So much of life turns on a dime. For Raymond Siegel, meeting political science professor Bethany Barratt was one of those moments.


Siegel was in the final throes of getting his long-sought bachelor’s degree in economics – something he’d started more than 50 years prior -when he signed up for Barratt’s Environmental Justice course in summer 2019.

“Political science was not my major, but I needed to take at least one experiential learning course to graduate, Siegel said. “To be honest, I only took the two-week summer course because it fit my schedule

Siegel recalled sitting in class the first day when in walked who he thought was another student: a woman in her 40s sporting a couple of tattoos and long blond hair dyed green. She walked up to the board and wrote her name: Bethany Barratt. “I was pretty surprised that she was our teacher, he recalled.

Over the next 10 days, Barratt took the students to sites all over the city that businesses had used as dumping grounds over the years: Chinatown, 12th Street Beach, Altgeld Gardens, the Crawford coal-fired plant in South Lawndale and Bubbly Creek, made famous in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle as the sewer for the Union Stock Yards. These businesses often sat along the south branch of the Chicago River, in neighborhoods where many of their employees lived.

“Bethany was passionate about our understanding the history and long-term effects of environmental pollution, which disproportionately affects working-class people. Siegel said.

Spending about five hours a day together, the class got to know each other well. Siegel, the oldest in the class, even brought the group chocolate donuts and a strawberry whipped cream cake one morning to celebrate his 71st birthday.

Raymond Siegel ’20 graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in economics. Fulfilling a lifelong journey that always pointed toward the value of higher education, Siegel, 73, remarked, “I earned a degree not because it would help me with my career anymore, but because I find economics interesting.”

Over the next year, as the pandemic took hold, Siegel and Barratt continued to keep in touch. Last summer. Siegel and his late wife, Trisha. invited Barratt and her husband, Lou, and another Roosevelt professor and her daughter to their Elmhürst home for a barbecue with friends.

“The town had canceled the fireworks at the last minute, so we decided to invite everyone back for a Labor Day picnic two months later to see fireworks said Siegel.

Sadly, Trisha died August 5, 2020 and because of COVID-19, Barratt was the only person from Roosevelt to attend her service.

In his arief, Siegel decided to go ahead with the dinner over Labor Day “Everyone who was at the Fourth of July barbecue returned, except for one -my wife,” he said.

Siegel, who loves to cook had gone all out and prepared a nine-course tasting menu. “It took a tot out of me,” he recalled. “Seeing I was tired, Barratt marched into the kitchen with my next door neighbor and did all the dishes. It was very thoughtful.

Siegel recalls how genuinely concerned and supportive Barratt was, especially in the months afte lost his wife “I am so appreciative for her friendship,” he said. “You never know how someone will touch your life.

In June, to honor their friendship and Barratt’s passion for teaching and social Justice, Siegel established the Bethany Barratt Award in Social Justice Issues. The scholarship will fund students who demonstrate financial need and a commitment to social justice issues, including environmental justice, human rights, economic justice, racial justice and Indigenous land rights, among others.

Colleague and friend Gina Buccola chair of humanities and professor of English, has known Barratt for 17 years- a friendship that began when they shared a shuttle ride to Roosevelt’s Schaumburg Campus, where they taught classes.

“Bethany really is a pioneer in experiential learning, Buccola said. Barratt has taken her students abroad through Roosevelt’s Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project, including trips to Amsterdam, British Columbia and London, where she arranged for them to witness a debate on the floor of Parliament and a tour of Scotland Yard, among other immersive experiences.

“She employs what’s known as high-impact practices in the classroom,” Buccola said. She also urged Barratt to teach a cross-disciplinary class based on one of her books, The Politics of Harry Potter (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012).

“Bethany brings a lot of behind-the-scenes work to her classrooms,” Buccola added. “She’s interested in everything. She even earned a master’s degree in biology while teaching here and has spent time volunteering for a number of organizations, especially those supporting animal welfare. She brings her passion for life to her students. To me, it’s a natural fit to have a scholarship named for her because social justice is at the center of all she does.”

Barratt was deeply touched by Siegel’s generosity.

“That Ray has made this gift in my name means so much to me. It’s a huge honor,” said Barratt. “I am most excited about the scholarship’s ability to bring more opportunities for students to learn in a really hands-on way about the social justice issues most important in our communities, our nation and the world, including environmental justice, indigenous rights and the rights of older persons.”

Ray added that he hopes this scholarship will be a source of knowledge and inspiration for students.

“At 73, I know well that there’s no time like the present to honor someone who deserves to be recognized,” Siegel said. “Bethany is such an enlightening teacher that I wanted to do that for her. She’s earned it.”

And college dean Cami McBride couldn’t agree more.

“Bethany is a magnetic professor with a deep commitment to human rights and environmental justice, said McBride. “Her example and her energetic, creative and powerful teaching impact her students in profound ways.”

She added. “The award Ray has established in her name is a reminder of the important role professors play in their students’ lives, as well as the social justice and democratic values at the core of a Roosevelt education.