WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

The onset of a new semester generally greets me with a combination of excitement and dread.  This semester however, has been a bit different, in that despite my decades of teaching and my dutiful mastery of online instruction, I find myself in full on panic mode.  And while the adrenalin that courses through my veins is a welcome relief from the chronic anxiety that has not relinquished its hold over me since March, I remind myself that I know how to teach and my students know how to learn, despite all of the obstacles that 2020 may throw our way. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

For the last two Saturdays, my daughter Maren and I have joined a small group of returned Peace Corps volunteers and friends from Macomb to help Genesis Gardens distribute food from the Loaves and Fishes pantry.  Armed with hand sanitizer and attempting to keep 6 feet between ourselves at all times, we loaded copious bags of dried, frozen and fresh food into our vehicles.  Maren and I spent the next hour finding nooks and crannies of Macomb that I never knew existed.   We knocked on doors and left food on front porches and stoops.  


In The Botany of Desire Michael Pollan wrote, "With the solitary exception of the Eskimos, there isn't a people on Earth who doesn't use psychoactive plants to effect a change in consciousness, and there probably never has been."  Science has proven this true, in that everywhere plants grow, people have ingested them. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

This winter marks the final swim season for my Maren as a member of the YMCA of McDonough County Dolphins.  She was just five when she started swimming and qualified for the state meet in her very first season.  Over the years we have driven hundreds of miles to YMCAs all over Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  Maren has logged thousands of hours in the pool and along the way she has gathered lots of swim related t-shirts, caps, goggles, swimsuits, friends, and some invaluable life lessons.  

Rich Egger

Ringing in the New Year and attempting to make positive changes in how we live seems to go hand in hand.  According to historians, 4,000 years ago ancient Babylonians were among the first people to make New Year's resolutions.  The vows they made to their gods were pretty concrete – pay back debts and return objects they had borrowed from others[1]

Every month I look forward to the new issue of "The Sun" magazine[1].  I always start on the very last page, diving into a section called the Sunbeams.  Filled with quotes from notable individuals, I like this segment because I often find that the theme resonates with me.  This month was no exception.  In the very first entry the author Cheryl Strayed writes:

Courtesy of Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

Winter came early this year ushering in the end of the summer gardening season.  Tomatoes, herbs, and flowers vanished beneath the snow and won't reemerge until summer comes again. As I took my last walk through Barefoot Gardens (a CSA in Macomb) this year, I was especially mindful of how everything changes.  Always.  The end of the 2019 season marked the end of seventeen years that John Curtis and his family have made cultivating food and community the center of their lives.  I will miss the leisurely Saturday mornings after yoga in the garden and the solstice celebrations filled with amazing people and wonderful food.  But aside from being a bit sad, I am grateful for what John and Karen have given this community. 

Science doesn't care if we believe in it or not.  From shrinking glaciers, to open water in the arctic, to trees flowering earlier than normal, the climate will continue to change regardless of our beliefs.  We do have a choice, however, as to how to respond to the crisis we have created.  And in order to respond appropriately, we need to examine how we got here.  You see, I think the climate crisis is really just part of a larger problem about how we, as a species, choose to relate to the planet. 

"If you want your white clothes to stay white, don't wash them with clothes that aren't white."  I didn't have to say this to our Willow as we left her with the same family I spent a gap year with in Germany some 34 years ago.  She and her sister have been doing their own laundry since they were eight.  They have also learned to cook and to clean up after themselves.  They know not to spend money they don't have and to always keep some in reserve in case there is an emergency. 

Spring traditionally marks the end of the school year and a time of transition.  My oldest, Willow, who I swear was just born yesterday, will be graduating from high school in a few short weeks.  In the fall, her younger sister Maren will be beginning her senior year at that same school. 

This is a commentary.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican born politician, journalist, and publisher once wrote, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots."  I grew up knowing a fair amount about my family history.  I knew that we had roots in Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.  As a young girl I remember talking to my Mema about her parents and grandparents.  As a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, my Aunt Bea did a lot of genealogical research to trace part of our family back to ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War.  

In many ways women have made substantial gains in the United States since its founding 242 years ago.  We are citizens, can vote and own property, and compose 47% of the workforce.   Yet, we still face inequalities on a daily basis.  The wage gap continues with women earning 80.5 cents to every dollar grossed by men. According the National Women's Law Center, women are 38% more likely to live in poverty than men. We all know about these challenges, but sometimes the most exhausting part about being a woman today is suffering the constant microaggressions.  

Every couple of years, my notoriously socially adverse family and I mask our traits that mark us as introverts for one evening and host a New Years Eve gathering.

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

I keep a quote from Mark Van Doren pinned to a bulletin board in my office.  It reads: "The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery."  At this point in the semester, up to my neck with papers to grade, I look at this often to remind myself why I assign so much work.  

