Feature Stories Campus Events

Staniar Gallery Presents New York-Based Artist Mark Fox

Washington and Lee’s Staniar Gallery is pleased to present “Not In This Fool’s House,” an exhibit of recent work by New York-based artist, Mark Fox. The show will be on view Jan. 12 through Feb. 11.

Fox will give an artist’s talk on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 5:30 p.m. in Wilson Hall’s Concert Hall which is free and open to the public. The lecture will be followed by a reception for the artist.

Fox works in a variety of media, drawing on source material mined from personal biography, popular culture, news media, historical and religious texts, comic books and advertising. His drawings, sculptures, videos and installations are united by his methodical process, use of iconography and exploration of the relationship between destruction and construction.

For the exhibition in Staniar Gallery, Fox will present several sculptural pieces, drawings and a selection of films and animations.

Fox received his M.F.A. from Stanford University and his B.F.A. from Washington University in St. Louis. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among other institutions, and he is represented by Robert Miller Gallery in New York City.

Staniar Gallery is located on the second floor of Wilson Hall, in Washington and Lee University’s Lenfest Center for the Arts. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, please call (540) 458-8861.

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The Hobbit: Heroism for Our Age

by Marc C. Conner
Associate Provost and Ballengee Professor of English

Peter Jackson’s concluding film in his Hobbit trilogy is a fitting conclusion to the way he has conceived and rendered J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel. Long on action and scenes of battle, but short on character development, the film is on the whole a rich and faithful presentation of Tolkien’s world. And Jackson has worked hard to depict not only the story of The Hobbit, but also to show the undercurrents and hidden stories that connect The Hobbit to Tolkien’s longer, later trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (which Jackson brought to the screen in an earlier film trilogy ten years ago). While Tolkien enthusiasts will find much to love and much to quibble with in The Hobbit, for the general viewer who may not know the books well, the film is a sumptuous, riveting mythic-action classic with special effects that frankly astonish, even in this age when everything seems possible in film.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies culminates the trilogy that began with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and then The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013). Whereas The Lord of the Rings is a 1000+ page epic that obviously demanded a three-film treatment, The Hobbit is an eminently readable 250-page story that certainly any Hollywood producer would think could be done in a 2:20 treatment. But Jackson, to his credit, held out for the full, lavish three films. This allowed him to layer into the immediate story—the quest of Bilbo Baggins and his 13 dwarf companions—other stories that are only hinted at in The Hobbit, such as the confrontation between the White Council and the Necromancer (who turns out to be Sauron, the Dark Lord who will be the great antagonist in The Lord of the Rings), or the encroaching betrayal by Saruman, the white wizard who turns evil in the later epic. Jackson draws upon not only The Hobbit itself for this material, but also Tolkien’s other more obscure writings, such as the appendices to The Lord of Rings published in later editions, and The Silmarillion, his posthumously published mythic history of the earliest age of Elves, Dwarves, and Men.

What does this mean for this movie, The Battle of the Five Armies? Devotees of the books will relish the small details that only such careful (even obsessed) readers could notice; and those coming to the films without the knowledge of the books will enjoy the magnificent action scenes and the stirring contests between mighty opposites. Jackson is unrivalled in his ability to create astonishing scenes of magic that look, well, real. For example, the great scene in which the dragon is destroying the city and Bard the Bowman faces him armed with a single arrow is remarkably stirring, and looks just the way I’d imagine such a confrontation would look. And the individual performances in the film are quite strong: Richard Armitage as Thorin, the driven Dwarf king, is exceptional throughout all three films; Lee Pace gives a fascinating performance of the enigmatic elf-king Thranduil; and Evangeline Lilly is quite moving as the elf-warrior Tauriel. (The fact that Tauriel exists nowhere in the books, and that she was created wholly in order to introduce a female character, and a romantic plot—a romance between an elf and a dwarf, in fact, which is unthinkable in Tolkien’s world—can be excused, and probably does make for a more enjoyable movie for the non-Tolkien-enthusiast.)

The finest performance of all in the film, and indeed in all three films, is by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, the reluctant burglar. Yet the performance is lost to a great extent because all of Jackson’s pyrotechnics and brilliant computerized animated effects and stirring confrontations between goblin monsters and elvish kings end up taking over the film. What is lost in this imbalance is the fact that the real hero of this book is a humble Hobbit, an almost ridiculous creature who is no warrior and professes not even to be brave. Like Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, Bilbo is an anti-hero, apparently a mockery of true heroism. Tolkien’s point is that we ourselves are most like the Hobbits—bumbling, frightened, far preferring a warm fire and snug home to the wilderness and the horrors of trolls, dragons, orcs, and wolves. Yet Bilbo is ultimately the bravest character in the entire book. He is the one who dares to descend the mountain tunnel and face the dragon alone and unarmed—something his dwarf companions and wizard guide do not dare. Tolkien describes this moment as the heroic climax of the book: “Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.” This moment is essentially absent from Jackson’s film, and so we lose the book’s great claim, that heroism is to be found not in epic characters and mythic battles, but in the small, fleeting moments of courage, truth, and honor. This is indeed a loss; for in a world in which evil seems increasingly complex, the simplicity of true heroism is more in need than ever.

