Luther College Chips

Alum speaks to importance of Russian program

Laura Hayes (‘15)

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It’s hard to put in writing what was going through my mind when I read Ben Selcke’s news article “Faculty vote to remove fields of study” in the April 28 issue of Chips. A few words come to mind — disappointed, angry, and heartbroken.

I graduated from Luther in 2015 after majoring in English and minoring in Russian Studies. In addition to working for Chips, I was a Russian language  tutor at the Language Learning Center for three years and I participated in the music ensemble Balalaika. Russian Studies, Professor Laurie Iudin-Nelson, and my fellow peers in the Russian department were an influential part of my Luther experience.

I still remember my very first Russian class when I was a first-year six years ago. Like many other first-years, I came to Luther intending to major in music. That morning, I had my first music theory class and quickly realized I didn’t know as much about music as I thought. I was still disappointed when I walked into Main 211 — the Russian language classroom for my four years — for the first time. Professor Iudin-Nelson, however, quickly changed that. As anyone who has studied Russian or taken one of her classes can attest, Professor Iudin-Nelson’s energy is as infectious as the sound of her accordion that can frequently be heard echoing throughout Main. After choosing our Russian names and learning parts of the alphabet, Professor Iudin-Nelson taught us a Russian folk song. When I left the class, my mood had completely changed and I went back to my dorm and tried to teach my friends what I learned.

Professor Iudin-Nelson asked us why we decided to take Russian. I studied Spanish throughout high school and tested into Spanish 201. I had every intention of continuing to study Spanish, but something held me back. If I didn’t have the opportunity to explore new areas of study in college, when would I have the chance? If not now, then when?

Why did I decide to study Russian? My initial answer would’ve been that I loved the (horribly historically inaccurate, but completely awesome) movie Anastasia and Dr. Zhivago. Now, my answer is different. Studying Russian prepared me to enter a global community upon graduation by providing me with an in-depth education on a history, culture, and political system that at times seems so at-odds with American democracy. In high school, I received a crash course on the Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union’s involvement in World War II and the Cold War, but it failed to teach me how history laid the seeds for a man like Vladimir Putin to take office.

To this day, I still recommend Russian to every Luther undergrad that I meet.

In his article, Selcke reported that Luther faculty voted to remove a number of majors, including Russian. Considering our political climate and the question of Russia’s involvement in the recent presidential election, I think cutting the knees off of the Russian department would be doing future generations of Luther students a disservice. We should be preparing our students to enter a global society.

I would like to know why these programs were selected. How are these programs marketed to incoming freshman? Did staff observe the classrooms? Did they speak with students currently in the program? Did they ask students who dropped the course why they chose to do so? Russian, in my opinion, is an incredibly challenging language to learn for several reasons — it uses a different alphabet and it has different grammar constraints, including six cases. My class had six students go through the upper level. We became close friends that still keep in touch. Our Russian Studies (either major or minor) was a badge of honor.

Luther is one of the few liberal arts colleges in Iowa to offer Russian to students and should be marketed as an asset to the campus. Use it as something that separates Luther from other colleges. I beg the Board of Regents to keep the Russian program in its entirety.


Laura Hayes (‘15)

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