Blog Post

The Humanities as the Means to Serve Our Communities

(From the recent Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill reading group)

For a mid-size city infamous for its racial tensions, Milwaukee offers numerous examples of how the humanities offer the means to connect disparate communities with one another.  Many of these efforts come from my home school, UW-Milwaukee's efforts to serve these communities and the city as a whole. To accomplish this, the humanities at UWM have promoted the ways in which it serves its surrounding communities, reducing the perception of academia being an inaccessible ivory tower. Service learning and public outreach are still popular pedagogies at UWM which results in graduates continuing to serve the city in various ways long after commencement. 

For example, the Artery is an ongoing project in which an abandoned railway is being converted to a pedestrian and bike path lined with art works, stages, and other facilities recycled from various materials. Keith Hayes mission to "connect people" was no doubt inspired by UWM's architecture department which often demands students engage the community and embrace public spaces. 

However, the university must also serve as host to events and opportunities that invite "outside" communities in.  

As Milwaukee's status as one of the most segregated city in the United States continues, it is vital that it be the humanities be the voice that welcomes perspectives and experiences from all walks to convene and discuss how to repair the city. Sparked by the killing of Dontre Hamilton (which occurred several months after Michael Brown's murder ignited riots in Ferguson), UWM hosted events and speakers that provided a forum for Milwaukee residents to pose and discuss questions. 

But don't let my obvious devotion to UWM fool you. That these invigorating events and projects are so rare, highlights my overarching concern that many of us in the humanities are not doing enough. Every time I write out my freshman comp syllabi, I create - then delete - my service learning module. From where is my unease coming from? Buried under stacks of critical theory, I've neglected critical praxis. I believe it's not enough anymore to commit theoretical comprehension to paper - we need to commit it to people.  

An English lecturer friend at UWM shared a Kahlil Gibran quote this morning that says it all: "All knowledge is vain save when there is work, and all work is empty save when there is love." It feels to me as though the university and the humanities must operate as the means by which we can reach out and better understand the needs of the community. We cannot do that without loving our communities. By doing so, the humanities serves the means by which we foster that love in others, thereby nurturing the survival of the community, the city, the university and the humanities. Perhaps ourselves as well.  


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