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“Imagining America” is the theme of the class of 2009’s orientation and first-year experience.

In a program that will last through the the academic year Lafayette’s newest students are exploring issues related to America’s identity, human security, and civil society, with the visual arts serving as a catalyst for intellectual dialogue.

See class of 2009 web page and statistics.

The students’ journey began in the summer with internet-based discussions focusing in part on the Lafayette community’s reactions (and their own) to the book In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman.

They read excerpts from President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address along with No Towers. The president speaks about the security challenges facing America and articulates the case for the government’s actions following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Included with the excerpt was a rendition of a print titled “Freedom Flag Story #1: On Tuesday Morning” by the American artist Faith Ringgold, which conveys the sentiment that America’s sense of, and commitment to, freedom will not be compromised by 9/11. It includes these words: “On Tuesday morning we faced the Devil in the sky/and told him that Freedom will never die.”

The students also viewed a documentary film on DVD, created by Lafayette students and faculty, that illuminates the diversity of views about Spiegelman’s book within the campus community.

In Spiegelman’s controversial book (a graphic memoir, or comic) he “presents a highly personalized, political, and confessional diary of his experience of September 11 and its aftermath [expressing] his feelings of dislocation, grief, anxiety, and outrage over the horror of the attacks and the subsequent ‘hijacking’ of the event by the Bush administration to serve what he believes is a misguided and immoral political agenda,” says.

“Our decision to use In the Shadow of No Towers was made after much deliberation among faculty and students. We thought the book, when companioned with other presentations of information around the same topic, would best further the College’s ambition to convey to new students Lafayette’s character as a place of serious intellectual purpose and one with a commitment to cultivating in students civic purpose and the values of a strong civil society,” says Gladstone Fluney Hutchinson, dean of studies.

“The documentary conveys that Lafayette affirms students’ right to be welcome participants, regardless of their viewpoints, in our community’s important discussions,” Hutchinson says. Entitled Towers of Shadow & Light, it includes discussions, interviews, and reactions to Spiegelman’s book by dozens of Lafayette students, faculty, and staff. It was produced by Edward J. Kerns, Eugene Clapp II Professor of Art, and Andrew Smith, assistant professor of English and chair of American studies. Students in Smith’s course on Documentary Film participated in making the documentary, which was publicly screened on campus for the first time May 10. A special website is an in-depth guide to and resource for the documentary.

Kerns will deliver the Convocation lecture at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, during the three-day New Student Orientation (Aug. 26-28). Students will continue discussing the readings and documentary during orientation. They have already been exchanging insights, ideas, and questions about these and other topics with each other, Lafayette faculty, and other members of the campus community via a special web portal.

Spiegelman will give a keynote presentation on graphic art and comics as a genre for framing and conveying ideas, and their usage in historical and contemporary periods, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, August 28. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus, a two-volume set of comics recounting his father’s struggle to survive the Holocaust, he is included in Time magazine’s listing of the “world’s 100 most influential people” (April 18, 2005).

Some members of the class of 2009 were introduced to the first-year theme at the annual on-campus summer Academic Advising Program June 8-11, which featured lectures by Robert S. Mattison, Metzgar Professor of Art, and Suzanne Westfall, professor of English.

Both last year’s orientation and this year’s are serving as a pilot program for members of a national consortium of colleges and universities called Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life. It’s a group of more than 60 institutions committed to public scholarship, the joining of serious intellectual endeavor with a commitment to public practice and public consequence, in the arts, humanities, and design.

Throughout the year the visual arts will facilitate and sustain the intellectual dialogue, a role played by the performing arts in the class of 2008’s first-year experience, also themed Imagining America. This included students’ collaborating with artist Sekou Sundiata in developing his latest creative endeavor, The America Project. The students made two presentations of their ongoing work in November, one at the College, the other to an audience of more than 100 deans, professors, and administrators from schools across the United States at the Imagining America consortium’s national conference. Sundiata presented The 51st (Dream) State, the performance component of The America Project, on campus April 29 and 30.