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W&L Website and Other Online Services Unavailable on Friday Evening, Jan. 2

The W&L website, faculty/staff e-mail, WebAdvisor and virtually all online services, including the campus connection to the Internet, will be unavailable from 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 2 until about 1 a.m. Saturday Jan. 3 during emergency maintenance at the Richard A. Peterson data center. Planned maintenance Friday morning on The Stable, the virtual desktop and streaming service, has been cancelled. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Inside the 3L Year: Marshall-Brennan Practicum Brings Constitution to High School

As part of W&L’s innovative third-year curriculum, law students have the opportunity to participate in the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Law Literacy Practicum. The goal of the class is to educate young students in under-served high schools in order to foster more educated citizens who will better understand and exercise their rights. In the Q&A below, 3L Katherine Moss describes her participation with the program.

Katherine is from Normal, Illinois. She graduated from University of Southern California in 2009 with a B.A. in Philosophy. During law school, Katherine has focused exclusively on indigent criminal and capital defense. During her summers she interned at Southern Center for Human Rights and the Office of the Public Defender in Alexandria, Virginia. She currently works as a student attorney for both the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse Clinic and the Criminal Justice Clinic. She also serves as a Lead Articles Editor for the Washington and Lee Law Review. Katherine was recently awarded the prestigious E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship, a two-year post-graduate criminal defense and teaching fellowship at Georgetown Law.

How does the program work?

Every week W&L 3Ls travel to Roanoke, Virginia to teach Constitutional Law to seniors at William Fleming High School. We are in charge of preparing our own curriculum and executing that curriculum in the classroom. Each student teacher instructs approximately twenty-five to thirty high school students. In addition to the teaching component, we engage in a weekly class at W&L to help learn the substantive law we are teaching, develop teaching skills, and address any challenges that may arise throughout the semester.

How did you prepare to participate in the program?

Each week I designed a detailed lesson plan, outlining the curriculum I wanted to teach. I also created handouts, worksheets, powerpoints, and quizzes. In the W&L Law class component, I worked with the professor and other student teachers to help refine my lesson plans.

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was this experience like?

This is my first time teaching. On my first day, I arrived knowing only to expect the unexpected. There was certainly a steep learning curve, but after the first few weeks, I felt more comfortable in the classroom. I loved teaching these students. They have brilliant ideas and ask intelligent questions. I left every class with a smile on my face.

What was one challenge you faced in the program?

It took a lot of effort to create lesson plans that would keep the students engaged. My focus throughout law school has always been indigent criminal defense. Because I am most familiar with criminal law––and because “cops and robbers” is way more interesting than the Commerce Clause––I focused my class on “street” law. I primarily taught the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. We discussed police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, and racism in the criminal justice system. No doubt, these are difficult topics, but there is value in having that difficult conversation.

What was you favorite part of participating in the program?

I conducted a mock trial for the students. Volunteers from W&L Law played the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, client, and witnesses. I played the judge – robe and all. The students served as our mock jurors, vigorously debating their positions. One panel of jurors reached a “not guilty” verdict, and the other a “guilty” verdict, sparking further uproar. After the bell rang, I enjoyed watching the students walk out of the room still engaged in a debate about the case.

What lessons or memories will you take with you from this experience?

Teaching has taught me so much, and not just about the substantive law. I understand the real time and preparation that go into creating a lesson plan. I learned to explain each concept in different ways because students have different learning styles. I started building skills to help manage a classroom. But most importantly, I was able to challenge students to learn, at a young age, some of the most important constitutional concepts that apply in their every-day lives.

Related //

The Class of 2014: What Will You Miss Most?

Each year at commencement, we ask our graduating seniors what they will miss most about W&L.


In Depth: Lean Green Gardening Machines


In Depth: Summers to Remember

2013 Shepherd Interns Discuss Their Summer Placements in Impoverished Communities.


In Action: The 2014 Veggie Brigade

Cucumbers, spinach, kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, carrots, yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes. The array of fruits and vegetables looked tasty, and many of the children in Central Elementary School’s cafeteria tried one or two of them, and some came back for more.