Courtesy photo

At the intersection of East Calhoun and Dudley streets in Macomb, in the northeast corner of the First Presbyterian Church is a magical cupboard. This cupboard doesn't hold clothes or shoes or forgotten treasures.  This cupboard is full of food and with it hope for a better tomorrow.  This month Loaves & Fishes is celebrating 25 years of keeping that magical closet stocked to serve residents of McDonough County.  This all-volunteer organization composed of twelve religious congregations scattered throughout the county provides food, and assistance with emergency housing, utilities, and medical bills to those in need.   

I was leading a study abroad course in Puerto Rico when I heard that Anthony Bourdain had died.  My immediate thought was, "Damn it, we lost another good one."  Like most, I had never met Anthony Bourdain, yet he felt like a friend to me.  From his very first foray into ethnographic filmmaking and eating around the globe with A Cook's Tour to his more recent Parts Unknown, he kept me company on a regular basis.  

The same day that Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas and the Board of Trustees announced that Tri States Public Radio will "become a self-funded department within the University structure and will be responsible for generating its revenue needs, including personnel expenditures, effective March 1, 2019," the lead story on the WIU website lauded the accomplishments of its nationally award winning Broadcasting and Journalism students.   What??!!??   

Last week I led my last regular classes of the semester.  For all of my courses, whether they are introductory level or advanced seminars, I like to leave my students with a solid idea of what they have learned and how they can carry their newly acquired knowledge and skill-sets outside of the classroom and into their futures. I generally begin by asking students to reflect—both individually and in groups—on how their knowledge about anthropology and the skills associated with the discipline have grown over the course of the semester.  Where are they now versus where they started?  And what are the most important insights they have gained over the course of their studies?

Last week I spent four days in Philadelphia at the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings.  I must admit, that while I don't normally lack self-confidence, these meetings always leave me feeling a bit like a charlatan.  The SFAA is a professional organization that brings together people from a wide variety of backgrounds (not only anthropology) whose work seeks to make a positive effect on the quality of life in our world today. 


Mar 7, 2018

Mark Manson, a blogger and NY Times best-selling author writes, "Pain in all its forms is our body's most effective means of spurring action."   There has been a lot of pain in my world lately.  The grief of discovering too late that was no farm legacy to leave to my daughters.  The agony of watching yet another school shooting while our politicians sit idly by and do nothing to ensure the safety our children.  And most recently, the visceral anger I feel after discovering that administrators in the Macomb School District appear to have blatantly violated the law and the trust of students, parents, and community members.  

Porque no veine mas mujeres a mis charlas? "Why don't more women come to my meetings?" I complained to Doña Columbina after returning from yet another sparsely attended community forestry gathering in the rural mountain village I had been placed in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was fresh out of training and ready to change the world. It was the spring of 1991 and having survived the first few months of culture shock in the Dominican Republic, I was ready to get to work.

"It all went just too fast." This is something I have heard over and over again these last couple of weeks.  As I told the freshmen in my classes in August: don't blink, because before you know it the fall semester will be gone. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

A couple of weeks ago, Gloria Delany-Barmann and I returned from a short trip to Puerto Rico.  We went to check up on our colleagues we've been working with the last couple of years and to take a few supplies and funds so generously donated by members of our community to those in need.  And yes, just in case you were wondering, it is possible to take a chainsaw as part of your checked baggage. 

ISER Caribe

I believe that optimism is a moral choice.  Lately the news has been overwhelmingly grim – hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and senseless gun violence.  It is a reminder to us all that we are living in an increasingly volatile world. And while it is easy to be discouraged, in the midst of every tragedy and disaster there are, what Mr. Rogers called, "helpers."  People who don't wait on others to take charge, they simply do it themselves.  Take the recent disaster in Puerto Rico as an example. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

The last several weeks have been full of weather – wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho; drought in North Dakota; flooding in Texas; and most recently Hurricane Irma in Florida.  Weather related events like these happen all the time, but they only become disasters when they cross paths with humans. 

This semester I've been one step ahead of my students while teaching a course that is new to me called Religion, Magic, & Shamanism. Using an excellent textbook and a couple of really good ethnographies, the students and I have explored how religions around the world provide people with various cosmologies or frameworks for how to live a good life. 

Ann Comerford

As the spring semester sprints to an end, I find myself preparing to travel again.  First, back to Germany with students to spend two weeks immersed in an ever-changing culture.  The second group of students will be traveling to rural Puerto Rico to do a month long internship with WIU alumni as part of a Department of Education grant titled "Communities as Agents of Change". 

WIU Athletics

For the last six or seven years, most of my weekends have been spent at some sporting event or another.  The early years included weekends at Harper College for Shotokan Karate tournaments.   These days I travel to exotic places like Bloomington for three day swim meets. 

courtesy Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

One of the things I love about my job is the daily opportunity to interact with students.  In sitting and listening to them I am constantly amazed about how they make sense of their world.  Anthropologists call this method ethnography.  And while it is somewhat out of vogue and deemed by many to be something that anyone can do, there is much to be learned from the art of really listening and observing. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

2016 was a hard year.  And while I am generally an optimistic person, I am not convinced that 2017 will be much better.  In fact, I am pretty sure it won't be.  Take a look at my desk and you can begin to understand why I am concerned and often feel overwhelmed.