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Progressive Professor: Wittenberg’s Rick Incorvati Connects Classroom and Community

January 12, 2012  
 Filed in Community, Featured

Springfield, Ohio –For Associate Professor of English Rick Incorvati, sustainability, human rights, community engagement and equality are not words just tossed around; they embody him and provide the compass through which he directs his life.

“I’ve always been taken by the Quaker notion that each person has a concern – that is, some issue that gets you out of bed in the morning and organizes your thinking and your energy. Part of living a satisfying life, for me as for a lot of people, is discerning what your concern is at any given point,” Incorvati explained.

“I think we all have such concerns. We all look out into the world, see some things and wish that some of those things could be different. How we respond to that wish that things could be different helps shape our identities – and if we’re lucky it can lead to some change that will make life a little better for future generations.”

Incorvati’s perspective, coupled with his on-going efforts to make his community better, recently caught the attention of the State of Ohio, which awarded him ProgressOhio’s first-ever Barbara Klass Sokol Progessive Hero Activist Award. Presented by former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the award serves as a reminder that one person can make a difference.

In Incorvati’s case, the difference is clearly visible in his work at Wittenberg, with Christ Episcopal Church, with young people and in his Springfield community.

“At Christ Church, Rick has worked to raise awareness of ways to be a more ‘green’ church, largely centering around the way we host social events,” said The Rev. Charlotte Collins Reed, rector. “He organizes a breakfast each year that produces only the tiniest amount of trash (maybe a quart), and we are now a composting church. He has also been instrumental in further developing our Neighborhood Fair.

“Christ Church sits on the edge of one of the poorest neighborhoods in Springfield, and each summer we have a free fair with food, games, prizes, and booths from various social services in Springfield; Rick personally invented the ‘Great Rummage Giveaway’ – like a rummage sale, but it’s all free.

“In the past he has been an organizer of Interfaith Hospitality Network at Christ Church, chaired the outreach committee, led the youth in a fundraiser to turn old slate into lovely commemorative pieces for our 175th anniversary to raise funds for the Habitat for Humanity Apostles’ Build, and he has worked by his actions and simply by his presence to make Christ Church a place that can host Equality Springfield every other Thursday night, as well as host the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus for their Christmas concert.”

At Wittenberg, Incorvati serves as faculty advisor for PoWER (Parliament of the Wittenberg Environmental Revolution) and the Gay/Straight Alliance. He has also been involved in several issues on campus sustainability.

According to Director of Plant, Safety and Environment John Paulsen, Incorvati was named co-chair of Wittenberg’s new Sustainability Task Force by President Mark H. Erickson in February 2009 following several years of work on campus and in the greater community to promote sustainability efforts. In the years since, he has been responsible for the expansion of the university’s recycling program, conducted waste and energy audits, and he was pivotal in establishing an environmental sustainability award, which he received the first year.

“He was also at forefront at getting the president to sign and commit to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC),” Paulson said. “Wittenberg President Mark Erickson is currently one of 674 signatories of the organization, and he was instrumental in having the university establish a substantial ($125,000) revolving loan fund that promotes and funds sustainability projects on campus such as lighting retrofits and lowering water usage. Additionally, Incorvati efforts led to the development of a complete carbon footprint of campus with the subsequent result of making the university carbon neutral.”

On yet another front, Incorvati wrote an editorial for the Springfield News-Sun, which aimed to draw attention to the lack of a visible gay, lesbian and transgender community in Springfield and suggested that this lack of visibility may be an indication of some work that needed to be done on tolerance.

“The most important gesture the city could make to help in that effort would be to include ‘sexual orientation’ among its protected categories in its nondiscrimination ordinance,” Incorvati said. “It’s not there now, so it is legal to fire, evict or deny services to anyone on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. The editorial led to a second editorial by a mother explaining what it was like to raise a gay son in Springfield.”

Following the articles, Incorvati and a group of interested citizens started Equality Springfield in August 2010 to advocate for lesbians, gays, and bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals.

“Since then we’ve been sponsoring film showings at the State Theatre, co-sponsoring speakers and performers, providing a visible presence at Springfield cultural events such as Culture Fest, the Springfield Farmer’s Market and the Hollandia Bulb Festival, in addition to pushing the City Commission to include ‘sexual orientation’ among the city’s protected categories,” Incorvati explained.

“When Equality Springfield showed the film For the Bible Tells Me So last spring, a group of people approached me about trying to do something to support young people in town who may be struggling with their sexual identities,” Incorvati said. “So for weeks and months and more months, we planned, we talked, we visited support groups in Dayton to see how they worked, and we made more connections.

“The result is a group called Youth First, which is now directed by Rev. Dwight McCormick from Northminster Presbyterian Church. Every Wednesday between 7 and 9 p.m., the church opens its doors to LGBT teens and their allies. It engages them in conversation, it offers a bit of food supported by community donations, and it provides trained advisors, complete with background checks. It has been a fantastic addition to our community offerings – we have troubled kids in town, and too many churches are sending them self-defeating messages.”

Incorvati says that dealing with the frustrations of bringing about change gets easier with time.

“A year ago, I would have been more likely to be offended by what some people are capable of saying and what some politicians are capable of doing. It’s harder to surprise me now, and I’m less likely to get riled because I’ve learned a bit more about what’s to be expected.”

Identifying with the poet Gary Snyder, an ardent environmental activist since the 1960s, Incorvati said that “many people are prone to ask him why he continues to undertake his work seeing that so little by way of positive development has happened over the years he’s been drawing attention to environmental problems.

“He responds that he doesn’t do what he does because he’s convinced he can change things.  Rather he does what he does because he couldn’t know what he knows, not respond, and still be the kind of person that he is.”

Written By: Phyllis Eberts
Photo By: Erin Pence

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