Dear Dr. Rajender . . .

Dear Dr. Shyamala Rajender,

The University of Minnesota and the Rajender Consent Decree are probably far from your thoughts. Most of the time they are far from mine, too. However, recently I realized that it’s been 40 years since the decree bearing your name helped me.

I’m writing to thank you.

Your courage fighting gender discrimination changed my perceptions of the world and set me on a feminist path that informed the rest of my life—how I see myself and thought about my career, how my marriage works, and how I raised my sons.

Forty years ago, I was a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Minnesota-Morris, my first professional job. In the spring of 1980, I got in trouble with the all-male senior faculty in the English department, because I wanted to present a noncredit lecture about women’s literature for a Continuing Education series.

Several of the senior faculty reacted with a policy that stated, “. . . instructors in English should not participate in off-campus events, either formal instruction or informal presentations, which, in effect, call for a person who has been judged expert in the teaching of English literature.” In other words, I wasn’t supposed to talk about literature even though I had an M.A. in English Literature. The policy was odd and confusing. Several of the literature professors at UMM had been tenured with only a Master’s degree. But my credentials—which were the same as what some of them had—were suspect.

At first, I was more scared than angry (anger came later). The Continuing Education director and the EEOC officer knew I was afraid I’d damage my career by fighting the policy, so they informed the academic dean about my dilemma. The dean and others were aware of your gender bias case against the Chemistry department on the main campus. Consequently, the dean insisted the English department rescind their policy, and I was allowed to give the lecture.

Later that year, a number of faculty members, including me, received a $2,000 raise as a result of the Rajender Consent Decree. It’s hard to imagine now, but increasing my salary from $12,000 to $14,000 per year was a meaningful raise then. In general, it’s hard to convey to younger people just how crazy the late 1970s and early 1980s were for professional women.

Your decision to fight the University of Minnesota had a lasting impact on my life.

At 25, I learned gender discrimination was as real and insidious as the fatherly men in the English department, who didn’t see me as their equal and wanted to limit my opportunities. That experience didn’t drive me away from academia, but like you, I left the academic world several years later.

Your career was exemplary (first a Ph.D. in Chemistry, later a law degree). Mine was much more ordinary, but I was always aware of the example I set as a woman in the workplace. Your determination to fight gender bias had a far-reaching effect on me and so many other women. I want to acknowledge your heroic contributions.

Thank you again for your courage.

Sincerely,

Ellen Shriner

Another Dog Story…

Crystel at 5 years old with Rosie

Was I afraid of other’s judgements, or did guilt keep me from posting the passing of Rosie, our beloved Bichon Poodle on Facebook? Four days after we put Rosie down, we came home with a ten-week-old puppy.

Neither Jody nor I were interested in posting these two life events.

Rosie had been with us for thirteen years. There were times that I thought she would last forever.

Bandit Rose was her ‘real’ name. The name on her vet charts. In time, she became Rosie. The kids were 5 years old when we got her as a puppy. Juan named her Bandit and Crystel said Rose and so it was. She was their puppy.

Rosie soon became everyone’s puppy and grew to be everyone’s dog – the people on the block, in the neighborhood, and anyone (person or dog) we would meet on our walks. She had a wag and a smile that softened your heart and made you better for the day.

Rosie and Buddy

On our walks, she would pull me crisscross across the street back and forth to meet her loves. She expected you to stop your gardening or yardwork to love her. And, you would. She had her own relationship with you. She was your dog in that moment and you were her world.

Rosie joined Maggie (Bichon Cocker) who was already part of our family. When Maggie passed away at ten years of age, we grieved for a year before getting a puppy to join Rosie. We knew it was time when Rosie initiated a game of tag with a lamb while we visited a farm. It was clear that she needed a companion.

Rosie and I grew old together. With two knee replacements behind me she was my dog to walk. Smelling the air together, sniffing at flowers, saying hello to her loves, we took our time. It didn’t matter how many blocks we walked or if we made it around Donaldson Park. What mattered was our unhurried pace and being outdoors.

While I walked Rosie, Jody ran after squirrels with Buddy our Papillion Maltese mix. Jody intentionally sprinted the opposite direction with Buddy when she saw a person or a dog coming her way. Buddy rightfully earned the nickname Trouble.

Crystel and Sadie

Rosie loved Buddy. How she could, I don’t know. He often nipped at her tail, stole her bones, and grabbed at her leash, pulling her this way and that.

Jody and I didn’t walk the dogs together, though we would leave the house at the same time and meet up towards the end of our walk. An enduring trait that Rosie had was running towards Buddy and greeting him like she hadn’t seen him in forever.  We all should be so lucky to have a Rosie in our life.

Sadie, our Bichon Shih Tzu puppy is a lot like Rosie. Everyone’s puppy, a lover of other dogs. Greeting Buddy like a long-lost friend. Sadie has even had a mellowing affect on Buddy. He is calmer and learning how to play with other dogs.

Maybe it was just that Rosie deserved so much more than a Facebook post. She needed an entire blog.

