Monthly Archives: April 2016

Grant Paves Way for New Honors Curriculum at Western

Only award of its kind received in Colorado

“What is art for?” This enduring question will be explored in a new course, offered by Dr. Kelsey Bennett, a lecturer in English at Western, made possible by a two-year, $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Bennett’s award will be used to develop and teach a freshmen-level undergraduate seminar course, designed primarily for students in Western’s Honors Program and other qualified students with majors of all disciplines, to explore the purpose and relevance of art.

NEH Enduring Questions grant program supports faculty members in the preparation of a new course on a fundamental concern of human life as addressed by the humanities. This NEH program encourages undergraduates and their professors to engage in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential ideas, works and thinkers over the centuries.

“Honors Program goals and outcomes include developing a knowledge of the Good; fostering interdisciplinary community; encouraging intellectual risk-taking; and strengthening social intelligence through communication,” Bennett explained. “The course will be developed with these goals and outcomes in mind, which in turn support Western’s institutional mission of ‘promoting intellectual maturity and personal growth’ as students continue on their way toward becoming constructive citizens in local, national, and global communities.”

NEH awarded 248 grants through its last funding cycle. The award to Western was one of only three grants awarded in the State of Colorado, and the only Enduring Questions Pilot Course Grant awarded in the state.

“NEH provides support for projects across America that preserve our heritage, promote scholarly discoveries, and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all Americans,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams. “We are proud to announce this latest group of grantees who, through their projects and research, will bring valuable lessons of history and culture to Americans.”

The NEH was created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, which supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Learn more at

Paranormal Investigation: Gunnison Arts Center

Western English professor Dr. Mark Todd explains the art of ghost hunting

Marisa Cardin / Staff Writer

Dr. Mark Todd and Kym O'Connell Todd set up the cameras and video recorders. Photo by Zoe Henderson
Dr. Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd set up the cameras and video recorders. Photo by Zoe Henderson

Early on Sunday morning, Apr. 10, seven of Western’s faculty, students, and community members set out, coffee and clipboards in hand, to the Gunnison Arts Center (GAC). There was a sleepy silence about the town, disrupted only by the occasional hum of a truck or chirp of a springtime bird. The team wasn’t meeting to prepare for a show or a gallery opening; they were going to hunt for ghosts.

Throughout the year, Dr. Mark Todd, English professor and director of Western’s MFA in Creative Writing, and his wife Kym O’Connell-Todd, have been giving presentations on their amateur ghost hunting careers. They have traveled across the Western Slope, visiting well known haunted hotels, and driving all across Colorado in the process. They have several publications of their studies, including the recent Wild West Ghosts, published in 2015.

“We’ve always tried to approach our investigations as optimistic skeptics,” says Dr. Todd. “Our first task is to try to find rational explanations for what we encounter – to debunk what we can explain.”

The hunt at the GAC was particularly intriguing; the building itself is 134 years old, and has a long history of unexplained occurrences. Originally, it was the town’s freight depot for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. It seems only appropriate that such a popular meeting place for the living would remain so for the paranormal. Before the investigation, Dr. Todd and his wife interviewed over a dozen first-hand witnesses. Several people reported hearing footsteps sound out from the levels above them, while many staff members report sensing that someone or something wants them to leave the building around 9p.m. “It’s just a feeling that we’re no longer welcome that late,” the executive director of the GAC told the team.

On that morning, the first thing that the team did was a walk through the building, to make sure they were well-acquainted with the layout before the lights went out. During this time, the members were briefed on the previous paranormal encounters of the GAC, and were divided into three teams. Each team covered a floor of the building for approximately 45 minutes one at a time. After the 45 minutes, the teams would switch floors; this way, all members of “Team Wraiths” were able to experience what each floor had to offer, while simultaneously comparing their experiences with everyone else.

So far, Dr. Todd and his wife are about six hours into their analysis of the GAC, but most likely have another 40 to 50 hours to go. They’ve already collected some pretty intriguing EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) through the use of their various sound recording devices.

