New spring honors symposium course to feature multiple professors, speakers

Mariam Makatsaria

A new Democracy Symposium honors course, available Spring 2014, will explore the different aspects of democracy — from politics to social justice to art.

Using Parker J. Palmer’s book “Healing the Heart of Democracy” as the central text, the special topics course will be team taught by five professors from various academic units.

“It’s really going to be interesting because the students will get a variety of viewpoints, including the main faculty member and also input from others,” said Victoria Bocchicchio, director of academic programs. “It’s going to be quite different.”

The team of faculty members will include Melody Tankersley, associate provost for academic affairs, Andrew Barnes, chair and associate professor of the Department of Political Science, Amoaba Gooden, chairperson of the Department of Pan-African Studies, David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center, and Katherine Burke, adjunct professor from the School of Theatre and Dance.

“I think it’s going to be a learning experience for the teachers as much as for the students,” said Hassler, who put the course together with Bocchicchio. “When we are all searching together to explore a topic, to have teachers engaged in that as well as the students, it makes for a very exciting environment.”

The Honors College is co-sponsoring the Democracy Symposium, which is scheduled for April and will feature American director Ken Burns as keynote speaker. Bocchicchio said that the course was designed to go along with the event.

“I think (the course) is a wonderful opportunity to talk about democracy all semester, as well as the topics and issues that are going to happen at the symposium in April,” Bocchicchio said.

The event is also a part of the Presidential Speaker Series. Students enrolled in the course will get the opportunity to participate in the symposium and a subsequent question-and-answer session with Burns.

“(Students) will have the option to do many things in the symposium,” said Bocchicchio, who listed poster presentations, panel discussions and theater performances as examples of the variety of ways students can participate in the symposium.

She said that the course, which is open to honors students of all majors, will be a three-credit-hour upper-division class that will meet once a week. Bocchicchio said that students will learn “how democracy impacts the arts, the roles of corporations and business in democracy, how political scientists define democracy, how the race reflects back on democracy” and a variety of other issues.

“I think one of the most important things about college in general, is that it offers a lot of new perspectives to students,” Honors College Dean Donald Palmer said. “We can do a lot of that within our standard curriculum. But every now and then, it’s nice to do something that none of our students have seen yet. I think this opportunity is one such.”

Palmer said the Honors College plans to match speakers coming to campus with the contents of a course. Palmer, who has team-taught multiple classes, said that it gives faculty from diverse fields an opportunity to get together and cooperate. The result of the collaboration is very informative for students.

The course will also feature other guest speakers including Provost Todd Diacon, poet Martín Espada and activist Shannon French.

“What I have always felt is universities in some ways are underutilized for the range of skill sets and capital and intellectual capital that they contain on their campuses,” Hassler said. “It is often so hard to create interdisciplinary experiences between departments and colleges on university campuses — and yet, what a missed opportunity. Nowhere else do we have that kind of intense concentration of experience and expertise.”

Students can register for the symposium by talking to their honors academic advisers.

Contact Mariam Makatsaria at [email protected].