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Who, What, When
Looking for Lincoln
When they weren’t taking language tests or playing ice-breaker games for orientation, Skidmore’s new students were “looking for Lincoln.” That’s the title of a documentary they watched as part of the 2009–10 First-Year Experience.
Lincoln’s 200th birthday this year “brings to the fore the lingering issue of race and also places President Obama in a unique spotlight,” notes government professor Beau Breslin, who directs FYE. “Questions about Lincoln are appropriate at any time, but they are perhaps more acute now that the country is witnessing the changing institutional face of the American presidency.”
Over the summer, freshmen read Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World and also watched a video of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in performances that explore Lincoln’s life, character, and times. In using movement as well as words to interrogate Lincoln’s legacy, Breslin explains, “we are endeavoring to deepen students’ aesthetic experience and expansion of mind and spirit through…both artistic and narrative texts.” Bill T. Jones himself, as this year’s McCormack Artist-Scholar, will visit campus with some of his dancers to work directly with students during an October residency. A Tony-winning choreographer, dancer, and director, Jones has received a MacArthur “genius” grant and other major honors; his troupe is widely acclaimed among the top American dance companies.
According to a survey of 200 liberal arts colleges last year, only Skidmore and Wesleyan had assigned CDs or DVDs as central components of their first-year summer reading programs. Breslin says, “I don’t ever want to downplay the value of books, so I was nervous about saying that somehow a CD or DVD is equivalent to a book.” But when he saw FYE’s success last year in using a Terence Blanchard jazz CD about Hurricane Katrina’s impacts and implications, he was pleased to challenge students again with the task of “interrogating ideas from multiple perspectives and communicating in different ways.”
FYE will help sponsor a number of related events all year, such as lectures, films, or further readings. And as it does every year, it will engage first-year students, peer mentors, and others across campus in civic and philanthropic endeavors related to the year’s theme. —SR
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