Faculty Reflect on NY6 Think Tank – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Faculty Reflect on NY6 Think Tank

In light of the recently launched New York Six Think Tank: Advocating for the Arts and Humanities, Professor of Dance Donna Davenport and Assistant Professor of Music Katherine Walker reflected on their experience at the initial Think Tank Retreat in an article, “A Duet from the Humanities: Music and Dance Voices,” that they co-authored for the website, 4humanities.org.

The Think Tank was launched in July by the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, a cooperative venture of six upstate New York liberal arts institutions. It consists of a diverse array of faculty, professionals and students in the humanities who hope to foster an environment of exchange and understanding of the ways in which the arts and humanities are being represented in public discourse today; develop collaborations that encourage conversation and creativity; and support the expression, writing, production, visualization and publication of advocacy material for a wide range of audiences.

“The liberal arts used to be grounded in a notion of the Humanities as the study of human languages, philosophy, arts, and literature,” Davenport says. “Over time, there has been a shift in academia away from these less concrete, human aspects of education, to focus on STEM subjects.”

In “A Duet from the Humanities,” Davenport and Walker present a bi-disciplinary reflection on the complexity of the performing arts in higher education and their connection to the humanities as a way of thinking, studying and experiencing the world. They propose a rethinking of the arts as humanities, juxtaposed to the commonplace pairing of arts and humanities.

“We find ourselves in an era in which human experience and cultural discord are far less important than the acquisition of wealth and power, when winning trumps caring, when selling exceeds giving, and factual sources supersede social and moral conundrums,” write Davenport and Walker. “As digital technologies bring global injustices closer to the public and to the attention of responsible educators, we need the Humanities to sustain our souls and to understand how we got here.”

The article goes on to include Walker and Davenport’s separate experiences both learning and teaching in their respective fields. Walker discusses how her teaching at HWS is centered “on the interdependence of scholarship and performance.” Davenport offers insight into the multi-faceted academic experience of dance ensemble courses that is often overlooked in academic communities, explaining the “other half” of dance that is comprised of “critical thinking, humbling analysis, mediation of aesthetic perspectives, kinesthetic empathy, retention of corrections and creative contributions.”

“There’s an academic hierarchy and dance is at the bottom, and maybe physics is at the top,” Davenport says. “The point of our piece is to acknowledge and challenge that mainstream thinking. Yes we do dance and play music, but these acts of art making do not exist in a cognitive vacuum.”

Walker also published a second article on the retreat titled, “On Being a ‘Growing-Up,’ or Why we Need the Humanities.” She explores the idea that a person should never stop growing, replacing the concept of a “grown-up” with a “growing-up.” Further, she connects the humanities to this concept:

“The Humanities do not have a monopoly on supporting intellectual and moral growth,” she writes, “But they reflect a tradition, extending to classical antiquity, of examining the human experience critically, creatively, and continuously; in short, as a ‘growing-up’ would.”

Assistant Director of the First-Year Seminar Program and Writing and Teaching/Learning Specialist for the Center for Teaching and Learning Susan Hess also attended the initial workshop. The Think Tank recently convened for a second time to brainstorm ideas and discuss general support for project initiatives over the next two years.

“In terms of civic engagement and making the world a safer and more accepting place for one another,” says Davenport. “The humanities are really important. That’s sort of the crux of why there was this special Think Tank. How do we communicate the present and future value of the humanities in higher education? Or the arts as humanities?”

Both of the pieces featured on 4humanities.org will be published as posts on the new blog page of the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium.