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Grinnellians you should know (or know about): Jen Jacobsen ’95

Topics/tags: Grinnellians

Note: I started this musing early this semester, spurred by some helpful comments Jen had posted on some of my musings and by a forthcoming Faculty Friday talk she was giving. This past Friday, the campus learned that Jen is moving on to a new position. That makes some things I planned to write irrelevant, at best [1]. Nonetheless, I consider it worthwhile to report a bit on this wonderful Grinnellian.

Jennifer Jen Jacobsen ’95 is Grinnell’s Wellness Czar [2,3]. I assume that most students and faculty on campus know Jen because of her many activities. What activities? I’m not sure that I could enumerate them all. I’m not sure anyone could, other than Jen [4]. Here are just a few. She developed and runs our bystander intervention training. She developed and runs our Student-Athlete Mentor [5] program. She does careful studies of student wellness issues and works hard to correct misconceptions, particularly misconceptions that lead to less healthy behavior [6]. She conducts workshops for staff and faculty to help them better understand our students and to reflect on ways to better support our students. She teaches a variety of courses that help broaden student perspectives, on topics that include cooking, life after Grinnell, and relationships [8]. She explores ways to break down barriers between our varsity athletes and our other students [9,10]. And, as I said, that just scratches the surface.

There are so many things I appreciate about Czar Jacobsen. She clearly thinks deeply about a wide variety of issues; not just student wellness, but broader campus policies and issues. She expresses that thoughtfulness in a variety of ways, from formal programs to informal advice. She’s willing to challenge things. I particularly appreciate that she’s willing to challenge me; I can count on a challenge from Jen for at least one musing per week. She’s also willing to take risks to move things forward.

I appreciate our many interactions, which have ranged from informal conversations and Facebook posts to week-long workshops on supporting students. I particularly appreciate that she’s always willing to talk to me about student issues that come up. Among other things, we’ve discussed how I might talk to students about alcohol, drugs, and sex; how I can better support students during times of stress; how, as an institution, we can better understand the experiences of students, particularly our varsity athletes; and the availability of protein and Sunday morning meals in the cafeteria.

Jen also has an interesting history at the College. As a student, she made significant contributions to Al Jones’ Pioneering. She was also active as a varsity athlete. I’m sure there’s more, but I haven’t had enough opportunities to talk to her about it.

There’s much more I could write. There’s probably more that I should write. But I’m reluctant to go deeply into any particular stories. In the end, I should just say that I know of few people who have made such a positive impact on the student experience at Grinnell. Take the time to get to know her, and you’ll find the investment well worth your time.

When Jen’s departure was announced, someone said I hope that we can quickly find a replacement. I’m not sure we can replace her; few people can bring three core characteristics to the position: a deep and broad understanding of wellness informed by the literature, an understanding of and ability to make deep connections with Grinnell students [11], and a willingness to challenge authority [12]. I think, for example, of the ways Jen worked with students who hosted off-campus parties to get them to think more deeply about monitoring and supporting their peers; too often, it seems like Grinnell’s approach is more dictatorial and less inclusive [14]. I know that a close relationship with a faculty or staff member has been shown to be one of the most significant factors in student persistence; I expect that more students have such a close relationship with Jen than with any other faculty or staff member.

Still, she has set a number of important programs in place and changed the way many people on campus think. So we’ll get by. And I’ll try to be hopeful that her successor will bring the knowledge, generosity of spirit, creativity, willingness to challenge, and good will that Jen does.

Postscript: As I was reflecting back on this musing and on my interactions with Jen, I realized that I missed one really important thing: Jen was instrumental during the time about seven years ago when I most successfully worked on my weight and wellness. I’m trying to get back to that state, but it’s much harder seven years later. In any case, I appreciate all that Jen did to help at that time. Thanks Jen!

[1] For example, the notes I wrote earlier this semester include the observation that Jen does enough teaching of our students that should get the title of Lecturer.

[2] That Jen’s title for herself, at least on Facebook. It suffices.

[3] Jen tells me that Tim Hammond initially assigned the title to her.

[4] Well, there are probably a few other people.

[5] I don’t think she named it after me, but I still appreciate the acronym.

[6] A surprising number of our students think that their peers drink and cohabit significantly more than their peers actually drink and cohabit. Helping students learn what really happens not only makes it less likely that students consider extreme behaviors normal, it also normalizes more reasonable behaviors [7].

[7] Jen would have phrased that much better.

[8] My notes on this said stupidity of them being listed as PE 100, which means that no one can see the description. My broader comment was that these are important courses that students always tell me they appreciate having taken. But too few students know about them because they get hidden in PE 100. I’d prefer to see them listed as regular classes, with an accompanying description. But if they are regular classes, they can only be taught by regular faculty. Hence my earlier comment that Jen should have the title of Lecturer.

[9] She also helps folks think about language. When we first started talking about the barriers and connections, she was careful to explain why she didn’t just use the term athlete, since many of our students who are not part of sports teams are still athletes.

[10] I expect that experiences are very different at Grinnell than at other schools. Many varsity athletes, particularly in the big three men’s teams, are sometimes reluctant to reveal that part of their identity because there are people on campus who associate participation in those teams with negative characteristics. More broadly, though, many varsity athletes feel ostracized, and many other students feel like the varsity athletes separate themselves.

[11] I recently had a student tell me that they learned more from Jen in their first two years at Grinnell than they learned from anyone else at the College.

[12] Iowa is a right to work state, which basically means that an employer can fire you at any time for any reason. That makes some people unwilling to speak out.

[14] Yes, I do plan to muse about the new dorm evacuation policies.

Version 1.0 of 2019-10-04.