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.
Curious about our programs and events?
Check out this short video of Live Like A Stoic Week held annually at SRU.
Stoic philosophy, developed by the ancient Greeks, ponders questions about life and how people should treat others, while ridding oneself of emotions in order to prevent suffering. As part of the event students, faculty, staff and members of the community read and work through Stoic texts in thinking about how to better overcome the personal and professional obstacles that may arise in the work and educational environments.
Live Like A Stoic Week, initiated by Andrew M. Winters, Instructor of Philosophy, recently celebrated its third year running at SRU as part of October National Arts & Humanities Month.
This annual event is sponsored by the SRU Department of Philosophy, Philosophy Club, and the Stone House Center for Public Humanities.
Here’s what our very own SRU students had to say about the experience:
“Contemplating Stoic philosophy with my fellow students and professors has allowed me to reflect on some of the most important questions that are easy to lose sight of: what is it that's most important to me in my life? What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? What is in my control, and what can I do to change it? What does it mean to be a human being, a member of a University, a town, a nation, and the cosmos, and what bearing does it have on how I should act? Exploring these questions with others before the sun rises at the Old Stone House has been a novel, invaluable experience that I will never forget.”
~ Spencer Knafelc (philosophy and psychology)
“Live Like a Stoic for a Week has given me the opportunity to take time out of a chaotic schedule, allowing me to take one step back to focus on the meaningful things in life; things like community and the cultivation of character. It taught me not to sweat the little things, to recognize what is within my immediate control and what things are not, allowing me to take life as it comes while making the best of whatever it presented to me. This all came about thanks to Dr. Winters who lead fellow students, community members, and I in exploring the ways of the cosmos in a unique setting, providing me with an invaluable experience that I won't soon forget.”
~Rena Alfonso (environmental studies and philosophy)
In today’s society, higher education is largely marketed for its ability to better prepare individuals for the real world and securing a career, but rarely is it marketed for aiding individuals in their ability to pursue a good life. Studying the humanities allows us to dive into the depths of what it means to be human, and in turn, take part in the ongoing dialogue of what it means to live a good life.
The humanities offer enlightenment on what constitutes the good and exemplifies the importance of virtuous characteristics, such as altruism, charity, civility, compassion, and generosity. The various lessons we can learn from the humanities transfer into the flourishing of individuals and society. Here are some examples:
Studying the humanities allows us to see how rich a human life can be and what makes a life worthwhile.
Want to learn more about the Stone House Center for Public Humanities and how the humanities are helping our community? Click here to learn more.
Science has two important yields: increased understanding of the world within and around us, and solutions to specific problems. But even the most profound scientific knowledge won’t solve world problems such as hunger, poverty, environmental damage, or even dinosaur attacks if we fail to respect, understand, and engage cultural differences.
All this considered, here are just some of the reasons why students pursuing science careers should enhance their education with a strong foundation in the humanities:
With aid from the humanities, those in scientific disciplines are better able to consider society’s needs, enabling them to carefully consider where he or she chooses to work, what projects they undertake, and what role it will allow them to play within society.
Want to learn more about the Center for Public Humanities and how the humanities are helping in our community? Click here.
Studying the humanities allows for the development of well-rounded and informed citizens that are essential to the flourishing and success of any democracy. Through the exploration and study of the humanities (philosophy, art, anthropology, literature, history, etc.) we are able to:
All of these shape the thoughts and behaviors of citizens across the globe, which can lead to the creation of a harmonious world and a stronger democracy among the people. To learn more about the humanities, and how the Center for Public Humanities is helping in our community, click here.
The most fundamental aspects of being human come from the humanities, things such as culture, religion, artistic expression, and effective communication. In studying humanities, human flourishing is enabled by allowing for a bettering understanding of the nature of ourselves, others, and the world around us. This leads to the fostering of empathy and compassion.
The human species maintains traits that seem to be unique from all others. This includes indulging in leisure activities such as literature and art, amongst other humanities. The rise of such things has enabled humanities and their promotion of creativity and imagination. If these things did not exist it seems that an essential part of our human make-up would be missing. Another unique trait is the human ability to rationalize. The studying of the humanities paves a way for strong, rational thinking, which leads to constructive discourse that is critical in getting along in our world today.
Here are some other examples of how the humanities make a big difference:
The humanities shape human thoughts and behaviors, which is crucial in determining our future. To learn more about the humanities, and how the Center for Public Humanities is helping in our community, click here.
Humanities empower students to succeed by providing a framework for understanding the complexities of the world, while fostering empathy for others and a desire to become active and effective citizens. Our Humanities Ladder program builds these skills through mentoring relationships with Slippery Rock University professors. Each week, professors provide engaging opportunities for students to practice reflective critical thinking in disciplines like aesthetics, philosophy, anthropology, history, and more.
Since the program started in fall 2015, these under-represented students have already exhibited increased educational goals, a deeper appreciation for the humanities, and an overall greater confidence in academics and civic participation. In fact, there was a 50% increase in students motivated to apply for college admission.
We are currently looking for SRU teachers and student mentors to participate in our spring 2016 Humanities Ladder program. Scroll down to learn how you can get involved.
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.