When I lost my Foil

Twenty years ago, hundreds of sympathy cards arrived.  One was from an old church lady:  “I enjoyed Chad and his devilish ways,” she wrote.  Chad was very kind. He was also roguish.

Cry with Us Macomb 1

Christmas Eve, 1997. (Yes–I had short hair.)

I’ve spoken and written (p4) about Chad and his death, but I don’t really dig into it.  I’m still not ready.  But I will tell you why our TV in Tennessee had a bullet mark:  when Chad was 5, after the Dallas Cowboys lost the Super Bowl and everyone left the den, Chad shot the TV with his BB gun.

I will tell a little about how Chad and I learned to foil each other:  One Sunday after church, I beat him to the bathroom.  I peed in the toilet.  He peed in his bedroom vent.  I played the piano.  He played the rogue. I was the good girl and he was the bad boy.  When he died, I lost my foil.

Yesterday, the dentist told me I have a dying molar.  Of course my tooth would throb on my brother’s death day. The dentist and his assistant speak with caring and empathetic voices.  My molar has too many cracks from all the tooth grinding of the last two years (my layoff caused tension and anxiety).  Tomorrow, a specialist will attempt to save my tooth.  I had fantasized about saving Chad.  At night, I would be beamed from New York to the edge of the Bernadotte dam, where I’d pick up a long stick.  Chad’s canoe would have capsized right next to shore, so he would have been close enough to grab the other end of the stick.  In the fantasy, the stick and I were stronger than the force of the dam.

Some months before Chad died, I lie on my psychoanalyst’s couch and said, “If Chad can make it to age 30, he will be fine, but the risks he takes.  He keeps taking them.  One of these times, he won’t be lucky.”

Chad made it to age 23. For Chad, a Trump Presidency would be dystopian.  We are living the dystopia now.  As Ruth Bader Ginsburg so sadly understates:  “We are not experiencing the best of times.”  The justice looks sad and defeated.

I am worried about the dangers Donald Trump is exposing us to.  Trump takes so many childish risks–he taunts a dictator who owns nuclear weapons, he says he’d love to see a (government) shutdown, he has authorized the police to use weapons of war against communities of color, he has, without hearings, sentenced to death hard-working young mothers,  he has handed over state secrets to Russia, and he has alienated our allies.  Trump and the Republicans are exposing most Americans to risks and insecurities we do not choose.

One of these tweets, we’re not going to be lucky.  Trump’s going to sacrifice us.  We just need to make it until we can restore the balance of power in the top branches of government.  We may not get there.  Especially if Trump keeps taunting North Korea.

Two days after Chad died, I piled in a mini van with my closest family members and we drove out to Bernadotte.  It was daytime,  but it felt dark.  A man from the Bernadotte cafe approached us:   Chad should not have taken the canoe out on a cold day when the river was rushing from melting snow, he said.  Perhaps I should have told him to leave us in peace–to get the hell away, but we were a preacher’s family.  We were polite.

When Tom, Maya, and I moved back to Macomb in 2005, it would often occur to me that I should visit the Bernadotte dam–that was the only grave Chad had.  I didn’t go until last month. I waited twenty years.  The Spoon River has shrunk so much that the shape of the top of the dam is now exposed.



Cry with Us Macomb

The community filled the church–upstairs and down.

Eights of Winter

The death days of my three family members who died while working or studying at WIU fall on the same day of the week–this year on a Thursday.  The death days occur within a 28-day span.  Each death day lays two weeks apart.  Today is the Thursday between Charles’s and Chad’s.  fullsizeoutput_1524

8 is the number I never confuse or forget.  Each winter, 8 haunts me like a ghost. Charles died in 1985, Chad died on the 8th in 1998.  Laura died 18 years after Chad.  There are 28 days between the death days of father and daughter (Charles and Laura).

I like the perfect figure 8 symmetry:  Charles’s day is the bottom of the bottom loop, Chad’s is the middle, and Laura’s is the top of the top loop.  If you fold the eight in half at its narrowed equator, the death days of Charles and his daughter meet.

