To Squier the Circle

Les Squier [psychology 1953–88] also served as dean of students and interpreter of dreams.

Psych Students Deepen Understanding and Community at Squier Retreat

By Allen Neuringer

High on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, 32 Reed students, sophomores to seniors, gather with 8 psychology professors on a Saturday morning for the 13th annual Squier Retreat at Menucha, a retreat center in the Columbia Gorge. Through Sunday afternoon, students and faculty will explore serious ideas and have fun.

After introductions in the meeting room in Ballard Hall, we walk to the dining room, where the faculty serve lunch family style. Meals at Menucha are satisfying, if not fancy, with provisions for vegetarians and vegans. Students and faculty often sit with different folks at different meals, so that discussions are varied and the room is abuzz with chatter and laughter.

Back in Ballard, faculty members introduce topics that provoke discussions, sometimes among small groups, sometimes with everyone together. Here is a sample. Professor Tim Hackenberg shows—with a game played by all—that, when community and individual benefits are in conflict, communication among individuals decreases selfish behaviors. Professor Enriqueta Canseco-Gonzalez asks for volunteers who are proficient in a foreign language. We laugh as each of the volunteers (fluent in French, German, Korean, and Spanish) attempts to communicate a phrase, using only the foreign language, and this prompts a discussion about how to facilitate communication across languages. Professor Peter Marks admits to being an active, some would say compulsive, player of World of Warcraft and then leads a discussion about the reinforcement contingencies underlying computer games. Discussions are freewheeling and sometimes veer in unexpected directions, as when Professor Dan Reisberg argues that there is a symmetry between religious faith and scientific faith, which sparks a debate over whether Pope John Paul actually performed miracles.

“Faculty Speed Dating,” organized by Professor Kris Anderson, gives students time to question each faculty member individually. Students can ask any question on any topic with the understanding that the faculty member will answer honestly or choose not to answer. Sample questions: What led you to become a psychologist? Do you believe in God? What was your most embarrassing experience? What experiment would you do if you had no ethical constraints? Why were you arrested (asked of only one colleague!)? How do you organize your time?

The sun shines as we walk to the grassy field below Ballard. Some of us play tag—three faculty members run almost as fast as students; some form a group tangle and unwind (in a game called Knots that I won’t try to explain); some kick a soccer ball across the field; others converse or stroll. A bald eagle soars overhead as we end the afternoon with a walk to view dusk over the Columbia River.

After dinner comes entertainment. In Psychology Pictionary, organized this year by Jessica Gerhardt ’11, and Professor Kathy Oleson, students try to depict, via drawings, randomly selected psychological words or phrases, such as primacy effect, proprioception, oral fixation, and retrograde amnesia. Both drawings and called-out guesses can be hilarious.

Another Squier tradition is the wrongly named “Not So Talented Talent Show.” Guitar and ukulele playing accompany a series of beautifully delivered songs, both popular—with the group joining—and student composed (Gray Davidson ’11, Zina Jenny ’12, Camille Charlier ’12, Mariah Gottman ’13, and Jessica Gerhardt ’11). Mathias Quackenbush ’11 plays Debussy’s La danse on an old baby grand piano with energy and nuance. Ross Barnett ’13 reads a poem, Don Berg ’12 a short story. As Adrienne Wise ’12 performs gymnastic contortions, many in the audience gasp and hands go to heads in disbelief. Her body holds seemingly impossible, but at the same time beautiful, positions. Peter Marks, accompanied by Professor Acacia Parks ’03, bring the group to its feet with cheers as he completes a rap rendition, based on his research, of the song Popular. We conclude with the group learning to sing the Egyptian national anthem—I play the piano—intermixed with dancing of the Israeli hora. Then, while some choose sleep at the end of a stimulating day, others play games late into the night: Wink, Sweaty Old Man, Taboo, or Mafia.

A word about Les Squier. At the beginning of the retreat, I talk about Les and why the event was named in his honor. More than that: the retreat was motivated by Les’s life. He taught at Reed for 43 years, was chair for 20, and set the tone, goals, and ethics of the psychology department over much of that time. Les sought excellence in teaching, critical thinking, mutual support and friendship among faculty and students, and a focus on student welfare, all of which psychology faculty value to this day. After Les died in 1996, the Squier Memorial Fund was established with the great help of Anne Wood Squier ’60, and the department draws on it to subsidize the retreat.

At the end of each Squier retreat, my colleagues and I are tired (as, no doubt, are the students). We’ve been away from homes and families and have lectures to prepare, quals to read, labs to organize. But I know that my colleagues join me in that, after each retreat, I feel a closeness to our students, an appreciation of their hidden talents, an admiration for my colleagues—their energy and their creative ideas—and a deep satisfaction that we continue a tradition modeled on Les Squier’s life at Reed.

—Author info: Allen Neuringer is professor emeritus of psychology at Reed.