Sociology Professor’s New Book Examines the Organic Farming Movement in the U.S.

Brian Obach, professor of sociology at SUNY New Paltz, has released “Organic Struggle,” a new publication from MIT Press that looks at the past, present and future of the push to develop and institutionalize the practices and principles of sustainable agriculture.

Obach bookThe book draws on Obach’s long-standing interest in environmentally-focused social movements, but in the case of organic farming he said he’s found particular inspiration in the landscape of the Hudson Valley and the passion and innovation of its residents.

“My interest in the sustainable agriculture movement was really first stimulated when I moved to New Paltz,” Obach said. “New Paltz is kind of a hub of activity around this issue, and so I was able to use local examples to illustrate different aspects of the national sustainable agriculture movement.”

In his time as a faculty member with the Department of Sociology, Obach has shared his enthusiasm for environmental issues with New Paltz students and colleagues. He teaches courses on social movements and environmental sociology, regularly takes students on excursions to local farms and helped develop and presently directs the Environmental Studies minor program of study for students pursuing environmentally-focused careers.

Brian Obach

Brian Obach

Even in researching for this book, Obach found ways to integrate the collective talents of the College community. He enlisted a small group of student interns to help with research, and also worked with KT Tobin, associate director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO), to study local community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

Many of the book’s findings, however, are culled from Obach’s direct immersion into the organic farming movement. He met with farmers and advocates, participated in conferences and attended political meetings and workshops.

“I really feel like I got to know the inside story of organic politics: how policy gets made, and the strengths and weaknesses of the approach used by the movement,” he said.

The experience ultimately led Obach to conclude that while organic farmers, food sellers and advocates have made meaningful accomplishments in recent decades, future advances will only be achieved via a coordinated effort to change agricultural rules and regulations.

“It was crucially important to develop an alternative to conventional agriculture, and the movement has succeeded in perfecting organic farming techniques and proving they can work,” Obach said. “What needs to happen now is for the people involved to focus on enacting policy changes that will affect the agricultural industry as a whole.”

More information about “Organic Struggle” by Brian Obach is available at the website of MIT Press.

For students who are interested in getting involved with sustainable agriculture in the Hudson Valley, Obach recommends learning more about the Environmental Studies minor or joining Students for Sustainable Agriculture, a student organization that works to promote food production systems that are healthy for consumers, farmworkers and the environment.

Notes from Ethiopia

This June, the Coordinator of the Deaf Studies program, Rebecca Swenson and seven and New Paltz students embarked on a Deaf education and empowerment study abroad trip to Ethiopia. Here are some notes and photos of their adventure so far:

From Rebecca Swenson on June 17:

Rebecca Swenson and Deafness Center students around a table

Rebecca, New Paltz students, and Bahir Dar Deafness Center students in the classroom

I am just checking in to let you know we have started working with the Deaf here in Bahir Dar. Yesterday we had a site visit to the school and the new Deafness Center where we were given a show put on by the children. Then we started working with the Deaf young adults to put together skits for short educational films to raise public awareness about deafness.  Our New Paltz students are doing well with communicating using their sign skill and with the interpreters. It is really quite an experience with 4 languages going on at one time! Today we will visit two new classrooms for deaf students and we will put on a program and lead some activities for them. This is really an amazing learning experience for our New Paltz students; and it is wonderful to see their enthusiastic participation.

Cick thumbnails to enlarge photos.

History Department Awards 2014-15 Best Seminar Paper

The History Department has awarded its second annual Best Seminar Paper award to Jonathan Mandia for his essay on the production and reception of an Egyptian travelogue written by Vivant Denon, a multitalented artist, engraver, and diplomat, during the failed Egyptian Campaign of the French Revolution.

Jonathan Mandia - History seminar

Jonathan Mandia

Mandia graduated in December 2014 with dual degrees in history and philosophy. He wrote the essay during the “Eighteenth-Century Travel” senior seminar taught by Associate Professor Heather Morrison. Faculty members who taught the history senior seminars, which also included “Republican Rome,” “Degeneration, Health and Modernity,” “Colonial Anglo-America” and “Race and Ethnicity in the United States,” selected outstanding papers, which were then considered by a prize committee.

