by Hannah Kim
Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to participate in the twelfth annual Faculty Response Forum hosted by the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry. This year’s theme was “Experiencing Difference through the Humanities,” and there were nine different discussion table set up. Some of the tables that most interested me were ones named “The Past is a Foreign Country: They Do Things Differently There,” “What’s Different about Poetry—and Does Poetry Make a Difference?” and “Humanities, Difference and the University,” and I ended up signing up for the last one because I thought discussing humanities within the broader context of the University might be interesting, especially given the latest departmental cuts.
After the welcoming speech delivered by Professor Brownley, our table began with humanities scholars’ tendency to become defensive about the nature of their works—especially regarding questions of relevancy and usefulness— and how we could best address the perceived need to continuously convince the university and the public of their value. The Center for Ethics was mentioned as an example of a university institution that could appeal to the humanities regarding practical issues, but a philosophy faculty member pointed out that philosophy departments across the nation tend to be rather uninvolved with ethics centers. Perhaps the gap between moral philosophy and applied ethics was a bigger one than we thought? This discussion eventually led us to question whether a purely contemplative and theoretical pursuit of humanities could be justified (or even ideal), a question I had often wondered myself. Could research that is entirely conceptual, divorced from any explicit relevancies such as policy implications, still hold value and meaning? Though I don’t think we came to a conclusive answer, for me the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” given that it was literature’s unique ability to offer consolation that first attracted me to the humanities.
The forum was my first time mingling with faculty and administrators in a setting where the implicit teacher-student hierarchy did not dictate the norms of social and intellectual interaction. Instead, every person sitting around the table was considered equal contributors to the discussion, and in fact, there were moments when the ability to speak as an undergraduate student helped me provide a unique perspective. The evening, replete with good food, good conversations, and an even better reminder of why we love what we do, was a thoroughly enjoyable one.