The pride of Little 500 and keeping pace with the spring semester sprint

It’s become an annual tradition: trying to somehow summarize the drive, dedication, drama, pride, pageantry, guts, glory and more that make Indiana University Bloomington’s Little 500 race so special. Thankfully, the video above, shot and produced by our talented videographers in IU Communications, allows viewers to experience the men’s and women’s races in beautiful, breathtaking fashion.

Not surprisingly, Little 500 leads the list of recent activities and events that have fueled the campus’ sprint through the last leg of spring semester. And what a sprint it’s been. So without further ado, here’s a chance to catch up on a number of other notable happenings that have had Btown buzzing these past few weeks.

Call it breaking away to breaking bad. In the days preceding Little 500, IU alumnus and actor extraordinaire Jonathan Banks graced the IU Bloomington campus once again. He met with students, including those in the Media School and Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance; spoke before a packed house at the IU Cinema; and delivered a moving and inspiring speech upon receiving an honorary doctorate at IU Bloomington’s annual Honors Convocation. Banks, best known for his portrayal of Mike Ehrmantraut on the award-winning drama “Breaking Bad,” also took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with Media School Dean Jim Shanahan for an illuminating conversation about his ties to IU and his illustrious acting career. Their discussion was featured on the campus’s new weekly podcast, Through the Gates: IU This Week.

Everywhere he visited last week, Banks talked about the road he took to get to IU and the transformative impact the university had on his personal and professional growth. Despite vast changes in the composition of IU Bloomington’s student body over nearly 200 years of the campus’s existence, the IU impact — showcased in the IU Newsroom’s latest long-form story, “Tried and True” — continues to resonate in our students, no matter where they come from, be it Indiana or halfway across the world.

IU Bloomington is, indeed, enriching the lives of our students in many ways, providing them — from the time they set foot on campus — with valuable opportunities to work with first-rate faculty and to find, develop and refine their scholarly and research interests. The campus’ 2020 Sustainability Scholars program offers evidence of just how much IU is helping students get ahead of the curve, give back to their communities and reach their fullest potential.

The campus also continues to find creative ways to support our students’ growth potential, doing so through such initiatives as the annual BEST Competition for young entrepreneurs hosted by the School of Informatics and Computing and the Kelley School of Business. The BEST Competition recently marked a milestone with $1 million invested in student-led projects over the past five years, including $200,000 to two student teams this year. Among the winners was Ellie Symes, a student in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and one of the founders of the Bee Corp., which monitors the health of bees in the hive and grew out of the Beekeeping Club that Symes and several of her peers started on campus. Sykes and the Beekeeping Club were featured in the IU Newsroom’s long-form story Keeper of the Bees, published last year, on the growing network of IU students, faculty and Bloomington residents who have taken up the plight of the honey bee.

Sticking with the bee theme for just a bit longer, students from the School of Education have been working alongside faculty members from the school and Department of Biology on efforts that help young children learn about complex science topics. Through their BioSim project, they recently employed an activity where local school children used electronic honey bee puppets to highlight the many moving parts of how humans work together toward a common goal. The activity represents one of the many ways IU students are translating the campus’s growing “maker movement” — which promotes the use of new technologies to enable more people to design and build their own inventions and products — into opportunities for young people to engage in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Early in May, a talented group of undergraduate and graduate students at IU Bloomington will be given a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to brush up their Shakespeare — as the Bard would’ve heard his words spoken back to him when he was writing and directing. Murray McGibbon, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance, will present the first original pronunciation performance of William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” since the 17th century. The groundbreaking “OP” performance, which McGibbon promises will deliver far more “punch” than “posh,” will feature a cast of 14 students and be staged May 5 to 8 at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

Finally, no summary of the past several days at IU Bloomington would be complete without a nod to the many members of the IU community here in Btown and all around the world who made the first-ever IU Day celebration on April 12 a smashing success. The all-day event promoting participation, university pride and giving reached a whopping 9.4 million people on social media with the hashtag #IUday and attracted nearly 17,000 unique visitors to the IU Day website in 24 hours. For a solid part of the day, the hashtag trended nationally on Twitter and was used more than 10,000 times, reflecting a massive sharing of what we all have come to love about IU, such as IU basketball and Assembly Hall, both proudly showcased in the No. 1 most popular video on IU Day.

