Category: For My Students #askLori

On Saturday, June 1st, 2019 the City of Madison dedicated that wonderful new work of public art at the intersection of State Street, Library Mall and East Campus Mall. This is a heavily used crossroads, and because of the logistics of installation and signage, many of us have been walking by these new structures during the several weeks between installation and formal dedication, when they were not yet titled.

So we have been looking at the blue granite rock and wondering “What is it? Is it supposed to look like it’s floating?” And the tall lacy steel – “What is it it pointing us toward? Do you think it looks like a waterfall?” And the yellow spot. “Is it an eye? The sun? A mind on fire?” And from those who are less experienced with the abstract, “Um, I’m not sure I get it. What’s it called, anyway?”

It’s called “BOTH/AND- TOLERANCE/INNOVATION,” and at the dedication I had the chance to meet the artists David Dahlquist and Matt Niebuhr. The space is designed to echo the confluences and crossings that have happened in this spot for over a century. People have gone back and forth — to the the library, the State Capitol, adjacent places of worship, the Memorial Union, the University Club, the Historical Society, and more recently, the Chazen Museum. Just imagine what the flow of people would look like from the sky!


To help you to “get it” and find your own meaning in the space, the plaque provides the followings guidance:

“Between knowing and believing, Both/And is an acceptance of seemingly disparate thoughts coming together — it is the presence of action and reaction to ways of understanding.”

One of the artists tells me that the rock and fluid steel beams mimic what happens when a stream is disrupted by stone, there is a bubbling up, and turbulence, but a new balance is restored again downstream. The other explained that the yellow color and lighting is indeed intended to recall the sun to us, with all the other meanings welcome, of course. In fact, the work was sited with the fall (September 23) and spring (March 20) equinoxes in mind — so that the sun can shine through the sculpture and create a special beam of light at those times.

We are encouraged to contemplate the rock, the steel, and perhaps especially the space in between them from all these perspectives. I did this on the morning after the sculpture was installed, classes had ended and it was quiet. Walking from Memorial Union, the steel and rock looked like they had always been there. The steel beams lined up and came alive — they could be UW graduates in caps and gowns, a choir singing outside the church, or a group of concerned members of our community, gathering in formation to march down State Street to the Capitol.


As I got closer the imagined people fell away and the more natural images came to the fore. The Steel elements seemed like a waterfall now, and the rock seemed to be in a pool of water.

Moving closer, after taking a few pictures, the massive structure becomes human again. I see a hand —  steel fingers and a blue granite opposable thumb reach toward the sky. In prayer? Offering friendship? Ready to make something new and good and true? Over the years I hope it will mean all of these things….

Perhaps, rather than different parts of one hand, the steel and stone can represent two very different people coming together. One is tall shiny and reaching, with flashes of color. The other is grounded and beautifully dark with glowing shades of red and blue. They are huddled toward each other and it seems like they are looking down. Perhaps they are two children on a playground marveling at a frog. It doesn’t have to be complicated…. Or perhaps they are two wise and different people trying together to understand the puzzles of history, to accept the gift of confluences, to create the future.


I hope this reflection helps readers to begin to answer the question “What is it?”

The other question is “What will it become?”

Of course that depends on us — the people of this city, this university and around the world – it depends on how we choose to pass through this space in the decades to come. Based on past crossings and confluences I am guessing that we will meet up at “the Rock” for a thousand different reasons. We will sit on the benches to read or rest. We will discuss the weather, current events, the stories of our lives. We will profess love to each other, and we will watch for beams of light, as has been done in different ways on this Ho Chunk land where Madison sits, for centuries. We’ll take selfies here, and inevitably BOTH/AND will become a site of interest on the college tour. Some new thing that we do not know will happen here. And BOTH/AND will become that new thing too.

What is it? What will it become?

You tell me.

….Or better yet, let’s meet at the Rock and and figure it out together with Both/And -Tolerance and Innovation. We’ll share belief and knowledge, history, and so many crossings. Beauty. Perspective. And we’ll make something new.


Lori DiPrete Brown

June 2, 2019

Earlier this week “The Monarch” was unveiled in the Hamel Browsing Library at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union, placed there to honor the 150th anniversary of women receiving degrees from UW-Madison. What this living, woven being of metal and air will signify for us will be revealed overtime. This weekend as the Class of 2019 graduates, let the meaning making begin!

THE MONARCH. Artist: Victoria Reed. Gift of the UW-Madison Class of 2019

For me, the Monarch evokes strength, fragility, openness, and the readiness to fly. I sense the hard fought and unapologetic embrace of one’s own beauty, uniqueness, scars. I imagine resilience in the face of strong winds on what seems to be an impossibly long journey. I am reminded of how exhilarating and scary it can be to leave the places that you love. And the blessed possibility of return.

Perhaps this sculpture is speaking to me, or perhaps this incredible beauty is what I have seen in my students over the years.

Meanwhile, for all, and especially for the 2019 graduates, here is a closer look at “The Monarch.”  I hope you have a chance to sit close for a while, consider the strength, marvel at the openness, see the possibilities, and contemplate flight.

Lori DiPrete Brown

Today I am honored to be invited to comment on “Transforming Leadership in Global Health” at the CUGH pre-conference session offered by Women in Global Health. I am looking forward to meeting new people and seeing old friends! It is a great way to get ready for International Women’s Day. I’ve been given two questions to think about- so I thought I would think out loud a bit here on my blog in preparation for the session.