“But sometimes what we document proves unexplainable. With over a hundred paranormal investigations under our belt, we think there’s something going on,” Dr. Todd says. “Are we detecting ghosts? There’s no way to know.”

For more information, check out their blog: Write In The Thick Of Things ( You can look through sound recordings, pictures, and read more about their experiences as paranormal investigators!

KWSB’s Suicide Prevention Week

Annual week long event aims to create conversation on mental illness and suicide.

Roberta Marquette-Strain / Senior Staff Writer

Students participating in car smash. Photo by Roberta Marquette-Strain
Students participating in car smash. Photo by Roberta Marquette-Strain

Students were bundled up in heavy jackets and huddled together inside the Quigley band shell, cheering and laughing together as they danced along to the upbeat techno-rock sounds. A hail storm had just blown through and the rain never stopped. The band members’ breath could be seen as they sung out to the crowd. It was an odd scene, but everyone had gathered together on that Friday night to celebrate the final big event of KWSB’s Suicide Prevention Week (SPW).

    SPW, organized by Western’s radio station KWSB, featured a number of events such as a car smash and an obstacle course, hosted a showing of the film “My Depression,” and ended with a concert in the Quigley bandshell featuring the band Someone Special and headlined by Tallows.

    The main goal of SPW was to start a conversation on mental health and the stigma surrounding it. “If people never talk about suicide prevention, there is no way for others to understand how many lives are affected by suicide,” said Kiera Classen, KWSB’s Station Manager.

    The events weren’t the only promotions for suicide prevention. Throughout the week, a banner decorated with L;VE on it was shown in the University Center. Classen said that the banner, “Got people to start talking about what L;VE meant, and why it was posted around campus.”

The importance of L;VE is the semicolon within. The use of a semicolon in writing, when an author wants to end a sentence but continues on, can be applied to suicide prevention, when a person wants to end their life but continues on.

Honors Program to Publish Book

Roberta Marquette-Strain / Senior Staff Writer

Marijuana. The word alone can elicit cheers from those in favor or spark a heated debate from those opposed. It’s a controversial subject, but was quickly accepted into the atmosphere of Colorado since its legalization in 2014.

    But the truth is, there’s not a lot of academic research on marijuana and how it affects politics, communities, schools, and so on. Western Honor students took notice and interest in this, and proposed an Honors class examining just that. “It’s a great opportunity to look at something so controversial from a purely academic lens,” Kari Commerford, the course professor said.

    Commerford, who is also a Psychology professor, serves as the program director of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project which has given her a deeper understanding of the use of the substance, and its impact on the Gunnison community.

    While searching for a course, Commerford realized that there seemed to be no literature on marijuana from an academic standpoint. She then came up with the main project for the class, to create an interdisciplinary examination of marijuana.

    “It’s a literature review. It’s not taking a stance, it’s looking at all these different areas and compiling it all together to look at how complex marijuana is.” Commerford said. The book will feature a chapter written by each of the students in the class and will cover the effects of marijuana on everything from political to medicinal, spiritual to cultural, psychological to industrial and much more.

    While the book originally was just for the purpose of the class, Commerford and her students began to wonder if they could publish the book, which would be the first of its kind. A proposal was written to the University Press of Colorado and Utah State University Press for the book to be published, and they are currently waiting for the proposal to be accepted. “I think we have an opportunity to become a school who is on the cutting edge in marijuana research,” Becca Ingram-Bryant said of the opportunity.

    Ingram-Bryant was one of the main supporters for the class when it was in the process of being voted on by the Honors Student Advisory Board, who gets the final call on the customized honors classes for the semester. Ingram-Bryant explained, “If you want your education to be relevant, you can hardly get a more topical and contemporary subject than marijuana on college campuses.”

