Why would Muslim women want to study at a Catholic university? As they see it, there’s no better place to be than UD.
Just a light breeze is ruffling the leaves of the trees around Humanities Plaza on a June day. The sun is out, warming the low walls surrounding the green space. There’s plenty of space for the four women to sit and linger and catch up on the things that students do between classes. Head bent, one holds a BlackBerry with two hands, typing out text messages; the glittery purple phone case catches the sun and flashes with her movements. Another student, wearing a tropical print top, is studying, writing in a red University of Dayton notebook imprinted with the image of the Immaculate Conception Chapel and its distinctive cross-topped cupola.
The other two women look a bit like Jackie Kennedy Onassis with large-lens sunglasses masking much of their faces and large handbags embellished with designer logos at their feet. As classes change and the foot traffic heads to Kennedy Union, the women are people-watching, paying particular attention as the women go by, some clad in T-shirts, others in what looks like job-hunting skirts and heels.
“I don’t like those shoes with that outfit,” says one fashionista. “It’s very old-fashioned.”
The other nods her agreement. As the chapel bells ring the quarter hour, all four gather their books and notebooks, purses and cell phones, and head off to class.
Before they go, one tugs at a long black sleeve to pull the edge over her wrist. Another makes sure the snow-white scarf she’s wearing completely wraps her hair and covers her neck, framing her face and accenting her large, dark eyes.
As they walk into the shade toward Rike Center, their long skirts swing gently side to side. They appear to be gliding across the brick walkways. With the long skirts, long sleeves and covered heads, they evoke the statues and images of Mary, veiled and robed, that grace the campus.
Meet the international Muslim women of UD, comfortable on a campus where there’s a crucifix in every classroom, images of Jesus and Mary everywhere, and a deeply rooted identity as a faith-based university. They are both a part of and apart from life on a campus that is consciously encouraging globalization and embracing it as beneficial for the entire community. Which means it shouldn’t be surprising that a Catholic university is getting a reputation as a good place for Muslim students — especially women from even the most conservative countries.
“I don’t feel like I’m a stranger here,” said Sarah Abdullah, an Intensive English Program student from Saudi Arabia.
One woman, an undergraduate in the premed program, said she was drawn by UD’s high academic standards, and the fact that UD is a Catholic school also had appeal. “Actually, when I found out it was a Catholic college, I thought it might be a little better. Like I thought that it might have a little more stricter guidelines that Muslims … like more discipline and stronger morals — that might make it better for me. I respect religious people of any faith who are sincere.”
* * *
With their distinctive headscarves, or hijabs, these Muslim women are unmistakable evidence of the University of Dayton’s expanding global reach and growing reputation. Although the increase in Muslim women at Catholic colleges is a fairly new trend, research shows that the women are finding security and comfort on campuses where faith is honored and respected. They bring cultural, religious and linguistic variety to campus, enriching the learning environment and helping UD’s domestic students become citizens of the world.
“I was surprised I felt so comfortable here,” said Eelaf Aqeel, a civil engineering major from Kuwait. “People are nice, they talk and they say hi. They don’t make me feel different. I love how people respect people here.”
“We feel that this is a friendly place for Muslim women,” said Tuntas Hartini from Indonesia.
In 2012, the University enrolled more than 1,400 international students from 40 countries. Although UD doesn’t ask or track the religions of students, an analysis of enrollment from predominantly Muslim countries paints a picture. Nearly a quarter of today’s international students are from 14 predominantly Muslim countries. In 2010, there were 175 total students from predominantly Muslim countries. In 2012, that number nearly doubled to 326.
The growth is in line with national trends. The Institute of International Education estimated the number of international students in the U.S. from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa increased 15 percent from 2010 to 2011. For 2009, the Higher Education Research Institute found that Catholic campuses had a higher percentage of Muslim students than the average four-year institution.
At UD, the increasing number of international Muslim women is even more striking, the estimate growing from just 27 in 2010 to 78 this year. Women from Saudi Arabia, considered among the most conservative Muslim countries, have increased from 18 to 55; 10 years ago, only two Saudi women were UD students. Seven Kuwaiti women are students this year — five of them undergraduates. Others come from Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia and other countries.
The governments of most of the Middle Eastern students provide full scholarships to fund their overseas studies, and governments not only recommend — but also guide students to — schools that have good support systems and strong academic programs. One of those programs is the University’s Intensive English Program. IEP boosts language skills to fast-track students into their degree programs. Getting a high-quality degree as quickly as possible is imperative for the students because the governments have high expectations and the support comes with some limits.
Sarah Almalhem, from Saudi Arabia, is one of those. She’s been at UD only three months but has already moved into a high-level IEP course and is about ready to start her master’s coursework in computer science. While nearly all of the international women are here with a male family member — commonly a husband, brother or uncle, who is studying here — Almalhem is a bit different.
“I’m living here with my father and mother,” she said, explaining that her father retired so that she could study here. “When you get the scholarship, a condition is that you must have a male family member here.”
* * *
Most of the women are here to study engineering, some business, some computer science. A few are seeking degrees in educational leadership and political science. Riad Alakkad ’80, associate dean in the School of Engineering who helps with recruiting and acts as unofficial godfather to many students, says word is getting around, and the word of governments and male family members are deal-makers or deal-breakers.
“They’re hearing that UD is a good place, that it gives you all the support you need,” he said, adding that the University is building a strong reputation with the cultural offices in many countries that recommend and send students to school in the U.S. As their students report those positive experiences, countries send more. Kuwait, for example, customarily imposes a 35- to 50-student cap on schools until they develop a good track record for academics and support; that cap was lifted for the University last year and Alakkad expects a significant increase in Kuwaiti students in the future.
“I think they recognize that, as a campus, we do a good job for our students,” said Amy Anderson ’09, director of UD’s Center for International Programs.
Along with the enrollment, the University’s academic and support network for all international students has grown, with special attention given to accommodating the Muslim students’ faith practices. When Rike Center was renovated in 2011 for the Center for International Programs, a large classroom was outfitted for double-duty as a prayer room with a room divider to provide the required separation of men and women. A small adjoining room offers separate spaces for ablutions, the ritual washing of hands, feet, arms and face required before prayers.
Father James Fitz, S.M. ’68, vice president for mission and rector, said the accommodations are consistent with the University’s Catholic, Marianist tradition to welcome all people. Providing welcome, giving support and creating space to practice faith is in line with Catholic teaching and what Pope Benedict XVI has asked Muslim countries to do. “The pope called on Muslim countries to provide worship spaces for Roman Catholics,” Fitz said. “Creating a prayer room here is reciprocal. It’s a statement about religious freedom. If we ask that for ourselves, we should provide a space for them.”
He thinks the University of Dayton’s deep-rooted identity as a place of faith and religion sends a powerful message of welcome. “I understand why Muslim students feel comfortable here,” Fitz said. “It’s a faith-oriented campus; the atmosphere is not adverse to talking about faith. We respect their religious practices and we support them.”
* * *
When Muslim women in hijabs first started appearing on campus about three years ago, Cynthia Shafer ’96 was intrigued. A self-confessed globetrotter throughout her life, she had spent months at a time traveling and living in a number of majority-Muslim countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia. She had also spent time in other countries where Muslims were in the minority, and she saw firsthand the resulting friction when Muslim culture collided with other cultures. She wondered about the apparent incongruity and possible tension from highly visible Muslim women on a Catholic campus, and she wondered how they were adjusting.
Shafer is particularly attuned to student issues. In her eight years as the communication department’s director of academic advising, she had encountered scores of students with much more mainstream American backgrounds having trouble adapting to college life. She was curious about how Muslims from very different cultures coped with those challenges.