“What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting out?”

It’s hard to pick just one – there are so many practical things to be done! Learn to drive a stick? Learn to change a tire? Learn to speak three languages? Take a self-defense class? Always carry chocolate? Maybe you should buy that quick dry underwear and have the courage to travel with just two pairs… I have not yet done all of these things, and practicality is not my strongest suit. I am more of a dreamer with practical friends…. but maybe I can narrow things down to two essential, if not always practical, pieces of advice.

First, always pack a book.

And by that I mean make time for, brake for, reading and the arts. It is important to stay curious, take the perspective of others, keep learning, and hold space for the passions of your youth. In some ways that raw young being will always be your most authentic self. Remember her. This reading is a way to honor the roads you didn’t take — maybe that of a poet, or a painter or a comedian. (I know I have a rockstar inside, and yes, I let her out now and then…). The openness that results from this practice will enable you to let wonderful things happen in life and work

Everyone feels alone at times — on a team, during field work, forty-thousand feet in the air…. and women leaders are no exception. We feel alone, divided, overwhelmed, not up to the task. We carry an extra stone or two, and most of the water. Books can be friends who love you in these difficult moments. You can lose yourself in one, or find yourself in one, or write one yourself.

Second, always be yourself.

And continue to become yourself. Be brutally honest with yourself about who you are and who you are not. Be critical about your work, and use feminist approaches to help with that – develop embodied, dialogic, subversive and truth-telling practices. Smile and laugh and sing when you want — and please be stern and scowl freely too! And then try to be very gentle with yourself — I’ll even use the word tender — and go about the business of getting the work done. That’s what leadership is. Knowing what the work is, and getting it done. Be warned — if you are pleasing everyone you might not be doing very much…. you may have lost your edge, or you may be sacrificing the difficult truths in a way that is at odds with what transformative leadership should mean. Try to cultivate humility, persistence and hope along with some fierceness or fearlessness in yourself. It will be necessary and essential if we are going to create justice for women, foster human thriving, and ensure the survival of our earth herself.

“How would you catalyze change to create a better future?”

There are so many ways to make change. I don’t think there is one right way. Rather the future depends on everyone doing what they can, from where they are, and as who they are. While all the time cultivating trust in the world, despite the odds.

For me right now, leveraging the power of higher education for a better future feels powerful and possible and important. We have started doing this in a gender-informed way at the University of Wisconsin through a campus-wide, local to global, women and wellbeing initiative that we call 4W – Women and Wellbeing in Wisconsin and the World. Our mission is to make life better for women and make the world better for all. We focus on developing leaders, and we work to bring research to practice and practice to scale. It is a great model that can be implemented at Universities of any size. I think we are unique right now, but my dream is that this would become a very ordinary kind of program -business as usual – so that universities become safe places for women and everyone to grow and thrive and lead. I’d like to see Universities lead here, so that the many societal institutions that are failing women right now, in fact, failing everyone, can follow the example, and change, and make life better for all.

On September 22nd, after 3 years of writing about it, talking about it, and trying to walk the talk, my UW-Madison colleagues and I launched our global service learning program, Wisconsin Without Borders.  What’s the big deal, some might say. Aren’t their already Doctors without Borders, and Engineers without Borders?  The answer is yes.  There are also teachers, lawyers, architects, nurses, sociologists, builders and acupuncturists. I had planned to end this post with the idea of starting a Clowns without Borders, but they are already active, spreading laughter and joy.  And the Knitters without Borders are making blankets and sweaters and sharing their dyeing and design techniques. I tried everything to find a new idea, but struck out again and again….Bloggers, Dentists, Geeks, Monks…they are all out there, without borders.  I stopped playing fair when I found a web reference to Mariachi without Borders! Cynically, I searched for Fence Makers without Borders. That would reveal the hypocrisy, show that the term was losing its meaning, would it not?  But the Without Borders world held, there are no Fence Makers without Borders, at least not yet….

Why do so many of us want a Life without Borders? What are we trying to say about ourselves?  Perhaps simply that we are open to the world.  We like to travel.  We want to make a positive difference in the world, to be part of the solution, at least for a moment.  But there is some kind of poetry at work here also. The phrase evokes the wild beating heart, a sense of freedom, sunlight, a loosening of chains.  It expresses a desire for union with people who are different from us, it says we are willing to risk ourselves to explore the differences, celebrate them, and watch them dissolve.

Even now, when there is so much need for healing in our own communities, my students and colleagues and I are finding a lot of support for the idea that reaching beyond the boundaries of our state is both a duty and a privilege.   Our students can be global leaders, they can act both locally and globally to promote justice, human flourishing, and care of the earth.  Our event featured 13 projects from around Wisconsin and the world that are inspired by the “Without Borders”  spirit.  Posters can be viewed at:

You can see my brief Intro Remarks Explaining Wisconsin Without Borders  (Hi Mom!):

Also, see one of our student leaders, Megan Hall, talk about our Women’s Health and Microenterprise Program in Ecuador:

The program also featured remarks by John and Tasha Morgridge, who have generously supported The Morgidge Center for Public Service for the past 15 years, and Bob and Sara Rothschild, who presented their work in Botswana, where they are working with communities to build public libraries. Their presentations and the entire event can be viewed at