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Humanities in Action

Humanities in Action
The new Slattery Center has laid out themes to ensure the University community can explore the possibilities of the humanities. Read the list of themes at the bottom of the page.

The Slattery Center for Humanities opens up a new avenue for the exchange of ideas on campus.

With renovations underway, an old Victorian mansion on campus is becoming a new center for intellectual exchange at Scranton. The building is home to the Gail and Francis Slattery Center for Humanities, which launched the Humanities in Action Lecture Series in the fall.

University President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., announced plans for the Center at his inauguration in 2018, reminding the community that the University’s Jesuit order developed the curriculum based on a belief in the power of the humanities for all students.

“How do we go about equipping our students to live lives that are sources for hope?” asked Fr. Pilarz at his inauguration. “At Scranton, the humanities and the liberal arts are the heart of the matter and must always remain so.”

Leading the Center’s efforts, and working to fulfill the vision of Fr. Pilarz, and Gail and Francis Slattery, is executive director Gregory Jordan, J.D. The writer, teacher and film producer, who joined the University in the fall and has since been collaborating with faculty members and deans across campus to infuse the humanities into courses and programs, is overseeing construction, developing programs and establishing short- and long-term goals for the Center.

“Our president and our provost, our board and our donors are doubling down on the humanities at the same time many universities are closing shop on them. We intend the Slattery Center to be not some high tower endeavor, but a vital venue that will trade in the gritty stuff of personal and professional aspiration,” said Jordan in his opening remarks at the launch of the Humanities in Action Lecture Series.

The Center, named after the parents of benefactor and current University Trustee James M. Slattery ’86 and his wife, Betsy, will serve as a national model for humanities in action.

“It struck Betsy and me that places like Scranton are special because they are Jesuit and, as such, the humanities need to be lived and promoted and not merely viewed as a checkbox on a curriculum. Because, in reality, as a working-class undergrad, my experience in these classes opened up ideas, worlds and possibilities to me that I had not before imagined,” said James Slattery at the dedication of the Center in 2019.

Lectures and Fellowships

The Humanities in Action Lecture Series was launched in November with a talk by Denis McDonough, former chief of staff to President Obama and current senior principal at the Markle Foundation and chair of its Rework America Task Force.

“This lecture series is the most emblematic symbol of what we’re trying to achieve for inter-curricular, cross-departmental and cross-school thinking and training,” said Jordan. This spring, Justin Smith, the CEO of Bloomberg Media, and Cathy Gorman, the COO of Children’s National Medical Center, will continue the series’ tradition of discussing how the humanities enrich diverse careers.

The newly inaugurated Sondra H’87 and Morey Myers H’12 Distinguished Visiting Fellowship in the Humanities and Civic Engagement will be housed in the Center and will help to advance the University’s efforts to bring renowned scholars, artists and thinkers to Scranton to share their work and foster cultural and civic dialogue. Sondra Myers is senior fellow for International, Civic and Cultural Projects and director of the Schemel Forum at Scranton.

Other faculty and student fellows will be sponsored by the Center this fall, including at least one faculty fellow who does not teach in a humanities discipline, ensuring a cross-pollination of ideas. In addition to fellowships and the Center’s hallmark speaker series, there is also program development with a special emphasis on students.

“Students will be the lifeblood of this Center,” said Jordan. “We’re here because of them, and their parents, and we’re here for them. They’ll bring a sense of curiosity and vigor and action and activity to the Center.”

Opportunities for student research and creative work in the humanities will abound, said Aiala Levy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of history, Latin American studies and women’s and gender studies, who helped establish the Undergraduate Awards in Humanistic Inquiry through the Humanities Initiative, a precursor to the Center. The executive committee of the Initiative is now the Faculty Executive Committee of the Center, and Dr. Levy is a member.

The faculty-led Humanities Forum brought several speakers, including Christina Rivera Garza, known as one of the greatest contemporary Mexican authors, to the University this past fall.

pilarzquote.jpg

A Communal Space

Developing a physical space, a hub, for the study of the humanities was essential to Fr. Pilarz’s vision. McGowan House, previously a residence hall, is being transformed for this purpose and will soon have a café, lounge space and conference rooms for both casual and more formal discussions.

“Despite the declarations that online learning and the internet have transformed education,” said Jordan, “there’s still nothing like sitting around a table, particularly with food, and talking about ideas.”

The mansion gives the University community a new intellectual home, space and freedom to discuss ideas, plus pursue active and collaborative work or “humanities in action.”

