Reinventing the UMF Honors Program

By Darby Murnane Contributing Writer

The new Director of the UMF Honors Program, John Messier, plans to bring new life to the program by working to increase student engagement, bolster involvement in community service, and foster a better cohesion throughout the program as a whole.

   The current Honors Program is facing a number of challenges in trying to create a meaningful experience for its students, the foremost of which is a distinct lack of student involvement.

   “We have a lot of students who aren’t really active in the program,” Messier said. “A lot of students come in their freshman year and they’re quite excited about the program and they take a course or two but then over time, there’s not a draw to bring them back in.”

   To combat this issue, Messier intends to increase the number of required credits as the current requirement is a minimum of 12. To ease of the burden of accumulating the requisite credits for students with larger majors, more general-education honors classes may be created so students can fulfill core requirements while also gaining honors credit.

   Messier is also exploring ways to give students more autonomy over their honors experience. “I’m really thinking about focusing the Honors Program on a project-based learning model, so that students have more agency and ownership over their learning and are doing some of it outside the classroom,” Messier said.

   Students would have a great deal of flexibility over what these projects could be–a presentation on a study abroad experience, research, or even working with a volunteer organization. The hope is that the projects could be a culminating piece of the students’ honors experiences that give them a specific goal to work towards.

   Messier defines the idea as something that’s “intensely personal about finding a meaningful project for the students but that they’re doing outside the classroom so they have to figure out how to solve problems, how to be autonomous, how to achieve their ends.”

  Steven Pane, a professor of music and honors instructor at UMF, supports this idea as it aligns with his goals in honors courses. “I see myself trying to encourage student-oriented projects for the campus,” Pane said. “For example, I was an active member in a student run philosophy group in which the students selected their own readings to discuss and debate.”

   While the independence over larger projects can be daunting, Pane is highly confident with the students he’s worked with. “[Honors] students are really self-motivated and there’s in intensity about what they do,” Pane said. “They’re not afraid to go off into a weirder area which is often where brilliance lies. Students really need to be given space to find their own way.”

   When students are not in the classroom, Messier is hoping to increase the community service aspect to the program in order to give back to those in need as well as to keep students more involved.

   “A change for the program could be that students have to accumulate so many hours or do so much community service,” Messier said. “And perhaps during semester’s where they’re not taking an honors course, the expectation is that they’re going to do some sort of community service or involvement, to keep them active and engaged in the program.”

   Honors student Rowan Burns, a Junior Early Childhood Education and Psychology major, is eager to partake in volunteer service, however as a busy student, she is worried that reaching a set amount of hours may be difficult.

   “I think the volunteering idea is good as a concept, but not so great as a practice. It leaves little to no room for Education students who need to do student teaching and internship, students who transferred and don’t have a lot of extra time, or students who enter the program later on and are already struggling with time by taking extra classes,” Burns said in an email interview. “If exceptions and adjustments could be made for those students then I think it will work, but if not then it’s only going to further limit opportunities.”

   There are also service-oriented travel courses in the works. Messier is currently working on setting up a trip to the highlands of Guatemala to build stoves for the Mayan families living there. The service aspect of the trip would greatly cut down on the cost as it would not be for credit, therefore students would not have to pay for tuition.


UMF Reflects on Sexuality and Gender Identity with Vagina Monologues

UMF Reflects on Sexuality and Gender Identity with Vagina Monologues

By Darby Murnane Contributing Writer    


   The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler, were recently performed by the Campus Violence Prevention Coalition (CVPC) and the UMF Counseling Services at Emery Arts Center, co-directed by Mary Ellms, Gavin Pickering, and Riah Pic

The Vagina Monologues present various pieces on feminine identity and sexuality.


   Premiering in the 1990’s, The Vagina Monologues explore the feminine identity and sexuality as well as the taboos surrounding them. The play is performed as part of the V-Day activist campaign, which fights violence against women.

   While some monologues in the play have more comedic value such as one which discusses various types of moans and another which lists strange slang terms for the vagina, many of the monologues tackle difficult subjects like the struggles faced by the transgender community and the violent sexual assaults of Bosnian women.

   Ellms and Pickering, both graduates of UMF, remember seeing the Monologues performed every spring during their time in college. When reflecting on her first time seeing the play, Ellms said, “I felt very uncomfortable the entire time,” as she had never heard women’s bodies being spoken about in such a blunt, bold manner. “And I think I was really culture shocked when I left. I just didn’t know what to do,” Ellms said.

