I went (in person) to my second Wes Thinks Big this past Wednesday and the atmosphere was great for learning while not doing homework. The turnout of the audience and the excitement of students elevated the event to a much higher level than it would have been had it been in a different venue or with less people. Everyone was really excited to be there which, as Andrea Roberts pointed out during her talk, is interesting because we’re (allegedly) rarely as excited to go class. On to the highlights:
- Sarah Mahurin from the African-American Studies and English Department started off the evening with a talk on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Clothes.” She’s my advisor so full disclosure, if you’re looking at the video and you hear an audible yelp when asks the question “Well, what’s a bro?” it’s probably mine. The talk was essentially about “selective feminism” and how our conversations about people’s clothing are really conversations about gender expectations, class consciousness, and respectability politics. Memorable quotes include “You know you’re talking to a professor when they ask you if you can define your offensive term more clearly for me?” and “Sometimes thinking big means talking less.”
- Meredith Hughes from Astronomy was next, speaking on some fascinating research about the current state of extraterrestrial contact. There’s at least one planet per start. Moreover, there’s millions of rocky planets that could provide life sustaining functions. To the question of “Where is everyone?” Professor Hughes gave three potential answers. Maybe we are alone. Maybe we’re not alone but we just don’t have the technology to communicate. Or maybe the galaxy has already been colonized and we just don’t know it. My favorite part of the talk was her explaining providing an analogy to our communication efforts to outer space. “It’s like scooping water from the ocean in an 8 oz. up and using the fact that we don’t see fish as evidence of there being no wildlife.” Her talk was great at expanding the lens of how much chances there actually are out there for life outside of Earth
- Johnathan Cutler in Sociology took the stage left and at the outset, explained his deep nervousness about giving his first PowerPoint presentation. Presentation antics aside, Cutler’s talk was focused on a re-imagining of the way that we look at the partisan divide, particularly, as he claimed, the oft-ignored libertarian left. While the communitarian right and the communitarian left had more in common than most would expect including an attendance to ethics and morals and a dislike for commercialism and materialism, he conceptualized the libertarian left as “pro-labor but anti-work,” which would mean that they wanted the highest price for the minimum amount of work. “The communitarian right is freaked out by the pleasure that they think the libertarian left is having.” The point he ended on was a nice one, stating that maybe the libertarian left should be more prominent and be just as indulgent as everyone fears they would be.
- Chemistry Professor Andrea Roberts was next to the stage with a talk entitled “Jury Duty, Stem Cells and Global Warming: The Importance of a Science in the Liberal Arts Education.” After a discussion of the ways people feel empowered to always tell her about how they just hated chemistry in high school when she tells them what she does, her talk stressed the presence of science in all of our lives and the need for everyone to have a sense of science literacy both in and outside of the Science building. Apparently our tour guides aren’t that scientifically enlightened. Using three different examples to show how a man’s life, stem-cell research, and global climate policy has been devastatingly hurt by a lack of awareness of science. She implored science students and faculty to make sure that the work that they do is accessible to people from all disciplines and then she implored non-science students to take more science classes (fulfill those NSM requirements people) and to learn to love detail.
- Finally, Professor Tushar Irani from the College of Letters asked us why are we here? I thought about leaving it at that but there was so much more! His talk was actually about the value of learning and how we could understand learning as both intrinsic (for the sake of itself) as well as instrumental (for the sake of other things). He challenged us to think about what our values are and then specified that question by stating “I don’t want a list, I asking if these values are yours.” He made a lovely point when he stated that our time at Wesleyan is a time when we have the freedom to take our values and make them our own.
It was a great night and one that made me a think just a little bit bigger. Can’t wait to see what they do in the Spring!