CAS Colloquium hits stride with “Thinking About America”

Today’s world shrinking faster than ever before.  With the rise of China and India as new world powers and the internal conflicts in the Middle East, it’s hard not to look at ones own country and think.  This year’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Colloquium at SIUE seeks to do just that.

“Being an American is an important part of our identity, but for different people, with different perspectives, backgrounds, and lives, ‘being an American’ means different things, states Matthew Cashen, assistant professor of philosophy.  “We have to understand what it means for each of us, and for others, to be an American, if we want to understand ourselves and who we are.”

“Thinking about America,” the theme for this year’s Colloquium, will reflect on America, America’s place in the world, American culture, and the American environment according to Larry LaFond, associate professor of english language and literature and associate dean of CAS.

“Somebody who comes and attends the Colloquium will have opportunity to do just what the colloquium says: think about America from a scholarly perspective, from a cultural perspective, an entertainment perspective,” said LaFond.

The Colloquium will take place over a two-day period, Wednesday, March 23 and Thursday March 24.  The presentations will kick off with an opening ceremony at 9:00 by Dean Aldemaro Romero, dean of CAS, who will also present “U.S.-Cuba Exchanges Since 1959 and Their Future: The potential role of the SIU system.”

LaFond stated that this year’s Colloquium will be the largest yet, with approximately 115 presenters, including students and faculty.  The Colloquium is based on typical academic conferences, but as it is structured, there tends to be many more departments that present.  Lafond stated that the themes are kept broad to allow all parts of the college to participate as well as pull in local community members.

“The program provides people in the local community with the opportunity to view a variety of creative performances, talks by nationally recognized writers and participate in discussions of culturally and intellectually stimulating topics in a welcoming, civil and relatively advertisement free environment,” said Thomas Lavallee, assistant professor of foreign languages and literature.

“Thinking About America” is the seventh Colloquium at SIUE.  The past years’ topics included “Thinking about the University,” “Thinking about the Environment,” “Thinking about Religion,” “Thinking about Masculinity,” “Thinking about Empire,” and last year’s topic of “Thinking about Evolution.”

The purpose of the Colloquium is to provide a platform for students, faculty and community members to talk about specific topics from a wide array of perspectives.

“‘Thinking about Evolution’, for example, was not just narrowly conceived as evolution in the biological sense, but evolution of ideas, evolution of all sorts, of different perspectives, ideas, concepts, fields and disciplines,” stated LaFond.

Approaching the themes generally also fosters a connection within the academic community, and the local community as well.

“As a community of scholars, we benefit from sharing our scholarship with each other: good ideas will inspire more good ideas. The Colloquium offers a platform for doing this,” said Julie Holt, associate professor and chair of anthropology.

Cooperating with multiple departments to create the maximum benefit also allows students to understand how interdisciplinary programs work.

“The biggest benefit of the Colloquium is that it provides an opportunity for folks in different departments to collaborate and see how, even though we work in different disciplines, we share a lot of the same concerns and interests,” said Cashen.  “It also gives students an opportunity to see interdisciplinarity at work.  I think that helps build our sense of community here at SIUE.”

The Colloquium will have a great variety of talks and presentations, ranging from a one act opera and steel drum music to round-table discussions and poster and paper presentations.  Some of the topics include “From ‘Snake Pit’ to ‘South Park’: The changing American face of mental illness,” “Putting the Native Back into the American Bottom,” “Being African in America,” “Storm Chasing in the American Heartland,” and “Walt Whitman Thinking about America.”

The Colloquium will take place in the Morris University Center with a complete schedule of events available.  Because of the large number of participants, many presentations will run concurrently.

There will be two keynote events that will conclude each day of the conference.  Wednesday’s keynote speaker will be Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic.  Coates writes about culture, politics, and social issues and will speak about “A Deeper Black: The meaning of race in the age of Obama.”  Thursday’s events will conclude with an Arts and Issues feature presentation of “The Langston Hughes Project: A multimedia concert performance of Langston Hughes’ ‘Ask Your Mama: Twelve moods for jazz.’”

“Thinking about America” will offer students, faculty, staff, and the local community a great variety of ways to consider America itself and its role in the world.  As the theme is presented, the audience will be challenged to consider a plethora of aspects of America.

“The role of the US in the world is never static, always needs reinvention and can only develop with creative reflection on its identity and sense of purpose,” stated Lavallee.  “Without meaningful opportunities for careful reflection and civil dialogue in open, un-branded, local forums, the US will become a much less interesting place to live.”

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