Early Extracurriculars

20 Nov



Agreement Between Ohio University and the Philomathean Society, 1884

The New York Times posted an interesting slide show entitled “Early Extracurriculars” on its website.  James R. Petersen in the introduction to the slide show writes;  “Harvard founded in 1636, enjoyed a monopoly in the colonies for more than half a century, when it was joined by the College of William & Mary. If there existed a student organization in all that time, it left no fossil evidence. Harry R. Lewis, a former dean of Harvard College who has studied its history, explains: “The college was run by Puritans and Calvinists. Students had to turn out for chapel at a certain time. They couldn’t make noise. The college was not student-friendly.” (Indeed, its first schoolmaster, Nathaniel Eaton, was forced to step down for starving students and wielding a stick large enough, it was said, to kill a horse.) Early extracurricular activities involved huddling around books and periodicals outside the curriculum — and out of which, according to archivists and librarians, would come respect for debate, polished argument and the American Revolution.”

Ohio University, which was first in the second wave of institutions of higher education to be established in America, also had its share of early extracurriculars particularly the literary societies described by Betty Hollow in Ohio University: The Spirit of a Singular Place, 1804-2004:  “With little to do except study, . . . young men formed literary societies . . . and spent hours honing their skills in debate, oratory, essay writing and reading, and interpretation of literature.  With the help of Jacob Lindley [ first President of Ohio University], they secured twenty-five dollars to promote their public speaking activities in 1811 and sixteen dollars for a stage in 1812, when the Zelothian Literary Society was founded.  By 1819 the Polemic Society had replaced or joined the Zelothians.  The Athenian Society began in June 1819 with a meeting that dissolved the Polemic Society; the Philomathean Society was organized in January 1822.  Though other societies developed and disappeared over the years, the formidable Athenians and Philomatheans persisted until 1923, making them two of the longest-lived literary societies in the United States.”




A Worthwhile Discussion

12 Nov

I appreciate the dialogue on diversity and inclusiveness that has been taking place on the blog.  This was the type of discussion I was hoping to prompt with my post.  I want to comment on several of the ideas that have been generated in the process.

My earlier post stemmed from concerns that were raised about a confrontation that occurred off campus between a former student who is African American and a group of white men who were not students (inquiries into their status have shown that at least those who were identified to authorities were not students).   The post addressed issues related to the intersection of the university and the Athens community, and the need to be self-reflective about this relationship and its contributions to our diversity efforts.  Some of the comments addressed this theme directly.  For example, Ed feels that the “university, through its actions and accommodations will not directly influence off-campus persons in their actions” while Brian has a different view explaining how “we’re working with the local community to reach beyond campus and positively impact the region.”

Two points of clarification.  The original blog entry did not blame those in town who are not associated with the university nor did it seek to avoid responsibility for racial issues on campus.  The university’s role and responsibilities concerning diversity and civility issues on all of our campuses are important.  I give credit to the efforts of my colleagues in the Office of Diversity, Access, and Equity who have worked to infuse diversity throughout institutional programs, policies, and practices.  Their work along with the work of student groups, faculty, and staff has provided all of us tools that we can use as individuals to help create a supportive, affirming, and positive environment.

Face-to-face conversations that Vice Provost Brian Bridges, Vice President Kent Smith, Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi, and I have had with faculty and students about this issue have been productive.  We have discussed the ways in which current and future educational programs, training opportunities, student surveys, and collaborations with our communities will allow us to grow ever closer to being places that unreservedly value difference and civility.

I used the “golden rule” in my post because it is provides one of the clearest, most familiar ways to assess our own actions.  As Rod points out in his comment it also should also embolden us, as individuals, to speak out “when we see the rule being broken, bent, or twisted.”

Pam Benoit

Do We Honor the Golden Rule?

7 Nov

In the past ten days or so, Athens students and faculty members have raised questions about the university’s progress on improving the climate on campus for underrepresented students.   The catalyst for their concerns was a set of confrontations that took place off campus between a former student who is African American and a group of white men not affiliated with the university.

The point made by those who have expressed dismay about the incidents is that no one, as a result of his or her race or ethnicity, should be subject to harassment regardless of the time, place, or circumstances.  While the individuals involved in these incidents were not formally connected to the institution, concerned students and faculty suggest that the university bears a responsibility for helping to ensure that these types of incidents do not take place within its purview.  They suggest that a stronger campus climate will make it less likely that racially or ethnically motivated incidents will take place inside or outside the institution.

