Do you ever wonder what your professors do when they’re not assigning homework or grading essays? In an English Department Colloquium on Tuesday Oct. 30, students and faculty learned about Dr. Keith Wilhite’s and Dr. Christiane Farnan’s research projects while they were both away on a spring semester-long sabbatical last year.
Dr. Wilhite, associate professor of English, titled his talk, “Contested Terrain: The Suburbs, U.S. Literature, and the Ends of Regionalism.” Dr. Wilhite’s primary focus is in urban and suburban studies. His book analyzes the 1945 escalation of suburban sprawl through the 2008 housing crises. He explained that his book “scrutinize[s] the cultural idea of the suburban home.” Dr. Wilhite drew in multiple sources to explain this shift, including the House & Garden magazine and A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry. The two chapters he worked on during his sabbatical discuss the American desire to progress forward following World War I and the effect of increased suburban housing on race. In the conclusion of his presentation, Dr. Wilhite read a passage from the chapters he worked on during his sabbatical.
Dr. Christiane Farnan is an associate professor of English who focuses primarily on mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century women writers. During her sabbatical last spring, she wrote about The Wide, Wide World by Susan Warner in which Ellen Montgomery travels from New York City to the Adirondacks to Edinburgh, Scotland through the duration of the novel. Dr. Farnan’s talk, titled “Training for Travel: The Value of Girl Physical Fitness in Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World,” argues about the depiction of protagonist Ellen Montgomery in the novel. She explained that in her essay she argues that “Susan Warner presents the mid-nineteenth century American girl abroad as a different, unusually athletic, more interesting kind of mid-nineteenth century girl.” Dr. Farnan supported her claims with evidence from the book, including Ellen’s physical fitness, spiritual guidance, and psychological strength.
At the end of the colloquium, both professors responded to student and faculty questions. I have had Dr. Wilhite as a professor for a few classes now and have never had the pleasure of taking one of Dr. Farnan’s classes, but it was fascinating to hear about each professor’s individual research. I oftentimes think of my professors only in the classroom and don’t think about all the additional work and research they do in their academic careers, so it was interesting to learn about what they’ve been working on during their sabbaticals.
For more extensive coverage of the English Department Colloquium, keep an eye out for my article in the 11/16 issue of the Promethean! To stay updated on upcoming events on campus, like and follow our social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!
On Monday Oct. 29, Siena’s Women’s Center held an open forum discussion on the #MeToo movement. Other topics during the forum included Brett Kavanaugh, Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, and women’s empowerment. These topics have repeatedly been in the news over the past few years, especially during the recent Supreme Court hearings and nominations.
The #MeToo movement quickly gained grounds on social media platforms in late 2017, providing a space for those who have been sexually assaulted or harassed to share their personal stories. Many confessions discussed workplace harassment. Even though the #MeToo movement gained prominence more recently, issues of sexual assault and harassment have always existed. There was much discussion of the #MeToo movement in the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct and assault by three women. One of the women, Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite the women’s allegations, testimony, hearings, and a brief FBI investigation, Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 2018.
People have been “blacking out” their social media to show their support of the #MeToo movement and that they believe survivors. In the wake of Dr. Ford’s testimony, social media sites were flooded with black profile pictures to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
The Women’s Center held the forum for students and faculty to discuss their own thoughts and feelings regarding the larger #MeToo movement, as well as Kavanaugh’s recent swearing-in as a Supreme Court Justice. These types of conversations and open forums are especially significant on college campuses, where sexual violence can be prevalent. There are harrowing statistics about sexual violence and college students. For example, 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during their college career. Similarly, 95% of these assaults go unreported.
During the open forum, the facilitators emphasized that the only thing allowed to leave the room was what people learned during the discussion; all private confessions and stories were not allowed to leave the room. This created a safe space for students to share their thoughts and feelings on the #MeToo movement and its relevance. Because sexual violence is a prominent issue on college campuses, it is important to have conversations and safe spaces where students feel able to share their experience.
There are numerous confidential and non-confidential sources students can utilize on Siena’s campus; all this information can be found here. More information about Siena’s Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women can be found here.
As an English major, I am constantly asked what my plans are after graduation. The general response I get? “Good luck finding a job!” “What do you expect to do with that?” “Why didn’t you pick a real major?” In my experience, people frequently dismiss a liberal arts degree as unnecessary, even useless. If I had a dollar for every time someone dismissed my field of study, I could make a good dent in paying off my student loans. However, these negative attitudes towards liberal arts degrees are proven largely invalid.
An article in CBS News by Aimee Picchi emphasizes the growing importance of a liberal arts degree in the eyes of employers. College students are widely unemployed, but in an underemployment rate of various majors, English majors are nowhere near the bottom at 29%, and compared with business majors at 31%.
Picchi’s article suggests English majors and liberal arts students might have a better chance finding a job post-graduation than business or biology majors. Though popular majors are expected to perform well in the labor force, this isn’t always the outcome. Majors like business, legal studies, and social services professions are dubbed “problematic majors” by the article because they are expected to land graduates jobs. They similarly “comprise 4 in 10 bachelor’s degrees handed out by U.S. colleges” (Picchi).
