Discovering Mayan culture
As a high school senior, Blakeley Coull of Columbus wasn’t planning on going to college so close to home.
“I was looking as far away as the University of Washington in Seattle,” she says. “But I started going on college visits and came to LaGrange College for a senior day and fell in love. It’s been the perfect place for me and where God wanted me to be at this point in my life.”
Early on in her college career at LaGrange, she took a world history class and was hooked.
“I loved it; I loved the enthusiasm of the professors, and I loved just the feeling I got from being in the History Department,” Blakeley says. She soon honed her history interests to Greco-Roman Studies, taking Greek language courses and other classes to pursue her interest in Classical Studies. She even planned to travel to Greece during the college’s January Term, but when the trip fell one student short of having enough people to go, she quickly needed an alternative.
“Dr. Lisa Crutchfield in the History Department told me that if I was interested in societies, then I should consider going with the Central America travel group, and the college even gave me a scholarship to go,” she says. “So I went on that trip, and in just nine short days, my entire life goal shifted. I became enthralled with Mayan culture and discovered a passion for archaeology through an extraordinary, life-changing trip.”
Beginning this year, juniors and seniors were able to redeem $2,500 travel vouchers they received from LaGrange College to study away. Blakeley’s group traveled to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, and as they explored ancient tunnels, temples and other ruins, she discovered a passion for the history and culture of that part of the world.
“We tend to put so much emphasis on European history because that’s where we come from; it’s what we know, and there’s not a lot of disconnect,” she says. “But with Mayan history, and Mesoamerican history in general, there’s a lot of disconnect and we’ve lost a lot of it.
“When we were there, I saw how there’s so much more to discover, so much more to be done. You can literally walk through the Yucatan Peninsula and see hills. And if you see a hill, it’s a ruin. And if it’s a ruin, it’s something to be excavated. The beauty and the opportunities there just touched me in a way I did not see coming at all.”
Up until this January, she had planned to write her senior thesis on some aspect of Greco-Roman history. Instead, Blakeley wrote her senior thesis on Mayan religion and syncretism, tracing Mayan religious beliefs from 700 A.D. to present-day Mayan culture.
“When the Spanish invaded and enforced Catholicism, Mayans would adopt part of the Catholic tradition, such as the cross and the names of saints,” she says. “They would take that and infuse it with their own religious beliefs so they could preserve it.”
Having just graduated from the college in May, Blakeley has applied to be an admissions counselor at the college and eventually wants to pursue a master’s degree in Mayan Studies and Archaeology while working in admissions at the college or university she attends.
Blakeley says attending LaGrange College has been a better fit for her than going to a large college or university as some of her high school friends did.
“Like at bigger schools, the professors here are concerned about their own research,” she says. “But they’re really concerned with your research, and they’re concerned about you as a person and how you’re growing and how you’re doing. I feel like that’s what college is really supposed to be. .... It’s supposed to be about focusing on bettering yourself and learning who you are and what you love. That’s what LaGrange has done for me.”