Generations of Little 500

Post by IU Newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino. 

In the Krahulik household, Little 500 is a family affair. Andy and Joe Krahulik are the second generation of Little 500 riders in their home, racing for Sigma Alpha Epsilon this year. In the 1980s, their father Dave raced for Sigma Nu.

To many of the riders, Little 500 is more than just an intramural race requiring an amazing amount of preparation. It is an event that helps to shape their college careers, and in some ways, who they become.

Dave, an attorney from Indianapolis, raced from 1986 to 1989 and will tell you that his team didn’t win until the year he graduated. He said it doesn’t bother him, though. Little 500 was much more than winning and losing.

“The race is so mixed in with spring,” he said. “We had beautiful weather every time.”

Despite being associated with spring, Dave said the event was a year-long endeavor.

“When it’s over, no matter how you did, there’s relief and already a little bit of regret, already a little bit of planning for next year,” Dave said.

Dave still has a bright yellow racing jacket and a blue uniform shirt from two of his four years of cycling, and he said he thinks things like these are what inspired his sons to race.

Sophomore Joe Krahulik said he knew he wanted to be a part of Little 500 when he was junior in high school after seeing his brother race.

“I just remember it was a beautiful day,” said Joe, a physics major. “Spring time on the Bloomington campus, it just looked gorgeous.”

Joe said seeing his brother perform so well his first time at the race was incredible, but it was not the first time either of the brothers had raced.

Senior Andy Krahulik said he remembers having racing posters up in his bedroom when he was a child. By fourth grade, Little 500 was already so ingrained in his mind that he and his brother decided to find their own way to participate.

“My brother and a few kids on the street actually kind of copied the idea and tried to host a ‘Junior 500’ which was 50 laps around the neighborhood cul-de-sac,” said Andy, a biology major.

Despite copious amounts of advertisements, Andy said only three people showed up. Since then, he said, people have been much more supportive of his riding endeavors.

“I do love Little 500,” he said, “It’s been probably the defining choice in my undergraduate career.”

After briefly being part of the Cutters, Andy rushed Sigma Alpha Epsilon and became one of the founding members of a new, improved cycling team. Through a restructured, more personalized approach to training, he said the team was able to move from placing in the high 20s to finishing on the leader’s lap.

“It’s kind of sad that it has to come to an end, but I’ve really enjoyed my four years doing it, and I hope to still stay connected in one way or another,” he said.

For more of the Krahuliks’ story, see the video in the player above.

Calling all Cinderellas: Breaking down the bracket of inaugural Hoosier Hysteria competition

Starting tomorrow, traditions will be on the line, madness and hysteria will ensue, and campus “Cinderellas” will be gearing up for the chance to dance.

The bracket is set.

The bracket is set.

It’s NCAA tournament time, of course, but we’re talking instead about what’s being dubbed the “ultimate IU bracket.”

Herman B Wells, Hoagy and Homecoming. Mark Cuban, Kinsey and candy-striped pants. They represent just a few of the Btown legends and traditions vying to win the inaugural “Hoosier Hysteria: The Bloomington Bracket” competition.

The field of 32 has been set and broken down into four regions — Landmarks, Traditions, Legends and Events — and beginning tomorrow morning, March 17, through April 6, Hoosier fanatics will be able to determine the person, place or thing they think most reflects our storied IU Bloomington campus.

Starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, Bloomington’s best bracketologists will be able to make their first-round selections. (The opening round will end at 2 p.m. on March 24, when second-round voting will commence.) Participants can vote once per day on each of their online or mobile devices, and as each round of the competition is completed they can view the results online, through IU’s main social media accounts or on a banner located at Starbucks in the Indiana Memorial Union. Ultimately, they’ll determine the last legend or tradition standing and the winner of a championship trophy created by the handy folks at the UITS 3-D Printing Lab at Wells Library.

