Earlier this week I wandered over to the Public Affairs Center to participate in an evening seminar of the College of Social Studies. I am working with a senior in the program, Jeremy Isard ’11, who is writing a fascinating thesis that deals with issues concerning memory, narrative and trauma in a Uganda refugee camp, and I was to hear his presentation to his fellow students. Professors Joyce Jacobsen (Economics) and Peter Rutland (Government) were the teachers leading the group. The mood in the room was serious but also very energetic. When I arrived, Vernie Chia ’11 was finishing up her discussion of “envisioning gender equality,” and she was explaining the challenges of her choice to use contemporary Sweden as her case study. This had followed Guangshuo Yang’s ’11 discussion of how Chinese academics had yet to create stable norms for intellectual work in the social sciences and humanities, and Jeff Breau’s ’11 consideration of the relationship between agriculture and obesity in contemporary Europe. What a range of topics!
Even though it was late, the conversation was animated and rigorous. Joyce and Peter had clearly developed a great intellectual atmosphere. The students seemed to know each other well, having gone through this rigorous program together over the last several semesters. Their topics were diverse, but they had in common a drive to understand complex issues and to connect that understanding to a wider set of concerns that extended far beyond academia. The professors were able to offer helpful suggestions and constructive criticism, but it was clear that they knew these seniors were ready to take the lead in making the seminar successful.
I was reminded of the great CSS thesis I read last year about Francis Fukuyama by Chan-young Yang ’10, who is now at Yale Law School. As I walked back to the president’s house, I thought back to my own philosophy teacher Louis Mink, who devoted so much of his intellectual energy to this young innovative program. And then I remembered the stories I’d heard about President Victor Butterfield, whose vision and talent helped launch Wesleyan’s interdisciplinary colleges. It is clear that after more than fifty years the College of Social Studies continues to attract gifted students and devoted faculty who team up to create an imaginative and rigorous educational experience. President Butterfield would be proud of them. I know I am!