She was my girl and I miss her. We all do. Jody’s words have eased my guilt in getting a new puppy so soon after Rosie, “If we could still have Rosie with us, we would.”

Avoca, Wisconsin – July 2019

The Avoca summer house backs into a hill on one side. On the other side, the deck juts into oak tree tops. A friend and I are eye level with squirrels. Equals. As if tree tops are our place as much as theirs. Given a chance though, Nature would push down the house and reclaim the landscape.

I don’t know the deep rhythms of the natural world, but for a few days, I’m immersed. Midwestern summers speak to me. Lush green cornfields exhaling. White daisies, purple crown vetch, and yellow bird’s foot trefoil cascading down hillsides and overflowing ditches. Ponds greening. Humming flies diving toward my head again and again. Gnats’ silent pestering.

At dusk, the day has barely cooled. Humidity blankets everything. The air is still. Near the edge of the gravel road, a doe startles then bounds off through a cornfield. Birds begin their call and response. When evening deepens to inky black, fireflies as bright as falling stars flash: Find me. Find me.

Nature’s abundance and persistence energizes and soothes. I know all is not right with the world, but for the moment it feels like it.

July 4th Weekend 2020

Some things feel normal this holiday weekend. Humidity and heat blanket parts of the nation. Corn is knee high in many fields. Red, white and blue bunting decorates front porches, small shops, and grocery cases where the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs are on special for cookouts. Someone in the neighborhood is shooting off illegal fireworks. The little kids are decorating their trikes and bikes for an exciting ride down the block with families standing at the curb wearing patriotic t-shirts and waving small flags.

That’s where holiday normal stops. No big parades, no gigantic firework displays, no large gatherings in a park with multiple grills and coolers full of shared drinks or food. Kids don’t wander from their front stoop as siblings ride down the street. Social distancing keeps everyone from huddling in groups to catch up on life. Adults, with masks in a  pocket, are trying to put aside their worries for a few hours.

We’re a country with deep problems. Some days the news is so discombobulating that sleep is evasive. More of our citizens have died of COVID-19 than we lost in WWI, twice as many as lost in Vietnam. Inequality is a hard truth digging into long held assumptions about US as a land of equal opportunity. Money and power are in the hands of too few with too many lacking access to food, healthcare, jobs, housing.

Halfway through 2020, many of us are tired and seriously challenged to find uplifting themes. With global economies and a global pandemic, there are virtually no nations sailing in smooth waters. There are many friends and family to grieve, much to repair, more to build afresh, and not enough resources to address all the needs.

On this July 4th 2020 weekend, I wish you all health, safety, and the strength to invest in citizen engagement through what will be long, tough months. Please be kind to each other, seek common ground, and vote when the opportunity arises.

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Why Does She March?

Photo Credit to Crystel

I ask myself this as I watch her and her friends, all clothed in black, carrying cardboard signs down our street. The air has a strong scent of paint thinner and diesel fuel from the markers they used to create their signage. One sign says, Silence is Violence. I say a prayer that the teens lives this motto and that they never stay still when they witness or have knowledge of a violent act. This would bring me lifelong comfort for their safety as well as others.

The five 17- year-olds are walking to 494 and Penn where there will be assembling with others.

Is this a protest? A march? A gathering? Jody and I are not sure. The information we get is a jigsaw puzzle at best. We hope to God that they aren’t planning on walking onto the freeway. Jody and I wouldn’t support that. We tell her so. Yet, we also wouldn’t stop her.

Be Safe, Don’t Die. I want to holler after the teenagers. I stop myself, though this is not an unusual farewell that my family has given each other when we leave the house. I don’t need to heighten any uneasiness the teens may be feeling. How do they know what they are walking into? For certain, I don’t.

Why does she march?

The pandemic has allowed our family more time together. Jody and I take hour-long walks with Crystel. On these walks Crystel talks about how she wants to make a difference. She is particularly interested in making a lasting change in Guatemala, the country of her birth. She had a 3-week homestay and language school trip planned at Casa Xelaju Spanish School in Guatemala for this summer. COVID-19 travel restrictions abruptly halted her plans.

Jody and Crystel joined the mourners at 38th and Chicago where George Floyd was murdered. Crystel placed white hydrangea blooms from our garden at the memorial site. Days later, I accompanied her and her friends to George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis. I wondered if there would be a food truck and porta potties. When I confessed this to Crystel, she gasped and rolled her eyes.

Why does she march?

Don’t ignore something Because it Makes you uncomfortable

Why don’t I march? The question intrigues me. Why her, why not me? Then, I remember why I joined the Peace Corps when I was 30 years old. I had that same feeling, the same drive, that I see in her. I wanted to make a difference.

I’m thirty-one years older now. Crystel asked if we could donate to her friend whose family business was looted at el MERCADO CENTRAL during the riots. She asked if we could donate food and supplies to the families affected by riots.

We can do that. I’m thirty-one years older. I march in a different way.