THE STREETS OF PHILADELPHIA
Art historians and archaeology scholars flock to museums, historians explore the past in places where it unfolded, and sociologists engage with some of the most pressing issues of the day.
As part of this issue of the Bulletin, we’ll explore just a few of those campus-city connections.
So pull out your map, put on your walking shoes, and follow our Mawrter’s tour of the City of Brotherly Love.
A DAY AT THE MUSEUM
Philly institutions play an integral role in Bryn Mawr’s Museum Studies program.
On a Tuesday morning this past winter, Kirsten Adams ’16 found herself holding a human skull in her hands.
Adams was one of the 24 students in Monique Scott’s Museum Anthropology class who were visiting the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the skull in question is part of the Samuel George Morton Cranial Collection there.
For Adams, the visit brought all the textbooks from previous classes to life. “Through Professor Scott’s courses and the Museum Studies program,” she says, “students are given the extraordinary opportunity not only to see the collections that museums offer but to speak with the curators and educators that help make them happen. I remember reading about the Morton Collection in my Forensic Anthropology course two years ago.”
As for holding that skull, Adams says that was “a surreal—and powerful—experience.”
An in-depth exploration of museum practices from an anthropological perspective, Scott’s Museum Anthropology class asks students to take a critical look at how museums tell narratives about race and culture.
As Adams explains, “We have been discussing how museums display cultures and the myriad stories that come with them. We have had discussions about world’s fairs, the history of ethnographic museums, and the ways culture is represented within exhibits and museums. We are also talking about how methodologies of museums can evolve from here, including conversations about increased repatriation efforts to ensure we are respecting artifacts, cultures, and experiences.”
At Penn’s University Museum, says Scott, “We spent three hours visiting exhibitions and meeting curators, a full and rich experience.” Students got a sense of what anthropology museums do by touring the headlining Golden Age of Midas exhibition with its traditional archaeological approach, the slightly edgier Sex: A History in 30 Objects as well as The Making and Unmaking of Race. They were encouraged to think about how these exhibitions tell a story about the Museum as a whole.
Their day at the Penn Museum concluded with an inside tour of the Morton Collection. Janet Monge, keeper and curator-in-charge of the museum’s Physical Anthropology section, contextualized Morton and his collection for the students. A eugenicist who believed that skull size was a predictor of intelligence, Morton used finds from his collection to “prove” the racial superiority of the White race and justify slavery.
For Scott, the experience had students grappling with questions about how we deal with the history of these institutions and how they re-present themselves in the modern day. What role do, or should, museums play in exhibiting other cultures? What does it mean to display objects and artifacts from remote times or distant places? What can current anthropological exhibitions do to become more culturally relevant to diverse audiences?
Visits to local museums reflect Scott’s pedagogical approach, which challenges students to connect exhibition experiences with larger museological issues—museum theory, the history and politics of museums, and the role of museums in society.
Scott has forged relationships with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Franklin Institute, and the Mütter Museum. Students also spend time in Bryn Mawr exhibitions, such as the two current exhibitions on World Fairs.
For another class, Curator in the Museum, Scott brought students to the PMA, the Barnes, and the Academy of Natural Sciences for an insider’s look at the workings of a major museum. “This is an integral part of this training,” she explains. “They’re not just museum field trips; they become a laboratory for learning about how museums function as institutions. And even though the course has ‘curator’ in the title, we met with a variety of professionals—conservators, educators and people doing community outreach as well as curators and exhibition designers.”
For History of Art major Caroline Cassidy ’16, the class expanded her exposure to the museum world. “Professor Scott’s class was not only an opportunity to explore educational institutions that I had never visited, but it encouraged us to examine how these institutions functioned in the Philadelphia community.”
With Scott as her advisor, Cassidy is currently at work on her senior thesis, which focuses on Henri Matisse’s The Dance (at the Barnes) and Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen (at the PMA). Capitalizing on her experiences in the Curator class, she is interviewing staff members in the education and curatorial departments to better understand how visitors receive and interact with these pieces on a daily basis and how that is connected to the interdepartmental structuring of the museum environment.
And the museum relationships that Scott has forged is yielding even more, and deeper, connections. “These museums have been really positive, especially because we’re trying to train students in a way that’s very different from the way large universities and graduate programs do museum studies—that is, as part of an engaged liberal arts education.”