“Yummy,” said one youngster who munched on a carrot.

This was the second year the Veggie Brigade has brought nutrition education to local schools, including Natural Bridge Elementary, Mountain View Elementary and Fairfield Elementary. The Veggie Brigade sponsored by the Healthy Community Action Team (HCAT), a coalition comprising Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee University, Rockbridge Area Community Services, the YMCA, Let’s Move! Lexington and Rockbridge County Schools.

Julie Sklar, a first-year student at W&L from Denver, Colorado, and a Bonner Scholar (a leadership development program for students with an interest in service and civic engagement), has helped pass out fruits and vegetables at each school visit and rewarded those who tried a sample with a backpack key ring festooned with colorful beads. As she approached each table, she asked, “What would you like to try?” For one boy, the cherry tomato was too messy, but a strawberry was acceptable. “We’re trying to encourage the children to incorporate a wide variety of foods into their diet, and the beads help remind them to try and eat lots of colorful foods.”

Sklar noted that most students had no trouble eating the foods most familiar to them, but need a little nudging to taste some of the others “I had one young boy who was not at all interested in the kiwi fruit–he had never seen one before–but he decided to try it and really liked it,” she said.

Melody Tennant, the Veggie Brigade project coordinator from Lets Move! who was also handing out fruits and vegetables, said, “The kids seem much more willing to try more foods than they did last time. The message we’re trying to get across is definitely sinking in.”

The Veggie Brigade will return in the spring to visit additional schools in Lexington and Buena Vista.


Jim Mercy ’76 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

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“Homicide is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. for 15- to 35-year olds,” said Jim Mercy ’76, who is the acting director of the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), in Atlanta. “Suicides are at 40,000 per year.”

Mercy, who’s worked at the CDC for three decades, is trying to change those stats. He’s relied on his training as a sociologist to develop violence prevention programs and policies. By collecting and analyzing information, he and his colleagues can evaluate the magnitude of the problem, determine who is at risk, offer strategies and policies that would be most effective in each community, and demonstrate how prevention measures are cost-effective and worth the societal investment. “Good public-health research is at the heart of making good policy,” he said.

Mercy, who grew up in New Jersey, was, like many incoming first-years, unsure of his professional aspirations. “I took a little bit of everything–history, English, psychology–a lot of different subjects intrigued me,” he said. “I was initially drawn to sociology because it gave me a unique lens and a set of methods to understand the seemingly chaotic world around me. I was at W&L from 1972 until 1976, and this period included the emergence of an enormous political scandal in Watergate, the resignation of the president, and the end of the Vietnam conflict. It was also on the heels of movements for peace and civil rights that literally forever changed the fabric of our society. Sociology offered me insights into these events and ways of understanding them that were transformative for me and my world view.”

While at W&L, he assisted Professor Scott Cummings on a project involving a qualitative study of banned books in the Buena Vista school system. “There was a set of popular books, mostly classics, that some people found offensive because of language or situation–Billy Budd was one of them,” he said. “We interviewed teachers, administrators and religious leaders, and it was fascinating to listen to the different perspectives.”

After graduation, he attended Emory University, earning his M.A. and P

h.D. in sociology and writing his dissertation on whether a direct correlation existed between the dollars spent on police departments and a decline of violence in their jurisdictions. “I found that money played virtually no role in bringing the levels of violence down. That led me think about other ways to address the problem that would be more successful.”

He joined the CDC just as it was expanding its mission to address violence as a public health issue. He has worked on child maltreatment, youth and intimate partner violence, homicide, suicide and firearm injuries. “There’s no question that exposure to violence in young children alters the way their brains develop, which can lead to violent behavior as young adults,” he said. “It’s also clear that people living under the constant stress of an abusive environment are more likely to develop heart disease, obesity, depression and diabetes, as well as become involved in drug and alcohol abuse. Treating violence as a public health problem is not yet a mainstream concept, but it is starting to take hold.”

Mercy’s research has helped shift the focus from simply responding to violence through the criminal justice system to preventing violence through the use of school- and family-based programs, efforts to change social norms that support violence, and modifying social environments in, for example, public housing and impoverished neighborhoods.

In the past few years, Mercy has expanded his scope to address violence as a health issue in other countries. He was a co-editor of the World Report on Violence and Health, prepared by the World Health Organization, and served on the editorial board of the United Nation’s Secretary General’s Study of Violence Against Children. Most recently, he’s participated in a global partnership, called Together for Girls, with UNICEF, PEPFAR and WHO to end violence against girls in developing countries. “In everything we do, we need partners,” he explained. “Collecting and analyzing information about violent deaths is essential to developing strategies to prevent them. What we’ve learned in the U.S. is relevant to other nations, and their effective violence-prevention efforts can help us in the U.S. It is essential that countries coordinate their efforts and share knowledge.”