    Besides the creation of a cutting-edge book, a select few of the students from the class have the opportunity to represent the Western’s Honors Program at two upcoming symposiums to present their research from the book.

Western has been participating in the 10th Annual Sociology Undergraduate Research Symposium, one of the two symposiums, for many years and hosted the event last year. The event allows sociology students to present their own research projects and is an opportunity for students to interact with other Sociology majors who all share the same passion. “It’s great to talk to people who have familiarity with the sociological perspective,” Ingram-Bryant said of the event.

The second event is the Rocky Mountain Honors Council Symposium. The symposium invited schools around Colorado to prepare a ten minute presentation about the legalization of marijuana without taking a stance. Which, luckily for Western students, they already have the research.

Their presentation will be judged by a panel of three on how well they presented the information.  The event will take place at CSU Fort Collins, giving Western the chance to show off their Honors Program, and the academic rigor they have. “The contact person (at CSU) was very excited that we will be traveling all that way because typically they only get universities within an hour’s drive,” Commerford said, “It’s a good way to represent our school.”

A New Place to Relax

Kennedy Sievers / Staff Writer

Gunnison is getting its first hookah lounge soon with the upcoming opening of The 808. Two Western students, Will Roberts and Mitchell Smith, have taken on the endeavor of introducing the lounge to the Gunnison community.

A hookah is a device that allows the user to smoke flavored tobacco or fruit products. The 808 will currently only sell non-tobacco, 100% fruit products at their shop.

There are two parts to the shop, the Green Gold lounge and Ziran Art Gallery and Tea. The Green Gold lounge handles the hookah side, whereas Ziran Art Gallery and Tea incorporates art, art supplies, tea, and tea supplies. “On a merch wall that we have, we’ll have art supplies, tea supplies, bulk tea,” said Roberts. They’re also “kind of getting into hemp sketchbooks. I want to have more recycled and more hemp materials,” according to Roberts.

There are two options for smoking—single hookahs for individuals and regular sizes to share with friends. They have twenty different flavors to choose from. “It’s $6 for a single hookah, and if you’re sipping on it by yourself, that’ll last for a couple of hours. And we’ll replace your coals for free. If you’re with your friends you can get a regular, and that’s double the single size, and that’s $12,” Roberts said.  

They will be offering full service, so “you just sit there and lounge,” according to Roberts.

They also have teas available. There are regular teas and specialty teas. “For the special teas, we’ve got mix masters who will take all these different herbs and then they’ll mix these special blends we’ve put together. We’ve got a cold remedy, a flu remedy, a pick me up, a focus, and we’ve got one that supposed to be really spiritual,” Roberts said.

A cup of regular tea will be $2, and a cup of special tea is $3. They will also be selling pots of tea, $5 for a pot of regular tea and $7 for a pot of special tea. A pot of tea contains about three cups.

Roberts wants the lounge to be somewhere that students can get homework done and relax. “During the week we really want to keep a study vibe, where people can come in and we might have a documentary or some School of Life or Ted Eds or just Ted Talks on in the background. We have a projector screen and surround sound. It’s going to be really mellow and there’s even a study area in the front,” he said.

They also want to have a place for people to go and have fun on the weekends, so they’re hoping to have a more energetic feel on Fridays and Saturdays.

The 808 will have local artworks for sale also, and they’re making it more affordable for artists to hang their work: “There are artists in the valley who are extremely brilliant and they can take an idea and put it on paper which is just amazing to me, but they can’t afford the $200 hanging fee at an art gallery, so we figured we would provide something a lot cheaper.”

They were thinking of charging approximately “$10 to just hang your art on the wall, then you can consign with us, then sign this contract, and then you get 75% of what it sold for and we get the other 25%. We also have a hanging rail that you’ll pay a little extra for and we’ll frame your piece for you and hang it up.”

Roberts and Smith decided to execute the idea while they still had the time and motivation to do so. “If we didn’t execute, if we did nothing, we figured that what’s going to happen is that this is going to go away, we’re going to forget about it, and then someone else is going to open up a hookah lounge,” said Roberts.