Outgoing, energetic, with blond hair that just grazes her shoulders, often dressed in a short skirt, she’s passionate about students and brings a nonjudgmental compassion to her work. As a doctoral student in educational leadership, she channeled her curiosity and focused her research on the experiences of Muslim women at UD. Shafer, who is now assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, made exploration of their adjustment the center of her doctoral dissertation and began interviewing women at the University of Dayton and Xavier University in fall 2011.
She turned her attention to Muslim women — both international and domestic — because, while the numbers of men were greater, the challenges of women in adapting to campus were much more complicated. Shafer said the hijab many choose to wear make women much more visible and is in essence an identification badge, announcing to the world their devotion to their faith. “The Muslim men on campus wear western clothes, and they’re not obliged to make this public commitment to their faith,” she said. “Men can fly under the radar; women really can’t.”
Although the hijabs are outward signs of faith, they are more than just badges of identification. Islam’s holy book, the Quran, says women should cover their heads and most of their bodies as a sign of modesty, a very important aspect of the faith. While interpretations vary across Islam, covering is among the distinctive practices many adherents follow in their daily lives: praying five times a day, avoiding alcohol, fasting during monthlong Ramadan, washing before prayer, avoiding pork and other meats not ritually butchered, and maintaining social separation between unrelated men and women.
Shafer found the women for her research one by one, starting with a student she already knew, and asking her to connect Shafer with other women willing to be interviewed. As her circle grew, Shafer attended prayer services, was invited to parties and gatherings, and she developed genuine friendships.
She found that the schools’ Catholic identities were strong, positive selling points for the women because they signaled institutions that were not only faith-based, but which emphasized values that were closely aligned with their own. The fact that the distinctive image of the cupola of the Immaculate Conception Chapel on everything from notebook covers to letterhead doesn’t bother them in the least, they told her.
“I came here because I wanted to know the American people. And I wanted to know their religion, so I am really happy to go to a Catholic university. It’s a great experience for me,” said one of the international students Shafer interviewed.
While the women told Shafer they are happy here, they feel safe, comfortable and welcomed, she found that they essentially live on the margins of campus life and the campus community.
Their conservative lifestyles lead international students to form tight communities with women from their own countries. Their social gatherings are women-only, abiding by the Muslim requirement to keep separate from unrelated men.
A conservative lifestyle doesn’t equal a somber one. Shafer tells of a “surprisingly raucous” party of nearly 40 women in the basement of Virginia W. Kettering Residence Complex with loud music, dancing, food and children running around playing. Since there were no men present, it was a chance for the women to fully express their personalities and fashion sense. Even some of the most observant women were in western clothes with no headscarves, or elegant traditional clothes, wearing heavy gold and enameled jewelry.
“Some of the women wore revealing western clothes: tight dresses with plunging necklines and stiletto heels,” she wrote. “It was interesting for me to see women who outside this party room would be covered from head to toe in yards of loose fabric wearing skin-tight, cleavage-revealing dresses and wearing fully made up face and hair.”
Through these diametrically opposite modes of dress and behavior, Shafer saw the women expressing very distinct, complicated identities and being totally comfortable and at ease in both worlds. It seemed to her a great contradiction — like Muslims on a Catholic campus — but also shed light on the women’s abilities to navigate those apparent contradictions.
* * *
Shafer’s research and the phenomenon of Muslim women choosing and thriving at Catholic colleges caught the attention of The New York Times, which sent a reporter and photographer to Dayton in August to tour the campus and talk to Muslim women. The resulting Sept. 3 front-page story featured the University of Dayton leading a trend in Catholic schools in attracting and supporting Muslim women and emphasized how welcome the women feel on the campus.
“At those schools, Muslim students, from the United States or abroad, say they prefer a place where talk of religious beliefs and adherence to a religious code are accepted and even encouraged, socially and academically. Correctly or not, many of them say they believe that they are more accepted than they would be at secular schools,” reported the Times.
The story included four large photos of the women in conversation, walking across campus, all with headscarves and modest, head-to-toe coverings. It depicted some of the variety in how Muslim women at UD interpret the Quran’s requirement for a woman to dress modestly, covering her head and most of her body. The most conservative women are swathed in loose-fitting outer garments and veils that cloak all but their eyes. Others wear the hijab along with loose western clothes. Others wear a hijab with jeans and long-sleeved shirts. And still others are indistinguishable from most of the women students on campus in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
Shafer said she found women who come to UD from abroad generally tend to wear the hijab as a barrier or as a signal of limits in interactions. Women born or raised in the U.S. tend to wear it as a flag and a demonstration of their identity as a Muslim.
The Quran’s injunction to dress modestly goes beyond just clothing — it includes piety, respect and modest behavior, according to Hadil Issa, a chemical engineering student born in Palestine but raised in Dayton since she was 12. When she started high school at the Dayton Early College Academy, she found it was part of the school’s culture for boys and girls to hug one another. But as she grew out of childhood, she increasingly defined her identity as a
Muslim woman. She turned to a decidedly modern solution.
“I had this problem with guys because they wanted to give me hugs,” she said. “When I decided I didn’t like that, I went on Facebook and Facebooked all the boys, telling them that they couldn’t try to hug me anymore, that it was part of my religion.” The hugging attempts stopped.
In fact, she said her experiences have made her much more thoughtful and aware about her religion. “Coming to America shaped me into who I am now. It challenged me and deepened my understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. Coming to America is what made me a better Muslim.”
The Muslim women don’t understand the attitude of some American women who perceive that they are oppressed by men or by their religion. Modesty and piety do not equal oppression in their eyes. Some said they feel cherished and protected by the men in their families. They’re proud of their religion and most say they’re comfortable with limits on clothing, behavior and contact with men. Those limits make life easier by providing clear lines and principles that aren’t crossed or are easy to enforce. They say they have choice and some flexibility, especially while they’re here in the U.S. and out of their own countries. Some have friends here who are men, which would be prohibited back home.
“We can be flexible on some things,” said Donia Almadani, a Saudi in the IEP program. “But there are some red lines and some principles that we don’t cross. We respect those limits. Those limits make life more easy.” Almadani said that by living in the U.S., she’s become more open-minded and more flexible. “In my country, women aren’t permitted to be friends with men. Here I have men friends from other countries.”
While they’re in the U.S., they’re going to take advantage of some aspects of life here. For the Saudi women, that means learning how to drive a car, which is prohibited for them in their country. Sarah Almalhem said her father has insisted that she learn to drive a car, and she recently acquired her learner’s permit. But she’s emphatic that she’s not violating any stricture of Islam, because the rule that women can’t drive isn’t based on religion, “it’s because of cultural reasons.”
Almalhem isn’t shy about talking about her faith and culture. She’s not alone. The women say they like being ambassadors for their faith and cultures and don’t mind it when people ask questions about their scarves, the Islamic faith or their country’s culture. In fact, they know that people are curious; the students seem to relish the opportunity to be a window on their world to others and, perhaps, change a few minds.
“I don’t mind it when people ask me about my scarf and my faith. I like to be asked about my culture and my religion,” said Aqeel, the Kuwaiti engineering student. “Ask me about where I’m from.”
Almalhem said that she finds American students are interested but don’t know how to start a conversation or approach her. She’s been disappointed at how little Americans know about her religion and culture. “One asked me if I slept in my headscarf,” said Almalhem, adding that the coverings are for when women are in public or unrelated men are present.
