The Colgate Scene
May 2004

People on the go

Karl B. Stewart '91
[Timothy D. Sofranko]

Gay, HIV positive, Jamaican American, actor. Karl B. Stewart '91 wants a witness.

"Those are four core pieces of who Karl B. Stewart is on Planet Earth," said Stewart. "Ignoring or pretending or diminishing is the old way I used do things in order to try and fit in. The new way is just to be clear about who I am. It actually makes it easier for me and everybody else around me."

Stewart is keenly aware that such candor repels some people, but he refuses to be deterred in expressing it.

"Once we truly embrace who we are individually, then we're free to identify what we have in common with other people, which is a lot, I think," he said. "But when we try to pretend that we don't have individual differences, I think that's when we get into trouble."

Not so long ago, Stewart was incapable of such honesty. By the time he reached his early teens back in his native Jamaica, Stewart realized that he was gay and quickly concluded he'd best keep quiet about it.

"I remember talking to one of the other kids in school and he didn't get it; it didn't make sense to him," Stewart recalled. "Very quickly, I realized I could get killed in Jamaica, so I didn't talk about it very much."

Stewart responded by carving out a dual existence for himself. On the one hand, he was the dutiful older son of striving immigrant parents, valedictorian of his high school class, a mathematics major who minored in theater and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. On the other, Stewart was a conflicted young man, whose self-loathing manifested itself in a deliberate ambivalence about the risks of contracting HIV.

"On some fundamental level, I believed all the crap that we hear all over the place, which is, `Homosexuals are punks. They are a disgrace, especially in African American society. They don't care about themselves. They don't care about anybody else,'" said Stewart. "I just didn't see how I was going to grow and become a responsible part of society. I lacked that healthy self-esteem that said I needed to protect myself from this virus that I know exists. We do a million crazy things on this planet, and that was my crazy thing, deciding one night that I'm not going to use a condom, and it's going to be okay."

In 1993, Stewart learned he was HIV positive.

"I decided I had five years left to live and I had made the choices that had placed me in this situation," he said. "Now, I was going to be responsible for the next five years of my life and achieve my dream."

Stewart's dream was to become an actor, so he walked away from his intended career as an actuary and entered the M.F.A. program at Brooklyn College at a time when his immune system was extremely vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Nevertheless, Stewart completed his degree within two years, earning the program's Wilson Lehr Memorial Graduate Theater Award.

After graduate school, Stewart began to put his acting and writing talents to the test with his one-person play, Innocence Lost, in which he sought to place his struggle to be free of self-hate in context. There was also a more immediate reason Stewart wanted to share his story -- the rising incidence of HIV infection among people under 25, more than half of whom are African American, he said.

Stewart has performed Innocence Lost at Princeton and Colgate, so far.

"I tell my story to help us heal, laugh, and cry," he said. "If I'd seen a show like this when I was younger, maybe I'd still be HIV negative now. Maybe I'd have followed my dreams earlier, instead of my nightmares for so long."

Stewart, who currently works in the learning and development department of MTV Networks in New York City, is also one of eight Colgate alumni who have formed an LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) alumni support network.

"Given that there are students who identify themselves as being LGBT or are in the process of discovering this identity in college, it is often a lonely and isolating experience," said Mark Thompson, director of counseling and psychological services. "Most, if not all, of the alumni who have volunteered to be in this network had that experience while at Colgate."

"Karl's enthusiasm for, and immediate participation in, the network has motivated other LGBT alums to get involved as well," said LGBT network coordinator Bob Connelly '84. "More than anyone else, perhaps, Karl brings a profound depth of self-awareness to his discussions of his life as a gay man. It is his candor in relating his personal experiences that energizes his audience, whether he's addressing one person or one thousand. He is determined to make a difference, and he has."

Thanks to daily doses of protease inhibitors, Stewart's immune system has rebounded. So has his outlook.

"I think I'm going to live until at least 90," he said, "and I'm going to enjoy it." — GEF

Karin Walsh Rutledge '85

In her first year at the Eurasia Foundation, Karin Walsh Rutledge '85 knew 75 percent of her employees only by their electronic screen names, and had to become accustomed to lobbying and fundraising for countries whose citizens she will likely never meet.

The director of government operations at the Eurasia Foundation, Rutledge lobbies, advocates, and drafts scores of grant proposals for funding from the federal government and congressional representatives for the 12 recognized countries of the former Soviet Union.

"The work has its challenges. Anything dealing with the [United States] government is more formal than just everyday correspondence," she said. "We have to be serious about what we put in writing."

The foundation raises nearly $20 million annually. The money is distributed as grants to non-governmental organizations that deal with issues such as private enterprise development, public administration and public policy, and educational resources within the 12 countries.

Part and parcel of her lobbying duties are Rutledge's extensive efforts to build relationships and advocacy between the United States and Russia. For two countries who regarded each other suspiciously for several decades in the late 20th century, Rutledge is constantly educating the two governments about why the money is so sorely needed in the former Soviet states.

"I want to help people understand that the grants are helping their communities, their cities, and the country as a whole. How the money is spent depends on the political situation in each country," she said. "Non-democratic regimes tend to have issues [of control]. We want to promote democracy in those countries."

The Eurasia Foundation was created in 1993, when there was an urgent need to support the organizations and citizens dedicated to fostering democracy and private enterprise in the embryonic states that developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The road to stability for these countries, Rutledge said, has been anything but smooth. Certain countries, such as Uzbekistan, are less receptive to the idea of free trade, flourishing private enterprise, and a free press. In a sense, Rutledge said, these countries are like microcosms of the former Soviet Union. Eurasia grant money for countries in a similar situation as Uzbekistan is used for promoting free press, small business development, and consumer rights.