Personally speaking, I’m ready to bust out my bracket. My final four: Assembly Hall, Little 500, Herman B Wells and my Cinderella pick, Squirrel watching. Regarding the choice of our ever-popular campus critters, my hope is that history will be on my side. (Though it’s often been disputed, some have suggested that in the original version of the fairy tale, Cinderella did not wear glass slippers, but instead wore slippers made out of fur. Squirrel fur.)

Call us nuts, but we think IU's famed squirrels could be this year's Cinderella.

Call us nuts, but we think IU’s famed squirrels could be this year’s Cinderella.

Not surprisingly, I’ve already started second guessing my planned selections. I had Little 500 as a lock to advance out of the Events region of the bracket, but can it really dance past IU Dance Marathon? And while it’s hard to deny Herman B a place in the final four, how many will have Hoagy Carmichael on their minds when tomorrow morning rolls around?

The clock is about to strike. (Come to think of it, maybe the Student Building Clock Tower is this year’s Cinderella?) Bring on the hysteria, and go Hoosiers!

Spinning through the spirit and tradition of Hoosier hoops history

On Sunday, March 6, around 17,000 IU basketball fans will enter Bloomington’s hallowed Assembly Hall for the final regular season game against Maryland. They will celebrate Senior Day and also the Hoosiers capturing, earlier this week, their 22nd Big Ten championship and their second outright title under head coach Tom Crean. In doing so, they’ll automatically become part of Assembly Hall history, joining the legions of IU fans over many decades who have been treated to championship performances.

IU student Julia Kilgore inspects one of the original turnstiles from Assembly Hall that recently found a new home at the IU Archives.

IU student Julia Kilgore inspects one of the original turnstiles from Assembly Hall that recently found a new home at the IU Archives.

As it’s been widely reported, those who want a more tangible piece of the tradition of Hoosier hoops can purchase one of the old turnstiles used in the arena, which are currently being auctioned off by IU’s Surplus Store. Bidding on 24 turnstiles that were used at Assembly Hall from 1971-2014 — during which time the Hoosiers won three NCAA championships — began in mid-February, and the final turnstile (turnstile No. 1) is set to be auctioned Monday, April 4, in time for the tipoff of this year’s NCAA Championship game.

Turns out there’s more, though, to what’s turned out to be a slam-dunk story for diehard Hoosier fans.

In the true cream and crimson spirit, the IU Surplus Store, with a timely assist from IU Athletics, recently offered up one of the turnstiles from the auction (No. 16) to the IU Archives, steward of the largest and most comprehensive gathering of information on the history and culture of IU.

The turnstile has been delivered, and fans and other interested parties can find it in the Archives’ reading room, located on the fourth floor of the East Tower of the Herman B Wells Library. The space is open to any visitor who wants to see the turnstile and, yes, even take a selfie with it from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Perey New York label adorns the Assembly Hall turnstiles. The company still is in business today.

The Perey New York label adorns the Assembly Hall turnstiles. The company still is in business today.

Of course, members of the Archives wouldn’t be the great caretakers of IU tradition and history as they are if they didn’t delve into a little history behind the turnstiles that have Hoosier Nation happily spinning through years of proud basketball memories. Their search revealed a number of interesting tidbits about the turnstiles, designed and manufactured by Perey New York (est. 1913), which, remarkably, is still in business. The company’s various styles of turnstiles have taken their place through the years in some of the most historic venues spanning the areas of sports and entertainment, government and public service, and business, including Ebbets Field, the Federal Reserve Banks, Disneyland, Lockheed Missiles and Space, Churchill Downs and the transit authorities of both Chicago and New York City.

