- Letters to Editor
The university experience is about broadening your horizons in and out of the classroom. Professors can’t teach everything, and students won’t find all the answers in a textbook.
Universities are built in a way to provide a complete education—from dorm life and student clubs to informal socializing and free lectures. Many students take advantage of the more “fun” outlets of the university, but don’t take advantage of free lectures that can inspire, motivate and prove to students that their career and personal ambitions can be achieved.
Chautauqua lectures bring public figures from all over the world to Eastern’s campus every month to share their experiences, opinion and knowledge.
Whether that story is about their experiences, opinion or knowledge, it’s always about success.
By the way, what does Chautauqua mean anyway?
Chautauqua was an educational movement in the United States that gathered momentum during the late 1800s, extending culture and education to rural parts of the country. The assemblies of the Chautauqua movement brought musicians, speakers, teachers and specialists of the day to talk about different topics of interest.
And that spirit—one of spreading ideas and engaging people in new discussions—lives on in the Chautauqua lectures. Think of them as our version of TED Talks, the popular Internet lecture series.
Chautauqua is especially valuable to students, who should experience as much as possible during their time in college. If we take the time to study abroad and enroll in interesting electives, why don’t more students take part in an interesting discussion every month or so?
Well, one thing the Progress discovered through a series of interviews was that most students simply didn’t know anything about the Chautauqua series, aside from those who attend for extra credit.
The university and the organizers of Chautauqua series must do more to promote the talks in a way that resonates with students. Perhaps the series can do what the university is doing and rebrand, finding what ways to make the series more visible and more accessible to students.
Of course, not all the lectures will be interesting to everyone on campus. But that’s not the point. The intent of the series is to tackle as many facets of the theme as possible.
Take this year’s theme, “Beauty Matters.” At first glance, students may think that it’s a topic that doesn’t concern them or that it’s all about cosmetic beauty.
But that’s not the case. The series focuses on many aspects of beauty—from architecture, philosophy, conservation, comedy, nature, art, and mathematics. And of course, the series also delves into physical beauty as well, but to sum it up as the overarching theme is to miss the series’ real depth and variety.
Minh Nguyen, professor of philosophy and director of the Chautauqua series, said he takes care in having diverse topics within the larger subject, as is the case with “Beauty Matters.”
“One of the highlights of the series is the various explorations of what may be called the beauty of difference,” Nguyen said. “Whatever the theme maybe, our series aims to explore the many dimensions of the theme—for instance, beauty in nature, art, life, etc.—and encourage critical reflections on it.”
Chautauqua lectures bring something to the table. The topics are interesting and relevant. And now it’s up to students to attend. After all it’s not often that students have the opportunity to see renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins or a classically trained cellist Ben Sollee in person, both of whom visited campus as part of the Chautauqua series in recent years.
The Chautauqua series can be an invaluable learning experience for students. The problem is students aren’t getting that message.