The number eight is now associated with another anniversary of great loss.  December 8th is the day that WIU President Jack Thomas and his provost announced their plan to lay off 50 faculty.

The word university is derived from the Latin concept of a “community of scholars and teachers.”  Now that the administration has laid off tenured faculty, now that morale has been dropping for more than two years, now that the adminsitraiton is doing everything in its power to eliminate fair and equal pay among faculty, it’s a stretch to describe WIU as a community of scholars.  Especially if we compare our current “community” to what we had once been, to what we might have become, to what we might recover if the the current administration were to leave.

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President Thomas called us to the Grand BallRoom for a devastating announcement.

Sometimes I think of  December 8 as the death day of the “University” in Western Illinois University.


Charles G. Sadler, Death Day Anniversary

Tom and Charles

Dr. Thomas R. Sadler in early 1980s with his father, Dr. Charles G. Sadler.  Tom is now a professor of Economics at WIU and the treasurer for the UPI.  Charles was a history professor known for his dynamic lecture style.

Today is my husband’s father’s death day–the anniversary of his death–January 25, 1985.  Charles was a history professor at Western Illinois University from 1969 to 1984.  This blog is the first of a 3-part series about my family members who died, each in January or February, while working or studying at WIU.

I didn’t personally know Charles G. Sadler, but I knew the grief from his loss,  and I knew about the great education WIU dreamed of during Dr. Sadler’s career here.

I met Tom on the courthouse lawn two and a half years after his father died of cancer. Summer was easy.  But the cold arrived, and snow piled up.  Across the street from Macomb’s fire station, at the back door of what used to be the church parsonage, Tom would knock, or maybe he would just step inside, onto the square of linoleum, that place where you had to choose–either step up or down.   Tom’s grief filled the landing immediately and I breathed in its heaviness.  I was afraid of his sadness.  I understand that now.

I long for Tom’s father’s presence at the Thanksgiving table, but I also long for that 20th Century historical period when state governments reached towards public greatness.  During Charles’s tenure at WIU, faculty ran the university.  Charles and his colleagues founded the professional union and the Western Organization for Women.  They were public activists and intellectuals at once. When students occupied Morgan Hall in protest of the Vietnam War, Charles went in to talk to them, to keep the lines of communication open.

When Charles was teaching here, people valued education for education’s sake.  Now, ideology has replaced values.  Then, it did not occur to anyone that faculty had no basis “for determining what an education is,” as a WIU retiree recently wrote on social media.  Most of the time between 1987 and 2007, I was getting an extensive education, at various levels and in different fields.  I invested nearly 20 years enrolled in educational institutions, but, according to many folks today, I don’t know what an education is.  Academics has always demanded discipline and focus, but now, it also demands a determination to take a stand when what you do is unpopular.

If the faculty-degrading comment on social media were an exception, it would be funny. It’s not an exception.  The WIU administration has been belittling and degrading faculty for a decade.  When I was on the President’s select inner circle of faculty, he told us that professors are lazy and spoiled (I’m paraphrasing).  He saw the shock on my face, and he said he was speaking of people who were not in the room, and by that, I believe he meant faculty who had taken leadership roles in the University Professionals of Illinois. Belittling some faculty in front of others was unprofessional and wrong.

We have fallen so far from Dr. Sadler’s generation.  Next to the red peppers in Hy-vee, I crossed paths with Charles’s closest colleague:

“I feel bad that I had such a great career and that WIU is so terrible for your generation of humanities scholars,” he said.

Then I felt bad that he felt bad!  None of us have any power to choose the historical period we are born in.


You can visit a memorial brick for Charles G. Sadler at the east entrance to WIU’s Rec. Center.


Stone or brick memorials for my dead family members are half buried on each of the points of this triangle I walked last fall: Charles’s and Chad’s at the Rec Center (next to Q lot), Laura’s in the tree grove on south-east corner, and Chad’s Interhall Council brick between Sherman and Simkpins hall, in the bottom, left corner of this map.














