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Grinnellians you should know (or know about): Doug Cutchins ’93

Part of an ongoing series about the folks who once inhabited or who currently inhabit the former Iowa College of Grinnell.

If it were four years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had to introduce Doug Cutchins ’93 to any then-current students (or alumni from the prior decade), as Doug was an active and important member of the College staff. A year ago, it’s pretty clear that I would have had to introduce Doug to almost any current student, since he is now something like half a world away and the student body has a relatively limited memory. Six months ago, a number of current students would have known Doug as a particularly thoughtful and outspoken alum regarding the changes to Posse. But a month ago, Doug wrote an essay that was widely discussed and, particularly because of that essay, many Grinnellians think that they know about Doug. Unfortunately, what they think they know is probably wrong. I won’t claim that I know nearly as much as I should know about Doug, but I do know many things, and he’s someone I’m proud to have as a Grinnell alum and as a former colleague.

I should probably know what Doug did between graduating from Grinnell and then coming back to serve in the Career Development Office [1,3]. I know he married Anne Geissinger ’93. I know that he contributed to a book on Volunteer Vacations [5,7]. I believe he spent some time in the Peace Corps. That’s all I know [8].

In any case, he and Anne came back to Grinnell in 1999 or so. Doug did a variety of things at Grinnell. He was the primary contact person [9] for our competitive national post-graduate scholarships [10]. In that role, he encouraged faculty to nominate students, he encouraged students to develop applications, he helped students develop those applications, he helped faculty write recommendation letters, and more. But Doug also advised students in myriad other ways, helping them think about not only their time at Grinnell, but the options they had after Grinnell [11]. He was a person that our students loved (and, presumably, still love). Like most Grinnellians, he cared (and cares) deeply about social justice issues and thought about what his role in the world should be.

Doug’s concerns for our students came out in multiple ways. He was active with students and alums on social media (and one of the few folks on campus comfortable conversing with students on Plans). He regularly worked on ways to help support students, particularly during the week formerly known as male pronoun double hockey sticks week [12], as well as finals week. Each semester, Doug organized a You can do it march during one of those two weeks.

In spite of my generally combative personality, I don’t think I ever found fault with anything Doug did while on campus. He was sincere about helping Grinnell students (both directly and indirectly), about making the College more socially responsible, and in supporting our alumni. What more could one ask? My closest connections with Doug were in working with my students on fellowship applications, on working together on the SHACS review [14], and, when I could find the time, in doing the You can do it march.

In retrospect, I didn’t get to know Doug nearly well enough during his fifteen or so years at Grinnell. Michelle and Anne were friends, having bounded over the joy of staying in a four-story walkup when they were both pregnant and participating in a College trip to London. My youngest and their oldest were classmates (and even danced together for a bit). But Doug and I mostly communicated via email and Plans, with the occasional in-person meeting. I think we both respected each other as members of the community who cared deeply about our community, but we did so mostly in tandem, rather than together.

I wish I could have better written about the reasons Doug made such a positive difference to this place we both love. If you want to know Doug, talk to Grinnell students who were here during his tenure at Grinnell, read his Baccalaureate address, or watch his video response to the Posse news.

I look forward to seeing Doug continue to re-engage with Grinnell.

Oh, in case it wasn’t clear: Forget about the damn essay. It was almost certainly meant in the same vein as A modest proposal. It’s just that as someone now 9,000 miles removed from the U.S., Doug did not realize how difficult irony is in a country in which candidates for presidential office could say the kinds of things they did this year. It does not reflect the Doug Cutchins so many of us know and value.

And yes, I would have written a profile of Doug even without that essay. He’s a person who made Grinnell better, and is therefore someone you should know (or know about).

[1] CDO, for old-timers. The predecessor to CLS, for new-timers [2].

[2] What? You say that new-timers isn’t a term? What would you use?

[3] In reviewing this essay, Doug noted that if I did my homework, I’d know about his missing years. After all, his 2012 Baccalaureate address included a description of what he did in that time. But I’m a lazy writer [4].

[4] Well, more precisely, I’m a lazy researcher.

[5] I wonder what Doug thinks about the current controversies about service tourism or voluntourism, or whatever they call it. Given the reaction to his recent essay, I wouldn’t expect him to write about another controversial issue, so perhaps I’ll never know [6].

[6] Doug sent me a note, so I guess I do know.

My feelings about service tourism are complicated, but I mostly think it is still a good idea when done well (which is not as often as I would like). I think critics give short shrift both to the power of intercultural exchange that happens through service tourism, and to the power that it can have to inspire participants to participate in further and more meaningful service afterward.

[7] Doug did not write the book in his away from Grinnell period. He and Anne worked on multiple editions after they were back at Grinnell. Doug probably has a story about that somewhere, but I’m too lazy to look for it.

[8] Here’s Doug on what really happened.

What I did in that six-year interregnum between graduation and returning: got a high school teaching certificate from Grinnell through the 9th semester program, taught high school US history in North Carolina at two different schools (one underfunded, where I had students who were far below grade level, and then at a gifted & talented magnet high school, where I had students who were far above grade level), earned an MA in History from UConn on a fellowship I won from the US government, and (as you correctly remembered) served in the Peace Corps in Suriname with Anne (we got married 50 days before we left! Ah, youth…).

[9] Okay, contact person is probably the wrong word. Cheerleader, maybe. Encourager of students, perhaps. Officer, too formal. Guide, better. Well, I’ll stick with contact person.

[10] Kind of like the position that the differently awesome Steve Gump is now in. However, I think they split Doug’s position into two or three positions.

[11] Given what he discusses in the Posse video, it sounds like Doug continues to advise Grinnellians on many issues, even though it’s as an alum, rather than through a formal position.

[12] Or perhaps Happy Exciting Liberal Learning week [13].

[13] Sorry, Jen.

[14] Yeah, we got to write a report on SHACS that appears to have had no direct impact. I sometimes wonder whether anyone ever read it.

Version 1.1.1 of 2016-11-16.