Another woman added, “Sometimes like, they are so friendly and they are interested to hear about the Muslims. I notice that sometimes they look at me and they are amazed. They don’t smile. I think they don’t know about Muslims and they are worried about us. I think they don’t understand.”
* * *
Dayton Early College Academy graduate Issa literally grew up on the UD campus; her high school is located in the University’s College Park Center on Brown Street, where she rubbed shoulders with students, faculty and staff and had the opportunity to take classes at UD. She’s long experienced the friendly comfort of the campus environment. As a UD student, she said she’s never felt like an outsider.
But she echoes the other Muslim women, who say the academic acceptance they have felt doesn’t often cross into the social realm. “I’m totally comfortable in the classroom, but outside of there we had different ways of socializing,” she said, adding that being classmates doesn’t often translate into friendship.
Nearly all of the Muslim students at the University said they felt outside the mainstream of campus life not only because of where they live — most live off campus — but how they live. “I don’t drink, I don’t go out,” one told Shafer, testimony that the cultural and religious parameters that shape their lives are radically different from the ways many students socialize and form friendships.
“I think there could be meetings where like we get together and have discussions and talk about problems we’re facing,” said one. “Or maybe even … include other faiths and get to know more about each other.”
Another woman interviewed by Shafer said that while she’s made a few friends outside the local Muslim population, she would like to have more American friends. “I only have one classmate that I socialize with. I invite them to my house, but they are busy. I have one classmate who has come to my house several times.”
Fatema Sayed Hamzah, a Kuwaiti undergraduate, said, although she’d like to make American friends, after two years, she’s found it to be very difficult. “I would really like to. They don’t ask me questions about my life or my religion,” she said. “Sometimes women treat me like I was discriminated against in my country.”
That sort of attitude makes Issa mad, and she fires up, eyes blazing, talking rapidly and shaking her head. “There are a lot of misconceptions about my religion, that it oppresses women. Women are abused all over the world, but in Islam, women are treated with respect.”
Hamzah recounted an incident last February on Kuwait’s National Day, when the Kuwaitis set up two tables near Kennedy Union — one by the men and one by the women — to share information about their country and culture. The women gave away free cupcakes. “The girls’ table was barely touched. No one would take any of our cupcakes,” she said, with a puzzled touch of sadness. “It’s only a cupcake.”
* * *
The Muslim women are adding an important dimension to an increasingly multicultural campus, where a Marianist education is becoming more and more accessible to a global population and, at the same time, international students are bringing the world to Dayton, contributing to an enhanced learning environment for U.S. students. A hallmark of a University of Dayton education is appreciation and understanding of diversity to help prepare students as distinctive global citizens ready to learn, lead and serve in the world.
Anderson, of the Center for International Programs, said the Muslim women are also looking for ways to reach out and connect — to become part of that learn, lead and serve tradition. “The Saudi women would love to do a day of service to help them feel more a part of UD,” Anderson said. “They say this is a good place, this is a safe place. They want to give back to it. Giving to others is a pillar of Islam.”
Paul Benson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the opportunity to meet and interact with students who come to UD from around the world is an important learning experience for domestic students.
“A lot of our students are surprisingly sheltered in their prior experience before they come to UD,” said Benson. “They tell me, ‘I’ve never interacted with a Jew or a Muslim or a person of another faith.’ There’s value in simply broadening students’ perspectives, so they realize that most of the world’s people are not just like them.”
Benson said the religious diversity serves an important learning objective that ties into the new undergraduate curriculum currently under development, which requires familiarity with Catholic and other faith traditions. “Many people think that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are diametrically opposed, when in fact they are branches of a common tree. If we can foster greater dialogue among students about the great Abrahamic faith traditions, both Muslim students and Christian students can see they share many things in common.”
Crystal Sullivan, director of campus ministry, said religious diversity offers opportunities for all people to understand and deepen their own faith. A religiously diverse community also helps people enhance their appreciation of the different ways people experience and understand God as well as the sacred.
“The best way to understand your own faith is to encounter someone with different beliefs,” she said. “You find out ways that your beliefs are similar and ways they are different. You gain a new appreciation for who you are and for the sacred experiences of others.”
Accommodating and welcoming the devout of other faiths doesn’t diminish the University’s Catholic identity but carries out a fundamental charge from Vatican II, Fitz said, adding that dialogue among religions is essential in fostering understanding of the other side and helping people live in peace.
In many ways, the Muslim women at UD are on the cutting edge of increasing understanding, whether they’re engaged in an active discussion of their faith and culture, or whether they’re just walking across campus in hijabs. From initial uncertainty, they’re growing in understanding too.
“When I first came, I was worried. I felt weird and worried. I didn’t know the nature of Catholic people,” said Fatema Al-Balooshi from Bahrain, a doctoral engineering student. But she asked people she knew who were familiar with Catholic universities.
“I feel comfortable in this environment. It’s not that big, it’s a private university, it feels safe here. I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of the Catholic faith. Now, I feel lucky that I came here.”
Cilla Shindell grew up in a multicultural family in Dayton and has a lifelong interest in how people navigate the places where cultures touch. She is director of media relations for the University.No Comments
A book by M. Charles McBee ’68
No, this isn’t an in-depth look at the 2012 election; McBee’s original screenplay-turned-novel is a political thriller, he said, written in the “brilliant satirical style of Dave Barry combined online casinos with the authentic drama style of Nelson DeMille.” The fast-paced story follows Commander Jack Connolly as he pieces together a national-security puzzle (including, among other things, a renegade submarine, a missing vice president and an assassination directive).No Comments
The third page is a flashy red-and-gold design named “Embassy,” but the pattern on Page 17, “Arbor,” a textured stripe with a subtle metallic sheen, is equally attractive. Look past the backgrounds, however, and you’ll notice this 82-page 1940s wallpaper sample book serves double duty as a 20-year time capsule of UD theater.
It sits perched atop a computer hutch off the theater department’s main office, blending in with stacks of scripts and old VHS performance tapes. “I’m probably the only person who knows about it,” said Darrell Anderson ’69, associate professor and director of the theater program.
Anderson has served as the scenic and lighting designer at UD since 1974, and he was one of the last students to contribute to the scrapbook. Starting with Ladies of the Jury in 1948 and continuing through fall 1968, the book contains various memorabilia: ticket stubs, playbills, promotional posters; everything from the UD Players’ early years as a student organization to the full-fledged theater program that set the stage for today’s students.
There are words of praise: “They have elevated the reputation of the university to a plane unrivaled by any other faction of the school,” wrote one admirer of 1949’s Our Town. Or, “Fantastic! Little Mary Sunshine was supposed to be funny, I cried all the way through it — I was so thrilled with your success,” noted a UD employee after the 1965 production.
There are newspaper clippings, like one from the Dayton Daily News’ March 26, 1968, issue, which chronicled the transformation of 21-year-old Diane Wiesemann Jenkins ’69 into a 40-year-old slob for Come Back, Little Sheba — plaster face cast and all.
There are even memos regarding student ticket requirements (a consistent 10 or 12, regardless of decade), club meetings and casting decisions. “There was an exceptional amount of talent displayed, and, unfortunately, a small cast. This situation is good for a play, frustrating for a director, and absolute hell for actors,” noted longtime director Pat Gilvary ’50 in a 1963 letter. He retired in 1994 after a 39-year University career.
A few mementos from the 1970s and ’80s made their way, loose-leaf style, into the back of the book — including a program for the University’s 1976 rendition of Our Town. “I’ve tried to keep an eye on the scrapbook over the years and made sure it moved with us each time we changed offices,” said Anderson, who took over the watchful task from Gilvary.
