STPEC recognizes retiring director Lennox

By Brittney Figueira

The Social Thought and Political Economy major, known as STPEC, celebrated its 40th-year anniversary last weekend and bid farewell to Program Director Sara Lennox with a reception in her honor.

Courtesy umass.edu

Lennox walked into room 1001 of the Campus Center on Friday, visibly excited to see alums, students and fellow supporters of STPEC. Along with several hugs and smiles, Lennox distributed stickers with her face on them stating “Free Sara” – a joke about her retirement as a German studies professor and STPEC’s program director..

After graduating with a master’s degree in German studies from the University of Wisconsin, Lennox embarked on a Fulbright fellowship to Frankfurt Technical College in Germany to study comparative literature. While studying at a university in the late 60s, activism played a major role in Lennox’s life. It was at this time that Lennox became inspired by political theorists and the desire to change society.

Lennox arrived at the University of Massachusetts in 1974 and began her career as a professor of German. After receiving her tenure, philosophy professor Robert Paul Wolff asked Lennox to take over as STPEC’s director when he was offered a position at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

STPEC is an undergraduate program of approximately 150 students, founded in 1972 by Wolff. The program emphasizes student choice in course enrollment and is focused on the critique of society and its power structures.

Ever since, Lennox has worked to keep STPEC going and further the development of the program. In an interview with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Lennox noted she could have never made STPEC what it is if it weren’t for students motivated to make changes in the world around them.

“I often say to people that STPEC is about producing good citizens,” said Lennox. “It is possible to change things, that’s what we encourage students to do.”

STPEC, is designed to value student input and the undergraduates who choose the major are eager to have their voices heard, said Lennox. With over 150 students enrolled into the major this year, Lennox said it is student involvement that will keep STPEC around for another 40 years.

Lennox said STEPC has such a strong alumni support system that she was never worried that the program would be cut from the University.

“STPEC has to change to stay the same,” she said. “I was never scared because the students and the alums are so great.”

Tyler Rocco, STPEC’s interim chief academic advisor, is a former STPEC student and doesn’t want to see the major leave UMass anytime soon.

“It’s personally really important for me that we are here for another 40 years and that we provide this opportunity for students to continue to do this,” said Rocco.

Most participants in the STPEC-hosted Activists in the Academy panel held this past Friday would agree with Rocco when he said STPEC “provides a very strong platform for you to go forth and take advantage of any opportunity that you find.”

Katherine Mallory, chief academic advisor of STPEC, introduced the panel of former students and professors of STPEC that she said have helped make the curriculum so strong.

Suzanne Bergeron graduated UMass in 1983 and is now the director of women’s and gender studies at the University of Michigan Dearborn. Bergeron noted to the audience that she had to limit herself by writing down her exact words; otherwise  she could have gone on at length about what STPEC has done for her.

“For something that started out so fragile and small, [STPEC] made such a huge impact on UMass’ own identity. STPEC has impacted my life,” said Bergeron.

The biggest take away from the STPEC program, Bergeron said, was the idea of articulating her thoughts. STPEC gave her the ability for advocacy that she later passed on through her educational programs. Bergeron said none of this would have been possible for her if she never enrolled in the major.

She mentioned that through this program, she saw the importance of working within the academy and knowing that she had the ability to change it.

Fellow panelist S. Charusheela was an instructor within the STPEC program from 1993 to 1995. Within those two years Charusheela found that STPEC’s interdisciplinary focus helped students succeed at UMass.

She said STPEC imparted on both her and her students the power and importance of a desire to learn, both in the academic world and for activism outside of the classroom.         “STPEC has helped me realize the constitution of intellectual formations,” she said. “This is STPEC, where your radicalism needs intellectual basis.”

Commenting on this thought, former STPEC instructor and fellow panelist Ramón Borges-Mendez stated that STPEC provides a base of idealism for its students.

“STPEC has helped to place social justice at the top of the agenda,” said Borges-Mendez. “We take that activism and channel it into engagement.”

Karen Graubart of the panel is also a former instructor, spending four years within the STPEC community. She found this job to be possibly the most rewarding, but also intimidating, experience of her life. Graubart joked of her nightmarish junior seminars, she said, where the radical students would protest her given syllabus.

Through all of her years of overcoming obstacles and news ways of teaching, she said her biggest hurdle was trusting others to make important decisions.

“In STPEC, I learned to share the podium with my students,” said Graubart. All of the panelists agreed it took many years of practice to become comfortable with letting students take a leading role in classroom thought and discussion.

“The easiest answers are not always the most rewarding,” said Graubart. “I thank STPEC and Sara for learning this lesson.”

Brittney Figueira can be reached at [email protected].