When Zahra Rasool receives her diploma, she will cap off four years of hard work and determination — and a little anxiety.
Rasool is from Mumbai, India. Her whole family lives in India, so when she announced her plans to go to school in Columbia, Mo., they were uneasy. It wouldn't be her first time away from home. She had traveled to Europe, Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Iran as well as throughout her home country. But this was different. The United States was halfway around the world.
“I remember telling my dad that I wanted to come to Missouri to study, and he asked ‘Where is this place?’” Rasool recalls. “He thought I was crazy because I didn’t know anything about America, had no idea about the culture, no idea what I was getting myself into.”
Despite his concerns, Rasool’s father told her if she could find a way to pay for attending MU, he would support her.
“I think he said that because he couldn’t image me arranging for those finances,” Rasool says.
She applied for scholarships and was able to get a financial package to allow her to study at Mizzou.
Rasool had begun her undergraduate career at a university in Mumbai with plans to go abroad for her master’s degree. After one year at the university, she realized she wanted something different and reevaluated her options.
She was interested in journalism, and online searches for journalism schools consistently put MU at the top of the list.
Rasool wasn’t nervous about coming to Missouri; there was too much excitement at the time. However, upon her arrival in Columbia, the nerves hit her.
“It finally sank in what I was going to do,” she says. “I finally realized what I had done and, for the first time, I wasn’t sure about my decision.”
She found that she didn’t have much in common with the American students she encountered. The food they ate was different. The clothes they wore were different. The sports they watched were different. There were no common subjects to start a conversation.
“I wasn’t sure initially how I was supposed to talk to people,” she says. “I didn’t know how to approach them. I was scared.”
Rasool knew there was no turning back and took the initiative to make connections and build friendships. She soon found Mizzou to be a diverse and welcoming campus.
Niki Harris was Rasool’s adviser during her first year at MU and calls Rasool a “curious and engaging student.”
“When I first met Zahra, she was trying to navigate a new campus and a new country,” Harris says. “She was so open and excited to experience as much as she could.”
Rasool began to get involved with activities on campus. While taking a psychology course with professor Etti Naveh-Benjamin, Rasool learned about the multicultural certificate, a program that familiarizes students with multicultural and diversity issues. Naveh-Benjamin, the program director, encouraged Rasool to get involved.
“Zahra represents the best of what MU is when it comes to international students,” Naveh-Benjamin says. “She has been a strong voice for diversity and social justice issues, and she does everything with grace, modesty and kindness.”
Rasool pursued the certificate. Then she joined the staff.
“Issues of diversity and social justice are so important to me,” Rasool says. “There wasn’t a better job I could think of.”
Rasool knows that there are issues that need to be discussed when it comes to diversity. The multicultural certificate is one way to address those topics.
“Mizzou has so many classes that deal with diversity and social justice,” Rasool says. “This certificate is an initiative for students to learn about these issues.”
Rasool was inducted into LSV during Tap Day ceremonies in April. LSV is an honorary society that recognizes students at MU who “strive to promote and improve the status of women.”
Rasool also continued to pursue her degree in journalism. She studied abroad in London for a semester through a School of Journalism study-abroad program and spent the summer following her sophomore year in South Korea as part of the Mizzou International Center exchange program.
Rasool took classes while in South Korea but describes the trip as more of a cultural exchange program where she learned about Korean culture and was able to interact with the Korean people.
In 2012, Rasool was nominated for the International Engagement Awards, which are given to MU students, faculty members and staff that have made meaningful and sustained contributions to the internationalization of MU.
During the annual Tap Day ceremony in April, Rasool was inducted into LSV, a secret honorary society at Mizzou that recognizes “the most outstanding upperclass women” at MU who “strive to promote and improve the status of women.”
“It is energizing to me just to be around her,” Harris says.
Rasool will start graduate school next year and continue to work towards her career goal, which is to serve as an international correspondent for a broadcast news outlet.
“Our world is so globalized,” she says. “We are all shaped by things that are happening internationally, and there is a need for people to know more about international issues.”
She mentions countries in Africa that are cut off from other countries and need journalists to discuss the issues they are facing.
Like those countries in Africa, Rasool’s home country can benefit from good journalism. Historically, the best minds of India have left for education and careers in countries such as the United States. According to Rasool, that trend is changing. More bright young people are staying in India or going back to India, and she plans to be part of that new wave.
“Eventually I see myself going back,” Rasool says. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done there. It is a developing country with so much poverty, illiteracy and corruption. I think it is up to the youth of India to change these things.”
Rasool hopes to take the values, ethics and techniques she has learned in classes at Mizzou and apply them to her practice of journalism in India.
“Ethical and accurate journalism is needed in India more than it is needed here,” Rasool says. “Here people are aware of those values. People over there are still discovering those things.”
Whatever the future holds, she's ready.
“Every step along the way has been a surprise,” Rasool says. “I just had to accept things as they happened. That gave me the courage to do this. That kept me strong.”
Arvarh E. Strickland, a pioneer professor and internationally renowned historian at the University of Missouri, has died at the age of 82. Photo by Rob Hill.