Despite the wallpaper’s claims to be “waterfast and fadeproof,” the book has experienced its share of wear and tear. Anderson recalls one mishap in 1975 involving a broken steam pipe, causing some water damage to the first dozen pages.
The moisture may have blurred the words, but it can’t dampen the memories.No Comments
Father Paul Vieson, S.M. ’62, director of the Marianist Archives, brings to his answers the learning of a centuries-old heritage and the experience of half a century as a Marianist.
Why did you choose to become a Marianist? —Teri Dickison, Pleasant Hill, Ohio
Before I discovered girls, I found the Dominicans to be an interesting religious order; I liked their habits. Then, I went to Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati and met the Marianists, who took a personal interest in the skinny kid with the big glasses who was hopeless in gym class but liked the library. My Marianist teachers were dynamic classroom presences, cultured and devoted. The Dominicans never had a chance after that.
Over the years, what moments have you encountered that confirmed your calling? —Susan Terbay, Dayton
When we are at peace with what we are and do, even if it is not spectacular, we know we are in the right place and engaged in the right life. I think that growing sense of peace confirmed me again and again over the years even when I had some second thoughts. There were few special graced moments and certainly no apparitions that said, “This is it!”
Who first introduced you to libraries and how? —Jane Dunwoodie, Dayton
My father took me to the public library in Cincinnati where I grew up. Dad allowed me to select books from the “grown-up” section where I usually chose histories and biographies. My family encouraged me to read. “Give Paul a book and that’s the last you will hear of him all day,” was a favorite family saying.
What instruction from the Marianist founders do you think is especially relevant for lay people today? —Fran Rice ’76, West Milton, Ohio
The necessity of building Catholic community that embraces many vocations: marriage; single state; consecrated religious; priests — each vocation bound to the others in a common Marian consecration as “a union without confusion” and an example to the church as a whole. When the Marianist family does that, we will, by God’s good grace, convert the world.
Is there a particular writer that you would recommend that others read for spiritual formation? —Carole Wiltsee, Kettering, Ohio
The late Father Emil Neubert, S.M., writings on Mary; any of the publications of the North American Center for Marianist Studies are good introductions to Marianist spirituality and heritage and always enriching.
UD is welcoming to persons of all faiths. What Marianist traditions most resonate with non-Catholics? —Elizabeth Moore Jacobs, Tipp City, Ohio
The most impressive Marianist and UD characteristic I hear repeated over and over is how welcoming we are. Parents have observed that the campus is so very friendly. Alumni remember the close friendships and community they developed during their UD career and that still endure. Hospitality is a very Marian virtue; and Marianist communities, both religious and lay, cultivate that virtue.
Did you ever think about leaving the Society of Mary? —Terri Lauer, Clayton, Ohio
Commitment is made stronger when it is challenged. I have been challenged several times in 53 years as a Marianist: by occasional difficult community assignments; attractions to the joys of marriage; and even the moment of doubt that it was all worth it. But, fraternal support and prayer and a determination to be faithful, to persevere and not walk away from a challenge, brought me through. If I had to do it all over again, I would.
How has your devotion to Mary impacted your ministry both as a priest and an archivist? What is your favorite prayer? —Susan Terbay, Dayton
Many Marian virtues have helped to shape my life as a Marianist religious and a Marianist priest. Faith, prayer, openness to others may well be stronger in my life because of my consecration to Mary — not my doing but the work of grace. Mary’s son and His mother do surprise us with what they can make of poor material. Apart from the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, I have a fondness for this one, especially when I am anxious:
Mary, dearest Mother,
You can’t say you can’t.
You won’t say you won’t.
So, you will, won’t you,
For our next issue, ask your question of Brother Bernard Ploeger, S.M. ’71, president of Chaminade University. Email your question to email@example.com Comment
The joke is, you don’t need bug spray — just bring Michelle.
And so they did. We were four adults — ages spanning four to six decades — standing in a field, but in the dark we could have been mistaken for being 4 to 6. Fireflies danced while every mosquito in the neighborhood laid in an intercept course for my right ankle.
We left our bug jars at home but brought along an iPad, whose glow displayed the coordinates we sought: west-northwest, just beyond the cottonwood tree on the rise, behind from which the International Space Station would emerge in minutes.
Four grown-ups, a few up past even our grown-up bedtimes, waiting for the 33 seconds when that orbiting hulk of metal would catch the rays of a sun spreading noon on the other side of the planet and make the ship visible to our bits of human existence, necks craned, staring at the vastness of space.
Makes our world feel small, and leaves us in awe.
It’s not a revelation that happens only when standing in the dark. In full daylight, when our senses are otherwise occupied with work and flat tires and family and cupcakes, we get a nudge that wakes us up, the unseen hand of an origami artist folding the corners of our wide world until we all meet.
Flyers know what I mean.
In this issue, Art Elias ’75 tells about running into Flyer fan Harry Delaney while on a walking tour in Florence, Italy, and Dr. Dan Curran strikes up a conversation with a two-time grad in a hotel lobby in Xi’an, China. Flyers have met in a countryside pub in Ireland, law workshop at Harvard and a beach in Thailand.
For this Flyer, it happened on a hike up to a waterfall.
In the Columbia River basin, just east of Portland, Ore., Multnomah Falls sends water crashing 620 feet into a pool below. The parking lot feels like Disney, with children pleading for ice cream while adults with short fuses smolder in the mist. My own extended family, there in August to celebrate my sister’s wedding, added to the mayhem, with my 85-year-old cousin forging up to the falls while my brother and his brood planned our next adventure before this one was even complete.
It was not the wildlife I had hoped to see, so I grabbed my husband’s hand and started up the verdant pathway to the overlook.
The last thing I thought about was what I was wearing; the second to last thing were the strangers passing by.
Then a voice stopped me.
“Hey, Dayton Flyers. I went to Dayton.”
It was Corey Woodson ’05, who had spotted my Flyers soccer jersey, a prize from a raffle two years ago.
We talked only for a moment, about his move west, about the wedding that brought me there, about him sending the magazine a class note. Then he continued on his way, and we on ours.
It’s not science — like how a mosquito finds its prey — that explains these encounters. In a world of 7 billion people, 106,950 alumni are but a blip. But still we find one another.
Maybe it’s pride that makes us voice our affiliation, or that Marianist spirit of welcome that compels us to reach out to others. Maybe it’s recognition of the vastness of space and the awe that a simple hello can inspire.
Want to make our great, wide world feel small? Just bring a Flyer.
Send your story of Flyer encounters to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll run some in the next issue.No Comments
Driving along Rahn Road in Kettering a few years ago, I noticed a Christmas tree decorated in Flyer colors.
“Look, Claire, that tree has only red and blue lights,” I said to my wife after we passed it.
“No, it doesn’t,” she said in surprise. As we drove down the same road later, she pointed out the multicolored lights on the tree. “The problem with you is that you only see red and blue,” she said with a laugh.
After more than 10 years as president, I’ve discovered my love for the University of Dayton only grows deeper with time.
Last fall, The Princeton Review ranked the University 10th in the nation under the category, “Their Students Love These Colleges.” That’s no surprise to those who live and study here. A sheet draped from a Woodland Avenue porch at the end of August said it all: “6 Girls, 5 Majors, 4 States, 3rd Year, 2 Porches, 1 Home.”
In a hotel lobby in Xi’an, China, a person behind me in the registration line noticed that my traveling companion was wearing a Dayton Flyers shirt. He wanted to talk about the two degrees he earned here. We reminisced for an hour about a campus 7,000 miles away, about his time as a student and the resulting bond that stretches around the world.
Our students are the heart of this university, the hope for our world. Their passion energizes me.