Andy Evans, who chaired the department last year, said committee members praised the “clarity of the argument, the crispness of the writing, and the range of sources” employed in Mandia’s essay, entitled “Documenting Egypt, Reflecting Europe: Vivant Denon and the Representations of his Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt for the First French Republic.” Mandia received a small monetary award.

In the senior seminar, Mandia examined images of paintings and artifacts and analyzed the medium of travelogues as primary source materials. Mandia said discovering an 1804 edition of Denon’s travelogue in the Sojourner Truth Library allowed him the opportunity to explore two aspects of the seminar that he especially enjoyed.

Personally appointed by Napoleon Bonaparte, Denon was 51 when he embarked on the Egyptian Campaign in 1798. He catalogued Egypt’s artifacts, people, monuments and landscapes through written descriptions and elaborate sketches that were compiled into a two-volume travelogue entitled Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, published shortly after his return to France in 1802.

In his essay, Mandia argued that Denon’s descriptions and images of a “foreign and mysterious Egypt reflected deep-seated European cultural values of the enlightenment.” The essay considers the influence on Denon’s work of the pseudo-science of physiognomy, which uses outward facial traits to deduce a person’s temperament or morality.

Mandia learned of the physiognomy movement, which was popularized in the eighteenth century by Johann Kasper Lavater, in a discussion with Morrison about Denon’s use of the word physiognomy in his travelogue. Mandia researched the eighteenth century salons of the enlightenment to better understand how the spaces Denon frequented influenced his descriptions of Egyptian people and culture.

“I found that Denon’s experiences as a noble, courtier, diplomat, artist, and writer…positioned him physically and intellectually to provide an interpretation of a foreign and unfamiliar Egypt that a European reader could understand, accept, and culturally consume,” said Mandia. “As an accomplished conversationalist, which was valued in his experiences at court and salons, Denon had a knack for engaging his audience, which shows in his writing and explains the influence of his travelogue.”

Mandia recently moved to Hawaii and plans to pursue graduate work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the future, studying history or secondary education.


A Study of Unrequited Love: Assistant Professor of Journalism Discusses Research on Academic Minute

Lisa Phillips

Lisa A. Phillips

Lisa A. Phillips,  assistant professor of journalism, was featured on the nationally syndicated educational radio program “The Academic Minute,” on June 12.

In her audio essay, Philips, who is the author of “Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession,” speaks about the effect unrequited love has on inspiration.

“’Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.’ This quote is often used to soothe people whose hearts have been broken,” said Phillips. “But we don’t always know what it means. In my interviews with people who have gone through romantic rejection and my research into the history, psychology, and science of unrequited love, I found that Alfred Lord Tennyson’s sentiment can hold true, particularly for creative people.”

In “Unrequited” Phillips supplements her own story with extensive social science research. Also included are accounts of other women who have been in obsessive love and the people who have been its target, accounts culled from deeply personal interviews gathered over the course of six years writing this book.

“What I want to do is help people going through this type of experience feel less alone, and help them see plainly the nature of what they are doing — when they are crossing a line, and when they can turn the energy of that obsession in another way, to help them benefit themselves,” Phillips explains.

The act of sharing these stories is confessional, says Phillips, “but I think it’s also a service. People have reached out to me and told me, ‘Your story gave me hope.’ That was powerful.”

A former public radio journalist, Phillips is also the author of “Public Radio: Behind the Voices.” She’s written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and many other national publications.

To listen to Phillips’ Academic Minute or read a transcript, visit

About “The Academic Minute
“The Academic Minute” is an educationally focused radio segment produced by WAMC in Albany, N.Y., a National Public Radio member station. The show features an array of faculty from colleges and universities across the country to discuss the unique, high-impact aspects of their research. The program airs every weekday and is run multiple times during the day on about 50 different member stations across the National Public Radio spectrum. For more information, visit

English Alumnus Success Stems from Liberal Arts Education


John Hoeschele ’86 (English)

Part of the beauty of a liberal arts education is the unexpected directions your degree can take you. After graduating from SUNY New Paltz, John Hoeschele ’86 (English)—a member of the College’s Alumni Advisory Council— planned on becoming an English teacher. He enrolled in graduate school, completed his student teaching, and was two requirements shy of completing his master’s degree.

“But I had another plan to get into the advertising business,” said Hoeschele. “I always thought it was a cool business and an interesting way to use an English degree. Before I finalized my graduate degree, I scattered my resume near and far, and ended up getting a job at an ad agency in Ithaca.”

