Monday, May 21, 2018

Students campaign to keep Rebecca Beebe at Trinity College



Having taken three of Professor Rebecca Beebe’s courses, I have been an avid supporter of the group of students who, for the past four months, have been working to keep Dr. Rebecca Beebe at Trinity College.

These students, ranging from senior anthropology majors to newly matriculated first-year students, continue their passionate campaign despite several obstacles. I have been a strong supporter of these students’ efforts to ensure that Professor Beebe, an adjunct anthropology professor whose classes are among the most popular at Trinity, will return to teach in the fall.

It all started when Annie Arnzen ’14, an anthropology major, discovered that Professor Rebecca Beebe would not return to teach in the fall of 2014. Despite the fact that the absence of Professor Beebe in the classroom bears no direct effect on Annie, who will soon graduate, knowing that Beebe would not continue in such a capacity inspired her to see what could be done to retain a professor who Arnzen, and many others, hold in high regard.

I never recognized the impact this adjunct professor had on my college experience until I engaged Annie Arnzen in a conversation about Rebecca Beebe. Talking with her about Professor Beebe often, Annie recounted the way Professor Beebe learned the name of each student in her classes—something I now recognize as a simple expression of her passion for teaching.

Annie tells me of the first time she had a class with Professor Beebe, a course entitled ‘Anthropology of Violence’ in the spring of 2012, and how she had her photo taken while holding a paper with her name written on it. By the next class, Professor Beebe knew everyone’s name. “From the first day, she changed my standard for the professor—student interaction, exemplifying the way a dynamic professor could engage and inspire a classroom,” she states, recounting a plethora of similar instances. “Acknowledging my passion for anthropology and community action, she assisted me in finding a Hartford-based internship, and developing my senior thesis,” Arnzen adds with deft subtlety. However, Annie Arnzen is not alone. Over one hundred other students, many of whom have sent letters to the Dean of Students office voicing their support of Professor Beebe, share in this sentiment.

Kanzy El Dafrawy ’16, a student from Cairo, Egypt shares a similar narrative. Kanzy describes her experience with Rebecca Beebe, “It was her dedication to each individual in our class, the extra time she spent explaining concepts, the attention she gave my mother when she visited from Cairo this winter, the dinner she invited me to in her home with her four year old son.”

El Dafrawy, a member of the Women’s Squash team, has dedicated a great deal of time to this effort, collecting hundreds of student signatures and building an online petition to spread the word of their push to retain a professor. “It was in her own way of relating to me which gave me a new perspective on myself, my journey, and what I would choose to do with my life during and after Trinity,” El Dafrawy says. While the reality of finding a solution has become a significant challenge for this coalition of students, their energy has yet to falter.

As an anthropology major, I have seen the shifts within the department as professors depart and return from sabbatical with adjuncts filling in as needed. As tenured faculty in the anthropology department return, this natural cycle of lecturer changes has resulted in a vanished need for adjunct professors. This discovery led several anthropology majors to begin a fact-finding mission to invent a creative way to keep Professor Beebe at Trinity. With the full support of the anthropology department, who recognize the increasing importance of anthropology in the corporate world, these students quickly discovered the complexity with which an institution hires a full-time professor. While there appears to be a universal acceptance and appreciation of Professor Beebe as an outstanding educator and empowering mentor, several obstacles still exist in order for her to return in the fall. What was once a push for Professor Beebe to remain within the anthropology department has now become an impassioned effort to establish an inter-disciplinary position for her, allocating funds from other departments to help finance the position. The creativity of identifying such inter-disciplinary collaborations among the largest hurdles faced.

Maggie Lenahan ’14, also an anthropology major, is deeply involved in this creative search. Lenahan, who has only taken one course with Professor Beebe, is clearly committed to this effort – devoting time to meeting with a myriad of department heads, various deans, and administrators. Lenahan expressed to me that “Rebecca Beebe stands for what a small liberal arts professor can contribute to the student body.” However, for Maggie it is not just about keeping a good professor, it’s about taking charge of one’s education. She tells me that, “This movement also illustrates the voice that we, as student investors in Trinity, can have in our education and community.” The goal, it now seems, is to be inventive. To identify departments with some spare change that would be willing to help create such a position, with the hope of allocating funds differently in subsequent years.

Maggie Lenahan describes their current state: “In these final weeks we acknowledge that there are significant time constraints, but we feel strongly that changes can still occur. The power of the student voice can be loud, and it is loud, especially at a small liberal arts institution like Trinity. We want ideas. We want creative thoughts, financial support, and energy or commitment that can contribute to our efforts. We have come so far and we want this to continue. With the support of numerous faculty, various deans, students and alumni, we are confident that we can secure a position for Rebecca Beebe so that she may return to teach at Trinity in the fall of 2014.”

As the eleventh hour quickly approaches, this coalition of students continue to identify and surpass the ingenuity of the administration, taking charge of their financial commitment to this school and identifying spare dollars in the budget to fund this unique position—to allow an outstanding educator to remain at an outstanding liberal arts institution.

For the seniors, including myself, who have worked so diligently, our hope is that as we graduate and move on, Professor Rebecca Beebe will remain, continuing to contribute to the academic and social excellence at Trinity College and energize yet another set of students.


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