Humanities professors on Friday sought to respond to the election of President Donald Trump through a series of talks and presentations about academics in a “post-truth” world.
Around 100 people crowded into the Humanities Center Lounge in Rush Rhees Library morning for the opening remarks of the Knowledge and Citizenship Teach-in.
Over a dozen faculty members—mostly from the Department of Anthropology, but also including faculty from the departments of History, English, and others—gave talks on topics ranging from law in post-genocide Rwanda, forcible mass-eviction in India, and the role of the press in a democracy.
Each lecture lasted around 15 minutes, during and after which attendees were encouraged to ask questions or present their own viewpoint. People dropped in and out throughout the day, but the crowd filled the room for the entirety of the event, which lasted until 5 p.m.
The Teach-In was the brainchild of Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Art and Art History Dr. A. Joan Saab.
In an interview with the Campus Times, Saab said that the event was conceived by humanities faculty wondering how to respond to the election of President Donald Trump.
Speakers were selected on a first-come, first-served basis.
Saab said that the time slots filled up “within 24 hours” and that several speakers chose to give joint presentations to allow more participants.
Teach-ins, usually held at universities, are often focused on social justice or environmental issues. They originated with the anti-war movement in the United States during the 1960s, and have been a common format since.
Saab said that this was the first teach-in at UR in recent memory, and expressed enthusiasm for the idea of having more in the future.
The idea of the Knowledge and Citizenship Teach-in was to emphasize that “the work that we do as historians, as critics, as scholars, is still important,” in a period of perceived attacks on academia and uncertainty about truth in public discourse, Saab said.
“This is not a propaganda thing,” Saab said, or a “protest,” though she noted that “we wouldn’t have had it if we felt like we didn’t have to have it.”
Some speakers based their presentations on their academic work, such as Assistant Professor of Anthropology Kristin Doughty, who said she “distilled one or two of the key takeaways” from a course on legal anthropology that she teaches.
Other talks were explicitly about current events in national politics, which came up during almost every presentation.
Students and faculty alike voiced concerns about the recent actions of the Trump administration, from its use of controversial rhetoric to the recent immigration ban, and some of the presentations were explicitly about these topics.
Professor of English John Michael said the administration was “calling the link between statement and fact into question,” which he called “dangerous” and “corrosive,” and praised student activism across the country.
The posters for the Teach-In featured the cover of a fictional book entitled “The Little Golden Book of Alternate Facts,” decorated with mislabeled animals, a reference to Trump aide Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” comment of viral fame.
Student reactions were generally positive.
“I love it,” said sophomore David Marshall, who also told the Campus Times that he thought the event was a great way to gain more “cultural awareness,” something he realized he “doesn’t have that much of.”
Sophomore Emma Dorfman said that she “loves these kinds of events.”
Although she questioned whether it was productive to have an event where everyone shares the same opinion, she said, “It’s always good to have more facts and examples.”