Posts tagged ‘Sam Richards’

Wanted: Your Best Classroom Memories

The professor who surprised, challenged, terrified, or inspired you. The classroom where you did your best work—or where you hope never to set foot again. The partner from your lab or study group who drove you to distraction or became a life-long friend.

We know you’ve got stories. We want to hear ‘em.

For our next “interactive” feature, we’re looking for your most compelling classroom memories. You can tell your story in the comments below; send submissions (no more than 250 words) to; or mail them to: The Penn Stater magazine, Hintz Family Alumni Center, University Park, PA, 16802. All submissions are due by Dec. 6. We’ll use the best of them for a feature in an upcoming issue of The Penn Stater.

imagesWhat are my best classroom memories? Hey, thanks for asking. I only ever took one class where, on the final day of the semester, the entire room offered a spontaneous standing ovation for the instructor. That was Hist 143—History of Fascism & Nazism, with Prof. Jackson Spielvogel (right). The class was tremendous from start to finish—no doubt there are thousands of alumni who feel the same—but it’s the day that Holocaust survivor Kurt Moses ’11h came to speak to a rapt, standing-room-only lecture hall in Sparks Building that I’ll never forget.

Then there was Soc 119, taught by Sam Richards (below), who’d been on campus only a few years at that point and was, in the minds of many of us fairly straight-laced undergrads, some sort of enlightened hippie whose class was popular largely because it had the potential for fireworks. But there was so much more to it than that. As I learned over the course of a memorable semester, Sam’s whole thing was perspective.

2358380b51651c63cafd5fcc0ea3a9e94bcf032b_254x191And of course, it still is. Sam long ago cut his hair, but he’s hardly cut back on his approach to opening the eyes and minds of his students; in fact, through their World in Conversations program, Sam and his wife Laurie Mulvey ’94g have expanded their work to a global audience. Now, Sam lives right around the corner from me, meaning the unconventional professor who blew my undergrad mind is now the very cool guy who I occasionally get to talk about Important Stuff with over a beer at neighborhood gatherings. Who knew I’d be making classroom memories 20 years later?

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm 3 comments

Coming Soon: Behind the Scenes with World in Conversation

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent some time getting to know the people at the World in Conversation project, the brainchild of sociology instructors Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g. I’m finally reporting the story about the program this semester—it will be published in an upcoming issue, mid- to late 2014—and I wanted to share something I watched Monday as I sat in on a class with the student facilitators, who lead dialogues among students of various races, genders, and ethnicities. It’s a video from the Cleveland Clinic, and it’s not a spoiler to say that the theme is empathy.

I found it powerful. Hoping it makes you think about your day, too.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

September 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm 1 comment

The Sandusky Scandal: As Experienced–and Written–by Penn Staters

INDIEGO_HEADER2About nine months ago, I received an email from Sheila Squillante ’02g, a senior lecturer in Penn State’s English department, and Dave Housley, who works in Penn State’s Outreach department and is an editor at Barrelhouse magazine. They were collecting pieces that had been written about the Sandusky scandal for an anthology, and they had a specific mission. They wanted pieces written by people who are connected to Penn State. And they wanted not straight news accounts or opinion pieces about who’s at fault, but pieces that dug into the emotions of the situation. They eventually came up with a title: Notes from Inside a Burst Bubble: Penn Staters on the Penn State Scandal.

I was honored to contribute a piece I wrote for this blog, about how sociology lecturers Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g addressed the issues in SOC 119. I’ve been eagerly waiting to see what other pieces would turn up in the anthology, and the time is drawing near.

Squillante and Housely couldn’t find a traditional publisher for the book, so they’re raising funds to publish it themselves. They’ve set up this page on indiegogo to solicit donations because they want to donate any profit to RAINN, and that wasn’t possible on some other platforms. You can go there to donate; every little bit helps. They need to raise $2,000 to cover expenses, and as of Monday morning they’re at the $1,200 mark.

The Daily Collegian did a nice piece on why the book matters; Squillante called it a “document for people to make sense of what happened.” Among the contributors are Squillante, her English 15 class, Housely, and Michael Weinreb ’94, who often writes for us and who wrote insightfully and movingly about the scandal for Grantland.

