SIT’s World Issues Program (WIP) ran from 1972 to 1999 as a two-year undergraduate program for students who wished to prepare themselves for work in an international or intercultural career. The WIP program focused on topics such as the environment, ecology, population, and peace studies. Like current SIT master’s degree programs, WIP combined on-campus study with an off-campus internship. Today, alumni of the WIP program continue to work to help create a more peaceful world.
Last month, graduates of the 1986–88 WIP program held their 25-year class reunion on SIT Graduate Institute’s Brattleboro campus. Eleven alumni were joined by former program director Shaun Bennett, former professor Alan Hodson, and current and former SIT and World Learning staff. Below, WIP alumnus Andy McKenna recounts this special reunion weekend.
The group visited the Brattleboro Farmer’s Market and local restaurants Equilibrium and Whetstone. On campus, they visited the former Undergraduate Building, the “WIP classroom” (the wood bench overlooking the Boyce building), the Whitney Interfaith Center (a project started by WIP alumni Maya Apfelbaum and Andy McKenna that continues to this day), and—a highlight—the institutional archives. Alvino Fantini (faculty emeritus), Peter Hayward (former coordinator of practicum and career services), and Shirley Capron (former librarian) shared their work of trying to preserve the individual stories and collective history of World Learning and its other iterations. Appropriately, old WIP newsletters with reports from the students’ internships were unearthed.
The group had a nice stay in the Janeway dormitory, and one alumnus (Oscar Vargas) even stayed in his old room. Meals were eaten in the International Center, where the central event of the gathering was held. A delicious banquet arranged by classmate Debbie Clark (who could not attend), was provided by John Benouski and Sodexo staff. The WIPs watched their grainy, sepia-toned graduation video, complete with bad ’80s fashions and hairdos and Shaun Bennett’s speech, about which he commented, “It was a little long.” Two deceased professors, Marvin Kalkstein and Erich Gottleib, were memorialized, and Skype sessions were held with several remote classmates.
WIPs were known for passionate conversations, and the reunion maintained that tradition. Discussions included reminiscences about the Camp Wiyaka orientation and campus life. Other hot topics included climate change and closing Vermont Yankee, as well as mundane concerns like maintaining one’s house, paying for kids’ colleges, and the indignities of aging.
If there was a theme of the weekend, it was that WIP made a deep impact on its participants and those lives they have touched. Although the program was laid to rest in 1999, its radical mission continues to manifest in small and large ways. Graduates work in development, government, healthcare, and cross-cultural training, and they bring a global perspective to business. Alumni still speak additional languages, travel or live overseas, have had international unions and adoptions, and are leaders, activists, artists, healers, teachers, and coaches in their communities. In other words, WIP worked; it created practical idealists who are following Gandhi’s advice: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Plans for holding an all-WIP reunion in 2019 are already under way.