Indeed, from the first moment the turnstiles were installed at Assembly Hall, in 1971, they served as the front gate to number of momentous occasions that what would quickly become par for an arena that sportscaster Gus Johnson once famously called “the Carnegie Hall of basketball.” Among the events that took place during that first year were:

  • The Homecoming Variety Show, featuring celebrity entertainers Bob Hope and Petula Clark, on Oct. 23, 1971.
  • The first men’s basketball game ever played at Assembly Hall on Dec. 1, 1971, an 84-77 win over Ball State and the first of coach Bobby Knight’s 659 victories at the helm of the Hoosiers.
  • The dedication of Branch McCracken Memorial Basketball Floor on Dec. 18, 1971, coinciding with a 94-29 win over Notre Dame.
Assembly Hall hosted its first IU men's basketball game on Dec. 1, 1971. The Hoosiers defeated Ball State 84-77, giving coach Bob Knight the first of his 659 wins as IU head coach.

Assembly Hall hosted its first IU men’s basketball game on Dec. 1, 1971. The Hoosiers defeated Ball State 84-77, giving coach Bob Knight the first of his 659 wins as IU head coach.

Of course, many more Hoosier hoops victories would follow in the four-plus decades to follow, along with national championships, Big Ten championships, an undefeated season, concerts by Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and other major headliners, visits from presidential candidates, graduation ceremonies and much more. These turnstiles have truly seen it all, and Hoosier fans can now take great pleasure and pride in knowing that it will only take a quick trip to the Archives to take a whirl through IU’s time-tested tradition and spirit.

Freezing debt in its tracks

IU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, which are coming off impressive weekend wins, may be the toast of Btown right now. But another team at IU Bloomington has been garnering major acclaim here and nationwide.

Since 2012, IU’s MoneySmarts team has been carrying the banner on campus for educating students in their money matters and helping them reduce their debt. And while no one would declare victory on overall student debt just yet, the MoneySmarts team can take considerable credit for helping dramatically reduce undergraduate student borrowing across the university. Over the past three years, the university has seen a remarkable 16 percent decrease in student loans — equaling nearly $83 million.

IU's student debt letter details a student’s level of college-related borrowing and provides an estimated payout upon graduation.

IU’s student debt letter details a student’s level of college-related borrowing and provides an estimated payout upon graduation.

Central to the MoneySmarts team’s playbook has been a student debt letter — which IU began sending to student borrowers in 2013 — that details a student’s level of college-related borrowing and provides an estimated payout upon graduation. This seemingly simple but highly effective tactic has been nothing but a slam dunk — so much so that starting July 1, 2015, all public universities in Indiana have been required to provide similar letters to their students under a new state law.

In May, Yahoo Finance called the student debt letter a “genius” idea for tackling the student debt crisis. That plaudit came just weeks after University Business magazine recognized the MoneySmarts initiative as a Model of Excellence, an honor reserved for just 1o other colleges and universities. More recently, USA Today featured the IU debt letter in a larger feature story on tips for how students can better handle borrowing, including several from IU Director of Financial Literacy Phil Schuman.


IU’s MoneySmarts team is hosting a WinterFest event for students seeking to “freeze debt in its tracks.”

Never a group to rest on its laurels, the MoneySmarts team, along with the Office of First Year Experience Programs, is hosting a WinterFest event from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight, Jan. 25, for students, student organizations and others on campus. Complete with free food, prizes and entertainment, the event in Alumni Hall at the Indiana Memorial Union promises to help students “freeze debt in its tracks” and give all of us who want to see our students graduate with as little debt as possible one more activity to cheer about.

For a student perspective on MoneySmarts, check out this Student Experience blog post, written by IU senior and MoneySmarts team member Dottie Vollmer. 

The winter buzz in Btown

The start of the spring semester has brought a flurry of activity here at IU Bloomington. From new discoveries, initiatives and student success stories to Hoosier basketball’s early-season dominance at Assembly Hall, here’s just a small sampling of the buzz being heard and felt all around campus.

IU Bloomington is set to debut a new podcast series on Jan. 24, hosted by James Shanahan, front, dean of The Media School.

IU Bloomington is set to debut a new podcast series on Jan. 24, hosted by James Shanahan, pictured in front, dean of The Media School.