Today, Facebook presented this selfie (right) to me as a memory from 2014.  Then, I was searching for images of what students were wearing at Western Illinois University in 2006 (a lot of body-hugging scoop-necked t-shirts left untucked over curvy jeans and brightly-colored cardigans), and this image (left) of Lori Baker-Sperry, actually from 2003, appeared.

For fun, I put the images next to each other.  Mine was a selfie and hers was a professional photo to accompany an article about her work on gender roles in fairy tales.

Lori was my mentor for 10 years at WIU!  We even published an article together on feminism and food.  Lori’s office was always much neater than mine!

Our perspectives often diverged, but as department colleagues, we worked as a team.  I write today and feel a force from inside pressing up on my throat.  I suppose my readers feel it too.  Sadness and grief are so hard.

Swearing Against

To feel calm in Arbitration Hearing Number 2, I did three things.

First, I kept my spine straight with my shoulders back and down, like the yoga teachers instruct.

I had to sit on the edge of my seat—because I am petite, that’s the only way my feet will reach the floor flatly, and to keep my spine straight, I need to be able to plant my feet firmly on the floor.  If I scoot back, my feet don’t reach.

Second, I wrote down what I heard and saw:  the square-ish arrangement of tables and chairs in the Capitol room, what people said, what they wore, their drinks (bottles of Mountain Dew and Diet Coke, a bright red Coke can, and stainless steel coffee tumblers) how they held their hands when swearing in, and the line of their spines. Moving my pen across paper–forming humps, then loops, words, then sentences, lends me a calming sense of control.

And Third, I have a mantra that I learned from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work on Self-Compassion.  I saved this for the hardest part–when I took the witness stand (actually just a foldable table) and waited for the Arbitrator to reconvene the hearing:

This is a moment of suffering

Everyone suffers

May I hold my pain with tenderness

Reciting the third line almost made me cry.  I have so much pain that I am afraid I cannot hold it–not with tenderness, not with steadfastness, not with anything.  When I felt that pinch in my eyes, I went back to the beginning of the mantra, and continued to repeat only the first two lines until the arbitrator reconvened the hearing.

“The reason I’m qualified to teach Spanish is I have a PhD in Spanish,”  I testified.  It doesn’t matter.  I mean, for the sake of our students and our values, it matters, but Western Illinois University has already told me they don’t need my skillset here.  Though deeply valuable, all those fancy degrees I’ve earned and the tenured status I jumped through hoops to achieve, do not do for me what I have thought they would. This lesson hurts.  I try to hold that pain with tenderness.

It helps to remind myself that suffering is part of life for everyone.  I saw and heard various forms of suffering on the witness stand.  A voice died out, as if the witness had left the room, leaving a mute body at the table.  A head sunk into its shoulders, as if afraid.  When swearing in, a hand was closed, as if swearing against or swearing at.

My body also betrayed pain:  on the witness stand, I kept having to re-straighten my spine, and at one point,  when the administration’s attorney asked me a question that insulted my academic values, I took a breath in, held it, and turned my head towards the Union’s attorney.

Body language leads me to conclude that both sides have suffered the last two years. Dr. Kristin Neff makes a compelling argument that everyone suffers.  Who does not suffer?  Suffering makes us human, she says.









Sassy Black Blazer for Hearing 2

The night before my Layoff Arbitration Hearing II (held yesterday in Western Illinois University’s Capitol Room), I tried on a flimsy grey blazer with navy slacks.  I went to bed.  The next morning, I stepped on some shoes and bags on the bottom of my closet and reached for the sassy black blazer that I keep zipped up in the back. The last time I wore it was to testify before the House Appropriations Committee, Higher Education in the Thompson building in the Chicago Loop.


Testifying before an Illinois House Committee. June, 2016.  The man next to me was from NIU.

I hung the blazer on a loop in the bathroom, where there’s a full-length mirror and a heating vent.  It is woven from a structured and stiff cotton and the black is very black.  If I put it on, it means I’m taking the event very seriously.  It feels like armor–testimony armor.  It gives me a feeling of power and authority.