Students in the Rivers Institute, with generous support from local donors, imagined and created the RiverMobile. Converted from a semi-trailer, it’s a traveling exhibit that showcases the Great Miami River watershed for local schoolchildren.
Other students lobbied to bring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof to campus this spring for an annual social justice event called Consciousness Rising, aimed at raising awareness about human trafficking.
And what can you say about the Red Scare? On game day, they paint their faces red and blue, dress up as the Wright brothers, wave oversized signs and never sit down. They are the reason why the University of Dayton Arena is arguably the best place in America to experience college basketball.
This February, we are celebrating the monthlong “I Love UD” campaign. We want you to tell the world how special this place is. For those who haven’t been involved recently, we invite you to reconnect. Share one of your vintage Lawnview porch photos. Make a donation to a UD scholarship fund. Spearhead a food drive, tutor students or engage in a random act of kindness on your own or with others in your local alumni chapter.
In 1850, Father Leo Meyer, S.M., had the foresight and faith to borrow money and buy a farm. We are all stewards of that legacy. We are all builders of a university that we love.
Let’s show that love.No Comments
A beloved chemistry professor who taught almost every doctor, dentist and scientist in UD’s alumni ranks from the 1950s through the 1980s is making a difference today to hundreds more.
In 2001, a year after chemistry professor Carl I. Michaelis died, the University received a remarkable bequest of $1.7 million — part of the estate he’d built with a modest salary, a life lived simply and an investment portfolio that he added to but never subtracted from.
Ten years ago, 16 students received the first awards from Michaelis’ endowed fund. Since then, it’s yielded 251 scholarships totaling more than $622,000.
“He was a very frugal man,” said longtime colleague Al Fratini, professor emeritus of chemistry. “He knew he wanted to give something big to UD, and he lived in a way that would make him able to do that.” Michaelis was an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal, Fratini said, and when he read of advances in chemistry that looked promising, he invested.
“Students liked him,” said chemistry professor Jerry Keil, who worked with Michaelis for almost 20 years. “He always had students in his office. He would help them with their schedules, but also with their professional goals, what they needed to do to achieve them.”
Michaelis also was a mentor for new faculty members and the faculty adviser to the student chapters of the American Chemical Society and the national premedical honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta.
“He was here all the time,” said Howard Knachel, chemistry professor emeritus. “He was gifted in being able to spot a student’s potential. His attitude toward students was always positive and supportive, but he was tough.”
Michaelis seldom splurged on himself, Keil said.
“On occasion, some of us would go to Frisch’s after Mass at Holy Angels,” Keil said. “Carl liked to get a pancake breakfast, and at that time, you could get a pancake breakfast at Frisch’s for $1.19. At Denny’s on Main Street, the same breakfast was $1.29, but he thought it was a little bit nicer there, so if he had a dime to spare, he would go to Denny’s instead.”
On limited occasion, he took financial advice from others.
“He didn’t have a house until the early 1970s,” Knachel said. “For the longest time, he just rented an upstairs room in a house where someone took boarders, and he was happy. But then Joe Walsh (another professor, now deceased) asked him, ‘Carl, what are you saving all that money for? Someday you’re going to die and never have enjoyed it.’”
But he seemed to enjoy it just fine, said Fratini, Keil and Knachel — carrying around the secret that, someday, all that money was going to do something big.No Comments
Watch out, Charlie Chaplin — the researchers in the School of Engineering’s Wellness and Safety Lab have put you, and your ubiquitous banana peel, on notice. With more than 2.3 million Americans heading to the emergency room each year for fall-related injuries, they are identifying ways to prevent falls, assess fall risk and mitigate related injuries.
“We’re humanists at heart — and that’s the beauty of engineering,” said assistant professor Kim Bigelow, the lab’s director. “The field is so broad, you can easily find a connection between the science and your passion. For me, it was finding ways to help people and improve their quality of life.”
You won’t find any slapstick shenanigans here: She and her team of student research assistants — including three National Science Foundation fellows — keep an even keel with the study of balance, a key factor in fall prevention.
1. Be active. “You don’t have to run a marathon. Make an extra lap around the grocery store, go outside and garden, take a ballroom dancing class. Just get moving,” Bigelow says. Tight-rope walking lessons optional.
2. Stay out of the medicine cabinet. Taking more than four medications — including vitamins and over-the-counter drugs — increases the chance of interactions and side effects, both of which can cause dizziness, explains graduate student Senia Smoot (who is researching how common physical therapies used to treat autistic children affect their balance). Have your doctor or pharmacist review all your medications; they can determine if interactions are likely or suggest alternatives.
3. Keep an eye out. Balance is heavily dependent on your sight and peripheral perception, so schedule regular exams and address abnormalities, like cataracts or blurred sight, as soon as possible.
4. Get new kicks. Thin-soled shoes without extra padding allow you the most sensation when touching the ground, which increases your balance. Using caution when transitioning between surfaces, such as carpet to tile, also matters, says graduate student Renee Beach, whose research focuses on novel compliant flooring, which is designed to absorb up to 50 percent of your energy in a fall. “I want to know if the material actually causes people to fall more often, or if it performs like a normal floor that then lessens injuries if a fall occurs.”
5. Reach out and touch something. Even placing a single fingertip (called a “light touch”) on a nearby surface, such as a table, wall or cane, can stabilize you. And watch out for peeled fruit — just in case.No Comments
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dayton’s great flood
Rain. Flood. Fire.
The destruction of Dayton — and of other towns along the Great Miami River — took only three days as the early spring rains of 1913 rolled off saturated lands and converged in a torrent that tore houses from foundations and stripped babies from the arms of fleeing families. A half-trillion gallons of water — an amount that takes four days to flow over Niagara Falls — killed more than 350 people and caused property damage in excess of $100 million (in 1913 dollars).
St. Mary’s College was safe on its hill south of downtown. But the institution — which in 1920 would take the name of its beloved city — had a unique vantage point on the tragedy: flood, followed by fires resulting from gas leaks, followed by frigid nights that froze those left wet, cold and exposed. The stories of the college’s students, alumni and faculty give us glimpses of the event as vast as the acreage it inundated. And it also tells of the heart of a people intent not just on rebuilding but on ensuring that no such tragedy ever struck again. “For the love of Dayton” was on the ribbons residents wore as they pledged funds to build a protective system of dams, levees and preserved flood plains. One hundred years later, their love continues to protect.
St. Mary’s College Exponent, April-May 1913
“THE CAUSE OF THE DAYTON FLOOD”
Easter Sunday [March 23] had come and gone with its gloomy sky and steady downpour of rain. But nothing was thought of until Monday morning, when the hearts of the Dayton people went out in sympathy to the people of Omaha, who had suffered the ravages of the tornado. But while they shuddered as they felt themselves secure in the Gem City, it rained Monday morning as though the floodgates of heaven had been opened. … The river rose, but it had done so in the past. Those living on the hills could see the muddy waters over broader areas than usual, but no one thought of a flood. … As the city retired to rest at 10 p.m., it was ignorant that the river gauge registered 15.3 feet, with the waters ever rising.
… Heavy rains throughout the watershed that the Miami River drains, poured down in torrents for a distance of 93 miles to the north, swelling the Great Miami, the Mad, and the usually placid Stillwater. It was not such a wonder, then, that the river rose till at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, as it lapped the tops of the levees, it registered 24 feet. … [N]o one dreamed that at midnight the gauge would register a height of 29 feet, with the City Beautiful submerged in surging waters six feet above the levees.