What that means for students—beyond the very real rewards of intellectual inquiry—is the chance to work inside many of the city’s most important institutions. Thanks to Scott’s relationship-building, four Bryn Mawr students interned at the PMA this summer during Creative Africa, the blockbuster group of exhibitions that the New York Times called “richly textured and in one case sensational.”
LIFE IN THE CITY
For Growth and Structure of Cities’ majors, Philadelphia is a rich resource for research, internships, and jobs.
For their first assignment in their Urban Culture and Society class, Cities students don’t go anywhere near Philadelphia. Rather, they stay local, walking the downtown streets of Bryn Mawr and Ardmore and comparing them to what academics call “other collective consumption spaces” and we call “malls” and “downtowns.”
Students can be profoundly disconnected from their immediate environment, says Gary McDonogh, a Growth and Structure of Cities professor and Helen Hermann Chair. “Apart from a few key places,” he says, “the suburbs of Philadelphia are no more present to them than the suburbs of Buenos Aires or Paris that we study in later classes.”
Over the years, this intro class has been taught by a who’s who of the Cities faculty—Juan Arbona, Jun Zhang, and currently Victoria Reyes—and Philadelphia has figured prominently in the syllabus. But for McDonogh, the semester begins by challenging students to understand their Main Line backyard and the nature of suburban development such as Upper Darby.
As they learn about the local water supply systems, housing patterns, and the like, students spread around the region to apply the same thinking on city streets. There, they learn to use Philadelphia itself as a resource for their classwork. Working in teams, students analyze the social patterns of a particular place or institution—one of the city’s many churches, theaters, libraries, or public spaces.
Later on during their internships and their capstone theses, they deepen their understanding of the living relationship of the built environment to politics, economics, cultures, and societies.
The Past Is Prologue
Bryn Mawr’s resident architectural historian, Jeff Cohen, takes students on a similar journey—only the streets they explore are the stuff of history.
In last year’s topics class, his subject was that iconic Philadelphia dwelling, the rowhouse. To initiate his students into the ways of architectural history, he charged them with telling the unfolding story of specific street addresses. Assigned four cases studies each, students drew on a plethora of original source material: Sanborn maps [large-scale maps that detail the footprint of every building on a given block], deeds, census records, city directories, and historic photographs.
“They could even get a look inside the buildings,” Cohen explains, “by consulting fire insurance surveys. Because, all the way back to the 1750s, when somebody got fire insurance, a surveyor came out and made a description of their house.”
And, of course, with the city so close by, field trips were very much in order. Their first excursion took them, building plans and deeds in hand, from 1300 Locust (site of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania) south in search of rowhouses. At semester’s end, students played tour guide, explaining what they had discovered: Who had developed the property? Who had lived there? What was their ethnicity? What did they do for a living? What can we know of the spaces they inhabited?
“What I’ve tried to do,” Cohen explains, “is have them interrogate the actual physical fabric of the city by going to look at the in-between places of Philadelphia instead of just the greatest hits.”
The Thesis and Beyond
Majors interested in pursuing careers in architecture and planning can follow the program’s design track, led by Philadelphia architects Daniela Voith ’76 and Sam Olshin. And for those students, the city looms especially large in the theses.
“If you’re doing a design project, you really need to be able to visit your site and plan around the site,” says McDonogh. “We’ve had projects designing a transit station for the Navy yards, planning a new environmental center in the environs of the Penn campus, designing a Quaker Meeting House in Chestnut Hill, even envisioning a Bryn Mawr center in South Philly.”
Other theses turn to social, environmental, educational, and policy issues with topics like food deserts in Overbrook; gentrification in Point Breeze; and ethnic enclaves in South Philadelphia, Chinatown, and other areas of the city.
For Caylin Haldeman Viales ’15 an in-depth research paper on the changing rhetoric of “urban renewal” programs targeting “blighted” Philly neighborhoods might have marked her for an academic career.
But even while digging through city and newspaper archives, she found time for a number of internships that focused on her core interest in urban issues. A Praxis internship even turned into a full-time job as a program associate at GreenLight Philadelphia, a philanthropic fund that identifies critical needs in high-poverty neighborhoods and evidence-based solutions to address them.