Handling his first year in college and trying to get a business off the ground has been relatively manageable for Roberts. “It hasn’t been that much of a change. I’m at 16 credits hours which isn’t bad. Really, I have enough time for homework; I’m an A/B student. It’s not that bad. I’ve had moments where it’s been like, oh, I spent too much time at the shop so really it’s a balancing act,” he said.

Roberts believes that if someone has a dream, they should try to make it a reality, regardless of when they start: “I just want to motivate other people. If they have an idea or if they have a dream, a vision, that they just realize that time is neutral and works how you work it. They can do anything and I want people to realize that. It’s less about capitalization and more about proving to other people that they can do what they want to do,” he said.

The 808 is located at 808 North Main Street. They have had a few soft openings and are hoping to have their official opening soon. Their hours will be Sunday through Thursday 4-11p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4p.m. to 2a.m. The lounge will be a good place for college students and locals to spend free time and relax together.

Students at Western Take a Stance

Earth Week encourages reducing water usage

Ellen Cromack / Special to Top

For Earth Week, a few students started a project to raise awareness about how much water individuals use, and how they can reduce their water usage.  This project has been going on all semester. The project was for Professor Brooke Moran’s ROE Intro to Sustainability Class. The purpose of this project was to open the eyes of her students on how people can infuse sustainability habits into their daily lives at Western. The students behind the project are Ariel Fitch, Ellen Cromack, and Megan Yingling. They chose to work on this topic because they realized that there is more that could be done to reduce individual water usage, but the students at Western might not have the knowledge on how to reduce their water usage. So, they decided to provide an educational tool to inform and encourage Western students to change their daily use of water.

The first educational tool was to raise awareness in the residence halls on campus. The goal was to educate current residents on how to conserve water on a day to day basis, and talk about how to fix shower heads that might be broken. There are two residential apartments, Pinnacles and Chipeta, competing against each other to see who can reduce their water usage the most. This competition is happening during the month of Apr. The winner of the competition will receive a pizza party during finals week. We hope that this competition will enlighten and educate the students on campus about water conservation.

The second educational tool was to create two informative posters and a visual aid to hang in the University Center. This poster and the visual aid will be up at the University Center during Earth Week, Apr. 18-23. The poster informs the students about how plastic water bottles have a negative impact on the environment, the impact of water overuse, and how the students can reduce their water waste. The visual aid represents the amount of water used during a shower. Overall, this set up in the University Center will inform and encourage the student body about what they can do to help reduce their water waste.

The lack of water awareness on campus is daunting because students are not aware of how their usage of water affects the environment. There are a multitude of options that the students can do to help improve the environment, but they don’t engage in them because of the overall lack of knowledge. Gunnison, as a whole, is a very eco-friendly population. However, Gunnison accommodates Western students who come from different and diverse backgrounds that may not embody the same views on water. The idea behind this project is to make Western students aware of how much water they use on a daily basis and how they can reduce their water use.

This project has definitely given the creators an insight on their own personal water use. The creators of the project hope that this project will shed some light on how Western students can make a difference in their water usage.

Western’s Own Comic-Con

Gamer’s Guild hosts a gaming convention.

Stephanie Colton / Staff Writer

Brendon Trushard plays a round of Mortal Kombat at Gunni-Con. Photo by Stephanie Colton
Brendon Trushard plays a round of Mortal Kombat at Gunni-Con. Photo by Stephanie Colton

Fans of video games, comics, and fantasy franchises gathered on Saturday, Apr. 9 for the 4th annual Gunni-Con. Gamer’s Guild, Western’s gaming club, hosted the convention in the University Center South Ballroom. Inspired by the popular Comic-Con, numerous gaming consoles and computers were set up for attendees to challenge each other to Mortal Kombat and Hearthstone tournaments, among many other games. Students could choose from a variety of board games to play against their friends. They were also encouraged to dress up as their favorite fictional character for a costume contest that closed out the festivities.