All the buzz, on the airwaves. A new IU Bloomington podcast series kicks off Sunday, Jan. 24, with a conversation about IU’s new Grand Challenges Program, featuring IU Vice President for Research Fred Cate and IU Bloomington Vice Provost for Research Rick Van Kooten. The weekly series, titled “Through the Gates: IU This Week,” will be hosted by James Shanahan, dean of The Media School at IU Bloomington, and cover news, events and other activities of interest to the university’s many engaged audiences around the state, nation and world. IU students and staff will also be involved in the production of the podcast series, which is a collaboration of the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, The Media School and the IU Newsroom.

Biofuel and half of a “holy grail.” A team of IU Bloomington scientists has created a highly efficient biomaterial that catalyzes the formation of hydrogen — one half of the “holy grail” of splitting H2O to make hydrogen and oxygen for fueling cheap and efficient cars that run on water. The news has been widely shared and reported, crisscrossing the globe and appearing in such major media outlets as Science Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, UPI, Tech Times and the Times of India. In addition, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science Communication prominently featured the story on its website.

Bikes and a new master plan. Good news for Btown’s many cycling enthusiasts: IU Bloomington has finalized a campus bicycle master plan, presented to university trustees last month and designed to build upon IU’s rich bicycling tradition. The finalized plan strives for safe, efficient and convenient bicycle travel on and off campus, greater bicycle parking and increased ridership among students, faculty and staff.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie discussed IU's strong partnerships with the city of Bloomington at the annual meeting of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie discussed IU’s strong partnerships with the city of Bloomington at the annual meeting of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation.

Btown economic development. Leaders of the IU Bloomington campus and surrounding community came together Wednesday to hear IU President Michael A. McRobbie deliver the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. In his address, McRobbie described the progress being made on the priorities of the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including strengthening the university’s commitment to student success and maximizing its capacity for research, scholarship and creative activity.

A breakfast for a King. On Monday, President McRobbie and other IU administrators attended IU Bloomington’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Leadership Breakfast. In his remarks, McRobbie sought to honor King’s life and legacy by underscoring and reaffirming the university’s commitment to diversity and free expression. “We must demand a tolerant Indiana University, but we must aspire to an engaged Indiana University,” McRobbie said. Nowhere was that engagement more evident than in the volunteer projects that involved scores of IU students and the dedicated students and staff who were honored at Monday’s breakfast for serving as “champions of change” around campus and in the community.

Business start-ups and the student experience. If you haven’t yet caught on to the new Student Experience blog from our IU Newsroom, there’s still plenty of time. The latest student success story to be showcased on the blog: IU Kelley School of Business freshman Mikaela Gilbert, who’s launched her own start-up business, with assistance and advice from Kelley faculty, that she hopes will grow into a company that helps children gain greater fluency in foreign languages.

Mikaela Gilbert is a student at IU’s Kelley School of Business and the creator of Chatter Eggs.

Mikaela Gilbert is a student at IU’s Kelley School of Business and the creator of Chatter Eggs.

Btown goes Tinseltown again. Our campus’s and city’s credentials when it comes to big silver screen movie productions is well known. (See: “Breaking Away,” “Kinsey,” Angelo Pizzo and “Hoosiers,” and Michael Uslan and “Batman.”) Now a team of IU alumni is set to begin production on a new feature-length romantic comedy featuring a couple of well-known actors. “The Good Catholic,” written and directed by IU MFA graduate Paul Shoulberg, will be filmed late this month in downtown Bloomington and near the surrounding campus.

Basketball and the hurryin’ Hoosiers! It’s still early, of course, but there may be something brewing at Assembly Hall, where both the Hoosiers men’s and women’s basketball teams have been heating up the hardwood. With an impressive win on Tuesday over Illinois, the men’s team moved to 6-0 in the Big Ten and a perfect 11-0 on their home court. Spearheading the men’s effort has been senior Yogi Ferrell, IU’s new all-time assist leader and subject of the latest edition of the popular #ImAHoosier spotlight. Not to be outdone, the Hoosier women have also amassed an undefeated record at home (8-0), with their latest victory a dramatic come-from-behind win against the Illini.