My daughter, who almost never comments on anyone’s clothes, saw it hanging in the bathroom and said,

“You’re wearing that?”  She knows it means something is at stake.

She went downstairs for breakfast, and I put the blazer on over a pink shell and grey pants.


“Pink?”   She was not convinced.  Plus, she’s rarely seen me wear pink.

“Yes, because when you are a woman and you wear only black, they will say you are cold and uncaring.  Like crooked Hillary.  A teacher who is a woman must come across as maternal–even to people who are not her students.  If I do not appear at least a little soft, they will say I am not a good teacher.”

Plus, I liked the contrast of the peachy pink with the stark black.

If an outfit could restore my tenured status at WIU, surely this one would do it!  But it will take much more than an outfit.  Fortunately, the UPI has a knowledgable, meticulous, and formidable attorney who didn’t miss a beat yesterday.  And fortunately the UPI has a knowledgable, meticulous, and formidable grievance officer who has covered all his bases.

An  IFT representative who has seen many of these hearings told me that judging by the arguments presented, he did not see how the arbitrator could justify not ruling in our favor.  Justice is still possible, but I wonder if other, unseen, forces were at work yesterday.

As for how I’m doing, I was up most of the night replaying, in my head, the 3-hour hearing. My throat hurt and body ached–my first winter cold virus.  I haven’t slept well in more than a week.  And Tom and I have yet to sit down and figure out how to pay our bills.  We’ve had two full-time incomes for 10 years.  I’ve forgotten how to make due on one.  Thrift is a skill that requires practice.  I am out of practice.

Anyway, I’m happily taking a manuscript workshop.  I’ll end today’s post on that note of hope.

Thanks for reading!






Queen Grandmommy and the Ice-cream Store

Laid off, I have time and energy for writing assignments:  Write a story of unexpected betrayal.  When possible, describe emotion as a feeling on the body.  What does betrayal feel like on the body?  Somewhere in your story, include a little dirt. (Thanks for this one, Ariel.)

My solution:

The most special thing about Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s was waking up each morning.  They lived in a townhouse with a staircase that paused at a window and pivoted before landing.  When I descended for breakfast, I felt like a princess in a turreted castle.  Queen Grandmommy would give me a good morning kiss.  It smelled like Estee Lauder face cream. Then we ate oatmeal with one teaspoon of sugar on top.

When I was little, my parents would send me to Fort Worth, TX to stay with Grandmommy and Granddaddy for two weeks.  Some of my earliest memories are of these visits.

Grandmommy would drive me to the store in her yellow Mustang with black seats.  She’d park under the sign with the big pink and brown polka dots.  The store smelled of sugar cones.  I’d skip past the 31 flavors of ice cream, towards the backroom, where I’d find little drawers of plastic cake decorations: a basketball, ice-skates, a pony.  With my bare fingers, I’d take out all the charms, play with them, and put them back.

icecream cake 1

Grandmommy and Granddaddy in their ice-cream store

I’d watch Sesame Street on the little black and white TV on a desk.  Grandmommy would make me a French Vanilla milkshake, with a banana to make it “healthy.”

Grandmommy was in her mid 40s and petite and pretty, with perfectly coifed hair—high in the back and flipped up over her shoulders—like she could be on daytime TV.  And she read about nutrition in Prevention magazine. She liked her kitchen and ice cream store to be perfect and sanitary.  She was thrifty and disapproved of letting anything go to waste.  (My mom claims Grandmommy counts exactly 4 toilet paper squares before wiping.)

In Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s store, there were unarticulated rules for ice-cream tasting, rules that were virtually unobservable to a child.

I grew tall enough to reach into the buckets of ice cream and saw how Grandmommy and Granddaddy did it.  You lifted a sliding glass freezer door with one hand, and with the other, dipped a pink plastic tasting spoon into the flavor you desired.  I went for pure creaminess– strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla—and ignored the other 28 concoctions.  Butter Pecan and Rocky Road were for Granddaddy.