If you’re interested in contributing, I know that the editors—and the writers, including me—would be grateful. None of us are making a dime. But it’s important for the voices of Penn Staters to be heard, and of course RAINN is doing valuable, vital work. Here’s a way to support both.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

January 28, 2013 at 10:42 am 4 comments

Emerging from the Storm: Conversation Highlights

Going in to Wednesday’s livestream conversation with Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g, there were only a few things we at The Penn Stater knew for sure: Whether the viewer count hit 3 or 300, the people who joined in would care deeply about the issues and want their voices heard. And that the door would be open—for an honest, emotional, and sometimes controversial discussion.

We were right on both counts.

Around 200 people from Facebook, Twitter, and the livestream chat spent one and a half hours talking about the big issues along with Sam and Laurie. Viewers brought up questions about identity, personal responsibility, loyalty, lack of trust in our leaders, and the biggest question of all: Where do we go from here?

Some (very abridged) highlights:

Viewer question: Why should alumni and students take responsibility for the scandal? We did nothing wrong.

Laurie: This was handed to the Penn State community by fate, the same way a hurricane is handed to a particular town. This isn’t a Penn State problem, but it was given to us to say, ‘OK, how can we deal with this?’

Sam: Penn State has been given this burden. Maybe the honorable approach is to accept a certain amount of punishment. That’s a big thing to say, but what if we stepped outside the box? We if we said, “Let me see if there’s a higher road here.” It’s really easy to beat the drums and yell and scream, but what might be an alternative path? Fighting the sanctions—what does that look like? Is that an honorable approach?

How can we move forward when we feel the truth isn’t out yet?

Laurie: We all want the truth, and the reality is, we as human beings don’t often get to live in the truth. We don’t get the opportunity where other people see us for who we are. The intention here is to seek the truth, and follow it out as long as it takes, but in the meantime, recognize that we don’t have the privilege of being seen how Penn State wants to be seen. We join humanity in that, and we, as people of Penn State, aren’t unique in that. It’s humbling.

Sam: Penn State has been judged very harshly by the court of public opinion, and when the court of public opinion comes down in such a powerful way, that becomes the truth for millions and millions of people. So what do we do with the fact that that is now the truth? We may say, wait a minute, that’s not the truth. But we have to find a way to live within that, because that’s the truth to many people. I can sit here and be angry about that, and sometimes I am. But is there another way around that? How might I grow? How might I expand?

I hate that Penn State has adopted the blue ribbons for child-abuse awareness, because it feels like an admission of guilt—like a scarlet letter. 

Sam: I understand that, especially when things like this are done for political reasons. But here’s the other side: What if every time you see a blue ribbon, you think about the fact that 1 in 8 of your female friends, sisters, aunts, neighbors, etc. has experienced child sexual abuse in some way? And 1 in 10 of your male friends? What if the blue ribbons meant that, and what if I really took the time to think about that and let that influence my life? What might happen? Because when you sit together at a Thanksgiving meal, and you’ve got 10 or 12 people, somebody has had that experience. And very likely, the abuser is somebody who may also be sitting at that table. So, when we take the blue ribbons, what if we used that as a lens? Put the blue-ribbon lens on and look at the world?

Whether you agree or disagree with Sam and Laurie—and with one another—the most encouraging part of all this is that the conversation continues. Since the stream ended at 9:30 p.m. last night, viewers are still posting opinions and ideas on this blog, to Twitter (with the hash tag #pennstater), to our Facebook page, and via email at As always, we welcome your questions, comments, and feedback.

If you missed last night’s livestream, you can watch the video in its entirety here. (Unfortunately, the conversation in the chat box to the right of the screen is no longer available.)

Mary Murphy, associate editor

September 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm 3 comments

Wanted: Questions for Our Live, Online Conversation

Over the summer, I got a chance to ask questions of Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g, the husband-and-wife sociology instructors who have made it a point to address the Sandusky scandal and its aftermath in class. Their SOC 119 class, Race and Ethnic Relations, is all about exploring assumptions and considering a variety of perspectives, and they brought that sensibility to the interview we published in our September/October issue. (If you missed it, click here for a downloadable PDF.)

Now it’s your turn to ask questions.

