Convivial Meeting, Sans Drinking

On Thursday of this week, many of the English folk—students and faculty—were here, at the second annual English Department Symposium. A traditional symposium, a la the Greeks [see above, with thanks to Michael Lahanas for the picture], would have been filled with philosophy, conviviality, discussion, and drinking. Given current American laws, we were far more interested in the first three. Oh, and having women involved. And more clothing. And no lyres.

Originally, our Symposium came about because the faculty had felicitous, but rare, discussions in hallways and at lunch about exciting things we were doing in our respective courses. Why, we wondered, wasn’t there a venue to make public the great work that our students did? Thusly, the Symposium was born.

On Thursday, an intrepid school newspaper reporter asked a few of us “what do you think the Symposium does for the students, and what does it do for the faculty?” An excellent question. When we began, we had only the vaguest intuition that this would be a good thing; that we’d get something out of it and so would the students, we were sure. But what? That remained to be seen. As I watched the performances, readings, and presentations this year, however, I was blown away by both the quality of the work and the interactions among the students. Something important happens at the Symposium, I think, and it’s only now that it’s starting to register.

I’ve had at least three students comment to me about their individual experiences this year (and I’ll give them their privacy here, unless they want to be named!). One student mentioned how nervous she was prior to reading her work, and how proud she was of herself when she had done it. Another saw the Symposium as a place to have a “reunion” of one of the best classes she’s taken at the college. Finally, another student described how the event is a “support group for English majors” that addresses the ways in which they often feel like fakers until they see others engaged in the same actions. And, of course, there were really cool t-shirts.

All of these analyses speak to the ways in which a public event can stage important individual and communal developments for the students who participate. With a few slight tweaks, I’d say the same is true on the faculty end as well; we get to witness the breadth of our involvement with a large community of readers/writers/thinkers; many of us participate, either reading, running a panel, or performing, which puts us into the same situations as the students—we’re nervous and excited, too. So where’s the tweak? I think it’s this: we get to see students that we had early on and may never have in another class. In forums like the Symposium, we get to see the ways in which students have progressed in their ideas and who they’ve grown into over time.

It occurs to me, off hand, that the Symposium might be the Platonic ideal (hee!) of a conference. All exchange and conviviality and community, with none of the showboating and judgment. (There may have been evidence of these factors at our Symposium, but I didn’t witness it. So I’m sticking to the Platonic ideal theory.)

So, onward and upward for the Symposium! Our challenge for next year: how do we get students involved early on, so that the sessions best support their interests?

4 thoughts on “Convivial Meeting, Sans Drinking

  1. It would be great to have access to video or even text versions of some of what was read or performed at the symposium. Next year? I know there’s an interesting communications department here with an archived radio show and video possibilities…collaboration?

    Many grad students can’t do a day program, or even attend in the afternoon while prepping for a Thursday night class — not to mention what we missed during classes on “Symposium Day”.

    I wish I had read your plug before the 28th…Now I’m really interested.

  2. Great ideas, Corey, and we’ve just got our sweaty little hands on equipment to record both audio and video, so we can definitely build that in next year.

    You’re exactly right about the difficulty of this kind of events for the grads. In fact, that was our downfall this year: the grad student reading had very few readers, and a terrible audience. I’m very sorry about that, because the reader who did come didn’t get nearly the attention and praise that she deserved.

    I can’t decide if that means that we need a separate event for the grads (their own Symposium) that happens at night or on a weekend, or if there’s some way to include them in this event that we haven’t figured out yet.

    Suggestions welcome!

  3. First off, I’m totally Isis.

    Second, way to be a Debbie Downer! I will stand by my man, and defend his heterosexuality. Maybe Andy has a phobia of skanks.

    The reason he hasn’t found “the one,” is because the cosmos have not yet allowed us to cross paths on a NYC street . . . or he’s asexual.

    Andy is just a career-oriented, impeccably dressed, prematurely grey, cobalt eyed, caring man, who happens to be straight. IF he were gay, I would love him still. But he’s not.

  4. Like Isis, Keva, you stand by your man. I can appreciate that. But I will tell you that when I was in high school (and far less sophisticated than you) I was TOTALLY convinced that Morrissey was asexual. Of course, this was at a time when large portions of America considered George Michael’s sexual preference a question. Sigh.

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