Kika Stump ’94

"Why?" is why.

Wesleyan celebrates, challenges and builds the why tendency in us. From our early years of asking why every five minutes to our contemplative years of old age, we ask why. At Wesleyan, I learned the nuances, techniques and importance of this question as well as the fact that the best answer to that question...is often another question.

From my Old Testament course with Jeremy Zwelling, where we asked, "Why can't one of these authors be a woman?" To Annie Dillard's Creative Writing class, in which we asked, "Why this word? Why this comma?" And Gary Spear's Shakespeare class that made me understand why you need to know that Hamlet attended the University of Wittenberg.

This curiosity about the world, both powerful and playful, was and continues to be why Wesleyan is important to me. In my work as an Education Researcher, we constantly peel back each layer of data asking why until we get to the seed of an idea or find a common tendril across ideas. But my experience in David Beveridge's chemistry course continues to resonate when I declare a finding: shift that DNA helix model, look at it through Rosalind Franklin's lens this time, and tell me why...again. So, when doing interviews at case study schools, I always make sure we talk to students, custodians, nurses as well as teachers, principals and local leaders. Each "why" has a little more information, a little different perspective and my job is to put each of these together to tell a bigger story. And interestingly, one of our recent findings is that schools that do very well (even in a limited profile of standardized tests and graduation rates) are schools that ask every member of their community to engage in this intellectual work. Higher performing, more efficient schools encourage, expect and teach how to ask, "Why?"

In classic Wesleyan fashion, this inquiry does not stop with my job or a classroom. "Why" is a question I ask in all corners of my life. It has forced me to look closely at my decisions and feel confident in them. I chose to leave the teaching profession to be a stay-at-home mother. This wasn't a dreaded or coerced option; in fact I quoted poetry that I read at Wesleyan celebrating motherhood as a radical form of feminism. So, when friends asked why I was at home cooking, gardening, and raising a two-year-old with a master's degree, I could tell them that this really was part of my way of improving the education system and bettering the world one child, one meal at a time. That same "why" allowed me to appreciate my public school upbringing, while also scraping together the money to enroll my child in what my research and philosophies said was the best place for her when I did go back to work, even when that was a private Waldorf school.

Wesleyan asked "why" while I was a student there, and it continues to do this even twenty years later. As an alumnus, I'm not just asked to donate money or put my picture on a postcard. I'm asked to explain WHY. Well, that is exactly it...

The "Why?" is Why.