Gamer’s Guild had been planning Gunni-Con since the beginning of the spring semester. They received sponsorships from the Gunnisack, Mochas Café, and Pie-Zan’s Pizza. Half of the convention’s proceeds went to the Student Emergency Relief Fund for Suicide Prevention Week, partly hosted by KWSB radio station. Gamer’s Guild achieved their goal of raising money for this cause, as well as bringing students of all interests together with this successful event.

Gunnison Food Pantry Welcomes Those in Need With Open Arms

The business runs on the importance of community and public service

Roberta Marquette-Strain / Senior Staff Writer

Some of the volunteers at the Gunnison Food Pantry. Photo by Roberta Marquette-Strain
Some of the volunteers at the Gunnison Food Pantry. Photo by Roberta Marquette-Strain

On Ohio Street, tucked within a strip of small offices, the Gunnison Food Pantry sits. It’s a small building, and can feel cramped with the many volunteers and people who come through. But, the feeling of the confined area melts away by the time a volunteer greets you with a warm smile and a friendly “Hey! How are you?”

The Pantry is a safe place filled with friendly, familiar faces for the regulars that come through, and they will help any of the new faces who are in a bind and are in need of food.

In 1962, Anne Steinbeck, who ran the Department of Health and Human Services, started an ‘under the desk’ operation by saving up food for the people she encountered who were in the process of getting their food stamp application accepted, but still needed food. The idea of a public food pantry stemmed from Steinbeck’s operation and since then, the Food Pantry has continued to grow, gaining more volunteers and customers.  

The Food Pantry serves people who are in the food stamp process, are undocumented, or are dealing with financial problems. The volunteers make it their mission to make everyone who walks through the door feel unashamed and welcome. “As human beings, we want to go where someone knows us and appreciates that we stop by. That’s what we try to build,” said Katie Dix, the president of the governing board of the pantry.

Since the age of 18, Dix has been heavily involved with volunteer work. When she moved to Gunnison in 2013, Dix knew she wanted to volunteer and started to work with the Pantry. She took to Gunnison well and liked the sense of community in the town, especially after volunteering. “You can live in a town and people will walk right around you. If you don’t put yourself in the middle of something and say ‘I’m here’ then you don’t make friends.”
To her many co-workers, Dix is considered the backbone of the Pantry. They credit her hard work, dedication, and the many hours she works to insure the Food Pantry runs smoothly.

Dix’s co-workers are all volunteers. They are not paid for the work they do; they are simply there to help out the community in any way they can. “I come here because I want to give back to the community. It’s very important for me to be a part of the place I live and to help the people I spend time with,” said Star Vargas, the volunteer manager.

Vargas puts in at least 30 to 40 hours at the Pantry, on top of the 15 hours they are open during the week. Vargas hopes to gradually make her way up into leadership roles. Her main goal is to make the customers feel safe and accepted if people feel ashamed or uncomfortable to be there. Vargas is open to sit down and listen to anyone who would want to talk about what they are going through and believes that it is an important factor. “If you want to lift their spirits, let them know you’re here,” she said.  

The volunteers are a crucial part to keep the Food Pantry functioning. “Without our volunteers, this wouldn’t be happening,” Vargas said.

The Pantry is always open to new volunteers and can find a place for them to work. “If you want a satisfying experience, come here. I will help you,” Dix said. They also want to promote the importance of community service to the different organizations and schools in Gunnison. “We work with the community groups to try and instill the value of community service,” said Dix.

The bonds formed between the volunteers and customers however, is truly the strongest link of the Food Pantry. Dix referenced the theme song to “Cheers” to illustrate the importance of this saying, “I want to go where everybody knows my name.”

Passover Seder at Western State Colorado University

Next Sunday, Apr. 24, a community B’nai Butte Seder will be held at the University Center Ballroom at Western.

