Marla Lowenthal ’73 has traveled the world, taught U.S. military members living abroad in Europe, and holds four advanced degrees. Her worldly perspective and wealth of knowledge developed following her years at Illinois State, which remain the most formative of her experiences.

“I came to Illinois State during tumultuous times,” said Lowenthal, referring to the 1970 protests at Kent State and Jackson State that resulted in student fatalities. “But I had the best professors who were humane, helped us deal with the issues we had, and ultimately changed my life.”

The late Dr. Charles Harris introduced Lowenthal to absurdism, which became a guiding philosophy in her life. Others nurtured Lowenthal’s desire to learn about herself and individuals through literature’s lens. As an ISU student, Lowenthal created a self-directed course of African-American and women’s literature in a time when non-white, non-male writers were not widely studied.

Lowenthal’s gratitude for her Illinois State experience inspired her to make an estate gift commitment to the English Department in 2017. She added to it in 2019 with the hope her investment will continue ISU’s tradition of excellence in English education.

With a Ph.D. in international multi-cultural education, Lowenthal is a faculty voice herself. She taught for 22 years at Menlo College in Atherton, California. Though formally retired, she teaches communication and rhetoric part-time at the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University. Her students grapple with issues of race and gender, just as Lowenthal did in the 1970s.

“Literature teaches you about people more than anything else. If you want to learn about human beings and their cultures, read literature. Literature helps you discover more about yourself and understand the world around you,” said Lowenthal, who sees language as the origin of racial divide, as well as the answer to becoming a more humane society.

With her estate commitment, Lowenthal hopes to gift future Redbirds this framework for understanding, just as she received through her Illinois State University education.

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