Hoeschele entered the industry as a junior copywriter at the small firm, and quickly climbed to the position of creative director. Later, he landed at Sag MarCom, a larger agency in Syracuse, where he became vice president of creative services, before leaving that job to work for a Syracuse-based dotcom business as head of marketing and communications. He then ran his own consultancy, Drum Creative Communications, for six years before landing his current position in 2006 as marketing communications and government relations manager at Anaren in Syracuse.

“Being able to write, to stare at a blank page and not be afraid of it, is a great skill to have,” said Hoeschele. “Advertising, by itself, is a creative and fun process. You get to think and write. There’s editing. You have to boil down messages and make them more succinct and streamlined.”

While at New Paltz, Hoeschele was involved with the English Club and also studied abroad for a semester in London, which was an inspiring and invigorating experience.

“For an English major, it was a dream come true,” said Hoeschele. “It’s where Dickens lived and wrote, where Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes. I got to go to the Lake District where Wordsworth and Coleridge and all those guys did their writings. It was really cool to see the places they were referring to in their poetry, and the things that inspired them.”

Hoeschele also met his wife, Lisa (White) Hoeschele ’85, at New Paltz, where she majored in French. She currently manages a mental health agency and previously worked as a French teacher as well as a development fundraiser for PBS. They have two children, Maxwell and Margaret, and reside in Cortland, N.Y.

Prior to his involvement with the Council, Hoeschele admits he’d largely lost touch with New Paltz, but hopes to change that with his new position. This past December, Hoeschele decided to partner with fellow New Paltz grad Catherine Fisher ’81 (English) to host an alumni mixer at the Onondaga Historical Association in downtown Syracuse as part of Global Orange and Blue Day.

“I thought it was sort of incumbent upon me to walk the talk,” he said. “I’m trying to create some excitement and a sense of New Paltz community.”

Creative Writing Students Find Inspiration on Historic Huguenot Street

Twenty-eight SUNY New Paltz students with a passion for creative writing participated in a Huguenot Streettour of Historic Huguenot Street (HHS), the National Historic Landmark District less than one mile from campus.

The tour was organized by Creative Writing Program Director Jan Schmidt and Professor Sarah Wyman, in hopes of helping their writing students feel connected to the local history and architecture preserved at HHS.

“We have an active community of student writers on campus who work with each other, support each other in and out of classes and are committed to honing their craft,” Schmidt said. “The tour of Historic Huguenot Street, workshop and reading is part of our larger effort to inspire our students’ writing and involve them in the wider world of the New Paltz community.”

“My favorite Creative Writing events are always the student and faculty readings, where writers share their new work,” Wyman added. “It was a delight to take our show on the road this spring, and present our micro-fictions, poems and stories fresh from the Historic Huguenot Street tour.”

Students had the opportunity to spend time surrounded by stone houses and accompanying structures dating as far back as the late 17th century, when Huguenots from France and southern Belgium fleeing religious persecution first arrived at the banks of the Wallkill River, in what is now New Paltz.

The tour was followed by a writing workshop and “Read-A-Loud” at which students, faculty and staff shared their poetry and prose in the 1799 Lefevre House.

A number of students expressed feeling moved and inspired by the immersive foray into village history.

“As I’ve grown older I’ve realized how much history is embedded in the Hudson Valley, especially in New Paltz,” said Jeffrey Seitz ’15 (English – Creative Writing). “Gaining a better comprehension of that history has fed directly into my own creativity.”

“It was like entering into another world,” said Carina Kohn ’17 (Psychology). “When you see that the things you know now were once very different, you can choose to try to enter that world and write about that, or to notice the ways in which the present and the past are connected.”

“To be in the places where founders of our little part of the state actually lived was a humbling experience,” said Tsahai Wright ’16 (English – Creative Writing). “As a writer, engaging in these types of activities gets the creative juices flowing.”

HHS is a frequent collaborator with the College for tours, arts events and a summer Archaeological Field School.

“It is important to us that the students of SUNY New Paltz see HHS not as a dusty old museum, but as a place where they can come to learn, grow and be creative,” said Kara Gaffken, HHS director of public programming. “Over and over again, the students from the College have taught and inspired us just as much as we hope to teach and inspire them. It is a fabulous relationship that we hope will continue for years to come.”

For more information about Historic Huguenot Street, please visit them online.