While there is no doubt in my mind that Ohio University must be successful in its efforts to promote the understanding, civility, and inclusiveness that are at the heart of an effective learning and living environment, I wonder about the degree to which our work can influence the behavior of individuals not subject to our “writ.”  To that end, I’d like to pose a question that I hope will generate some discussion.

Are we confident that our actions, in the neighborhoods, businesses, and local communities that surround the university, fully embody the expectations that we seek to inculcate in others?

Granted, there should be no preconditions when it comes to moving freely through our daily lives without harassment, but if, as an institution, we seek to have an impact on communities other than our own, should we begin with a self-assessment?  How knowledgeable are we about the culture and the values of individuals who are not connected to the university?   Do we respect the property and the community standards of our neighbors?   Do we understand how the socio-economic circumstances that stubbornly persist in this region manifest themselves in daily lives of those around us?  When we cross from campus to community, do we practice the civility that we preach?

I’m curious to know what you think.

Pam Benoit

One of Our Hallmarks

22 Oct

Bruce Carlson, Chair of Psychology,  sent me this photograph from the recent Undergraduate Fieldwork and Research Fair.  He noted that 13 community organizations and 17 faculty labs were represented at the fair.  About 250 students attended the fair.

The Psychology Fair is indicative of one of the important characteristics of Ohio University.  Our faculty and staff take student research and creative activity seriously.  They provide abundant opportunities for both our undergraduates and our graduate students to engage in meaningful scholarly and artistic endeavors.  Developing a way of exploring an issue, implementing your approach to that issue, and analyzing the results  in conjunction with an individual who is an expert in a particular field is higher education at its finest.  It happens every day on all of our campuses.


15 Oct

Dear Ohio University Students:

The Athens campus is filling up with alumni who have come to pay their respects to their Alma Mater.  Their fondness for this place is humbling.  I’ve been at other institutions and have seen the deep sense of pride that exists among graduates but it is nothing quite like what I’ve seen at Ohio University.  I can go down the checklist that explains why this might be the case : great faculty, interesting classmates, friendly atmosphere, beautiful place.  But there’s something else.

I recently read a short poem by William Allingham that I’ve thought about in association with Homecoming: “Everything passes and vanishes;/ Everything leaves its trace;/ And often you see in a footstep/What you could not see in a face.”  In 206 years there have been a lot of footsteps on this campus.  Maybe they exert a force that can be detected by poets  but not yet by conventional scientific means.  At any rate, your footsteps are now part of this place–contributing to its energy and vitality.

I hope that you enjoy the Homecoming festivities.  There’s certainly much to celebrate on these beautiful autumn days.

Pam Benoit


28 Sep

Of all the documentaries that exist about fonts, “Helvetica” ascends above the rest.  In making this claim there’s little risk as this is probably the only documentary made about a font.  Nevertheless, if you own a personal computer, if you are interested in the evolution of western design since the 1950s, or if you want to better understand what exactly a font is, why there are so many of them, and why social and culture critics think that they matter, see “Helvetica.”

Matt Zoller Seitz wrote in the New York Times in 2007 that “the film’s provocative, lively interviews with graphic designers and theorists — including Massimo Vignelli, who created directional signs for the New York City subway system, and David Carson, author of ‘The End of Print’ — assess Helvetica’s impact on human life and thought. Some praise it as a conceptual breakthrough; others blast it as a lowest-common-denominator typeface whose use both reflects and perpetuates conformity.  Whomever you end up siding with, you’re guaranteed to spend the next few days scanning the world for Helvetica like a child on a cross-country car trip playing I Spy.”

New OHIO TV Spots

26 Sep

University Communications and Marketing (UCM) unveiled a new series of television advertisements last week entitled “The Promise Lives.”  The advertisements are part of a larger ongoing academic marketing campaign.  If you haven’t had a chance to see them be sure to take a look.  Three students or recent graduates are profiled (Dinah Berkeley, Ryan Henriksen, Jasmine Merith) and one alumna who is now a faculty member in the Voinovich School, Natalie Kruse.

There are two things in particular that make these spots special.  The first is the genuineness of the people being profiled.  They are clearly accomplished individuals who come across in a winning way.  Capturing this in 30 seconds is not easy.  The second is that the crew that worked with David Urano, UCM Manager of Video and Production Services, was mostly composed of students and/or graduates of the School of Media Arts and Studies, the School of Theater, and Honors Tutorial College programs in Film and Media Arts and Studies.  The finished product exhibits a degree of professionalism and skill second to none.

Thanks to UCM and the crew of the “The Promise Lives” for your excellent work.  Thanks also to Dinah, Ryan, Jasmine, and Natalie.  Everyone who worked on this project is a testament to the power of Ohio University as a transformative learning community.