Message from the Dean: New Faces & New Initiatives

June 1, 2015

The class of 2015 is the college’s fifth full graduating group and the total number of RCAH alumni now tops 200. With each commencement ceremony our confidence and seriousness of purpose has grown. This year’s graduation was no exception. The student addresses by Jillian Coy, Lauren Gilbert, and Catie Bargerstock each captured a different dimension of the RCAH experience in the speaker’s own voice. The alumna speaker, Anna Orsini from the class of 2012, did a masterful job connecting the pleasure she’s had teaching Walt Whitman as an English teacher in the Mississippi Delta with her memories of her own RCAH education. 

Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, former MSU University Physician and the creator of the RCAH Dahlberg-Smith Study Abroad Fellowship, told an unforgettable story about her own relationship with her mother Ruth Dahlberg and the importance of multicultural understanding and global travel for her mother. It has been by creating this scholarship, Dr. Alexander suggested, that she has been able to reconsider her memories of her mother.

All of these thoughts, and more, flooded the Wharton Center’s Great Hall on the night of Saturday, May 9. 

As we congratulate our 2015 RCAH graduates, it is also a good time to catch our breath and welcome several new faculty and staff who are joining us this coming year. 

Kevin Brooks will come to us from The Ohio State University and will work closely with our Assistant Dean for Civic Engagement, Vincent Delgado, to initiate new community partnerships and strengthen existing ones. As an academic specialist for diversity and civic engagement, Kevin will be teaching sections RCAH 292A and 292B this coming academic year.

Laurie Hollinger, RCAH Class of 2014, will join our staff as the new Assistant Director of the RCAH Center for Poetry. Laurie is a former intern for the Center and has served on the Center for Poetry’s Community Council since she graduated from the college. Laurie is a long-time Lansing area resident and enjoys reading poetry aloud for other poetry lovers, and crafting both nonfiction and poetry.

Katie Livingston is joining the RCAH faculty to teach one section of RCAH 111 in fall 2015. Students in this section, entitled The Arts and Practice of Consent, will study how consent can be given in a reciprocal, respectful, and accountable way. While returning students won’t be taking this course, I’m sure you would enjoy talking with Katie about her research interests in writing, rhetoric, and composition.

Kate Birdsall will also be teaching one new section of RCAH 111 in fall 2015. In her section students will investigate the distinction between “high” and “low” culture in order to interrogate how the two terms are used in an ongoing debate about the meaning of contemporary culture in the United States. This includes the way media interpret daily events, the quality of popular tastes, and how various kinds of media—including online social networks, advertising, film, music, TV, and literature—collide to make meaning in our daily lives.

Ryan Claytor, an accomplished comic artist, owner of Elephant Eater Comics, and director of the annual MSU Comics Forum, is teaching in the Department of Art, Art History and Design and will also be teaching a new section of RCAH 291 Arts Workshop in his area of expertise in the fall.

Another new face is Lynn Scott. Lynn will be teaching an upper level course in the spring, RCAH 380 Third Year Tutorial, on the African-American writer James Baldwin (whom Lynn has written extensively about) along with Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Richard Wright.

Adam Haviland, whom some of you may know as a former RCAH Graduate Fellow, will be teaching a section of RCAH 390 Language and Culture. Students will examine the role of language in social life, including how language simultaneously reflects social roles and helps to create them. They also will address some of the important consequences of language and power, including the role of language in producing social, racial, and gender inequality.

Finally, Meghan Halpern, our first joint appointment in RCAH and Lyman Briggs College, will be teaching a section of the RCAH 192 Proseminar that is open to first and second year RCAH students in science communication, her area of specialization. In addition to her academic research in this field, Meghan brings a wealth of practical performance experience to the classroom that will be of interest to many RCAH students.

2015-16 promises to be another exciting year both outside and inside the classroom. RCAH is fortunate to have the University’s One Book One Community (OBOC) speaker once again visit during Welcome Week for an informal question and answer session with all RCAH students in the RCAH Theater. This year Bryan Stevenson (pictured at left), the author of Just Mercy and the director of a highly praised public research project on lynching in America, will be the first of two OBOC visitors to campus.

In October RCAH will hold our first College Forum for all RCAH students, faculty, and staff. This year’s two-day evening event will be on the topics of diversity and inclusion in RCAH. Facilitated by experienced members of the MSU community and planned by a group of RCAH students and faculty, this new initiative will provide us with a safe, challenging, and intellectually dynamic space in which to learn from one another about these important topics and discuss how we can move forward as a College leader on campus. Much more information about this co-curricular program will be coming out in the fall.

Also, let me remind you that RCAH’s own Wednesday Night Live (WNL) program will begin its third year in 2015-16. The first two years have been dramatic successes as we’ve brought exciting young performers, visual artists, and scholars to RCAH each month on a Wednesday night to present their work and talk about their careers in the arts and humanities with our students. This is another innovative aspect of the RCAH degree that takes advantage of your craving for new knowledge and great sense of humor.

These are only a few of the many things that will connect the work and ideas you address in your RCAH classes with important issues in society and creative ways in which others are addressing them. They are a vital part of the RCAH experience and something that you just won’t find anywhere else.


Bryan Stevenson photo credit: Nina Subin, via