Monica DixonPsychology Alumni 1998
During her very first trip to Saybrook, Monica Dixon had a not-in-Kansas-anymore moment. "I'm sitting there," she recalls, "a midwestern farm girl with a Catholic school education, married to a military officer --- a very traditional background --- and over the intercom they announce there will be a pagan ceremony this evening to celebrate the summer solstice."
She still laughs at the memory. "Saybrook rattled me to a core," Dixon says, "and I loved every minute of it. It was the very thing I was seeking ---- a different way of operating. I began to question everything, and that has never stopped. I'm just asking bigger questions now."
And she's providing some answers. Dixon is one of the nation's leading experts on obesity, particularly among women and children. Her book Love the Body You were Born With, written in 1996 (while she was studying at Saybrook), sold millions of copies and remains a popular title on the women's health bookshelf. Dixon's groundbreaking work on school nutrition in Washington state earned her an award from the Centers for Disease Control in 2005.
"This is about more than what people put in their body," she says. "It's about the American psyche. We suffer as a country from isolation, polarization of viewpoints, inability to exchange ideas --- deep psychic wounds."
"I don't believe America wants to hear that message," Dixon says. But that hasn't stopped her from delivering it --- or from questioning everything.
Dixon already held plenty of credentials when she came to Saybrook in the early 1990s. A registered dietitian with a master's in counseling, she was teaching at the University of Wisconsin.
"I was telling anybody who would listen --- and many who wouldn't --- that we were going to see an epidemic of obesity in this country," Dixon recalls. "And I was hardly the only one. But our message was not resonating with the public. I recognized that I needed a better way to express it and to understand it."
That's when she came to Saybrook. While she laughs about the initial culture shock, Dixon says that Saybrook's community of unconventional students and teachers proved to be a major benefit for her --- as much a part of her education as the coursework, writing, and mentoring. "I loved interacting with people who weren't just like me," she says. "That was a big part of the learning experience."
Love the Body You were Born With came out in 1996, launching her career as a writer, speaker and trainer. A few years later she was approached by a researcher in Seattle who needed help implementing a school-based program to combat obesity among children.
"There were other applicants who were better qualified for that job on paper," Dixon says. "So I asked her: 'Why'd you pick me?' She said it was because my resume was outside the box, and she needed an outside-the-box approach. She didn't want a narrow focus; she needed broad perspective. That's what Saybrook gave me."
At the time she started, Washington state ranked second in the United States in hunger, second only to Oregon. "I had to figure out how to get food to 100,000 kids every night," Dixon says. She worked the problem from every angle. She developed a community-gardens program that encouraged people to grow (and eat) their own fruits and vegetables. She worked with the transportation department to develop a system for trucking excess produce from eastern Washington to the food-bank system on the western side of the state. She lobbied the department of education to institute new policies in the schools --- getting rid of the junk food and replacing it with fresh fruit and vegetables.
And above all, she kept asking questions. "I rattled everybody's cages," she laughs. "'Why are you doing what you're going?' 'Why does it make sense to do it this way? Wouldn't it make more sense to do it that way?'"
After more than 25 years in the field of nutrition, Dixon took a sharp career turn in 2007 and joined Destination Development, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in economic development, downtown revitalization, and tourism branding.
"I really struggled with the decision," Dixon says. "I was an expert in my field; I had written two books, spoken to thousands of people, appeared on Oprah and NPR. But I'm thrilled that I took this job. It's putting me in a whole new arena where I can do a whole lot of good. We help small towns that are suffering economically. It's about creating quality of life, creating places for people to come together. Where does our society start healing its wounds? I feel like that's what I'm working on. I'm giving people hope."
And still asking questions?
"Absolutely," she laughs. "That's the bane of the Saybrook graduate. But I think we need more people who can question the way the world is --- who can ask the big questions and try to create the solutions."