Picchi explains that the main issue with these “problematic majors” is that they are preparing students for specific fields, rather than providing them with the skills to make them a “job ready adult.” Students will graduate without the necessary hard and soft skills needed for employment, making them not fully ready to enter the workforce. Picchi explains, “That’s not to say that business majors can’t find good job opportunities after graduation. But the key is focusing on developing skills that will help them stand out when they go on the job market.”
Liberal arts degrees, though unfairly considered invaluable, teach a broad range of useful skills that are adaptable to many career fields. The applications of communication skills, reading comprehension, and analytical abilities are endless. It can be frustrating to have your degree dismissed, but studies like this prove the value of a liberal arts degree. So when someone critiques your choice of major, remember that every major has value!
Dr. Daniel Lewis held a book release lunch this past Wednesday, Oct. 24, to promote his most recent publication, The Remarkable Rise of Transgender Rights. The event was held in the Norm and drew in students of all majors and interests. When asked how he decided on pursuing the topic of transgender rights, Dr. Lewis said, “I’ve been broadly interested in the idea of how minority rights are represented in our democratic system. Through networking with my co-authors, I started doing some work there and realized there wasn’t really a comprehensive examination of transgender rights politics. We saw it as more of a need and something we were passionate about trying to understand.”
Dr. Lewis’ book seeks to explain how the transgender rights movement has taken shape over the years and how they can achieve political success. He shared some of the successes and obstacles transgender people have faced. He used a Powerpoint with images, graphs, and statistics that I thought helped the audience more fully understand his research.
Part of their research involved running national surveys asking about people’s attitudes towards transgender people and transgender rights policies. On a “hot to cold” spectrum, transgender people rank lower than gays & lesbians, gun owners, interracial couples, police, scientists, and veterans, which suggests there is a generally negative response to transgender people. Similarly, though the overwhelming majority of survey takers believed in discrimination protection for transgender people, the public opinion on bathroom access is still widely divided – there is an even split between those who believe people should use the bathroom reflecting their current gender identity versus birth gender.
Dr. Lewis’ research also reflected that knowing someone who is transgender increases one’s likelihood to support transgender policies. “The number of people that report knowing someone who is transgender has increased over time, not only among close friends or family members, but also acquaintances,” he said, “which suggests there are opportunities to increase support for their policies.”
Though there are still ongoing challenges faced for the transgender community, Dr. Lewis remains positive on the outlook. “A lot of these victories are tenuous right now, and there are challenges to come for the movement. Still, there is a lot of optimism for the transgender movement in securing these civil rights,” he said.
How do we deal with our distrustful feelings? Dr. Jason D’Cruz, philosophy professor at UAlbany, has been working through this question in his research project, “Distrusting Distrust.” He broke down his plan for the lecture, wanting to first work through an analysis of distrustful behavior, then explain the risks of distrust, and finally deliver a proposal on how to respond to these risks.
“I think we should be distrustful of a lot of our distrustful feelings,” Dr. D’Cruz said. He gave an example of a study in which participants were shown several faces and were asked to choose which ones looked the most trustworthy; faces with a turned-down mouth and furrowed brow were regarded as untrustworthy. Dr. D’Cruz explained there is no correlation between one’s face and integrity, and that we respond to new faces based on our past experiences, which are also shaped by difference, prejudice, and stereotypes.
Dr. D’Cruz continued discussing the moral risks of distrust, which include insult & disrespect, and the notion of self-fulfillment. He also commented on the epistemic risks, which are interpretive biasing and asymmetrical feedback. When we distrust based on bias or preconceived notions, we never learn how the person would have responded if we had trusted them.
As a solution, Dr. D’Cruz proposed humble trust, which he defined as a “social virtue and skill that responds to the moral and epistemic pathologies of distrust.” The aims of humble trust are to cultivate full trust of those who are trustworthy. The humble trust mindset similarly seeks to reframe and reorient our thinking, pushing us to make the decision to actively trust in the face of fear. Ultimately, the humble trust mindset seeks to create conditions where a person can rationally trust that they will be trusted.
After finishing his lecture, Dr. D’Cruz answered questions from students and faculty to help the audience fully understand his research and proposals. “Distrusting Distrust” was an interesting, thought-provoking colloquium. To learn about upcoming events on campus, like and follow our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending Platanos y Collard Greens, an off-Broadway comedy and romance play. Even though I’m a senior, it was the first play that I’ve gone to at Siena in the Beaudoin Theatre. I went in knowing very little about the play itself, only that it was a comedy with the tagline, “A tale of secret lovers from different cultures, who fall in love at first sight, until Mom finds out and has a heart attack!”