He added, “We all know that good health is central to our happiness and well-being–as individuals and communities. Using science to understand the nature of the problem and then developing and adopting appropriate interventions is at the heart of solving the health problems we face in the U.S. and the world.”


Darby Shuler ’14 Davis Project for Peace, Ahuachapán, El Salvador

shuler-darby-263x350 Darby Shuler '14Darby Shuler ’14

Peace of mind. That’s what Darby Shuler ’14 wants to provide amputees in El Salvador.

“Peace is traditionally defined in terms of war and violence,” explained Shuler, a biochemistry major. “But, it can mean so much more. There is a mental peace that comes with knowing that you and your family are safe and secure, have a place to live, have food on the table, and that you are able to provide a happy future for those you love. When a tragic event takes away an arm, it does not just take away the physical arm. It leaves a questionable future, especially in a country like El Salvador with limited resources and support in the field of prosthetics.”

Over the past four summers, Shuler has worked in El Salvador with local clinics to provide better health-care to the community, “but I always wanted to do something more,” she said. While studying abroad her junior year in Morocco, the light-bulb moment occurred during a conversation Shuler had with a friend about new technologies. “He wondered why no one had started using 3D printers to make prosthetics. I started doing some research and found the Roboarm open-source model that others had been working on and knew this would greatly benefit amputees in El Salvador. When I returned to W&L in the fall, I discovered that the University had created the IQ Center and had purchased a Makerbot 3D printer, so I was able to learn how to use it.”

After Shuler collected her diploma, she headed to Ahuachapán, a city of about 110,000 residents on the western edge of El Salvador, an agricultural region producing coffee. With a $10,000 grant from the Davis Foundation Projects for Peace, she and her team (W&L students Alessandra Catizone ’15 and Eleanor Jones ’15 and her brother, Andrew Shuler, a biomedical engineering student at the University of South Carolina) purchased a Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation 3D printer, as well as a few supplies, including screws, nuts, string and thermoplastic.

Shuler worked primarily with Carla Clavel, a nurse at the Clinica Iglesia Metodista clinic. The first week, the team met several patients and chose José to begin. By the end of the week, they sent José home with an arm. By the end of the summer, they completed five more arms. Clavel finished several more after they left. The cost? About $60 to $80 each.

“Unfortunately, amputations are common in El Salvador,” said Shuler. “Some come from accidents or violence. Many come from medical conditions. It is often cheaper for a hospital to amputate a limb rather than treat a complicated condition. Each of our patients had a very different story. Several had had their amputations for years, resulting from the civil war or gang violence. A few had tried prosthetic arms before, but they were expensive to replace later. Two patients were out of work because of their amputation. Fortunately, after receiving the arms they have been able to find new jobs. One of those patients, Urania, invited us to her home a few weeks after fitting her arm to show us tasks she could complete around the home using the arm. Having a second hand allowed her to cut vegetables and sweep. She could pick up small objects. The prosthetic arm will never replace her original arm, but it allows her to perform basic chores more easily. It also means she can work again to help support her family.”

As with any new project, there were challenges. One of the parts on the 3D printer, the extruder, had to be replaced four times throughout the summer, meaning the printer only functioned for half of the time. Another main challenge came from the inherent uniqueness of each amputation. “Although we had an overall plan for making the arm, each individual was different, and we had to adjust to each situation. We never gave up on a patient, we just needed more time for one than we did for another,” noted Shuler.

Even though Shuler had to leave El Salvador for her next project-teaching English in Shanghai-the work goes on through the efforts of others. The group left enough supplies for Clavel to make 20 more arms, and Shuler’s brother will print more parts in the U.S. and send them to her via mission teams traveling to El Salvador every two months. Moreover, Shuler has developed several fundraising ideas to continue building low-cost prosthetic arms for patients in El Salvador and other South American countries. She hopes to expand the program to provide prosthetics for those with amputations above the elbow and eventually begin construction on prosthetic legs.

“This project has definitely shaped the way that I see the world and my ability to affect it,” said Shuler, who will attend the Medical University of South Carolina next year. “I have always had a passion for both medicine and development in the U.S. and abroad. Throughout this project, I took everything that I learned in El Salvador in the past and everything I have learned about technology and science at W&L and combined them to create a lasting impact. My experience working in El Salvador with 3D printing and prosthetics has only just opened the door to what will hopefully be a lifetime of using technology and creativity to improve the lives of others.”