   Pickering felt equally as shocked upon seeing the show and recalled “taking a step back and having to reflect on sort of preconceived notions and privilege and just what we don’t think we don’t know.”

   However, when approached by CVPC about putting on the show, they were eager to do so. For the directors, some of the shock-value has worn off and the material has begun to more natural.

   Pickering, who has a history with theatre dealing with social issues, said, “I feel like we’re coming from the perspective of educators and that changes how we hear what we’re doing.”

   “For me, The Vagina Monologues is about women empowering other people to be okay with who they are and to reclaim who they are,” Ellms said. She believes that this play is not just for women, but for people of all different gender identities. The play encourages people to be more open about their shared experiences and breaking the silence surrounding some of these experiences.

   Pickering agreed with this idea and expressed his hopes for a diverse crowd as he believed it would help further the discussion of consent and sexual assault.

   “I hope that a lot of men come to the show, young men come to the show to learn about the female experience, because it’s so important to hear the perspective,” Pickering said. “And that’s what I remember about seeing the Vagina Monologues is that sort of new heightened awareness of what the female experience really is, especially the fear and the risk involved in just living your daily life as a woman.”

   Cast member Aurora Bartley, a third year English major, finds a sense of empowerment in her involvement with the play. “I thought it was very liberating because you know doing this production about vaginas feels really important to me especially in a time where all of these sexual assault allegations are coming out in the news and everything,” Bartley said.

   Ellms hopes the audience finds that sense of empowerment too. “It’s really important for people to hear that vaginas are okay, and that it’s okay to have one, it’s okay to like them, it’s okay to talk about them and to ask questions about them,” she said. “It’s all okay, you don’t have to be afraid of it.”

Professor Jim Melcher Discusses Dean Danielle Conway’s Upcoming Law Talk

By Darby Murnane Contributing Writer

Dean Danielle Conway of University of Maine School of Law will be coming to UMF to deliver the lecture “Why Law Matters More Than Ever,” which will discuss themes such as equal rights and non-violent social activism in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

   One of UMF’s political science instructors, Professor James Melcher, expressed his excitement for Conway’s upcoming visit. “[Conway]’s amazing… her experiences are amazingly diverse,” Melcher said. “I think she’s doing great work at the University of Maine School of Law so I’m excited that she’s coming back here.”

   Conway became the dean of the University of Maine School of Law back in 2015. Conway was a professor of law with expertise in the areas of entrepreneurship, intellectual property law and public procurement law.

   Conway served 27 years of Active Duty military service in the U.S. Army, the Army Reserves and the National Guard. In November 2016, Conway retired from the military with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

  As a faculty member of UMF’s political science program and the pre-law advisor, Professor Melcher has a deep respect for Conway’s work. Melcher weighs in on the main idea of her lecture: the increasing importance of law in America’s current rocky political climate.

   Melcher pointed out that King called for civil disobedience when laws needed to be questioned, and when citizens needed to examine who those laws best served. “ I think [Conway] will argue that there are times when it’s appropriate to question law, and appropriate to call for a change in law,” Melcher said.

   Melcher believes that the troubled times Americans are currently living in is, to some extent, cyclical, and the discontent among citizens may also be attributed to “incivility rising than flat out disrespect for law.”

   Since America is a nation founded on ideals of religious freedom and ethnic diversity as opposed to ideals of blood, soil and war, there is the question of whether or not American laws have held true to these morals considering the controversies over immigration, a border wall with Mexico, and the recent race riots.

   Melcher states, “We’re more than just the sum of having been born here.” According to Melcher, American society has moved ahead of where the Founders were in such areas as the treatment of minorities and women. In terms of civic engagement and expectations of civility, Melcher asserted that, “I do think we’re falling down on that. We’re starting to see more and more people looking at their political opponents as an enemy, as people who are evil, as opposed to just, ‘I disagree with you.’”

   Melcher is also steadfast in his beliefs that, “There’s too much anger, too much hatred, too much willingness to believe the worst out of people, and I think the biggest piece of it is a lack of empathy.”

   Conway’s talk will take place on February 28th and will be held in the Lincoln Auditorium in Roberts Learning Center during common time.