Arvarh E. Strickland, the University of Missouri’s first tenure-track black professor, an internationally acclaimed historian and a lifelong advocate for education, died Tuesday morning. He was 82.
Born in Hattiesburg, Miss., on July 6, 1930, Strickland earned a bachelor’s degree from Tougaloo (Miss.) College in 1951 and earned a master’s degree and a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1962. He taught at Chicago State College for seven years before being hired as the first black professor at MU in 1969.
But Strickland didn’t know he was going to be a trailblazer when hired by the history department. “I figured at such a large institution, there had to be another African American professor somewhere,” Strickland said.
Strickland was teaching one of the first black history courses in the state of Missouri outside of Lincoln University. His course, History 392: The Negro in Twentieth Century America, covered historic events from Reconstruction to the current period. The course aimed to help students reevaluate the place and role of black people in U.S. history.
Nearly 100 students enrolled, making it the second-highest enrollment of an upper-level history course on campus. Worried that students were enrolling for the novelty, Strickland warned them they would be in for an “unpleasant shock.” This was a history course, plain and simple.
Strickland led the way in creating a black studies minor at the university, and in 1971, MU made it official. Students in the College of Arts and Science could now graduate with a minor emphasis in black studies.
“The purpose of black studies is to give an understanding and appreciation of the black role in this country. It is not for ego gratification,” Strickland said. “The part blacks played in building up America is often dismissed, and there is little study of what blacks are doing today.”
Although black studies was initially only an undergraduate program, Strickland also worked with graduate students. He advised two master’s candidates through their theses in the first year. He was appointed by interim chancellor Herbert Schooling to aid in the recruitment of qualified faculty from minority groups starting in fall 1972.
“Even with the increased opportunities for black people to advance in our society, there is skepticism among young blacks,” Strickland said. “They have the typical Missourian show-me attitude. Show me I have something to aspire for.”
Professors who followed in Strickland's footsteps say his dedication to mentoring students is unparalleled. His record in guiding graduate students through the process of earning a doctorate far surpasses that of his colleagues and many reigning public intellectuals of the time, says Sundiata Cha-Jua, former director of black studies at MU. One of Strickland's major accomplishments as an educator was to give the world more educators.
“That’s his legacy,” says Cha-Jua, now a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Illinois. “Your task as a black scholar is to reproduce yourself and expand the pipeline, and Arvarh did that in the field of history at a higher level than most in his generation and many in subsequent generations, with fewer resources.”
Strickland's history courses were extremely popular with the students and often filled beyond capactiy. Photo from the November 1971 Missouri Alumnus, page 4.
In addition to his roles as an educator and mentor, Strickland was much involved with the research of history. He wrote the seminal History of the Chicago Urban League, published by the University of Illinois Press in 1966, and was the joint author of a secondary school textbook Building the United States.
Strickland was a contributing author to Encyclopedia Britannica in 1971 and was elected as a trustee of the State Historical Society in 1974. Later that year, his book five years in the making, The Black American Experience, was published. The publisher hailed it as “the most comprehensive program in black history available.”
In 2001 Strickland took the reference guide a step further with the publication of The African American Experience: An Historiographical and Bibliographical Guide, which he coauthored with fellow MU history professor Robert E. Weems. Weems says the experience helped him to both grow as a researcher and grow closer to Strickland.
“When we worked together on that project, I got the chance to see how meticulous he was as a scholar,” says Weems, who taught at MU from 1990 to 2011. “With collaborative projects, sometimes there's some friction involved, but I can honestly say we were better friends after that project than we were going into it.”
As Strickland continued to grow as a professor, he also evolved as an advocate for students. When the administration looked at various enrollment standards, Strickland was one of the leaders in supporting equal opportunity.
“I often get the idea, particularly with minority students, that we expect them to fail,” Strickland said. “Many who could succeed don’t because, as human nature, we live up to the expectation people have of us, especially those in authority. Many of us have been trying to change that image and feeling. I think in many ways, in some areas, we have been successful. But in a large place, it takes longer.”
In 1985, Strickland was one of seven councilors elected to the Phi Alpha Theta International Honor Society in History, and he later went on to become its international president. His leadership in the education of all students about minority issues, history and culture played a large role.
“He’s challenged non-minority students intellectually,” N. Gerald Barrier, then chairman of the history department, said. “Besides raising the normal issues, he’s forced them to look at their values and to look at aspects of the black experience as an American experience they may not have encountered.”
Jabari Turner, former president of the Legion of Black Collegians, celebrates the renaming of the General Classrooms Building with Strickland. Arvarh E. Strickland Hall was dedicated in 2007. Photo by Rob Hill.
During the final years of his teaching career and soon after his retirement on Jan. 1, 1996, Strickland received several honors and awards. In 1994, he received the University of Missouri’s Byler Distinguished Professor Award and the St. Louis American’s Educator of the Year Award. In 1995, he was awarded the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Faculty Award and was placed in the Tougaloo College Alumni Hall of Fame.
