Featured / Mosaic / May 3, 2017

From student to professor, past to present


Brandon Polite – ‘03

As an incoming Knox student, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Brandon Polite intended to study mathematics and sciences, eventually to enter the pre-engineering program. After encountering difficulties in Calculus and Intro to Physics his first two terms at Knox, Polite’s interest in the field declined and shifted further towards the humanities, eventually leading him to study Philosophy.

Polite’s interest in philosophy was cemented Fall Term of his sophomore year when he took Philosophy of Art with Lance Factor. He described a particular day in class when students were called upon at random to discuss a concept in order to initiate a class discussion.

Having missed classes and assignments throughout the term, Polite felt that Factor called upon him intentionally. Polite said that, despite having been slacking, he led the conversation for the entire class period. He noted that he could see Factor’s expression change as the hour progressed.

“Basically the whole rest of the class was me talking, and the other students asking questions and me responding to their questions,” Polite said. At first, I think Lance was being more punitive or trying to embarrass me because I had been slacking. And from that point forward I showed up to class without an issue.”

Polite mentioned that, while Knox students have always been quirky, he noticed that the quirks that appeared to be natural to him seemed more conscious and intentional beginning his senior year.

“They were very much intended to draw attention to themselves,” he said. “There was that one guy who always wore a black fedora, and there was that guy who always wore a white fedora. I assume that they were mortal enemies. And then there was the guy who always had a walking stick for whatever reason.”

Polite feels that the diversity within the student body now allows more chances for students to encounter people who are different than they are, with different backgrounds and different experiences. He noted that, as a student and in the beginning of his teaching career, he wasn’t aware of any trans students.

“And now, we have all sorts of trans students or just non binary conforming students across the gender spectrum. I think that’s a huge positive that these individuals feel comfortable being themselves here in a way that they didn’t when I was a student.”

Cyn Fitch – ‘00

As a nontraditional student, Associate Professor of English Cyn Fitch attended Knox 14 years after graduating high school and as a single mother of four young children. While most students’ main responsibilities focused on doing well in school, Fitch had to balance her academics with her job, as well as caring for her kids.

Audrey Petty, whom she noted was younger than she, was her professor when one of her children became ill. She approached Petty and explained to her that she would be missing class and might request an extension on a paper in order to care for her child who had been hospitalized.

“I just remember her shock, and saying that that’s not usually the excuse that professors are used to hearing, and she was extremely gracious,” Fitch said. “I remember that, because I took my studies so seriously and then I also had these tremendous outside-of-school responsibilities, that all I had to do was say one little thing and it was like parting waters. They absolutely were willing to accommodate me.”

In addition to the writing courses, Fitch enjoyed a ceramics course she took, and remembers a specific day that her exhaustion had become too much for her to handle.

“We were all gathered around seated at wheels, it wasn’t really a classroom. There were probably 30 of us. Our professor was lecturing and I had hit a point of such utter exhaustion that I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t stay awake. His face kept disappearing and my head kept bobbing and I was horrified that I might be falling asleep in class,” she said. “I might have pulled an all-nighter, but I had hit a wall of energy. And so I slipped out and I went to the restroom and I just walked into the restroom and kind of sunk down and plopped against the wall, pulled my knees up.”

Upon graduating from Knox, Fitch took a professional job in the college’s Advancement Office and the Office of Public Relations, and then left to open a coffee shop in addition to enrolling in graduate school. After closing the coffee shop, Fitch took a position in a local organization that involved hosting an annual fundraiser. As the group toured several locations in Galesburg for possible venues, Fitch described that she was almost grief stricken as they happened to be touring the Knox Memorial Gym on Flunk Day.

“I remember thinking, I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I have to get back there because my heart is on that campus,” Fitch said. “I think those years at college represented, for me, the end of a really long phase of just existing.”

Nathalie Haurberg – ‘06

Coming from a small town, Assistant Professor of Physics Nathalie Haurberg had little experience with a diverse population. She views her interactions with international students and students from other parts of the world as some of the most formative aspects of her experience.

Haurberg said that, within a week of moving into her dorm, she met several suitemates from all over the world. She remembers a particular suitemate from Palestine and meeting and interacting with someone in such a war-torn and unstable country made her realize how much she had to learn about the world. She described a particular instance that illuminated the extent of cultural differences.

“During my first or second week at Knox, we went to a diner to get dinner late at night in the Quad Cities. She ordered coffee, and they kept giving her free refills. And she freaked out because coffee is something that is very heavily taxed and policed in Palestine. So the concept of free refills freaked her out,” Haurberg said. “It’s funny how much I remember that moment, and I remember that moment as such a startling moment as I was realizing what I take for granted in life, and the things I don’t know about the world.”

In addition to experiencing a new social dynamic, Haurberg was challenged by the academics at Knox in a way that she never had been. Though she was challenged occasionally during high school, Haurberg realized during her first year that she had to learn how to study, keep up with difficult readings and seek help from professors when she struggled.

The second Iraq War started during her first few years at Knox, but that was the only form of political activism she saw. She feels that current students engage in political activism on a much wider scale, and that more issues are being discussed and brought into awareness. She also described that the party scene seemed to be more over the top, but also realizes that she may be out of touch with that aspect as a faculty member.

“There was a lot of nudity and naked parties. It was all consensual, there was no non-consensual nudity. ‘Anything But Clothes’ was one of the themed parties where you could wear anything but clothes, which wasn’t nudity until you had to go home. Because usually people did things like wear saran wrap and they realized that it doesn’t last all night very well,” Hauberg said.

