The Griot Institute for Africana Studies opened its new lecture series on Feb. 11, titled “Post-Obama Paradigms: Problems and Potentialities.” This series pairs an English course (ENGL 290) with presentations and talks from six guest speakers across different academic disciplines, the likes of which has not been seen before by the University, according to Professor of English Anthony Stewart.
The planning for this series started over a year and a half ago, and the Advisory Board for The Griot began the planning process with finding a topic rooted in one or more fundamental questions.
Carmen Gillespie, a Professor of English and the Director of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies explains that the fundamental question for this series as being “what is the sociological, psychological, metaphorical import of the Obama presidency on the national consciousness/identity/self-definition, and what are the tangible and the covert implications of those potential transformations?”
The course that corresponds with the series bears the same name, Post-Obama Paradigms, and is taught by Stewart.
“It’s not a policy class–it’s an opportunity for our students to think about their own identities as Americans. What I want is students thinking about ideology,” Stewart said.
“The Post-Obama class is very unique and has a lot of moving parts compared to a typical English class. [The] class is collaborating with choreographer Paloma McGregor, retired professor Bob Gainer, and Instructional Technologist Video Production Specialist Brianna Derr (Gr.) to create a student presentation in the form of a digital narrative that will be presented to the public on April 22,” Joe Moralez, a member of ENGL 290 and the Administrative Assistant to the Griot Institute & Presidential Arts Initiative, said.
Stewart claims that the most rewarding aspect of teaching the course thus far is his students’ candor, which he attributes to the class being a group of students who are very willing to engage and learn from themselves and one another.
Stewart worked in collaboration with the Griot Institute, the Stadler Center for Poetry, and Multicultural Student Services (MSS) to organize this course and lecture series, although several other departments sponsored and aided in the acquisition and planning of the speakers. Among the speakers are award-winning playwrights, journalists, choreographers, authors, and sociologists.
“I was at a much bigger school before [coming to Bucknell], and I would never have dreamed to be able to see such a range of accomplished people even there … This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that all of these accomplished people are attached to it,” Stewart said.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, co-sponsored by the Department of Economics, spoke in Trout Auditorium on Feb. 11. His lecture was titled “Barack Obama, Ferguson, and Evidence of Things Unsaid.” Coates is an Atlantic National Correspondent, currently teaches at the School of Journalism at CUNY, and was awarded the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism in 2012.
The aim of the series, according to the official statement from the Griot, is “to extend the conversation and narrative about the myriad significances, meanings, and cultural transformations available to America now that is has elected its first African-American President.”
This class and series combination is not just about blackness in America, despite its overlap with Black History Month, which Stewart says was purely chance and unrelated, but about “all sorts of interesting and unconventional ways of viewing ourselves as Americans.”
“My view of America and American identity is an ever-evolving one, and I look forward to learning how this class will contribute to its evolution. My perception since President Obama’s election in 2008 has changed and evolved since I have been a part of the Bucknell community as a consequence of the knowledge I have gained from the organizations, centers and student/faculty groups that contribute to the education of Bucknellians,” Moralez said.
Gillespie hopes for a long-lasting impression on campus as a result of this series, which runs for almost two full months.
“As with all of the series that the Griot sponsors, I hope that the Post-Obama Paradigms series serves as catalyst for examining questions that are fundamental to our health and intellectual fluency as a university community,” Gillespie said.
“The big thing is actually coming to the talks–showing up, and being there, and listening,” Stewart said, alluding to the apathy that is sometimes present on campus.