In 1997 Strickland received an Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and distinguished service awards from the State Historical Society of Missouri and Phi Alpha Theta Honor Society in History. In 1999, he received the Carter G. Woodson Medal from the Association for the Study of African-American History and Culture.
“I would urge young people not to let barriers, real or imagined, keep them from preparing themselves to fulfill their dreams,” Strickland said when receiving the Alumni Association’s award. “And to not let anyone convince them that their dreams are unattainable.”
In 1998, the Missouri Endowed Chair and Professorship Program, with the support of the state’s legislature, created the Arvarh E. Strickland Distinguished Professorship in African-American History and Culture. Wilma King, the current chair of the Black Studies Program, is the current holder of the professorship. King says Strickland’s groundbreaking efforts to work with university administration in establishing black studies at Mizzou was tremendously important to higher education in the state.
“I’m very grateful. That has benefited me and will benefit other professors in the future,” she says. “That is a part of his legacy.”
In 2007, the General Classrooms Building was renamed Arvarh E. Strickland Hall at the urging of MU students in the Legion of Black Collegians; a room in Memorial Union also bears his name. Strickland taught on every floor of the former GCB during his 26-year tenure.
Deputy chancellor Mike Middleton was chair of the committee to choose the namesake. The choice of Strickland, a unanimous selection by the committee, was a “no-brainer,” Middleton says.
“He was such a significant man on this campus for so long that anybody else suggested paled in comparison,” Middleton says. “He was one of the most honorable men I knew. I can’t even think of any negatives; he was truly a good man.”
Middleton was a leading voice for MU students who demanded the university hire a black professor before Strickland was hired in 1969, and the two got to know each other soon after. They had intermittent correspondence while Middleton practiced law in Washington, D.C., and became closer friends after Middleton returned to teach at Mizzou in 1985. Middleton describes Strickland as a tall, dignified gentleman and a true academic with the mission to impart knowledge on young people.
Strickland, the first black professor at MU, was an advocate for minority students, faculty and studies during his 26-year career at the university. Photo from the 1972 Missouri Alumnus, page 23.
Otto Steinhaus, Strickland’s former pastor at Missouri United Methodist Church, confirmed that Strickland died Tuesday morning. He is survived by Willie Pearl, his wife of more than 50 years, two sons and their families, and a great-granddaughter, Pearl.
“He loved history and was committed to excellence,” Middleton says. “But I suspect he’s probably most proud of his students and the influence he had on them over the years.”
Flags on campus will fly at half-staff through the weekend to honor the memory of Dr. Strickland. The Switzler bell will ring at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in conjunction with visitation, which will be held at Missouri United Methodist Church at 204 S. Ninth St. Services will take place at 11 a.m. Interment will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery at 1217 Business Loop 70 W in Columbia.
The Legion of Black Collegians and iGUIDE Leadership Team will hold a candlelight vigil in honor of the late Dr. Arvarh E. Strickland at 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, outside of Strickland Hall near the fountain. Join us as we honor his legacy and continue the work that is yet to be done.
Members of Alpha Epsilon Pi and a raucous crowd celebrate setting a new philanthropic record.
The Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity at Mizzou already held the record for the largest single-chapter philanthropic event in the nation, raising $82,000 through their biennial Rock-A-Thon fundraiser in 2011. This year, the Mu Deuteron chapter smashed the record, raising more than $123,000 April 25-27 for the American Cancer Society.
Rock-A-Thon started in 1969, when one fraternity member was elected to sit in a rocking chair on stage for 63 straight hours. While he’s on stage, other fraternity brothers fan out across downtown Columbia and the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas to collect donations for cancer research.
This year’s rocker was Brendan Lyss, whose father and brother are both cancer survivors. The 135 active members joined alumni, friends and family at the stage on Ninth St. and Broadway for the conclusion of Lyss’ rocking. When the record-breaking amount was announced, a wild celebration ensued.
For more information and photos, visit AE Pi’s Rock-A-Thon site.
Choral Union performs many famous opera choruses at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 25. Photo by Shane Epping.
Choral Union, the University Singers and the Columbia Civic Orchestra perform Opera Choruses at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Jesse Hall. While the term “opera” can conjure some humdrum associations for those unfamiliar with the medium, it's nearly impossible to not recognize and enjoy many of the pieces being performed.
We've collected some popular-culture references to Thursday night's musical selections, so when you start humming along with a familiar tune, you'll know where you've previously heard it.
In addition to those pieces, the concert includes:
Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner returns to MizzouFrom MIZZOU magazine
46 boats compete in the Float Your Boat for the Food Bank raceFrom College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
Mizzou celebrated its 86th annual Tap Day April 19, recognizing new initiates of six campus honorary societies. Students entered the Jesse Hall ceremony wearing robes and hoods that masked their identities. Society members then were revealed in order of of each organization's founding year, with the oldest societies announced first. Societies include: QEBH, Mystical Seven, LSV, Mortar Board, ODK and Rollins Society. Membership is open to upper-class and graduate students regardless of their academic majors.