I had spent enough time around Grandmommy to know I should be thrifty as well as clean, so after I dipped a tasting spoon into the chocolate, then put it in my mouth, I used the same spoon to try the vanilla. I felt the adults glaring at me disapprovingly—not just Grandmommy and Granddaddy, but a man on the other side of the case, a customer.  He had said something—something about what I did.  It was not “sanitary.”

In the queen’s refusal to come to my defense, she betrayed my innocent yearning for approval. I was too ashamed to enjoy the sample, but I put the plastic spoon full of germy ice cream in my mouth, anyway—I didn’t want to be accused of being wasteful as well unsanitary.

icecream cake

Years later, for my 7th birthday, Grandmommy made me an ice-cream cake, packed it with dry ice, and brought it to our house in Okeene, OK.

My cheeks were so hot that I did not feel the icy vanilla on my tongue.

Griefs and Grievances

I have chronicled my grievance hearings; however, I omitted the context of grief and numbness that seeped through my first hearing: on top of losing my career, I lost my sister-in-law.

Most of Laura’s life had revolved around WIU:  she was a faculty brat, she had attended WIU’s lab school and summer musical theatre, her friends and husband earned degrees and worked at WIU, and she loved her new office in Simpkins Hall.

WIU was at war with itself and Laura was disgusted.

Laura and I had gone to lunch the Thursday before she died from the cancer we knew nothing of.  Laura was witty, and I hoped she’d be able to relieve me of my ruminations.

A decade earlier, she had returned to Macomb right after I did, but we had not had lunch, just the two of us, until that day.

The Yummy Chin host sat us in a booth behind my dean and her assistant deans.  Laura ordered the sweet and sour chicken.  I thought little of the fact that she didn’t order her favorite drink, Mountain Dew.  I had the sweet potato tempura roll.

I was leaning over the table towards Laura so the deans would not overhear me complain about the people who laid me off.

“How are the kids?” asked Laura, who had seen and talked to them just 3 days before.

“Um.  Fine.” I didn’t know what to add, so I continued to trash talk WIU.

“How are the kids?” Her voice was weak and urgent.  Now I wonder if she was pleading–maybe for some tender images to ease her pain.

In the parking lot, her steps were slow.  I assumed she was enjoying the sun and drove us back to Simpkins hall.

That Saturday I was happy, but  Sunday after the sun reached its highest point in the south, my heart darkened with with dread.  My layoff was so discouraging–how would I teach?

Monday , I woke up at 4:30 a.m.  My chest ached with the loss of my job, fear for my future, and the pressure of anger.  I told myself that if I could just dress warmly,  I would handle my longest weekly teaching day just fine.  I put on a thick hoodie with a hounds-tooth pattern and zipped it up all the way to my chin.  This hoodie hugged my body all day.  I had read that the hounds-tooth pattern signified courage.

I taught four classes, and then brought home a stack of essay exams on 20th-Century women’s protest novels, but that evening, before I read them, Laura died of cancer.

Looking back, I know that in the weeks after WIU launched shocks onto the faculty, Laura’s skin turned green.


A week before she died, Laura did her best to celebrate her niece’s birthday. Only looking back did we notice she wasn’t herself.

Unlike me, Laura refused to fight—not against WIU, not against her cancer.  After a winter of pain in her shoulders, back, stomach, and head, she finally took one sick day.  The cancer, it seems, had already occupied Laura from every angle and positioned itself to send a fatal shock through her entire body.

By the time I met Tom and Grandma at the ER, Laura showed no signs of consciousness or pain.  Standing behind Laura was a nurse, the mother of one of my daughter’s friends.  What a comfort.  I touched Laura’s cold, rubbery arm.  “Goodby dear Laura,” I murmured.  Something had moved on her EKG and they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a pulse, so they waited, but before the med-vac arrived, the doctor called the time of death.

Five days later, at my grievance hearing,  anger and shock covered my pain and fear.

Dr. Eva Eger (The Choice) says there is no hierarchy of suffering.  I suffered from grief and grievance, and there was no point ranking one as worse than the other.

