Freedom of Speech, Elmo Dancers, Mounds, and Little Free Libraries
Our biggest surprise was discovering the Native American burial mounds on campus. I grew up near mounds in northwest Missouri, and we have them here in southern Indiana as well, but I had never heard about Beloit’s.
– Sally Gaskill
Freedom of Speech
The brief article reviewing the planned visit of Erik Prince, Blackwater founder, caught my attention.
I enjoyed my days at Beloit. I found the professors to be engaging, knowledgeable, and accessible, and I learned much that translated into further intellectual curiosity as the years passed by. I also learned, in retrospect, of the Beloit liberalism, which I did not fully understand nor appreciate as a Beloit student. So, it is with some concern, yet also with some understanding that I read of Mr. Prince.
I am disappointed to read of the students’ behavior. I understand their concern, disagreement, and perhaps dislike. However, everyone deserves to be listened to before we make our judgment. Only listening can create understanding, and that understanding can be positive, negative, or middle of the road. Yet, we must listen in order to understand, which in itself does not imply agreement or disagreement.
From listening we learn. Learning requires a certain openness and only that openness will permit what we desire. As I recall from my brief stay at Beloit, learning was everyone’s goal, and that included learning what I might not have liked. Whatever it is that we are doing, we must think of an old railroad crossing and, ‘stop, look, and listen.’
I was shocked and dismayed at the behavior of Beloit student protesters and administrators, who denied the freedom of speech rights of Erik Prince and the students who invited him to speak on campus. Rather than allowing for the suppression of First Amendment rights, the Beloit administration should have used this as a teachable moment to help students understand that in another situation, “out in the wider world,” it might well be their right to free speech that is violated. Did they miss the history lesson on the damage wrecked on individuals and our society by McCarthyism? My uncle, Phil Kerby, an editor at the Los Angeles Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about the importance of defending the First Amendment. My aunt, Elizabeth Kerby, did important work denouncing the Hollywood blacklist, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and was a lifelong admirer of the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, who was killed by a mob while defending his printing press. I can only imagine the alarm they would have felt to see the incident that happened at Beloit. Rather than a “kerfuffle,” this was a deeply disturbing suppression of the right to free speech. While I see this sort of thing happening on other college and university campuses, I truly would have expected better from Beloit.
St. Louis, Mo.
I found the spring 2019 issue of Beloit College Magazine disappointing.
I read “The Controversial Speech That Never Happened” then flipped to “In Defense of Press Freedom” and was astonished at the obvious hypocrisy.
The First Amendment is critical to the success of our society. Yet while hailing the importance of journalism on the one hand, Beloit has chosen to allow the denial of speech on its own campus through a threat of violence.
How could the administration choose to allow protesters to shut down an invited speaker?
I can understand passionate students who feel strongly about an issue and want to express themselves. The impulse is admirable and expected of students. But the administration should know better. They should stand up for the principles upon which higher education is founded: free speech, debate, and pursuit of knowledge. Could anyone claim that the invited guest could not present information and ideas that these students may not have considered before? You can do much better by these students.
Lawrence Sullivan, M.D.’79
I’m loving the remembrances of the Basic Elmos. They were always entertaining, and they once came to my rescue! I participated in many dance performances during my college years, but one summer semester, there were only a very few dancers on campus. I still wanted to choreograph, so I asked the Elmos if they would participate in an outdoor dance “happening.” They agreed, so I put together some kind of script/movement instructions using balloons filled with rice … that’s all I remember about it, except that it was lots of fun, very silly, and a new experience working with non-dancers. Thanks, Elmos! I went on to have a professional career with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, touring the United States, Europe, and Asia. I am now working on a biography of Hawkins and discovered that a primary influence on his aesthetic philosophy came from philosopher F.S.C. Northrup (1915)—a Beloit alumnus who was likely there at the same time as my grandfather. Beloiters turn up in the most interesting places!
Virginia Beach, Va.
More to the Mounds Story
Students are leading educational and awareness projects around the Beloit College Mound Group, and it’s important to credit those who are doing this work. The Campus Mound Sustainability and Advocacy Initiative, as mentioned in the article “A New Generation Advocates for the Mounds,” is made up of hard-working students who are behind many of the recent efforts.
Ilyssa Kosova’20 was instrumental in the leadership of the group and planning advocacy efforts, and I provided a great deal of additional support as part of a year-long special project I did on the mounds. Kosova and Elaina Heaton’22 will continue to lead the organization. Their plans for future projects include bringing Ho-Chunk speakers to campus, as well as installing signage about native land in the Powerhouse.
My mother, Marian Williams Gaskill of Kansas City, graduated from Beloit in 1946 and always had fond memories of her war-time college years. My grandmother worked for the college as a recruiter in the mid-20th century and two aunts and an uncle also attended Beloit in the 1940s.
My daughter and I visited campus for the first time several weeks ago. It was wonderful to see so many buildings that mom would have known, including Eaton Chapel, where daily chapel was required, and she sang in the choir.
Our biggest surprise was discovering the Native American burial mounds on campus. I grew up near mounds in northwest Missouri, and we have them here in southern Indiana as well, but I had never heard about Beloit’s. I picked up a copy of the spring 2019 magazine, and want to thank you for the timely article by Web Arnold’19. A quick review of Beloit’s history on the website does not mention the mounds. I encourage the college to amend this.
Little Free Libraries in Puerto Rico?
I was interested to see the note about Rick Brooks’69 on the inside back cover of the recent magazine, and particularly to learn of his role in the free library movement.
I have just completed a year of working in Puerto Rico. Scattered throughout San Juan and other large cities are fascinating sidewalk free libraries, usually arranged in piled milk crates, and sheltered from the rain under awnings.
They are seemingly entirely un-curated, but I cannot be certain. Some have a few dozen books and some have literally thousands. They range from college textbooks to novels, to children’s books. I left all of my already-read books at my local “branch.” I was always tremendously impressed by these and often wondered how they got started and by whom. None of my Puerto Rican friends was able to clarify their history.
Silver Spring, Md.
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