Platanos y Collard Greens focuses on two college students, Freeman, an African-American man, and Angelita, a Dominican woman, who fall in love, despite Angelita’s mother’s wishes. Angelita’s mother, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic to New York City, is vehemently against her daughter marrying outside her race, and she is especially opposed because Freeman is African-American. Amidst the relationship issues, racial tensions, and generational differences, Freeman campaigns for student government president with his friend Malady and his cousin OK. Though the concept of Platanos y Collard Greens is in itself a heavy topic, the play is very funny. Freeman’s cousin OK had the audience roaring with laughter for the entire performance, delivering witty one-liners and making hilarious facial expressions.
One thing I really enjoyed about the play was the incorporation of slam poetry and spoken word poems. Characters would often directly address the audience and perform a slam poem about what was troubling their character at that moment in the play. Each act was separated by a poem from a different character. For example, Angelita delivered a spoken word monologue about how she is Latina, but more than just a sexual object. Even though the actors kept the audience laughing through the entire play, Platanos y Collard Greens still managed to discuss contemporary racial issues on a deeper level, captivating the audience while simultaneously providing food for thought.
Keep an eye out for further coverage of Platanos y Collard Greens in the 10/19 issue of the Promethean!
A copy of the paper from last semester
Fun fact: Siena’s Promethean newspaper is the oldest student-run club on campus, even predating the Student Senate. The newspaper is written by students and for students and is published online and in-print biweekly. I’ve been the Academic and Social News editor of the Promethean for over a year now, and I love writing and editing for the paper.
As an editor, I work with my writers to assign them events and edit their articles, providing constructive feedback. By working on the paper, I know about all the upcoming on-campus events at Siena. It also encourages me to attend events I would not have known about otherwise. I recently attended the “Making Molecular Monsters” lecture, and I know next to nothing about chemistry, but I found the lecture fascinating! Writing for the paper encourages me to step outside of my bubble, talk to different professors and students, and helps me to be more engaged on Siena’s campus.
Students can find physical copies of the paper in the library, SSU, and Lonnstrom, and the online copy of the paper can be found here!
Siena hosted the 25th annual Clare Center lecture on Tuesday Oct. 2nd, welcoming Dr. Joy Schroeder, a religion professor and Lutheran pastor, to give her lecture on “Compassion and Imagination and Franciscan Biblical Interpretation.” Dr. Schroeder’s concentrations are in the history of biblical interpretation and women in the church. Dr. Holly Grieco introduced Dr. Schroeder and explained the origins of the Clare Center lecture. “It began as a way to welcome the religious studies department into its new home on campus,” Dr. Grieco said.
Dr. Schroeder emphasized the importance of slow, reflective reading during her lecture. She shared the statistic that the human attention span has diminished to eight seconds, which is one second less than a goldfish’s. Tying a majority of her speech and biblical interpretations into the Syrian and Central American refugee crises, Dr. Schroeder focused on the importance of using our imagination and compassion for the betterment of the world.
In reference to Siena’s Franciscan core curriculum, she mentioned the room to integrate compassionate imagination. “It can be done with holiness and imagination,” she said, “the kind that brings about good business ethics and good business practices.”
Dr. Schroeder’s lecture was part of the celebration of Francis Week, a week-long celebration of St. Francis’ life and values. Other events through this week include the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Feast of St. Francis, and Community Service Day. All students are encouraged to take part in this celebration.
The lecture was a great addition to Francis Week because it highlighted the importance of the Franciscan traditions in both the Siena community and the world at large. “With both compassion and imagination, we can imagine new ways to do just a little bit of repair work to help heal this broken world,” Dr. Schroeder concluded.
I was ten years old when I read Frankenstein for the first time. It wasn’t the full novel; it was an abridged version for younger readers that cut out some of the more graphic and lengthy parts of the novel. It condensed down the story to the creation of the monster and Dr. Frankenstein’s struggles with his own guilt and grief. As an English major, I’ve learned about the origins of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and discussed its impact in class. I’ve helped students in the Writing Center who read Gris Grimley’s graphic novel adaptation in their First Year Seminar classes.
Siena has been celebrating the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication since last year with film screenings, lectures, and theatrical productions. This Monday, I attended Dr. Michelle Francl’s lecture, “Making Molecular Monsters.” Even as a SoLA student, I could appreciate what Dr. Francl had to say about the intersections between Frankenstein and chemistry.
Dr. Francl, chemistry professor and chair of the chemistry department at Bryn Mawr College, spoke on the connections between the novel and chemistry. “Chemistry plays a really significant role in the story. It sets into motion Frankenstein’s first steps into peril,” she explained.
“I’m interested in molecules that misbehave, molecules that transgress the borders that chemists think exist for molecules,” Dr. Francl said. “Over this forty year career, what unifies it is thinking about what makes the molecule do the unexpected.” Dr. Francl gave an interesting hour-long lecture on monstrous molecules and how they connect with the larger themes in Frankenstein of exploration and control.
If students are interested in hearing more about Dr. Francl’s lecture, keep an eye out for my publication in the Promethean on Friday Oct. 5. Besides the physical copies found in the SSU, library, and Lonnstrom, the newspaper can be read online here. Like and follow our social media pages to stay updated on upcoming Frankenstein events this month! Happy October!