Humanities on the Mall discussion ranges from info-overload to trust in the classroom

Panel of Aliza Watters, Michael S. Roth, and Chris Celenza sit (from left to right) with mics, against a backdrop of the National Mall in DC.

How do we build, nurture, and sustain communities of learning and mutual trust on college campuses? This question brought together three big hitters on the education scene from JHU and Wesleyan, sitting down for the first Humanities on the Mall event for 2024. Wesleyan University president Michael S. Roth joined JHU’s Dean Chris Celenza to think about “Students, College Campuses, [and] Difficult Conversations.” Topics highlighted the speakers’ versions of what the humanities are for, and how the goal of undergraduate education can serve not only humane ends on campus but for a democratic community writ large.

Moderator and JHU’s FYS Director Aliza Watters prompted both guests to delve into what parts students, faculty, and administrators each play in creating such communities. In the end, all three seemed to agree, it’s about that elusive yet necessary factor: trust. Building trust with students and colleagues allows, says Roth, for disagreement—even strong and deeply felt disagreement—to take shape in colleges and universities without harming the individuals who disagree. And given this era of high, indeed justifiable skepticism in America, Roth underscored, the ability to encourage the next generation of public servants, policy makers, teachers, and citizens of all kinds to be curious and compassionate without becoming cynical about everything: that, surely, is the goal.

Crowd at 555 Penn faces toward the Humanities on the Mall speakers, against a backdrop of the National Mall skyline.

Audience Q&A then asked all three panelists to say more about how the high cost of education in the United States affects the desire for “freedom” to serve as a guiding principle for education. Further queries asked how other factors that hinder students’ ability to enter into those “difficult conversations,” including how disparities in students’ pre-university resources, exposure, and support continue to inform the ways they navigate the classroom and debates beyond.

AGHI is proud to sponsor these important conversations — continuing March 3 with Sean Carroll and Hahrie Han in conversation about “The Physics of Democracy” [more info here].