“GreenLight’s work is a natural fit for students interested in pressing urban issues,” Viales says. And in her role there, she has already worked with undergraduate Cities interns.Internships like Viales’s continue to play a vital role in the program. Just this past year, seven students landed internships at Philly-based organizations, including Mobilizing Media, a media production and social activism group; the City Planning Commission; and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. “We have alumnae/i in city and state government, in local real estate, and in business,” McDonogh says, “who come back and share in our classes.”
As these rich connections between the city and the College multiply, students reap the benefits. Like Viales, they’re parlaying their experience into full-time jobs and meaningful careers. As she says, “My time in the Cities program helped me learn how to think critically and speak eloquently about the challenges—both spatial and social —facing American cities today.”
LEAR IN SOUTH PHILLY
Collaborating with some South Philly eighth-graders, a theater class learns some cross-cultural lessons.
For their first session with a class of South Philly eighth-graders, the Bryn Mawr students had planned to break the ice with some theater games and small-group conversations.
But before they could even get underway, the classroom teacher took them aside and said, “One of the boys won’t participate. He’s new to the school, and he doesn’t talk.”
With that, the 15 students got their first introduction into just what “acting across cultures” might mean. Taught by Catharine Slusar, the class—Theater 265, which is in fact called Acting Across Cultures—brings together students from Bryn Mawr College and E.M. Stanton Elementary in a creative collaboration that is exploring, and finally staging, Shakespeare’s King Lear. The class was one component of the Shakespeare in Global and Local Landscapes 360°, which included a performance class taught by Mark Lord, the Theresea Helburn Chair of Drama at Bryn Mawr.
Given that everyone involved, Bryn Mawr and Stanton students alike, is American, the notion of “acting across cultures” might seem puzzling. But although only 11 miles separate the two worlds, Stanton Elementary is a long way from Bryn Mawr. Stanton draws from an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, with virtually the entire student body qualifying for the school lunch and breakfast program.
Yet with its robust teacher-generated arts program, it has become a place some Philadelphia families are choosing for their children. For the past 10 years, Slusar, an assistant professor of theater at Bryn Mawr, has been part of that programming. As artist-in-residence, she’s helped foster a vibrant theater program that has seen students performing at venues around the city. And for the past four years, she’s been assisted by Katie Croyle ’11, a theater major at Bryn Mawr now on her way to Brown University.
For Croyle, the experience has been a delight: “We have a blast being goofy, discovering new material in the text, and making our own theater pieces.”
Central to Slusar’s pedagogical approach is a belief in shared learning.
“We don’t want to be committing the cardinal sin of many outreach programs,” she says, “and go in with the attitude, ‘I have this great gift of my incredible knowledge, and you are so fortunate to have me be here to give you my knowledge.’ Instead, I want to say, ‘We have a lot to learn from you, and you have a lot to learn from us. Let’s share our learning together.’”
As Croyle explains, “The college students aren’t there to be ‘the teachers’ but, rather, to learn, discover, and grow as performers along with the Stanton students.” The Bryn Mawr contingent presents games, proposes acting exercises, and initiates discussions of King Lear. Small groups then work together on scenes to share with the whole group—eighth-graders directing the college students, college students performing alongside the middle schoolers. “It’s very cool to see,” says Croyle.
That commitment to shared learning was evident from the first class, which started out with the eighth-graders very much in charge. “Our first activity,” says Slusar, “was to ask a series of questions of the Stanton students about their school, about their neighborhood, about the special places, the mystery places, the places where magic happens in their school.”
As it happened, over the course of the semester, the 360° students worked a little magic of their own with “the boy who doesn’t talk.”
“We were just floored,” says Slusar, “when he spoke up and made a couple of suggestions during one of our theater games.”
Mid-semester, the 360° expanded its scope even farther. In what can only be described as an exercise in “acting across cultures—across cultures,” the cluster traveled to Iceland for another journey of exploration. For this segment of the 360°, Lord’s Advanced Ensemble Performance class deepened their understanding of Lear—and theater practice—in an international exchange with their Icelandic peers.
And if Bryn Mawr seems distant from South Philly, Iceland can seem like another world. Still, Slusar sees similarities: “Iceland is tiny, a country of 300,000 people, and even though Stanton is in a city that has more people than the entire nation of Iceland, it is a neighborhood school. It’s similarly homogenous and similarly constrained. It is a school that knows itself and doesn’t know much beyond its borders.”