After the hearing in Sherman Hall, the assistant provost said he was sorry about Laura.

Recipe:  Anti-depressing Dressing with Pumpkin and Portabella

We gathered for a Thanksgiving meal yesterday.  In order to enjoy my Saturday and spare myself the temptation of an expensive Starbucks latte, I blew off a trip to Hy-Vee.  This means that Sunday morning, the turkey dressing had to be made with whatever was left in the kitchen and the garden. Luckily, my monstrous sage bush is still fresh.

I woke up and dumped about a pint of sourdough starter in a big glass bowl and stirred in almond and coconut flour (1/3 cup of each?) and some liquid poured off from plain yogurt and some milk—enough of these last two to get the consistency of cornbread batter.  Good dressing starts with bread or biscuits made from ingredients that don’t have names better suited for a bottle of weed killer.

I grew up on corn bread dressing, but in New York, I learned to make it with chunky whole wheat sourdough.  Yesterday, I was conjuring a quick hybrid of the two.

Also, because I did not want to pass several minutes cutting cold butter into my bread batter, I put a stick of butter in a sauce pan on the tiny burner—that way I could just pour the butter into the batter. I hand-brewed a large light-roast coffee and retired to my study to write in my gratitude journal:

When I finally started chopping veggies, the names and faces of various loved ones who would be missing from our table “haunted” me.  We had gotten used to the absences of those who had died 20 and 30 years ago, but the more recent ones—that’s harder.  I began to regret volunteering to host, but I got my knife out anyway.

I cut a wedge out of the sweet pumpkin my son had picked out from the CSA.


Pie pumpkin from our CSA was almost as big as the 20 lb turkey!

Aware of my anxious brooding, I handled the 10″ chef’s knife extra carefully.


My chef’s knife piercing a butternut squash that I roasted for soup.

I cut the pumpkin wedge into chunks, and put it in the oven to roast.

My husband and I took a walk in the sun.

“I’m not looking forward to the afternoon,” I said.

He moved slowly, as he does when he’s sad:

“Let’s focus on the food.  And make sure your mother is happy.”


Soggy bits of my sourdough biscuit bread mixed with roasted pumpkin, mushrooms, onion, celery, and sage

When I mixed the ingredients for the turkey dressing and poured the cream over it, I began to feel better.  Cream makes me feel good—and there’s a scientific rationale:   Sally Fallon, of the Weston Price Foundation says,

The body makes its own endocannabinoids—exactly the same substance that occurs in marijuana—and these can help the body modulate pain naturally. We make these endocannabinoids out of an omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which occurs uniquely in animal fats like butter, egg yolks, cream and lard.

Also, we need cholesterol for serotonin to generate good feelings and we need fat to regulate insulin.  Eat more butter and cream!

I tucked the pan of dressing in the oven above the turkey and went for a two-mile walk.  Thirty minutes later, all the cream was absorbed.  It smelled divine.  My husband walked through on his way out for a run and paused to stand over it.

“That looks really good.”

“Yes– it’s going to be a wonderful Thanksgiving.”

My mom said it was the best dressing she’d ever eaten!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipe: Anti-Depressing Dressing

4 to 6 TBLS of butter, plus more for greasing pan

A pound or so of torn up bread or biscuits–a day or two old if possible

One medium butternut squash or the equivalent of pie pumpkin


1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

20 to 30 fresh sage leaves, chopped

4 medium portabella mushrooms or a combination of mushrooms, chopped

2 cups (or more) heavy cream

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Butter 9X11 baking dish
  3. fill baking dish with squash or pumpkin chunks, salt generously, and bake until soft—30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool and peel.
  4. While pumpkin roasts, on medium heat, melt 2 TBLS or more of butter and sauté onion and celery with half the sage and generous amount of salt, until soft
  5. On medium heat, melt 2 TBLS or more of butter and sauté mushrooms with other half of sage, and generous amount of salt, until soft
  6. In a big bowl, mix bread, onion mixture, mushrooms, and pumpkin. Taste for salt and add if needed.
  7. Spread into greased baking dish. Pour cream over.  Pour enough cream to saturate the all the bread and vegetables.  In fact, pour so much cream that it almost spills over.
  8. Bake, uncovered for about 35 minutes.