Joseph Pflaum ’09
Exponent, April-May 1913
“MAROONED IN THE CITY”
We located ourselves in the fire escape and watched the waters as they became alarmingly dangerous. Asphalt was rooted up from the streets in huge blocks; men were wading waist deep desperately making their way to safety. Overturned wagons, outside store cases, and hundreds of things which we could not distinguish, were carried pell-mell in the rush of these angry waters like so many toothpicks. …
The water soon took an awful rise, and one after another of the large windows on the south side of Third street gave way. Every window which was broken by the terrific rushing of the water sounded like an explosion of some huge boiler, and the water swished and roared as it engulfed the stores.
Exponent, April-May 1913
“TALES OF THE FLOOD”
The experience of the Rottermann family of Sycamore street exemplifies through what marooned families passed during the days of the flood. Louis, Eugene and Walter attend the college at the present time, while their brothers, Old Boys of the college, are well known to the Alumni of St. Mary’s. At their home they noted the water coming down the street at 5:30 Tuesday morning. Besides taking care of eight members of their own family, the Rottermanns invited ten neighbors, residing in a cottage near them, to take refuge in their two-story home. With the problem of feeding eighteen people before them, supplies were taken up from the cellar and then to the second floor, for the waters reached the first floor at 7:30 a.m., and the second floor at 5 p.m. As the water continued to rise till it reached a height of four feet on the second floor, without an indication that it would stop at that height, the eighteen were moved into a triangular attic, never used before, measuring five feet at its highest point. … Nothing, save joists, served as a floor, until the boys of the family came down to the second story, waded through the water, and caught a floating fence which was passing by, the boards of which were passed up to the attic to serve as flooring. … Gas, which escaped from broken pipes, threatened to suffocate them all, but fortunately the boys of the family, who waded through all the rooms of the second story, prevented this catastrophe by opening wide all the
Fred Stroop ’18
Exponent, April-May 1913
“RESCUE WORK IN SOUTH PARK”
I loaded my boat into my truck and started for Dayton. I reached it at 3:30, and my boat was manned immediately by two men already on the scene. Pistol shots on all sides from people marooned in the flooded section near the Fairgrounds told the story more graphically than words that one boat could not rescue all those endangered by the flood and the fire that was raging.
On looking around, I met Brother [Francis] O’Reilly, who proposed manning one of the big, flat-bottomed boats that the National Cash Register Company was turning out every seven minutes. Together with Russell Young, we started out east on Apple street, turned over Brady street to Burns avenue. The current was treacherous as we crossed streets, slapping us against houses on the one hand, or turning our course down stream on the other. In the latter case, it was only the good fortune of being able to grasp tops of high porches, or gutters of small houses, that saved us from being swept by the current directly into the burning buildings but a few hundred feet below us. Our boat leaked so badly that one of our party had to bail water all the time to keep pace with the water coming into the improvised flat-bottomed craft. We made several trips this way, taking from three to six women and children a trip from houses bordering on the fire district.
Dayton Daily News Flood Extra
Sunday, March 30, 1913
“ST. MARY’S COLLEGE SYSTEM AT WORK”
Rumors to the effect that Brother [Francis] O’Reilly, [brother] of the president of the college, had been drowned Tuesday night at 10 p.m., after working with Fred [Stroop] and Fred Patterson, son of John H. Patterson, is unfounded. Brother O’Reilly and four others were upset in a large steel boat at that late hour with the light of the flames to guide the rescuing party. He and others were picked up from trees 100 feet from the flames at 10:30. Just previous to the capsizing, Brother O’Reilly and Russell [Young] had towed the son of President Patterson and Fred [Stroop] of Hills and Dales, with three Gette girls, who were set firmly by a current against the [Gette] home, to a place of safety, making the rescue by these two boats between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m.
Joseph Pflaum ’09
Exponent, April-May 1913
“MAROONED IN THE CITY”
Turning to the west, we can see a roaring fire being fanned higher and higher every minute, and we think where will that fire end? Will it reach us? Smaller fires can be noted around us everywhere. The river has no shore. Everywhere is water. Many horses are swimming south on Main street from above. The men on the old court house steps call to them, and the horses try desperately to reach the men. A few of them succeed, but most of them fail and are swept away from our sight. The man who owns many of them is standing near us, and names each one as it goes by. Those that are saved are taken into the court house.
Turning to the north, we see a body of water as far as the eye will reach in this sort of a mist and haze. A street car is forced hard up against the Soldiers’ Monument. Houses in Riverdale have water in their second stories, and some of them are submerged to the eaves of the roof. And looking a little more to the east, we see a massive area of water and housetops. Some houses are submerged just to the second story and some almost to the eaves. We ask ourselves, what became of those people who thought the water would not rise so high, whose homes they almost cover? We are afraid to imagine, for we know there are no boats and that the rush of the waters sweeping over the levees is destructive.
Brother Andy Weber ’19
ORAL HISTORY RECORDED 1958
From our dormitory windows we could see some of the havoc that was caused by the rising waters, particularly by the fires that occurred during the flood. The college side was used as a shelter for flood refugees since the boarders were home on their Easter recess, and that space was there for use by the flood victims. Brother Louis Gravano did a magnificent job in helping out the sisters at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. He at times would have some narrow escapes, but he did manage to get to the hospital to bring them
relief and whatnot during the time of the flood.
Dayton Evening Herald
Tuesday, April 8, 1913
“SISTERS AND PATIENTS SUBSIST THREE DAYS ON SOUR MILK AND COFFEE”
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, with its 400 patients and 300 refugees, was completely marooned the first three days of the flood. Motorcyclemen reported on Thursday that it was absolutely impossible to reach the hospital. Brother Rappel and Brother [Wohlleben], of St. Mary’s College, engaged the services of an expert motorboat man in the effort to find some way to reach the hospital. The expert declared, however, that it was impossible to cross the river in small motorboats, and late Thursday high-bodied wagons were secured to carry provisions, as motor trucks could not be used in the four feet of water that was met a great part of the way. Eight thousand pounds of provisions which arrived by motor trucks from Cincinnati, sent by St. Mary’s Hospital, Betts street, Cincinnati, were placed on these high-bodied wagons at St. Mary’s College, and double teams carried relief provisions by a circuitous way to Bomberger Park, down Third street, and thence to the hospital, the water frequently rising to the height of four feet in the path of the wagons.
“TALES OF THE FLOOD”
George Donovan [’17] of Hamilton relates a sad story of a family whose house floated away. A tree in its path stopped its progress, and the members of the family sought refuge in its branches. There they hung all night during a blizzard. Towards morning, the mother sank into the waters, followed by one of her daughters. The others desperately clung to the tree until the afternoon of the next day, when the father, unable to hold out longer, dropped out of the tree, carrying along his son, who tried to save him. One girl was still left, and she was rescued the next day, more dead than alive.
Dayton Evening Herald
Thursday, April 17, 1913
“STUDENTS, RETURNING TO CITY, SAY DAYTON WORST OF IT ALL”
St. Mary’s was fortunate in having its large student body of 450 away on Easter vacation. On the day of the catastrophe, Tuesday, March 25, the college was prepared to receive its students, who were to return two days later. … The college authorities immediately arranged with John H. Patterson to receive an unlimited number of flood sufferers, and by Wednesday night 400 refugees were given accommodations at the college, the number increasing to 600 within the next 24 hours. Before the close of the week, fully 800 refugees were registered.
