English, education and eats
Saturday morning, Oct. 12, Loras alum, students, and faculty gathered on the third floor of the ARC for guest speaker, Monica Shaffer. But before introducing her, Professor of English Kevin Koch brought attention to a memorial tribute for writer and Loras alum Dennis M. Schmitz.
Schmitz, who passed on Sept. 12, 2019, in Oakland, California at the age of 82, was no less than a gifted poet and talented writer. Koch praised his advocacy for social justice and the environment, which is thoroughly integrated into his literature, as well as Schmitz’s achievement of being named the first poet laureate of Sacramento, California, in 1994. Readers Andrew Auge (Professor of English), Donna Bauerly (Professor Emerita of English), and Valorie Woerdehoff (retired Loras grant writer, poet, and English alum) each shared a piece of his work, reflecting on his captivating style with each word.
“[His poetry] shifted a sense of what literature could be,” Auge stated before indulging the audience in “The Grand Egress,” a poem utilizing P.T. Barnum’s circus atmosphere.
His enthusiasm for the environment also shone through Woerdehoff’s reading of “Elms”, in which Schmitz addresses the declining tree population. Before beginning, she provided that 600 disease-ridden Elm tree stumps still need to be removed from Dubuque County alone, stressing the importance of nature’s beauty. And through that beauty, he also conveys his childhood memories which communicate the complexities of life and captures his childhood and adulthood.
After concluding the tribute, Koch invited Monica Shaffer to the podium to share about her time in Minneapolis, MN as a volunteer coordinator for the Jeremiah Program. The projector to her left displayed the words, “May peacemaking prevail on earth today!” And with that, she introduced us to the many ways in which she helped victims of human trafficking readjust to life in America.
She explained that even though her background didn’t necessarily support her journey, she gained the valuable experience of getting to be with the women and exploring their faith together at Sarah’s… an Oasis for Women. The sanctuary, organized and run by a sisterhood, created a safe atmosphere and protection from ICE, as well as provided opportunities for women to share their stories of escaping horrors of their home countries. Communication was difficult, Shaffer admitted, but she learned by hand gestures, facial expressions, and conversational tones how to connect with the residents.
“Sometimes it was simpler to just lead me to the fallen shelf in the bathroom, but it was more than that. Being okay with mourning, sitting with someone and letting them cry to you, sometimes even crying with them, not having the right things to say when they tell me their entire family was murdered by their government.” Shaffer’s respect and appreciation for culture is what motivated her to get up every morning.
She spent time as a crisis counselor, helping women that no one else wanted to, and was so moved by their experiences that after the Jeremiah Program she applied for Law School to study Human Rights with the hopes to create a better, more supportive future for those that came to her. She will start her new journey in the Fall of 2020.
“There’s always going to be another person,” Shaffer argued, “every time I took the next step forward there was another thing fighting against the commitment I have for quality and justice for everyone.”
But her optimistic attitude, her love for helping others, and her ability to sympathize with situations she’s never been in will, no doubt, bring her to success so that she can continue to walk beside those who are struggling and provide support where it would otherwise be lacking.