But it's difficult to convince the U.S. government and congress that American dollars are needed to build such necessities as a free press in a struggling country, especially when Russia's economy is flourishing because of rising oil prices. And when it does come in, that money is not necessarily parceled to poorer countries; Rutledge must emphasize that developmental assistance should be channeled to rural areas starving for grant money, not economically sound cities.

One notable hurdle Rutledge and the Eurasia Foundation have had to surmount is 9/11. The United States is ever more hesitant to provide aid to other countries, she claimed.

"It's harder to make the case for need in the former USSR than it was 10 years ago when these countries first became independent. It's hard to argue for this region, and it's become harder as these world events have occurred," said Rutledge.

Rutledge travels four times a year to Russia and various independent countries, while the majority of her work is done from the D.C.-based organization via e-mail, organizing the 225 employees to work seamlessly. Most employees in the field offices are native to the region.

"There are a lot of issues that arise dealing with time and space and lack of face-to-face contact. There's a lot of miscommunication or misunderstanding between the employees here and in Russia," Rutledge said. "It's not just the number of time zones between us."

Although Rutledge majored in both Russian studies and international relations and attended the Russian study group, the path to her current job, she said, was "circuitous," because there were few available jobs related to Russian studies due to the tumultuous political situation when she graduated.

"I always knew what I was striving for, but I bumped around. I knew I wanted to go from `a' to `b,' but I ended up stopping off at `c' and `d' along the way," Rutledge said. "You have to take opportunities as they come along."

But change and adaptation are concepts that Rutledge is familiar with. With the physical and cultural differences she handles daily -- as well as the fluctuating political and economic situation in Russia -- change, it seems, is the only constant.

"A lot of world events have happened to change the work I do. Russia itself has changed a lot since I've started working here -- it's constantly changing," Rutledge said. "I think it's going to stay that way." — Jess Buchsbaum '03

Giff Foley '04
[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

It's the kind of heat that winds up and slams you in the gut. Sweating becomes like breathing; it's just something you do all the time. Giff Foley '04 knows heat.

As a U.S. Marine reservist, he spent last summer in the Persian Gulf, providing security on board a huge ship that transported tanks, humvees, and other assets for U.S. forces taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Going on board the vessel for the first time, Foley said the temperature had reached 120 degrees and the humidity was extreme.

"The first day that I got out there, I almost passed out. It was horrendous," he said.

Foley would spend nearly the next three months on the transport ship as it plied the waters of the gulf, traveling to ports in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Foley and other members of his unit would watch carefully as small boats called dhows crisscrossed the Persian Gulf, sometimes venturing near his ship. He said he knows of one instance in which suspected al-Qaida terrorists were pulled off a dhow by another Marine unit during a security operation.

During periods of heightened alert, Foley would be on duty for 18 straight hours, with six hours off. The normal routine called for 12 hours on and 12 hours off. The English major would fill his free time by reading an "incredible number of books" and by using the weight room.

Foley had signed a four-year contract with the Marines, and after his first year at Colgate he spent the next six months at boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and attended the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, N.C.

He was then put on reserve status and assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, based in Plainville, Conn. While he was then able to return to Colgate, he had to spend one weekend a month and two weeks each summer with his regiment. His Colgate professors, Foley said, understood his situation.

Then, on a lazy Sunday in January 2003, Foley got the call: he had about nine days to get to Camp Lejeune, N.C. He was now going on active duty. It turns out, though, that for six months, active duty didn't mean action per se, but more training.

"We didn't know what we'd be doing. We had moved into our barracks, and these other units would come in, have a keg party, and then be out of there. They were sent to the gulf. We were left wondering when we'd go."

His company was finally called upon and sent first to Okinawa, Japan, and then to Bahrain, an island just east of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, where they would get their assignment for providing security on the transport ship.

Foley returned to the United States in time for the Christmas holidays. It was a warm welcome for him and the other Marines traveling back to their base in Connecticut.

"It was a great bus ride. State troopers met us at the [state] border; we got all the pomp and circumstance. Every other town, the town cops would tag along, too. It brought chills," said Foley.

His family, though, is still playing a role in shaping Iraq's future. His mother, April H. Foley, is first vice president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, based in Washington, D.C. She has spent quite a bit of time in Baghdad, helping businesses that are involved in reconstruction efforts.

Tom Foley, his uncle, works with the Coalition Provisional Authority, the temporary governing body in Iraq. His role is to help privatize many of the companies in Iraq that were under the control of Saddam Hussein's government.

Foley's father, also named Gifford, served two years with the Marines in Vietnam. He died while Foley was still a youngster, but Foley said he grew up with a respect for the Marines and what they represented.

"I constantly found myself in admiration of these guys, and questioning whether that was something I could do," said Foley. "I did my research, talked to a recruiter, and a few Marines."

Foley is certain that his stint as a Marine was beneficial and a solid character-building period.

"The experience was absolutely wonderful, and something that I'll be able to look back on for the rest of my life. A lot of people admire me for this, and I'm constantly getting appreciation from different people. But my personal growth, all the things I've learned, has been most important."

Foley is now gearing up for graduation and says that as a sixth-year senior, he is ready to move on. He is in the process of exploring careers with financial services firms.

What was it like being a Marine while a student on a college campus? Just fine, said Foley. He and his friends would debate the Bush administration's policies, but he never sensed any ill will or had any problems with students who might have disagreed with the war. Foley feels strongly that the coalition forces have helped secure such rights as the freedom to debate for the Iraqi people.

"People [here] have the right to express what they want. That's why I was over there," he said. — Tim O'Keeffe

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