This is the first community Seder held in Gunnison, and all are welcome and invited. If you have never attended a Jewish Passover Seder, it is an experience not to be missed! The Seder is not just a meal, but a retelling of the Exodus story, with specific foods symbolic of the redemption from Egypt.

Our Seder will be led by Rabbi-Cantor Robbi Sherwin of Congregation B’nai Butte in Crested Butte, and will contain traditional and contemporary songs and prayers. The meal will be prepared by Chef Jeffrey Cooper of Flavours at Western, and will include matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, chicken and lamb, a vegan entrée, potato kugel, roasted veggies, and special desserts.

This dinner is free for Western Students with Meal Plans!

For all other Western students or children under 12, the price is $12; adults $22.95

Please RSVP via email or phone at: or (970)943-2432.

Event Location:
University Center Ballroom
Western State College University
600 North Adams, Gunnison, CO

Dr. Cynthia Hogue

Contemporary Writer Series and Philosophy Intersections guest poet.

Zoe Henderson / Staff Writer

Cynthia Hogue at her poetry reading. Photo by Zoe Henderson
Cynthia Hogue at her poetry reading. Photo by Zoe Henderson

On Apr. 11, Dr. Cynthia Hogue came to Western as part of the Contemporary Writers Series and Philosophy Intersections.

Dr. Hogue is the author of eight books of poetry including Revenance (2014), Or Consequence (2010), The Incognito Body (2006), and Flux (2002). Dr. Hogue has also written four books of criticism, and a book of poetry written in the style of witness poetry called When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, in partnership with photographer Rebecca Ross.

Dr. Hogue is also well-known for her 2012 co-translation of Fortino Sámano (The Overflowing of the Poem) by Virginie Lalucq and Jean-Luc Nancy. In 2013, that translation won Dr. Hogue the prestigious Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets.

On Apr. 11, Dr. Hogue held a craft talk at noon, and at 7p.m., there was a public reading in which she read from Revenance, her translation of Fortino Sámano, When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, and an unpublished piece of her recent writing.

In When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Hogue interviewed 12 Hurricane Katrina survivors from New Orleans who had evacuated to Phoenix, Ariz. Dr. Hogue prefaced the reading by saying that her poems aren’t meant to speak for the survivors, but instead “create a space for experience” where the survivors can share their stories and heartaches about the events during and after Katrina.

Next, Dr. Hogue read from her translation of Fortino Sámano, which is a collaborative book by poet Virginie Lalucq and philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy in response to the only existing photo of the Mexican revolutionist Fortino Sámano, taken only seconds before his death by firing squad. Virginie Lalucq was fascinated by how casually Sámano looked facing death; her poetry in the book reflects that fascination. Jean-Luc Nancy collaborated with Lalucq to write an explication of her poem.

Dr. Hogue also read from her poetry book, Revenance. The title of the book is wordplay with the French term revenant, which means ghost. To preface this book, Dr. Hogue told a story about how, in the four years before her parent’s death, strangers would come up and tell her ghost stories. She was interested in these stories and wrote them as poetry.

Two of the poems Hogue read from Revenance had typos that had worked their way into the published book. When Dr. Hogue noticed these mistakes, she decided to keep them because she said, in accordance with Freud, that “the unconsciousness wells up and will speak the truth.” She recommended that writers “listen to your misspellings” because “errors can lead to something truer.”

Dr. Hogue also read two other pieces from Revenance on the importance of art and imagination to education and life.

To finish off her reading, Dr. Hogue read an unpublished poem that she wrote after her husband had a heart attack last year. Hogue said that when her husband died and was shocked back to life, the shock also jolted her out of a year of not writing. The poem was about her husband who had been born into occupied France. The poem speaks about the pain and harsh realities of a war-torn country.

After the reading there was a quick Q & A during which Hogue imparted that writers “allow your errors, never throw away your drafts, and never censor yourself.”