Sam and Laurie will be facilitating a discussion from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night, and you can participate in the event at this website: We want you to be a part of “Emerging from the Storm: Continuing the Conversation.” You’ll be able to watch Sam and Laurie at the website, and you can ask questions, make comments and chat with other participants simply by typing into the text box in the upper right-hand corner. You don’t need to register or do anything fancy. You can also log in there with your Facebook or Twitter accounts, if you’d prefer. Our hashtag: #pennstater.

I’ll be in the room with Sam and Laurie, asking your questions and summarizing your comments. I’m there as your representative, so I need your questions and ideas.

If you’d like to get the conversation started early, you can post in the comments here or on Facebook; I’ll make sure Sam and Laurie see what you write.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

September 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm 29 comments

Emerging from the Storm: Join Our Conversation with Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey

I’m probably understating when I say that being a Penn Stater hasn’t been easy for the past nine months. So much sadness, so much anger, so much confusion. I haven’t spoken with anyone who doesn’t want things here to be better, but what “better” looks like—and how to make that happen—is still up in the air.

One of the things we’ve got to do is talk. Which is why we’re calling on sociology instructors Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g, whose SOC 119 (Race and Ethnic Relations) class is among the most popular on campus and whose World in Conversation program is devoted to fostering dialogue about difficult topics, to guide us.

We’d like you to join us for a live online event—Emerging from the Storm: Continuing the Conversation—from 8 to 9:30 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, Sept. 12. You’ll be able to watch and hear Sam and Laurie as they grapple with the issues and questions, and you’ll be able to participate, too, by logging in with your Facebook or Twitter accounts, or simply by typing in the text box you’ll find at the website. No need to register.

What we want to do is build off our conversation with Sam and Laurie that’s in our September/October issue. (If you’ve not received it, you can download a PDF of the interview by clicking here.) Your participation is vital.

I’ve spent a lot of time around Sam and Laurie in the past year, first showing up unannounced to Sam’s SOC 119 class on Nov. 10, when he tweeted that he’d be talking about the scandal, then showing up invited a few times, then reporting on a story about World in Conversation for an upcoming issue of the magazine.

As anyone who’s taken the class knows, Sam and Laurie aren’t big on providing answers. They are big on asking questions, and doing so in such a way that you’re able to see other perspectives, other points of view. With all of the complexities in the Sandusky scandal, it was natural to call on them to be a part of our latest issue, in which we continue to try to make sense of and pull lessons from everything that’s happened in the past nine months.

We’re confident they’ll make the online event a safe place to talk with other Penn Staters who are still hurting for the victims, yet angry at how our community has been portrayed nationally. We’re confident the conversation will make you think, too. We know there’s a lot of anger out there, but we want very much to keep this conversation calm and civil.

So here’s an opportunity for Penn Staters to talk together, among ourselves. Save this website,, and join us anytime between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday the 12th, and submit your questions and comments live and in real time to participate. You can also submit your questions or comments here, and we’ll take them to Sam and Laurie next Wednesday.

We’re looking forward to talking with you.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

September 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm 2 comments

On Its Way: The Sept./Oct. Issue

Illustration by Noma Bar.

Storm. Hurricane. Deluge.

Weather-wise, this summer in State College has been fairly pleasant and calm. Yet we’ve heard those buzzwords countless times here at The Penn Stater over the past few months.

An onslaught of news since our last issue—the Sandusky trial, the Freeh report, the removal of the Paterno statue, the NCAA sanctions—prompted the stormy comparisons. And inevitably, some of those concepts worked their way into our Sept./Oct. issue.

In the magazine, beginning to hit mailboxes now, you’ll find four features that tackle the issues in different ways. Lori Shontz ’91 recaps the key events of the summer, art history professor Brian Curran examines the significance of the Paterno statue, and Ryan Jones ’95 explains why he’s still rooting for Penn State football. We’re especially proud of “Emerging from the Storm,” a conversation with sociology faculty Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g, about how Penn Staters can cope with the mixed emotions brought on by the scandal and find a way to heal.

Our art director, Carole Otypka, commissioned illustrator Noma Bar to not only render the cover but also the opening illustration for each of the four features.

There are some fun stories, as well: a look at Penn State Brandywine Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska’s 285-mile trek across Pennsylvania, and a profile of faculty member Blake Ketchum, a forensic sculptor and artist, to name a few.

