Feminism, race and melting ice caps
There’s a lot of buzz when Oprah speaks at Commencement or Paul Simon teaches a masterclass in songwriting, but Skidmore College attracts celebrated speakers every semester. Guest lecturers, panelists and conference participants bring a wide range of perspectives to campus and allow for students to take a deeper dive into a subject area outside the classroom.
Here’s a look at some of the topics Skidmore students have explored in just a recent two-week span, along with the speakers who challenged them.
Author Roxane Gay read excerpts from her bestselling memoir “Hunger” to a full audience at the Arthur Zankel Music Center. She then opened the room for discussion, saying she wanted the voices of those present to be heard. Student questions centered around themes Gay often addresses in her writing, including feminism, blackness, body image and sexual trauma.
Her responses were honest, even blunt. One student asked how to tackle her habit of starting conversations with, “I’m sorry ... ” Gay’s response? "Stop. There’s no advice here. It will be hard. But you just have to stop.”
Gay is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, as well as the author of the books “Bad Feminist” and “Difficult Women” and the editor of “Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture.”
Skidmore’s Speakers Bureau, a student-run group that brings diverse and thoughtful speakers to campus, organized the event. "The talk went very well and we were thrilled with the turn out," said Esme Edwards '19, chair of the Speakers Bureau. "The pieces that Roxane chose to read were moving and the questions from the crowd were honest and thoughtful, much like Roxane’s writing."
Skidmore’s Periclean Honors Forum hosted a conversation on the urgency of the threat of climate change, and how humanity should address it.
The event — “Do we really have a climate crisis and can it be solved? A conversation on the future of the climate and humanity’s response”— featured Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the former domestic policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Andrew Revkin, an award-winning writer and strategic adviser for environmental and science journalism for the National Geographic Society.
Kristofer Covey, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies and sciences, and Erin Mah ’19 co-moderated the event. "I think a lot of students, myself included, walked away thinking, 'Wow, I don’t know if I fully agree with the sentiment of that conversation — but that’s a good argument,'" Mah said. "By bringing in two experts who disagree on the extent to which climate change affects people’s lives, we are able to understand the ways in which people outside of Skidmore conceptualize controversial ideas." She added, "The things that I found most interesting were the chords of resonance; the parts of the conversation where two people with very different backgrounds agreed were more frequent than I originally expected."
Skidmore’s Gender Studies Program hosted the Capital District Feminist Studies Consortium Conference, where area scholars, teachers and students presented on their areas of scholarship. The event sparked a rich series of conversations about gender, gender injustice, white supremacy and a variety of other related issues.
Salmagundi, a literary magazine published on campus since 1969, presented a seven-part interactive conference, entitled “Sharing The Wealth: Five Leading Black Intellectuals Talk About Their Work And The Culture.”
Speakers included Pulitzer Prize-winning author Margo Jefferson, novelist, essayist and scholar Darryl Pinckney, National Book Award winner Orlando Patterson, author John McWhorter and author and essayist Thomas Chatterton Williams.
The speakers and participating students held an honest conversation about issues ranging from identity politics to the future of race relations. "The first thing that comes to mind in describing the conference is that I felt as though I were witnessing a modern Plato's Symposium," said Addison Braver-Walsh '21. "The sheer amount of intellectual athleticism that weekend was awe-inspiring, and it was the hardest my brain has had to work in a long time." Braver-Walsh said the diversity of opinion and perspective in the panel's discussions was the most rewarding aspect for him. "I found the regional, economic and generational diversity of the panel quite enlightening, as it ensured a variety of experiences and perspectives were brought to the table," he said. "Hearing such varied experiences is immensely helpful in trying to distill an issue as complicated as race."
Identity and equity
Geoffrey Cohen, professor of organizational studies in education and business and professor of psychology at Stanford University, delivered a lecture on “Psychological Factors Shaping Student Success.”
Cohen discussed how insights from social psychology — including “stereotype threat” and the “growth mindset” — can be used to navigate difference inside and outside the classroom, engage student concerns about identity and equity, and make teaching more inclusive.