The humanities are “living, breathing disciplines,” said Dr. Levy, who spent last year as a fellow at the Princeton Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities, working closely with Princeton undergraduate students on a digital and book project.

“Like lab and clinical research, undertaking research or creative work in the humanities is an active process,” she said. “The humanities are also something you do!”

As a digital humanities historian, Levy said she is glad the Slattery Center will provide her and her students with a space to come together to research.

“I hope that student fellowships, combined with the construction of a digital humanities lab, will provide students with the time, training and technology necessary to conduct digitally grounded research,” she said.

No Boundaries

While students in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) majoring in the humanities will most definitely find a community here, as well as unparalleled opportunities to enrich their work and complement their studies, so will students throughout the Kania School of Management (KSOM) and the Panuska College of Professional Studies (PCPS).

“The core of the Center,” said Jordan, “is a place where the great schools of the University — CAS, PCPS, KSOM — get thrown into a mixer. It will combine the skillsets of critical thinking and empathy, which come from the humanities, with professional skillsets like accounting. It’s a place that seemingly disparate activities can realize how they need each other. The student who is dexterous at both types of skills is a better professional, and arguably a better person.”

The Center has laid out nine themes, or touchpoints, so that faculty, students and even prospective students can explore the possibilities of the humanities, including digital humanities, local humanities, global humanities and the human arts.

“A number of humanities faculty are excited by the vision and leadership of Fr. Pilarz on this, which has pushed us to see the Center as something that can really extend beyond the boundaries of the five humanities departments on campus,” said the faculty director of the Center, Matthew Meyer, Ph.D., a philosophy professor who helped conceive of the Humanities Initiative.

Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., dean of PCPS, also sees the value in more directly exposing students in the helping professions to the humanities.

“My hope for the graduates of PCPS is that they always are compassionate and morally ethical, and they move humanity forward as they embrace their vocation,” she said. “Because they think critically, they will accelerate the boundaries of their knowledge of evidence-based practice and research and serve the greater good across our planet.”

Business students, too, will be able to benefit from the Center, said Sam Beldona, Ph.D., the dean of KSOM.

“The Slattery Center and its activities will be pivotal in ensuring the success of our business students,” he said. “Our KSOM graduates often attribute their success — in business and in their lives — to the lasting impact that humanities courses had on their critical thinking and ethical decision-making skills. With rapid change invading the world of work, the Center will help us ensure that our students will deftly navigate a rapidly changing world.”

The Nitty Gritty

Staying true to the University’s Jesuit mission, grounded in the liberal arts, the Center will enhance the core role it plays in the formation of students to become “men and women for others.”

“Ignatius gave us the phrase ‘contemplative in action,’” said Jordan, who has roots in Northeastern Pennsylvania. “From the very beginning, this founder wanted deep, profound thinkers to not just think but be active in the nitty gritty of life, of government, of business, of urban planning, of medicine. He said to go out into the world. This is not a monastic exercise. That’s the Ignatian mandate.”

Lectures will be open to the public, and a focus on community-based learning, plus special projects and research, will ensure that the Center will reach the local community and beyond.

“This is really just the beginning for boundless potential,” said Meyer, who sees promise in the development of the Center, which will have a “footprint that stretches far and wide.”

Students who “go out in the world” will come back with a broader experience and the ability to engage in more complex conversations. It is those results Jordan hopes will help parents more deeply appreciate the value of the humanities.

“It certainly takes a leap of faith for a parent to realize the value in a Shakespeare course or a course on contemporary fiction or a course on Nietzsche or a course on Aquinas. But as we try, very consciously, to be fiduciaries for them, we think we’re helping their investment see better results in many ways,” said Jordan. “For those who choose programs outside the humanities, they’ll be a better trader, a better nurse, a better architect, a better surgeon, a better mechanical engineer, a better electrical engineer, a better software engineer, if they have this complementary skillset.

“The humanities are not a guarantor of integrity or ethics, but reading what the great thinkers have written and watching what they’ve produced in a performance or hearing the music they’ve made, inevitably, I think, makes you tap deeper into your soul as a person.”

 

For information on how to make a contribution in support of the Slattery Center for Humanities please contact Eric Eckenrode, executive director of Development and Campus Partnerships, at 570.941.7719 or eric.eckenrode@scranton.edu.

The Nine Themes of the Humanities Center

Health Humanities
Ignatian Humanities
Local Humanities
Digital Humanities
Business Humanities
Global Humanities
Environmental Humanities
The Human Arts
The Humanities and Citizenship
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