Each month, The Stone House Center for Public Humanities interviews a humanities scholar or community member and asks them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our new blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
Our guest this month is Cindy Lacom, who has taught at Slippery Rock University for 25 years. She integrates gender and feminist issues into her teaching and scholarship, and has a deep interest in Disability Studies. She is fascinated by questions about how different bodies are invested with varied meanings as cultural texts (in terms of access to or denial of power, stigma and the "management" of that stigma, how we might change prejudice and bias). Cindy is also a member of our Community Advisory Board.
What inspires you in your current position/role?
I often say, "I have the best job in the world," and I mean it. What inspires me? SRU students, who regularly impress and move me, compel me to think and re-think my positions and ideas. I am motivated as well by many of my colleagues, who work tirelessly for social justice. My mom also inspires me because she is so fierce.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
Teaching is at the center of my life, frankly, and it has informed me in myriad and profound ways. Though we tend in academe to frame "teaching" and "learning" as classroom activities, I'm reminded daily that both activities occur all around us. One instance occurred when I was an undergrad. My Philosophy prof posed this question to us: does philosophy belong in the marketplace or the ivory tower? A couple nights later, I was playing pool in a really dumpy bar and listened to two men talking about life choices (one man's daughter had just gotten married because she was pregnant). They interrogated the ethics of her choice, the ethics of their judgments, the degree of her individual agency, and the merits and drawbacks of marriage as in institution. I wrote my paper the next night, and my response was squarely in the "marketplace" box.
My work for non-profits has also fostered insights and shaped my goals. I don't think idealism and pragmatism are mutually exclusive, though I probably once did. But what I have learned in an exec board capacity for non-profits is that a mission is almost certainly bound to founder without strategic goals, specific policies, and economic and social sustainability. Dreams and passion are key, but a vision for social justice change has to supported by practical details to thrive.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I'm working with an SRU alum on a paper which we just presented at the Southeast Women's Studies Association Conference that explores the limits of Black men's power in hip-hop culture. We apply the theories of Bakhtinm Marx and Foucault to argue that their power is limited in a capitalist culture and that hip-hop, owned and managed overwhelmingly by white men, is produced as spectacle as an instance of carnival.
A former Gender Studies GA, Natalie Drozda, and I just submitted a paper titled "Masculinity and Mass Shooters" to the Journal of Gender Studies and are hoping that they'll accept that for publication. We presented at SRU on the topic three years ago and thought the topic was interesting enough to pursue. Unfortunately, we are reminded of the relevance of the topic almost daily.
Most recently, I've begun doing research on gendered torture and hope to present on that at next fall's National Women's Association Conference.
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
I'll use an example from the field of Disability Studies as an example to explore this question. Because the Humanities invite us to consider something like statistics within a historical, philosophical and embodied framework. Reading Disability Studies scholar Lennard Davis's "Constructing Normalcy" reminds us that statistics is not value-neutral but has been used to produce and maintain norms in everything from BMI to productivity ratings to intellectual measure that contribute to ableist biases that understand disability as "less than." Because reading feminist philosopher Julie Kristeva allows us to integrate ideas of abjection when we analyze the creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in trying to figure out, "Why might Victor Frankenstein's recoil from his 'child' be so extreme when it first comes to life? What about the creature marks it as 'monstrous'?" What happens when, in psychology or therapeutic/rehabilitative/medical fields, we use the discourse of "recovery"? How might that reinforce ableist stereotypes that disabilities is something that needs to be "cured"? How might scientists benefit from understanding their unconscious bias in research on sexuality? None of these questions are discipline-specific; all of them have answers which are enriched by a Humanities perspective.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you (hobby, skill, interesting story)?
I'm an avid hiker and camp every summer in the mountains of northern California.
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
Great question. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
I worked as a telemarketer for two weeks. it was soul-destroying. I thought I needed the money but we were ripping off vulnerable people in what amounted to a money-making scheme. I wouldn't have any advice for my past self because I had to work that awful job to decide that I would hopefully never do anything like it again.