Again, it’s only the start of the semester, but if the early weeks of 2016 are any indication, the buzz may only get louder in Btown in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned!

Celebrating ‘champions for change’ on MLK Day

Post courtesy of April Toler, who regularly blogs at Health & Vitality and Student Experience

Hundreds of Indiana University administrators, faculty, staff and students, alongside members of the Bloomington community, gathered Monday to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the university’s annual MLK Leadership Breakfast.

Sitting in Alumni Hall, it was hard not to be inspired by the profound words spoken by the day’s guests, including IU President Michael McRobbie, Provost Lauren Robel and keynote speaker Soledad O’Brien, who encouraged the crowd to ask themselves “What can I do?”

A performance by IU’s African American Choral Ensemble amazed the crowd, and after we all held hands and sang the “Unity Anthem,” I think everyone left the event feeling inspired and a little more hopeful.

Dedric Dennist Sr., Julia Joshel and Brandon Washington

Building Bridges Award winners Dedric Dennist Sr., left, Julia Joshel and Brandon Washington pose for a photo after the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Leadership Breakfast on Monday, Jan. 18, in the Indiana Memorial Union Alumni Hall.

But speeches and performances aside, what I found truly inspirational was hearing about this year’s Building Bridges Award recipients, presented by James Wimbush, vice president for the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.

The awards recognize individuals, groups of people and organizations that capture King’s vision, spirit and leadership.

Whether a young student starting an on-campus food pantry or a residence manager helping to create diversity training for IU resident life staff, this year’s Building Bridges recipients shine a bright light on the everyday work being done by IU students, faculty, staff and community partners.

As Wimbush noted, “Like Dr. King, these five individuals – Mercedes, Brandon, Terri, Julia and Dedric – are champions. Champions for change, to show us even a single person can make a difference.”

This year’s Building Bridges Awards winners:

Mercedes Jones, a senior studying public management in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is this year’s undergraduate recipient. Jones is a Hudson and Holland Scholar and creator of Crimson Cupboard, a food pantry for students on the IU Bloomington campus.

Brandon Washington, a graduate student in African American and African Diaspora Studies, is this year’s graduate or professional student recipient. Washington, who hopes to one day become a lawyer, has studied abroad in Ghana and London, traveling to Liverpool to study the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He has served as an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow for the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation and has volunteered in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Terri Francis, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Culture, is this year’s faculty recipient. Francis is a former associate professor of Film Studies and African American Studies at Yale University and author of “Josephine Baker’s Race Burlesque: Blackness, Power and Visual Pleasure,” which will be published by IU Press.

Julia Joshel, residence manager for Residential Programs and Services, is this year’s staff recipient. After identifying a need for a more structured and discussion-based series to better equip staff for the changing university climate, Joshel helped create and pilot a diversity series training for residential life staff. Joshel received a master of science degree in higher education and student affairs from IU in 2009.

Dedric Dennist, Sr., an engineer at Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, is this year’s community member recipient. Dennist has served as a volunteer track and basketball coach and math tutor for local students. Dennist also volunteers for a local elementary school reading program and as a mentor to local 21st Century Scholars and is a long-time member of the Bloomington Black History Month Committee.

Year in review: Top stories from 2015

From Grand Challenges to global gateways, mythical first flowers to marathon dancing and bicentennial campaigns to a Big Apple bowl game for our gridiron Hoosiers, 2015 offered another set of amazing accomplishments, discoveries and milestones at Indiana University Bloomington.

As always, there were almost too many good happenings on our bustling and dynamic campus to report, spanning our top-ranked academic programs, arts and music scene, international culture and, of course, IU sports. Here in the IU Newsroom, we did our best to share as much as we could, giving you, we hope, a sense of what makes IU Bloomington such a special place and how much we all have to look forward to in the coming year.

So as we prepare to ring in 2016, here’s a quick look back at a busy and productive 2015:


Interested in exploring these stories further? Learn more below:

New complexes and centers

New programs and schools

Grand Challenges

New discoveries

Financial feats

Dedication of new Global and International Studies Building

IU men's basketball huddle before a game

IU Athletics will be the first institution in the nation to broadcast college basketball games in Mandarin.

