Value of liberal arts addressed in second panel

On Friday, Oct. 25, an Inauguration Discussion Panel was held in the Music-Drama Center in the Stansbury Theatre. The topic was “The Issue of Difference and the Liberal Arts.”

In the panel, invited speakers included three Lawrence university professors: Dominica Chang, associate professor of French; Peter Glick, professor of psychology; and Henry Merritt Wriston, Professor of the Social Sciences. Other speakers included Harold Jordan ‘72, former chair of the Board and emeritus trustee at Lawrence University, and Terri Harris Reed, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at George Washington University. The moderator was Jill Dolan, Annan Professor in English, professor of theater in the Lewis Center for the Arts and program director in gender and sexuality studies at Princeton University.

Dolan started the panel by asking whether it is the role of liberal arts education to help students prepare for the diverse communities and work places in the world today. If so, how can the educational institutions approach the challenge from a curricular and extracurricular perspective?

Chang believed that educators had the responsibility to teach students about the differences. She argued that sometimes people get stuck in a polarized argument of either A or B when thinking about diversity and differences. She said, “If we push ourselves to think about the differences in terms of questioning the hegemonic ways of thinking, ways of understanding, ways of being, it opens up with many more possibilities for us.”

Glick backed up the topic and said it is important to consider the purpose of caring about diversity. He mentioned that the inequality in American society could be a potential reason. He articulated diversity on a broader spectrum, including the diversity of thoughts, political ideology and income.

Jordan said the Lawrence community changed a lot in terms of diversity in the student body. He said that the changes in most institutions came from outside questions and that bringing people outside the institution who are accustomed to change motivates change to accelerate and happen. He stated, “It is a slow process of bringing the pressure outside and causing the change inside.”

Reed added that universities need to be relevant to the changes around the world; but it is not easy for such institutions, since they have “structure in place that capitulate the norms.” To better make this change happen in institutions, Reed said that taking it to a departmental level and having both formal and especially informal interactions about diversity can be helpful.

Chang agreed that taking this conversation to a departmental level is a more manageable way to make changes happen. She said that the department name change of “French” into “French and Francophone” at Lawrence provided a lot more freedom to talk about the issues, including different cultures, races and cultural identity in class.

Glick went back to the question of the meaning of diversity. He mentioned that social psychology proves that people make assumptions about others very quickly. He said that personal interactions are important, since people may discover something they did not anticipate before.