Barry McNamara  |  Published December 08, 2022

What Can We Do to Help?

Students in Craig Vivian’s ‘I&I’ class bring Christmas cheer to local senior citizens.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew and American attorney Bryan Stevenson both have words of wisdom that a Monmouth College class taught by professor Craig Vivian has taken to heart.

And because of it, Galesburg senior citizens are experiencing a brighter Christmas season.

Vivian is an instructor of “Inquiry & Identity,” a first-year experience required for Monmouth students.

'JUST MERCY': One of the books that Craig Vivian's I&I class read was... 'JUST MERCY': One of the books that Craig Vivian's "I&I" class read was attorney Bryan Stevenson's best-selling memoir.One of the course’s books is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, a memoir by Stevenson that documents his career defending disadvantaged clients. It was made into a 2019 movie, starring Michael B. Jordan.

“It’s about people willing to act for the good of people who can’t act for themselves,” said Vivian.

Or, as Stevenson writes in the book, “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated and the condemned.”


‘Something tangible’

Motivated by the book and by the subsequent classroom discussion that the “I&I” course fosters, Vivian said his students asked, “What we can do as a group to reflect the highlights of what we’ve been reading?”

WARM THOUGHTS: Professor Craig Vivian's class made tie blankets for the residents at a nursin... WARM THOUGHTS: Professor Craig Vivian's class made tie blankets for the residents at a nursing home in nearby Galesburg.Their answer was to make blankets for seniors living at ProMedica Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in nearby Galesburg where one of Vivian’s students, Kaitlyn Courtright of Oneida, Illinois, works. Courtright delivered the blankets, and at the final regular meeting of Vivian’s class, she discussed the reaction.

“She was ecstatic,” said Courtright of one of the residents. “The whole shift, that’s all she could talk about.”

Another student in the class, Adrian Outlaw of Galesburg, created a blanket decorated with Christmas-y sharks, which took him several hours to make.

“This is the first time the students have come up with this type of community outreach. It was meaningful to them to interact and create community. It was an esprit de corps, and they created something tangible to tie into the ideas we’ve read about.” Craig Vivian


“The lady who received that shark blanket really liked it,” said Courtright. “She said, ‘I hope you didn’t buy it.’ I told her that we made them all ourselves.”

That the students decided to do something for people less fortunate than themselves was a novel approach to the first-year course, said Vivian.

“I’ve taught previous versions of this course for 20 years, and this is the first time the students have come up with this type of community outreach. It was meaningful to them to interact and create community. It was an esprit de corps, and they created something tangible to tie into the ideas we’ve read about.”


Pen and paper, too

Along with the blankets, the first-year students penned handwritten letters to the ProMedica residents.

“I talked about myself a little bit – that I play football and that I’m ready for Christmas break,” said Brady Huegen. “I’m from four hours away (in Albers, Illinois), so I don’t get to go home that much.”

Huegen then put out a call for reciprocity.

“I wrote that if she wanted to write me, she could, and she wrote me a letter back. She said she was excited to read my letter, and she told me about her son, who’s a cop in Chicago.”

Ella Goodrich of Minonk, Illinois, also shared the contents of her letter.

“I talked about Christmas coming up and winter, and I told her I hoped she liked the blanket and that it would keep her warm,” she said.


‘Inquiry & Identity’

Associate dean of academic initiatives Stephanie Baugh described the idea behind the “I&I” course, which took the place of the longtime “Introduction to the Liberal Arts” class.

“Inquiry is the root of all learning, and identity is a complex and multifaceted topic,” said Baugh. “What does it mean to be on a college campus? What is going to be expected of them? Who are they as individuals? Who are they as members of a campus community? As members of the local community?”

One of Vivian’s students commented on the overall experience of the first-year course.

“I had no idea what to expect from the class. I just knew it would help you learn to prepare for college. But it’s been so much more. The class helps you learn who you are and helps you see different viewpoints and ideas and get outside of yourself.” Ivy Hawkins


“I had no idea what to expect from the class,” said Ivy Hawkins of New Baden, Illinois. “I just knew it would help you learn to prepare for college. But it’s been so much more. The class helps you learn who you are and helps you see different viewpoints and ideas and get outside of yourself.”

The students can now appreciate even more a line they’ve all heard from the Charles Dickens holiday classic, A Christmas Carol:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” Scrooge’s nephew said to his miserly uncle.

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