But Lord and Slusar saw other, conceptual reasons for working in Iceland. Thinking about what Lord calls “the perturbed environment of the play,” they saw parallels with our own troubled relationship to the environment. But while “foul weather” served Shakespeare’s metaphorical purposes, in places such as Iceland, a compromised climate is literally melting the glaciers.
While in country, the Mawrters had the chance to share some of that thinking with their Icelandic hosts in two different settings. With a group of peer university students and again with an eighth-grade class, they took turns presenting their Lears-in-progress and leading theater workshops with the Stanton class joining in via Skype.
Back home, the Stanton students visited campus to watch a rehearsal of Lord’s production of Lear (with Slusar in the title role) and also to spend the day— complete with a student-led tour of the places where magic happens at Bryn Mawr.
IN THE FIELD
For GSSWSR students and the city of Philadelphia, the field placement program is a win-win.
For his first-year field placement at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Ted Boughter landed at the District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund in Philadelphia. The Training Fund serves more than 5,000 city students annually and provides access to career pathways in healthcare and human services and builds the capacity of the Delaware Valley’s healthcare industry.
“Field education is an integral part of the GSSWSR’s Master of Social Service curriculum,” explains Beth Lewis, who directs the program. With its proximity to Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, the School’s field education program can provide students access to a wide array of agencies and organizations working for social change. “Students are placed in a wide range of field settings,” says Lewis. “They work in psychiatric facilities, child welfare, juvenile justice, adult corrections, addiction programs, family services, domestic violence programs, after-school programming.”
After a short stint in an administrative capacity, Boughter began working intensively with the GED-to-college program. Students in the program are typically aged 17-24 and face a variety of challenges, including homelessness, trauma, drug and alcohol issues, housing insecurity, and lack of work history and quality education.
“I started in the role providing individual and group counseling and then teaching some of the college preparation and subject matter classes, in addition to program administration tasks,” Boughter says.
According to Cheryl Feldman, MSW, executive director of the Fund, “We’re wanting students to see the importance of innovation.... Program development needs to come full circle in impacting and providing structure and support to the individual and group students: a continual feedback loop.”
And Boughter was able to put the “feedback loop” into practice when several of the students he knew through the GED program were facing a “hard-exit” and were going to be asked to leave the program for academic and/or behavioral infractions.
In a staff meeting for the GED program, Boughter advocated for an open dialogue with the students about expectations and a negotiation about how to move forward in the program. His approach has been adopted and it has been successful.
This fall, he’s back in Philly, this time in a field education at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, specifically working to improve patient care for the LGBT community.
OUT AND ABOUT
Explore the lighter side of the City of Brotherly Love with Alisha Clark ’18 and Gabrielle Smith ’17.
REAL WORLD PREP
Sophia Weinstein ’17 tells all about her work on education research in Philly.
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all description of Praxis,” says Nell Anderson, the program’s director. An experiential, community-based learning program, Praxis integrates theory and practice through student engagement in fieldwork.
Praxis I and II courses introduce students to local organizations through visits, speakers, research, and limited fieldwork. And for students with more focused academic, career, and civic interests, the Praxis Independent Study option provides a custom-tailored experience that includes academic study and first-hand experience in “the real world.”
This past spring, more than 20 students could be found pursuing that option all across the city—in places as various as the Free Library and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Freeman’s Auction House and the National MS Society. Here’s what one of these enterprising students, Sophia Weinstein ’17, has to say about her internship with Research For Action, an education research organization (co-founded by BMC Education Professor Jody Cohen).
The Project: At Research For Action, I was a research intern on an evaluative project looking at successes and challenges of the Mural Arts Program’s arts integration initiative as well as its impact on academic achievement, school attendance, and behavior.
The Motive: I was interested in doing an independent study that could combine my interests in sociology and education—a lot of the time they feel kind of separate—and I wanted to explore how I could better connect the two.
The Work: In the three months I was on the project, I interviewed teaching artists and classroom teachers, conducted a review of literature, designed survey questions, written up preliminary findings, and coded and analyzed data.
The Best Part: Feeling that I learned a lot of different things at once—developing research skills, learning my way around the city more, working with and meeting new people, and learning from my supervisor.
The City: Being in an internship that is centered in Philly—particularly on a project about the Mural Arts Program, which is really central to this area—has informed how I think about where I am in the world and has helped to ground my learning in this course.