International IU

Student successes

Bicentennial campaign

IU football goes to Pinstripe Bowl

Honorable mentions

Yo-Yo Ma and musicians speak to IU students on link between culture, economics and the arts

Yo-Yo Ma performs

Yo-Yo Ma performs with members of the Silk Road Ensemble at IU’s School of Global and International Studies auditorium.

Guest post courtesy of Chuck Carney, director of communication and marketing at IU’s School of Global and International Studies: 

Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma and a group of musicians gave a special presentation to students at the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies this morning about art and its connection to economics and culture. Ma gave the free talk and performance along with six other performers in a program titled “Musical Perspectives on Culture.”

Ma and his ensemble mixed live performance with a discussion of the music’s meaning for students and others who filled the auditorium of the new Global and International Studies Building. The musicians performed six musical selections from a variety of cultural influences, composers and time periods. Ma asked his audience to open themselves to hearing what is in the music, saying that the arts and humanities require a “childlike wonder.”

“Childlike wonder is essential for musicians,” Ma said. “They require the courage to be vulnerable and the capacity to wonder. That leads us to innovation and invention.”

Yo-Yo Ma speaks to IU SGIS students

Ma talks about world music at the SGIS auditorium. Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications.

Such wonder with the arts, he said, can bring solutions to bear on the world’s most difficult problems.

“We are tempted to consider solutions in very narrow political or economic terms,” Ma said. “It is openness that brings opportunity.”

The IU Auditorium is hosting the world-premiere performance of Ma’s newest collaborative concert series, “Musical Perspectives on the Cultures of BRIC: a Silkroad Collaboration,” at 8 p.m. today. The concert itself focuses on music of the “Big Four” countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. They are called the “BRIC” countries by economists and are considered to be in similar stages of new economic development. The BRIC concert series expands on how changing economic times can create unusual conflicts when aligning rich cultural history and tradition with modern aesthetics.

Ma and the members of his ensemble performed part of the program for IU School of Global and International Studies students and spoke about the roots of the music. Ma, Kathryn Stott, Sérgio and Odair Assad, Johnny Gandelsman, Wu Tong and Sandeep Das have been in Bloomington rehearsing for their debut show and the upcoming tour.

“Ma and the Silk Ensemble travel the world to celebrate both our differences and our commonalities as global citizens,” IU SGIS Dean Lee Feinstein told Ma in an introduction to the group. “We at SGIS and Indiana University are immensely honored to form a section of the glorious world orchestra you’ve devoted your life to assembling.”

Yo-Yo Ma and IUSGIS Dean Lee Feinstein

Ma chats with IU SGIS Dean Lee Feinstein. Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications.

Throughout the discussion, Ma dissected the music for his audience, discussing how slight accents on certain beats and notes comprise the sound of a particular cultural influence. He noted in the opening piece an accent common in Brazilian music. In a piece by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, he pointed out that moving a note by an eighth of a beat gave it a wistful, Russian sound. Other pieces, Ma explained, combined American tradition with North Indian music and African rhythms with jazz.

Such combinations illustrate the openness Ma said we should bring to listening, allowing the cultural influences to come through. He said he first discovered this when he was a child, something that calmed his fears as his family moved from France to the U.S. On a larger scale, he said such openness can have a positive effect as the world goes through change.

“Openness goes hand-in-hand with empathy,” Ma said, noting that a piece the ensemble performed was 1,800 years old but still felt contemporary. “That’s how culture helps us transcend distance both in space and time. Taken together, wonder, openness and empathy have an incredibly powerful effect on culture. They’re an antidote to fear and darkness.”

Seeing the IU spirit in trying times

As wonderful a time of year as it is here in Bloomington — as the leaves begin to change, reminding us just how stunningly beautiful a campus we have — it would be difficult to describe the start to this academic year as anything but trying.

