Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with Professor Kerill O’Neill and another student to try to launch an undergraduate journal for the humanities at Colby; our hope is that this journal will give interested students an opportunity to become familiar with the publishing process by working with professors, student editors, and faculty editors to craft a publication-quality paper. Last spring, the Mellon Foundation approved Colby’s request for a humanities center, and this journal is one of the many new initiatives for the college’s Center for the Arts and Humanities. Because the Center is new, I’d like to write a little bit on its background and on what those affiliated with it hope to accomplish in the next few years.

I first became involved with Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities last year, when the professors who formed it were still in the process of applying for funding. During Jan Plan and over the course of part of spring semester, I participated in a roundtable discussion, along with four other students (two from English and two from anthropology/French), with postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabha from Harvard. The roundtable discussion was part of the college’s application for funding, and it is an example of the kind of opportunities that Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities is working to create for students on a regular basis. While all of us who participated in the roundtable had all been exposed to Bhabha’s writings in a class or two beforehand, the roundtable gave us an opportunity for extended engagement with his works and, most excitingly, allowed us to have a deep, intellectual conversation with this renowned scholar.

In order to prepare for the roundtable, over Christmas break, we all read two of his books (which most of us had only read excerpts from in class), The Location of Culture and Nation and Narration, and during Jan Plan we met with professors to discuss this material and to start writing possible questions that we could ask Bhabha on the day of the roundtable. During the month of February, we all met as a group and talked more about our questions, linked them thematically, applied these ideas to the contemporary moment, and practiced delivering them a few times. This experience was, as a whole, wonderful; it allowed me to understand topics like postcolonialism and hybridity from the perspective of disciplines besides English (my own home discipline, and the discipline that I was representing at the roundtable), to forge connections with students who were also enthusiastic about the humanities, and to learn from a famous scholar whose works I could previously only attempt to grasp from a distance.

Since the student roundtable experience, I have felt inspired to work to create more opportunities for research and extended engagement with course materials at Colby. Now that Colby has its Center for the Arts and Humanities, I am proud to be a member of its Student Advisory Board. Besides the undergraduate journal that I mentioned we are working to launch, we are also striving to start other initiatives centered around the Center’s theme each year—this year, our theme is “Comedy, Seriously,” and next year, our theme will be censorship. Some of our ideas include offering research and travel grants, sponsoring video contents (like we recently did with the political satire film contest), funding Mellon student research fellows, sponsoring events that connect the arts and humanities with the student body and the public at large (including community readings, art displays, and music performances), and organizing lectures that the whole community will enjoy, such as last month’s lecture by Baratunde Thurston. We are always looking for new ways to facilitate student and community engagement with the humanities, so if you have any ideas, please do not hesitate to share them!

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