Fortunately, St. Mary’s was well supplied with provisions laid in for the boarding students who were to arrive Thursday, and they proved to be invaluable to feed the large number of refugees housed [in] the early days of the flood when food supplies had not yet reached Dayton. The college was extremely fortunate in having its own spring water supply, infirmary, electric light and heating plant, and laundry, which enabled it to give sanitary and comfortable accommodations throughout the two weeks the college was dedicated to relief work. … The college kitchen was a busy place, for while the cooks were rushed to prepare meals for the 600 refugees, they found time to cook the provisions for the Miami Valley Hospital, brought on Cappel trucks during the few days that the hospital kitchen was crippled with lack of facilities for cooking. … In spite of many cases of illness incident to the flood, there were no fatalities at the college.
Reading rooms with literature of all kinds were opened on the second day of the flood, and were well patronized, as the flood sufferers quickly recovered from the nervous shocks occasioned by their sad experiences. In fact, a visitor at the college could scarcely believe, as little boys and girls romped through the halls, that the hundreds of men and women housed at the college had suffered in a flood. After the first few days, when members of families had been reunited, optimism seemed to be the feeling that was uppermost in the hearts of all. College discipline prevailed, for during the two weeks the college was a relief station, militia were conspicuous for their absence. All retired at 8 p.m., rose at 6 a.m., and regular college meals were served in the college dining rooms on scheduled time.
There was ever present an air of cheerfulness, and it was with feelings of regret that the refugees bade farewell when they left for their homes in the city. The college authorities and faculty had a strenuous two weeks’ siege of work to carry for their refugees, but all seemed happy that they were in position to care for so many destitute who were welcomed to the college halls.
Resident of 16 Lawnview Ave. after the flood
FROM “THROUGH FLOOD, THROUGH FIRE” BY CURT DALTON
One sees every conceivable thing on the streets and in freakish places. Dead horses are met at every turn. A chair hangs on a tree, a mattress is in the branches also; a wagon seat has got wedged above a doorway. There is a wrecked automobile overturned in a gutter. On the river bank, reclines a piano. Over the sign at the entrance of a prominent store is suspended a suit of underwear and outside another shop in an erect position is a milliner’s model, its tawdry drapery discolored and the painted face daubed with mud. Such a picture of complete ruin and destruction could barely be imagined.
A grocer whose store and all its content were ruined, was cleaning away the mud and debris when a friend passing by called out “Why John have you the courage to start again?” He replied “Yes, for I still have left my smile.”
Exponent, April-May 1913
“THE DAYTON FLOOD”
We have suffered, but we shall spend no time in further weeping or slumber. We have greater reason to be proud of Dayton citizenship than ever before. The flood has made stronger the bonds that have held us together in the past. The unbounded charity shown on all sides, by rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and non-Catholic, without any distinction of color or creed, bespeaks of even a better era of good feeling. Optimism in the business world is heard and seen everywhere, and those who suggested much and those who lost all, are manfully and courageously setting about beginning life over.
But let us learn our lesson. Let the organized relief work under the active head of John H. Patterson, whose name deserves to be made immortal in the hearts of the people of Dayton, urge us to discard partisan politics, and to install as soon as possible a form of government that will be guided by and looked after by the keenest minds and the most disinterested men of this municipality.
John H. Patterson led a fundraising effort in May 1913 to remember the “promises made in the attic” — that the city and its citizens should never again endure such a disaster. In 23 days, the Miami Valley Flood Prevention Association, representing five counties, raised $2 million; St. Mary’s College pledged $2,200 to the fund. The Miami Conservancy District continues to oversee a system of five dams, constructed beginning in 1918, that protects tens of thousands of people in 40 municipalities and more than 48,000 properties.
Thanks to University archives, the collections of Dayton History, Curt Dalton, Glenn Walters and the Dayton Metro Library.
Hope on the Hill: Marianists and the 1913 Dayton Flood
An exhibit of UD photos, stories and artifacts related to the 1913 flood is on display in Roesch Library through June 17 or online at digital.udayton.edu.
Flood, Rescue and Recovery
On March 23, Carillon Park opens a new exhibit in the Rubicon Fireless Steam Locomotive exhibit building. Six themed areas will explore pre-flood industrial Dayton, the 1913 national weather phenomenon, breached and broken levees, survival and rescue, recovery, and lasting protection.
A Flood of Memories — One Hundred Years After the Flood: Images from 1913 and Today
The commemorative book, by the Miami Conservancy District, depicts photos of the flood with images of the same areas today as captured by Dayton photographer Andy Snow. The cities of Piqua, Troy, Dayton, West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Franklin, Middletown and Hamilton are included.
Pages explain the innovative system of dry dams, hydraulic jumps and retarding basins that protect the Miami Valley, plus information on ongoing initiatives including floodplain preservation, groundwater protection and recreational assets.
The Dayton History Digital Archive contains more than 2,000 images from the flood, including those from the NCR Archive, Kern Collection and Dayton History archives.
Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the 1913 Flood In and Around Dayton, Ohio
The Dayton Art Institute’s special exhibition includes three areas: “Storm,” paintings by April Gornik; “Watershed,” 100 years of river photography; and “A Riverbank,” photos exploring river-centered development. Open Feb. 23 through May 5.
The simple gesture of holding open a door has come to symbolize UD’s culture of uncommon courtesy.
Pennsylvanian, sociologist and Marianist sister Laura Leming, F.M.I. ’87, needed a good six months to puzzle through the strange phenomenon she experienced when she first arrived on UD’s campus in 1981.
As she went about her days minding her own business, perfect strangers on sidewalks and in hallways not only smiled at her as she passed, but they even said hello.
“I thought, ‘How do they know who I am?’” she said. “People in Philadelphia do not do that.”
This kindness and openness may be more striking to a newcomer, but anyone who has spent time on UD’s campus knows the experience. Flyers who pass through campus doorways do not let them slam behind. They pause, they glance, and if another person will soon pass through, they wait for what might seem like an unreasonable amount of time to perform the simple act of holding the door open for the next person.
There is a message in that act, an unspoken acknowledgment of a common community, even, and perhaps especially, for people we do not know personally. Holding a door puts the holder in the service of another, however briefly. It takes time. It subordinates. It serves. The act has become a shorthand way of describing UD as an uncommonly courteous place, something Flyers tell themselves and hear from others.
As Leming put it, “People continually tell us there’s something different here.”
* * *
But is there? Or is that just a feel-good myth convenient for recruiting students and tugging at alumni hearts? Perhaps students at Xavier, Georgetown or Notre Dame pat themselves on the back for the kindness permeating their campuses. Perhaps Flyers are mistaking as a UD phenomenon one more broadly felt at Catholic institutions or even most private institutions generally.
Professor David O’Brien doesn’t think so. During his four decades on faculty at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, he lectured at dozens of Catholic institutions across the country, including all 28 Jesuit schools. None of them, he thought, matched the warmth, hospitality and courtesy he experienced at his little tight-knit, Jesuit liberal arts school with just 2,400 students.
“Until I came to UD,” he said, when he became UD’s University Professor of Faith and Culture in 2009. “Here the Marianist charism of hospitality is everywhere, evident in UD students with their friendly greeting, excellent manners, and care for one another and for the University.”
UD’s size and scope — it’s several times larger than Holy Cross and much more institutionally diverse in the programs it offers — make this shared community and its culture of courtesy all the more remarkable, he said.
“This community spirit is not a matter of mere sentimentality: Community, like love, actually matters,” he said. “In the workplace and the public square, we learn, sometimes by their absence, that cooperation, mutual respect and commitment to common work are essential to success.”
But his sentiments are still anecdotal. It’s almost shocking, when you come to think of it, that no professor or enterprising graduate student has taken up the subject as a research project. The University conducts nearly $100 million in sponsored research a year. Its researchers have studied everything from Himalayan glaciers to sticky proteins and the Nuremberg trials, but none are known to have paused to examine the meaning of the door held open right in front of them.