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed our previous interview with Shawn Francis Peters click HERE.
In his seventh year at Slippery Rock University, Professor Timothy Oldakowski returned to twelfth grade, not for the second time, but for a third. Say what?!
Each week, Professor Oldakowski teaches literature at Aliquippa High School through the Humanities Ladder program. We are pleased to share a special article about the program by Katelynn Kletzli, Engagement Coordinator GA for the Slippery Rock University, College of Liberal Arts.
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We are looking for faculty to join our Humanities Ladder team for the fall 2018 semester. This is an excellent opportunity to bring humanities-based enrichment to underserved students.
Check out what Dr. Gisela Dieter had to say about her experience with the program below.
Learn more here: https://www.humanitiesladder.org/facultyopportunities.html
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We greatly appreciate your support for the Humanities Ladder program. Learn more about the Humanities Ladder here.
“Students always have questions that I don’t expect,” said Professor Theresa Antonellis about the high school sophomores and juniors she teaches at Aliquippa High School. Since the beginning of last fall, Professor Antonellis has participated in the Humanities Ladder Program through the Stone House Center for Public Humanities. Once a week, Professor Antonellis brings college-level ideas to these high schoolers and introduces them to the humanities experience through art. With a foundation similar to the Overview of Western Art class that she teaches at SRU, Professor Antonellis is able to appreciate the similarities and differences among her students. She has found that at the university, her class of one hundred predominantly freshmen students has a very different capacity for engagement compared to the ten to twenty student classes she teaches at Aliquippa.
With the help of her student mentor, Tommy Thompson, a junior in Secondary Education and Social Studies, Professor Antonellis has been able to teach ancient art history and transition to more contemporary artworks this semester. After reviewing new art history terms that students could apply to these artworks, the students dove into the history of presidents, all the way back to George Washington. Professor Antonellis then introduced the portraits of the Obamas, which were unveiled on February 12th. These portraits, pictured above, made history for featuring the first African-American presidential couple. The Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery also made history for comissioning the first African-American painters to complete these presidential portraits. After seeing the portraits and learning that Kehinde Wiley painted Barack Obama and Amy Sherald painted Michelle Obama, the students’ first question shocked Professor Antonellis and Thompson: “Who paid for these portraits, and how much do they cost?” Though she didn’t know the answers at the time, Professor Antonellis returned the following week to share that private donors and philanthropists had sponsored these portraits.
A few classrooms down, Professor Sean Macmillian and his student mentor, Marie Ellis, a senior English Education major with a minor in Dance, are implementing an art appreciation class through the Humanities Ladder Program, as well. Professor Macmillan, who typically teaches metalsmithing and three-dimensional workshops at the university, is excited to be able to present art and artists that he typically doesn’t at the university. His goal is to introduce his two classes of fifteen students to art and artists that they are unfamiliar with. By taking familiar images like American Gothic and the Mona Lisa, the students were able to begin breaking down images into their fundamental designs and principles, opposed to just seeing the “pretty” aspects of the artworks. As their conversations steer towards context, students will soon be able to explore what the artists were trying to communicate in each piece.
One of the largest challenges Professor Macmillan has found is that these forty-three minute high school classes fly by significantly faster than his typical three-hour long workshops! With the time constraint, the students have been discussing artworks, and only recently began creating their own. Until recently, since metalsmithing is such a slow and deliberate process, Professor Macmillan had been taking more of a theoretical approach, using design elements and principles as a vehicle to talk about art beyond “I like it.” He began this semester by facilitating “creativity generation exercises” to challenge students who shy away from art by claiming not to be creative enough. “Creativity is a skill,” Professor Macmillan explained, “as such, it can be learned and amplified, not only for visual arts, but also for writing stories, musical compositions, or research projects in the science fields.” On March 23rd, Professor Macmillan demonstrated moving metal with hammers and little chisels, called Chasing and Repousee, and students were able to try it for themselves. Hmmm… wonder what they’ll create next week!
Learn more about the Humanities Ladder program here.
Don't forget to check out all of our Humanities Ladder videos too!
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.