Too many difficult and tragic events have befallen our bucolic campus these past several weeks, immersing us in collective grief, disappointment and sadness, and sometimes leaving us without words to comfort those individuals who’ve been affected the most by actions and activities that are almost incomprehensible. Indeed, there is simply nothing worse than losing a member of the IU community, especially someone who is so young, loved and full of potential.

A banner flying as part of a "banner up" campaign, started by the Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault group at IU Bloomington.

A banner flying as part of a “banner up” campaign, started by the Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault group at IU Bloomington.

The details of these occurrences have been widely reported, discussed and analyzed, and much of the chatter has taken place across social media, where the age-old journalistic debate over the right to know vs. the right to privacy is being played out in real time. It’s no secret that we live in a time when we are more aware of what’s happening around us than ever before, which — when terrible things happen and details aren’t always immediately available — can be confusing and scary.

When the worst happens, we often focus on the worst, which is understandable and often necessary in the healing process. By no means do I want to misrepresent the start of this semester, which has been really, really tough on all of us. But many of us who call IU home continue to be heartened by the good work being done all across campus, much of it by our student body, to make ours a safer, more respectful and more caring environment.

On Tuesday, our campus released the findings of our first-ever climate survey on sexual assault. The results, to borrow from IU President Michael A. McRobbie, were “sobering” and clearly illustrate the need to focus greater attention on a major problem affecting all college and university campuses, as well as larger society.

Within a serious issue, however, there is reason for optimism. As the survey indicated, nearly 95 percent of undergraduate students have participated in some sort of educational or training activity that deals with sexual assault or gender-related issues, and about half of all student respondents on campus think they can personally make a difference in addressing the issue of sexual misconduct.

Through student-led programs such as Culture of Care, members of the IU community are calling attention to areas such as sexual well-being, drug and alcohol awareness, mental health and respect, as well as stressing the importance of bystander intervention.

As I write this, in fact, IU fraternity Sigma Chi is hosting an event called “Hoosiers Fighting Sexual Assault.” Featured speakers from the campus organizations Culture of Care, Safe Sisters and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault are talking about sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention. The MARS group, made up of more than 300 male students who are part of a number of different Interfraternity Council chapters, recently started a “banner up” campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault and violence on campus. As part of the campaign, large red banners are now being displayed at fraternity houses all across campus with messages supporting the campus’ sexual assault services.

And on Saturday, several IU students will participate in a statewide “It’s On Us: Student Leaders” conference at the IUPUI campus, where they will learn about different sexual violence prevention efforts and connect with other college students to help end campus sexual assault.

Increasingly, IU staff members are working to proactively address the challenges that our students are facing. To this end, the IU Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, continues to work with thousands of IU Bloomington students each year on problems they are facing. And over the past three years, CAPS has grown its Crimson CORPS, a group of specially trained students who are actively engaged in promoting awareness of mental health issues.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to a group of School of Global and International Studies students on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to a group of School of Global and International Studies students on Oct. 15, 2015.

Just last week, the Bloomington campus was buzzing with pride over the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to celebrate the opening of a new building for IU’s School of Global and International Studies. This event was historic for a number of reasons, not the least of which was how well it reflected upon our talented students and how actively engaged so many of them are in making the world a better place.

Highlighting these activities and efforts is not meant to dismiss the anger, hurt, uneasiness and sorrow we’ve all felt far too often this fall. Certainly it can’t reverse awful events that have already taken place, and it’s not meant to suggest we can’t take to cyberspace to complain — even if I wish sometimes that we all would take a second to think before tweeting and posting and remember that words, even 140 characters’ worth, have an impact, both on the victims of unfortunate incidents and those students, faculty, staff and other community members who are doing their best to help.

Admittedly, I sometimes worry that even the most constructive dialogue around difficult events will detract deserved attention from the abundance of good work being done across a campus of more than 40,000 students and, even worse, discourage people from continuing to fight the good fight. But I’ve also met enough of those people over my dozen-plus years working for IU Bloomington that I know that Hoosiers aren’t easily moved off the mission at hand. It’s cliché to say, I know, but trying times often bring out the best in people. Here in Bloomington, it’s when the IU spirit shines brightest.