Once you get your copy of the new issue, tell us what you think by commenting here or emailing

 Mary Murphy, associate editor

August 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm 5 comments

Signs of Change on State Patty’s Day

Since its inception in 2007, State Patty’s Day has become synonymous with excessive drinking, alcohol-related hospital visits, and public displays of bad behavior.

But there are plenty of Penn State alumni and students hoping to change that.

The Alumni Association’s Committee on Excessive Drinking Issues, formed in 2010 and made up of students, alumni, and Alumni Association staff, has been working to learn more about the issue of dangerous drinking. Along with several year-round initiatives, the group has teamed with the State College Police Department to discourage local bar and restaurant owners from advertising the “holiday” with drink specials and merchandise.

More students are taking the anti-State Patty’s stance, too — and encouraging their peers to do the same. Senior Tyler Changaris is asking students to sign a pledge, posted online here, promising to abstain from all State Patty’s Day festivities. And more than 100 students are planning to spend the day participating in an alternative holiday, “State Day of Service,” by doing volunteer work throughout campus and Centre County.

In a Feb. 10 column in The Daily Collegian, popular sociology professors Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g ask students to boycott State Patty’s Day in light of the Sandusky scandal — “in honor of lives and communities that are forever changed by what has happened.”

Though we’ll have to wait until this weekend to determine the full impact of these efforts, there’s already been one very encouraging development: More than 20 downtown bars and restaurants — twice as many as in 2011 — are modifying their hours or alcohol service, some closing entirely, on what would be one of the most profitable days of the year. offers a list of the establishments and their plans for Saturday here.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

February 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm 4 comments

The Return of State Patty’s Day

All you need to know about State Patty’s Day can be found at Peoples Nation, the pricy T-shirt shop on College Avenue. The front third of the store features items custom made for the student-organized holiday: Green necklaces with shot glass pendants, green and white feather boas, green sequined oversized leprechaun hats, and shirts with slogans such as “Sorry I’m Not Sorry: State Patty’s Day 2012.”

On Tuesday morning when I stopped by, two female students were waiting as the cashier rang up 20 green pinnies. The total? $290.40.

“They’re for my friends from out of town,” the girl said to her friend as she reached for her credit card. “I’m so excited they’re going to come up. This is going to be the best State Patty’s ever.”

With the context of everything that has occurred at Penn State since November, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this really time for the best State Patty’s Day ever? Beginning Friday, thousands of Penn State students—and thousands of visitors—will descend upon the streets, bars, and apartments of State College to, well, party. “It’s just a giant drinking holiday, not much more,” junior Brittany Smith said. “It’s just an excuse to drink all day long.”

The holiday has grown immensely since its inception in 2007. Last year, State College Police made a record 234 criminal arrests—up from 160 in 2010—and fielded a record 480 calls. Close to 11,000 people have joined a Facebook group titled “Official Facebook Page: State Patty’s Day 2012.” With that kind of momentum, State Patty’s Day 2012 is slated to be bigger than ever—right?


The image of Penn State students has been scrutinized (more…)

February 23, 2012 at 11:24 am 5 comments

A Singing Valentine’s Day Tradition

Jen Espinosa arrived at 102 Thomas on Tuesday afternoon expecting to take a Bio 411 exam.

She sat in her seat, a couple rows from the back, and took out a No. 2 pencil. Her professor, James A. Strauss, began handing out scantrons.

Then five male students wearing suits walked into the lecture hall. And the exam was delayed.

The well-dressed quintet has a name: They are The Dreamers, the official a capella group of Phi Mu Alpha, Penn State’s singing fraternity. And for the 23rd straight year, The Dreamers spread love on Feb. 14 by delivering singing Valentines throughout the day.

The routine is simple: The youngest member of The Dreamers—this time it was Brian Bender, a freshman who is also in the Blue Band—must walk in the classroom and ask the professor for permission to interrupt class. Once Bender got the OK, the rest of the group joined him and called the Valentine to the “stage.”

Most recipients, like Espinosa, have no idea it’s coming. Embarrassed by the attention, Espinosa refused to walk to the front of the room to be serenaded by The Dreamers — until Dr. Strauss made a (more…)

February 14, 2012 at 11:59 pm 2 comments

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