Mural Arts is a community-based public arts program in Philadelphia. During her Praxis course, Weinstein worked closely with faculty supervisor Education Professor Alice Lesnick and Praxis Associate Director Kelly Strunk.
Philly at Play
Arts, Athletics, Teaching: partnership with Overbrook Elementary has it all
Bryn Mawr students, faculty, and staff work with a number of schools throughout the Philadelphia region but few partnerships run as deep as the one that’s been established with Overbrook Elementary, a K-6 neighborhood public school in West Philadelphia.
Since 2002, more than 270 Bryn Mawr students have volunteered or done field placements at Overbrook. The relationship between the two schools started as a field placement for students taking Praxis courses but has evolved to include a long-running BMC Art Club-sponsored volunteer program that provides weekly visual arts instruction, an annual performance by the Bryn Mawr Dance Outreach Project, trips to campus by the Overbrook children for sports and field activities, an annual book and school supplies drive and, over the past year, regular visits by Bryn Mawr coaches and athletes to help with physical education.
“Through many years of regular communication and contact, we have developed a mutually supportive and friendly relationship” says Director of Praxis and Community Partnership Programs Nell Anderson, who has been involved with the partnership since its inception.
“Our students and faculty are valued and feel welcome at Overbrook Elementary and their students and faculty are valued and welcomed by the BMC community,” adds Anderson. “Overbrook Elementary stands out because of its highly skilled, collaborative, and dedicated group of teachers. They play an important role in the education of the Bryn Mawr students who are engaged in their classrooms. The school also has some very salient needs and, as long-term partners, we feel a responsibility to assist in addressing those needs, and are glad to do so.”
In 2010, Overbrook’s principal Michelle Hayes-Flores worked with Anderson and the founding members of Bryn Mawr’s student Art Club to address the lack of art instruction at the school. Together they developed a weekly art session that’s held each Friday afternoon. Every week 15-25 student volunteers from the Art Club come to the school and teach art to several grades. The year culminates with an art show/installation for families.
Angela Wang ’11 was among the Bryn Mawr students to take part in the inaugural Art Club partnership.
“It was such a wonderful time in my life,” recalls Wang. “I was able to see art in action. I could very palpably feel its effect on the Bryn Mawr College community and Overbrook Elementary.”
Now in medical school, Wang has continued to do some private art tutoring since leaving Bryn Mawr and says the experience of teaching art even had an impact on her current career plans.
“I realized how much I valued moments with other people, learning their stories, even if they were complete strangers,” says Wang. “I’m currently pursuing a medical degree, hopefully ultimately becoming a psychiatrist. Instead of abandoning art, I’m really trying to meld art and medicine so I’m a better doctor. What is art but another form of human communication?”
Inspired by the Art Club initiative, representatives of Bryn Mawr and Overbrook created a similar program in the spring of 2016 to address the need for organized play and physical education.
The Bryn Mawr Athletics Partnership officially started in October 2015 under the leadership of Bryn Mawr Soccer Coach Erin DeMarco.
DeMarco, other head coaches, and student athletes work collaboratively with classroom teachers to provide weekly, developmentally appropriate, physical education activities for Overbrook students in grades 1-6. During the fall 2015 session, 60 students in grades 1-3 participated in the program; another 60 students from grades 4-6 participated during the spring semester. The athletic sessions occur on Friday afternoons in the play yard or in the classrooms if there is inclement weather.
“It has been a wonderful experience to work with Erin DeMarco and all of the other Bryn Mawr coaches and athletes,” adds Angel Royal, who serves as the Bryn Mawr Athletic Partnership Liaison along with Erika Guyer. “The Overbrook Elementary students and teachers have loved every minute of this Athletic Partnership. The smiles and laughter that come from the students are priceless.”
Veronica Roux ’16, who played both soccer and basketball at Bryn Mawr, was among the athletes to take part in the program. An anthropology major, Roux was also writing a thesis on the importance of recess and play while taking part in the program.
“It was great to see the effects play had on children and to see my research in action,” says Roux.
In the spring of 2016, the partnership between Bryn Mawr and Overbrook Elementary was recognized by the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development with a Lindy Award for Excellence. This award provides $1000 that will be used to purchase athletic equipment for the activities organized by the BMC athletes and coaches.