POST SCRIPT:  My daughter, ever rigorous in argument and skeptical of mothers, said,

“But mom, does cream really make you feel good?”

“Did you hear Grandma?  She said I am different.  She said I am more relaxed.  I didn’t pay her to say that.”

Anyway, if drugs can change our moods, why shouldn’t foods, or a deficiency of certain foods, anyway?  And if we’re deficient in something, it’s animal fats.  Why not eat well (delicious, fatty and healthy) and forgo the pill?







How the Ghost of Women’s Studies came to Haunt Simpkins Hall

In the Simpkins seminar room on the campus of Western Illinois University, Dr. Karen Mann introduced us to Women’s Studies, though she didn’t call it that- she called it “General Honors Seminar,” but she taught mostly novels by women, like P.D. James’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and Ursula K. Le Guin’s gender-bending Left Hand of Darkness.

That was Fall of 1987. I was 18, impressed and impressionistic.  I later signed up for Dr. Mann’s Women and Literature (a class I’d teach) and Dr. Wong’s Third World Literature (which featured fiction by women.)

Now, Fall of 2017, I have returned to the seminar room to admire the molding on the ceiling–squirrels, acorns, ivy and birds.  Beauty for beauty’s sake– no wonder ghosts love this building.


A Women’s Studies Memorial Walk.  I start and end at Simpkins Hall.

Next, I approach Memorial Hall, where Dr.  Simmons taught his Women and Religion class.  When God was a woman, societies were more peaceful.

Today, as the sun warms my hair, I trek down to Morgan, where I took Feminist Theory and Women and Crime with Dr. Polly Radosh.  Guess what I learned in Polly’s class?  The criminal justice system guarantees no justice for women.

In 2007, Morgan Hall 109 would be the site of the first Women Studies class I would teach.  I learned  that 21st-Century Western students were even more conservative than my cohort.


Southeast entrance to Morgan Hall. Save for recycling bin and students on cell phones, it looks the same as in 1987.


I make a U-turn and head for the University Union where Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women and a fierce advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, drew a full crowd in the Grand Ball  Room in 1987 or 88.

After living in New York City a decade, with PhD in hand, I crossed paths with Dr. Polly Radosh at the 2005 WIU New Faculty Orientation.  I had a Master’s in Women’s Studies, I said.  She was the chair of the Women’s Studies department, she said.   A WS Major??? At WIU???  Too good to be true!  When Dr. Lori Baker-Sperry, associate professor of Women’s Studies, addressed the new faculty, I longed to teach Women’s Studies as well.

12 years later, I am tenured in WS, but laid off, so I have all day for my memorial walk.  I climb the hill to Seal Hall, where I taught my first successful WS class:  Introduction to Feminist Theory.  That was exactly 10 years ago, when I didn’t have to compete with cell phones, when students read books and attended class.  Teaching was wonderful.

I take the outdoor stairway to Western Ave. and Currens Hall, where I kept a WS office from 2007 to 2015.  An Asian beetle bites my arm.

The Women’s Studies department truly worked as a team during those years, and I met and mentored many great feminist students, like Margaret Hasselroth.

I circle around Currens and head the half mile back to Simpkins. In 2015, the dean moved Women’s Studies up there.  My office whistled, and sometimes when I’d open my door in the mornings, a biting cold wind would greet me.


West end of Simpkins Hall. My 2015 office was three rows up, on the left.  My office had two windows, one of which has a brown vent under it.

A few months after the department move, the dean told me I was being laid off.  Next, the Board of Trustees eliminated the major in Women’s Studies.

Last May, when my contract neared termination, I’d arrive at my office in the mornings and find my door unlocked.

And that’s how the ghost of Women’s Studies came to haunt Simpkins Hall.