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Humanities: The Heart of the Matter

University of Dayton humanities departments and programs are looking to reinforce the value of the humanities and enrich the experience of humanities majors.

“The humanities teach us to be creative thinkers and curious participants in our world,” said Shannon Toll, assistant professor of English. “By engaging with philosophy, literature, history, and religious studies, we are made aware of the interconnectedness of human experience, and we can apply this knowledge to not only understand our current cultural environment, but to construct a better future.”

The humanities comprise every student’s academic pursuits at the University. The College humanities disciplines include the departments of English, History, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Global Languages and Cultures, and the Women and Gender Studies Program.

“The humanities create space for students to wrestle with the big questions, to look at beautiful things intently, and to listen to others and learn from their experiences," said David Fine, assistant professor of English.

Humanities disciplines foster students’ critical thinking, communication abilities, moral reasoning and cultural awareness — skills essential in the workplace and the global world. A key component of the College of Arts and Sciences’ strategic plan includes growth and promotion of the humanities, arts and social sciences that foster a well-rounded, holistic, liberal education.

Efforts to bring more awareness and identity to the humanities began in fall 2017, spearheaded by Toll, Fine and Andy Slade, associate professor and Department of English chair. Together, their vision aimed to create increased visibility for humanities majors and programming initiatives campus-wide. The team of English professors convened a group of interested students across all humanities disciplines to gain insight and spur discussion about creative ways to move the vision forward.

A student committee dedicated to creating an inclusive community for all humanities majors emerged from those initial discussions, and the Humanities Visibility Project was launched in October 2017. It was quickly followed that month by the group’s first large-scale campus event, “Humanities Fest.”

A second event, “Visions of Love,” a faculty roundtable discussion, was held in February 2018, with humanities professors from the departments of Religious Studies, Philosophy and Global Languages and Cultures.

University President Eric F. Spina attended the inaugural Humanities Fest event and later commented about it on the Humanities Visibility Project’s Instagram page saying, “Humanities are at the center of everything we do.”

The second annual Humanities Fest is 4-7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 26, in the Humanities Plaza. The event is free and open to the campus community and features free pizza, T-shirts, games, a bounce house and a book sale by Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society.

Toll directs the Humanities Visibility Project, whose students are dedicated to fostering community and fellowship among humanities majors. Students aim to inform others about opportunities within a humanities major or minor, and to garner an appreciation for the accomplishments and contributions of humanities students and faculty.

“With the Humanities Visibility Project, we hope to work with our students to create spaces for them to gather and to recognize them on campus as a distinct group of students,” Slade said. “If the humanities are the fields where deep and abiding questions about the nature of human life and its struggles are posed and even answered, these are the students who are leading the way to those new answers. This project began as a way to support those students in that work.”

“No matter what, students still need an understanding and appreciation for the importance of humanities courses in order to excel in the classroom, in student organizations, in relationships and in the world outside UD,” said Humanities Visibility Project member Kiersten Weatherbie, a senior psychology and Spanish double-major, from Lewis Center, Ohio. “It’s important the humanities receive the same recognition, respect and acceptance that other majors on campus do.”

Junior English major Ethan Swierczewsk of Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania, said his involvement in the Humanities Visibility Project stems from his desire to share his passion about the humanities with others; he is proud of what the humanities represent.

“The humanities are what makes us human,” Swierczewski said. “Who are we without our humanity?”

To see more about the Humanities Visibility Project, please follow their Instagram page.

  • Marissa McCray ’00, Core Program and Humanities Visibility Coordinator
  • Image from Humanities Fest 2017.
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