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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

The Middle of Everywhere

Although Grinnell College may be located in rural Iowa, students come from all over the world. Photo by Andrew Tucker.

Placed at the intersection of the JRC, Mac Field and North Campus, a new addition of art greets those walking through campus: a signpost pointing in the direction of countries around the world.

Around 10 feet tall, the post features the capital cities of the countries as well as their distance from Grinnell. Similar to the language-related duality experienced by a bilingual and bicultural brain, each sign has two sides; one side reads each place in its national language and its distance from Grinnell in kilometers, while the other side is in English and in miles. Additionally, each rectangular piece ends in a small triangle featuring the flag colors of the country it represents. Together, these elements point in a variety of directions, in an attempt to direct the viewer to these varied places.

Karen Edwards, associate dean and director of international student affairs, and the rest of the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) worked with last year’s International Student Organization (ISO) cabinet to make this project come to life. “We just collaborated to think about how to liven up and bring an artistic presence to campus,” said Edwards. According to Edwards, they were envisioning something “sustainable and celebratory.”

Modeled after a signpost Edwards found on the campus of Mount Holyoke College, the signpost is a symbol of many international students’ nationalities and identities. Throughout history, students from all over the world have attended Grinnell College. In fact, almost one-fourth of the yearly student population is comprised of international students. It is no secret that the College prides itself on its global diversity – according to Grinnell’s website, there are 45 countries represented within the current student body.

However, based on the fact that the post could not accommodate all of these countries, the project’s architects faced the challenge of choosing country selections that would be both accurate to the student population and fair to all international students. They had a few ideas, one of which included choosing the most populated cities in each continent, but ultimately landed on what they felt to be the easiest and fairest: drawing on the historical home country makeup of ISO Cabinet members.

With the help of Mollie Ullestad, a former international student advisor, the group looked at a list of all the cabinet members of the last 20 or so years. Former Vice President Calvin Tang ’20 said that they primarily looked at presidents and vice presidents and formed a list of the cabinet members’ home countries. In order to make sure the list was diverse – as in recent years the ISO Cabinet has been composed mainly by students from South and East Asia – Tang said: “we drew up a short list, while also keeping in mind to make sure that we covered all the regions and continents of the world.”

In big white letters, and written on all four sides of the pole, is the phrase “THE MIDDLE OF EVERYWHERE.” Along the lines of one of OISA’s catchphrases, “Who said North is up?”, the sign’s message contests the notion that Grinnell College is located in the middle of nowhere.

“When you consider all of the comings and goings that happens in this small place in rural Iowa, the number of students who come here from around the world, the number of students who leave here to study abroad or … the faculty who do research or bring in research and ideas that are flowing back and forth … ,” said Edwards, “We are no more in the middle of nowhere than you are in the middle of New York City.”

The sign was purposefully placed at a crossroads on campus, a corner that is visible to both drivers and pedestrians. It is a space that has historically been used during the International Pre-Orientation Program (IPOP), and the setting where the incoming class of international students have taken their class picture every year.

“We are no more in the middle of nowhere than you are in the middle of New York City” – Karen Edwards, associate dean and director of international student affairs

At the base of the signpost is a plaque that reads: “Grinnellians come from and travel to places around the globe. This sign celebrates our beloved home – in the middle of everywhere.” Below that, it states: “Gifted by the International Student Organization Cabinet, 2019-2020.” Composed of President Ananya Munish ’20, Vice President Calvin Tang ’20, Secretary Aarzoo Bhimani ’21, Treasurer Shuhan Yi ’22, Social Coordinators Vidush Goswami ’21 and Puravi Nath ’21 and Publicity Coordinators Indira Kapura ’20 and Philip Le ’22, the 2019-20 cabinet helped fund part of the sign by drawing from donations and gifts the organization has received throughout its time at Grinnell. The sign itself represents the cabinet’s own gift to the Grinnell community.

Their legacy doesn’t stop there, though. “I think our cabinet really wanted to expand the capacity of … the International Student Organization, to more than just the, you know, the organization that hosts Food Bazaar and Cultural Evening every year,” said Tang.

He added that ISO has created “a space where the general student body can come and learn more about us and, not only learn more, but interact more and … just really find themselves … in an international community.”

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