Hutchinson says, “W.E.B. DuBois, as quoted in Animating Democracy: The Artistic Imagination as a Force in Civil Dialogue, speaks perfectly to the intellectual spirit of our ambition when he states, ‘Begin with art, because art tries to take us outside ourselves. It is a matter of trying to create an atmosphere and context so conversation can flow back and forth and we can be influenced by each other.’”

Several programs will carry the Imagining America theme through the year.

On September 11 Easton-based filmmaker Lou Reda will screen his Emmy-nominated documentary The Day the Towers Fell. Produced for the History Channel, it is a compelling humanistic mosaic of the pictures and verbal reflections of the photographers and journalists who raced to the scene of the twin towers’ destruction as it was unfolding. The event will include commentary by and discussion with Reda, the executive producer; Samuel Jackson, the producer, director and editor; and Hal Buell, photo consultant.

Three exhibitions in the Grossman Gallery of the Williams Visual Arts Building will explore the artistic expression of the struggle with national identity and human security issues in the global context.

Remembrance: Russian Post-Modern Nostalgia(Sept. 2 through Oct. 22), curated by Alexandre Gertsman, explores the complex role of nostalgia in the search for national identity in post-communist Russia.

Limits on Freedom: Art of Taiwan Today (Nov. 4 through Jan. 28), curated by Wei Jane Chir, will feature three Taiwanese artists and their struggle for free expression in the face of governmental limitations. The exhibition will bring to light the inevitability and complexity of subversion in a culture of constraint.

Imprints and Artifacts (tentatively Feb. 11 through April 1), an exhibit by conceptual artist Diane Samuels of Pittsburgh, explores through the eyes of an historian, a journalist, and an artist how generations removed from the Holocaust live with it having happened. Two rural towns in Southern Germany, Buttenhausen and Grafeneck, and other subjects of Samuels’ art are the focus of this exploration.

The artists for all three shows will serve campus residencies, interacting with students and faculty in classroom discussions and informal sessions.

“The intellectual spine that runs through these exhibits and the entire orientation program is the artistic lens into the complexities of the nature, meaning, and practice of humanity in places near and far. When this lens focuses on other geographic and cultural places, it forces us to examine what, in the framing and practice of America’s identity, is local and nonessential, and what is more broadly or deeply shared with others,” Hutchinson says.

Capping the year will be a photo exhibition and keynote lecture by Joel Meyerowitz, the only photographer who was granted unimpeded access to Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks.

Beginning a few days after the attacks Meyerowitz created an archive of more than 8,000 images of the destruction and recovery at Ground Zero and the immediate neighborhood. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs asked the Museum of the City of New York and Meyerowitz to create a special exhibition of images from the World Trade Center Archive to send around the world. Entitled “After September 11: Images from Ground Zero,” the show has completed a 60-nation tour and will be displayed next spring in the lobby gallery of Skillman Library.

Meyerowitz was appointed a State Department Cultural Ambassador by Colin Powell in 2001 under an initiative to strengthen relationships between American cultural institutions and their counterparts around the world. He will speak on the new America that is arising from the embers of the 9/11 experience.

Two students, Jose Tano ’06 and Allan Amanik ’06, will curate an exhibition in Farinon College Center next spring that examines how graphic art and comics reflect the changing character of America’s identity through time. Tano, of Manila, Philippines, is majoring in mathematics-economics. Amanik, of Lakewood, N.J., is majoring in government & law and foreign language.

Participants in the McKelvy House Scholars program will engage in activities throughout the year aimed at promoting intellectualism in first-year students. Chawne Kimber, assistant professor of mathematics, is faculty resident.

Additional academic and co-curricular programs will complement the orientation theme throughout the year. “Deepening and strengthening the connection between academics and student life benefits the campus community by creating opportunities to engage peers, faculty, and staff in providing a liberal education,” Hutchinson says.

Categorized in: Academic News