“This everyday behavior has not been systematically studied before,” wrote researchers Joseph P. Santamaria and David A. Rosenbaum, who studied the practice of holding doors open at Penn State in 2011. They pointed a video camera at a campus door and recorded as 148 people passed through. They found that people were more likely to hold the door open for people who followed closely and that the number of people following behind made a difference.
They explained this using something called “the shared-effort hypothesis.” The idea here is that the first person passing through the door does a quick, unconscious mental calculation: Is the effort I’ll expend holding this door open less than the effort they’ll expend opening it again? The followers also participated in reducing the shared effort by hustling a bit faster when they saw the door being held. This conduct, they hypothesized, was “a means of reducing physical effort for the group.”
Being researchers, they recommended a follow-up study to see whether “door holders were found to engage in door holding selectively — holding doors only for people they find attractive, for example.”
That’s a rabbit hole these researchers declined to go down. If you Google “holding open doors,” what you’ll find is pages and pages of results focused on the gender implications of men holding doors open for women or, less commonly, women holding them open for men (typical result: “Open doors for women: How and when to do it” from the site artofmanliness.com). The deeper you dig, the more the results splinter into subgenres. When do you thank someone who holds a door open? What does it mean if your boyfriend holds a door open for another girl? What’s the etiquette in China?
The social uncertainty that these questions reveal is not surprising; in addition to everything else, the Internet is a place where we play out our anxieties. But anxieties have accompanied questions of courtesy since its emergence as a social code in Western Europe.
* * *
Though we think of courtesy as a form of social kindness, the rules that govern it are rooted in violence.
As strong, centralized leaders began to emerge in early medieval Europe, homage in the form of goods, services and oaths of loyalty was the price villages and lesser warriors paid to demonstrate allegiance and secure protection, writes Benet Davetian in his book Civility: A Cultural History. Such homage took the form of increasingly complex social rules that signaled cooperation or conflict at a time when Germanic invaders were still plundering villages with gruesome consequences. Courtesy was the new diplomacy.
The capacity to balance extreme violence on one hand with restraint and deference on the other became a trait of nobility, as seen in the portrait of the knight that Geoffrey Chaucer draws in his Canterbury Tales. Though “of mortal battles he’d fought 15” everywhere from Alexandria to Prussia, the knight still “bore himself as meekly as a maid … a truly perfect, gentle knight” now going on a religious pilgrimage.
Courtesy became an art to master as increasingly stronger monarchs tamed the knights; it also became a way for the nobility to distinguish themselves from coarse commoners. Courtly love and deference toward wives and daughters venerated the idealization of women and affirmed common values, sowing the seeds of today’s Googlers wondering whether holding a door for a woman is inherently sexist or, well, chivalrous. By the time Louis XIV was declaring his absolute power in France, courtly manners had developed into a cutthroat game of palace intrigue. Courtesy was anything but kind. It served not equality, but hierarchy.
Equality was an ideal that would sweep through France before long, not just toppling the monarchy but creating the chaos that led William Joseph Chaminade — who would go on to found the Society of Mary — to flee for his own safety to Zaragosa, Spain, for three years. In that flight, Sister Laura Leming sees possible roots of UD’s culture of courtesy, and particularly hospitality, as expressions of kindness and equality before God.
“The Benedictine tradition is very much about welcoming strangers as if they were Christ,” she said, describing Chaminade’s embrace of Benedictine principles as he built the Marianist order. “He had the experience of being in exile as he pondered how people in France could help one another and cultivate community.”
She sees the Biblical roots of this tradition in a story told in Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus visits the home of a Pharisee who, inhospitably, does not offer water to wash his feet. Jesus instead praises the “sinful woman” who wets his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. Later, Jesus will wash his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
The example of such loving, kind service to others “extends to the institution,” Leming says. She cites a familiar example: the experience of Joseph Saliba ’79, a young man who fled the Lebanese war and came to UD, speaking almost no English, to find a highly supportive faculty and community that went far beyond what was required to help him succeed. Today he has an engineering doctorate and is the University’s provost and a champion of its Marianist values.
* * *
Students on campus today offer their own anecdotal evidence of UD’s uncommon courtesy. “Dayton is seriously the nicest campus ever,” Stephanie Lutz ’15 said. “I probably have a daily instance happen either where someone holds the door or lets you get in front of them in line or says ‘bless you’ when you sneeze.”
That extra kindness helps especially on bad days, said Katy Utter ’14, a marketing and entrepreneurship major.
“Just the other day I woke up in a bad mood, and when walking to class random people smiled at me, said hi, held the door. People here are more courteous.”
Professor Steve Wilhoit in the English department has puzzled over the culture at UD. “I’ve noticed the door opening thing, too,” he said, “and being really polite in crowded hallways and staircases in the Humanities building between classes.”
When he asked students about it, they came back with a familiar refrain: “community.” It’s the word everyone uses when discussing UD’s culture.
“There is an ethos on this campus that dictates how people treat other people — what kind of behavior is expected,” Wilhoit said. “By and large, students embrace the idea of community and family — these are the metaphors that influence how we treat one another.”
Wilhoit also points to the role of students as keepers of culture: “It may also be the case that we recruit students who are like this, or it could be that students who are like this recognize UD as a place that ‘feels’ the same way, so they enroll. It could be a Midwest thing.”
Ah, the Midwest thing. Leming agrees there might be something there, too. She is not only a Marianist sister but also chair of the department of sociology, anthropology and social work. She suggests that there might be “an interaction effect,” a layering of Midwest friendliness over Marianist hospitality that creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
“You also might get something like that in Hawaii with its culture of ‘aloha,’” she said. “I would be hesitant to say that it’s all the Marianist piece.”
Whatever its origins, the culture of uncommon courtesy so pervasive on campus is more consequential than the effort spared when a stranger holds a door open for you.
“Love is first of all a verb, not a noun,” O’Brien said, “so the habit of smiling at strangers, reaching out a hand to people in need and listening when others speak are all acts of love with important cultural and political consequences. Commitment to community is at the center and not the edge of UD, and maybe someday such commitment will re-create our world.”
It manifests itself in the experience of Sterling Yates, a first-year mechanical engineering major from Chicago who arrived at the tutoring center in Marianist Hall just as it was closing for the night. It didn’t matter. An upperclassman stayed late to help him. “A lot of people at Dayton go out of their way and sacrifice so that your experience will be just as great as theirs,” Yates explained.
And there is the experience of Jonny Yadlosky ’10, who, during his first year, went to let his professor know he’d miss class because his grandfather in Pittsburgh had just died. “Jonny, you need to go home,” his professor said. “Take my car.” Then the professor tossed him the keys.
This depth of genuine compassion extends far beyond mere courtesy. It is a foreseeable consequence of the habit of kindness toward others, even strangers, that UD’s culture of courtesy nourishes.
Though there are no rigorous studies of these doors held open across UD’s campus, it is hard to believe that such a culture of kindness would not radiate out as students become alumni and scatter across the country and the world, that through the familiar welcome of alumni, San Francisco might feel less foreign, New York less daunting. Perhaps it radiates out to anyone near a Flyer and a door. Literal or metaphorical, a Flyer will always hold it open.
Matthew Dewald is editor of the alumni magazine at the University of Richmond.
A stranger in McGinnis once offered a cup of laundry detergent to Meredith Hirt ’13, who contributed to the reporting in this article, to spare her the trouble of walking back all of the way to her house on the Darkside, where she’d left hers.2 Comments