Karen Kampwirth – ‘86

GDH has not changed much in 30 years, neither has the campus for the most part. However for Professor Karen Kampwirth, this is a positive attribute. Kampwirth used to attend classes in the building in 1986, and she returned back to teach there in 1995. What initially drew her back to Knox College was the tightly-woven community only a quasi-secluded campus could offer. She noted the way large universities would not be able to sustain the level of interconnectivity among either the faculty or the student body.

“There are costs to living in Galesburg, Ill, but one of the benefits is you get to work at Knox College. You don’t get Knox without Galesburg.” said Kampwirth.

While a student, she heavily participated in the vivacious political atmosphere that came with attending Knox in the mid 80s. She was a member of the College Democrats and was Vice President of International Club. Kampwirth asserts the ending of the Apartheid movement as one of the biggest political events of her college career. She recalls how Knox’s strong international program brought the effects of Apartheid to a more personal level, a few students she knew through the international program were South African themselves. Kampwirth details a heated debate amongst students over the “ugly” aesthetic value of Apartheid protests, which then turned into a larger debate over free-speech. Kampwirth now teaches in the Political Science department.

For Kampwirth, there have not been too many political events that have caused as much of a stir at Knox. She does note the similarities between the Anti-Apartheid movement and the Anti-Trump movement on campus since his election. In particular, Kampwirth takes notice of the support for undocumented students rippling through campus. Knox students have always understood the responsibility that comes with receiving an elite education, for Kampwirth this has manifested in generations of students motivated to help others.

“Then as now, the results of our activism were not always clear, but the fight for social justice is always worth fighting, whatever the outcome.”

Mary Armon – ‘85

Associate Professor of Mathematics Mary Armon spent several nights sitting in Kresge watching films that Union Board showed twice a week. She majored in Mathematics and felt that the flexibility of a liberal arts education allowed her to explore other interests, such as German and Theatre.

She remembers a particular event, Knox Nuclear Overview Week, that took place during her junior year. At the height of the Cold War, the event aimed at raising awareness about the threat of Nuclear War. After attending one of the planning meetings, Armon had the opportunity to have lunch with one of the speakers, whose name she can’t remember.

“That was a really big event. And the nice thing is, even as a math major it was important in current events at the time,” Armon said. “It was always nice when you have an opportunity to be exposed to even more points of view than are already available at Knox.”

Armon noted that her experience taking Abstract Algebra II challenged her but also prompted intellectual growth that she now hopes to give to her students.

“There were six of us and it was taught by Dennis Schneider. And I found out later on that he was a little annoyed at having to teach this class, so he pretty much just set us loose on the material. We were supposed to come in everyday and present problems, so we would get together and kind of plan a strategy of who would do this problem and who would do that problem. And when none of us could figure out a particular one we had to sit down and figure it out together. It was a ton of work, but it was really fun work,” Armon said.

Armon feels that the student population has gotten significantly more diverse since she was a student and the relationship between Knox and Galesburg is much better than what it was previously.

“This was kind of a preppy place in the early 80s. I would study in the Red Room at night, and there was a group of guys. And the aroma of Polo would just emanate from the table,” Armon said. “It’s not to say that everybody was like that, but there were quite a few people like that.”

As a faculty member, Armon strives to create the same rewarding challenges she was met with, while adjusting the level of challenges to the abilities of her students.

Mike Godsil – ’76

Instructor of Art Mike Godsil’s years as a student from 1972-1976 included many of the same responsibilities Godsil has now. During the mid to late 70s, Knox was experimenting with its course catalog. Seniors could pitch course ideas to the curriculum committee and if deemed academically rigorous enough, the course could be taught by the student full credit. Godsil pitched a photography course in his senior year, and ended up with the beginnings of the course he teaches to this day.

“One of my suitemates from freshman year took the course. He still lets me know that he hadn’t forgotten he received a B+ instead of a an A-,” said Godsil.

For Godsil, one of the biggest differences on campus from then to now is the professionalism in different fields. Godsil, a Galesburg native who grew up near SMC, recalls the times where he’d sneak onto campus as a teenager. One of his favorite activities was to skate on the Gizmo Patio, then an ice-rink, before Campus Safety chastised him. Campus Safety was nothing like it is today, Godsil described the department as “one man on a bike” with a hearty laugh.

Perhaps for this reason Knox students were allowed to get away with quite a few more antics. He spoke of well-known events at Phi-Gamma Delta involving fruit punch and a garbage bag, and a less than athletic “Olympics” hosted at TKE annually. Godsil illustrates his Flunk Days as far wilder as well, on par with the rest of the nation’s 70s college scene. With particular fondness Godsil talked about the time Knox booked two famous acts, Chubby Checkers and Chuck Berry. Though Berry was a disappointing drunken act, Checkers had done a phenomenal job. Lastly, Godsil recalls the Flunk Day movie tradition, where the campus schlepped it’s way to Kresge to watch something fitting like “Alice in Wonderland” at the end of the day.

“That being said, Knox students were seriously studious Monday through Friday, there were less distractions. This generation of students have to deal with so many competing interests like social media, athletics and clubs. That’s not a criticism of students, it’s just an acknowledgement the culture is different today. Campus Life has become almost professionalized too.”

(All photos courtesy of the Knox College Archives)


Sam Jacobson, Co-News Editor
Sam Jacobson is a junior majoring in philosophy and potentially minoring in creative writing or psychology. She started volunteer writing during spring term of her freshman year, and worked as a staff writer during her sophomore year.
Zarah Khan, Co-Mosaic Editor
Zarah Khan is a senior majoring in English literature and minoring in political science. She started volunteer writing during Fall term of her sophomore year.

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