Transdivisional Out of Body Experience with the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities

Photo by Lisa Boughter //

Dear Jane and Joe Sophomore:

I’m not too worried about you.  I think you may have it figured out already.

True, freshman year was a little rocky.  Yes, your dorm really *was* worse than the other dorms, it’s not subjective or something like everyone says.  And whoops, that wasn’t the whole semester’s reading, it was just one week of Intro to Western Civ., don’t skim Tacitus, Linda Gerstein will know.  The whole “knocking over 30 folding chairs while trying to sneak out of the anime club screening of My Neighbor Totoro” incident–we’ll just try to forget that happened (no we won’t).

But you soon caught on and came to understand the laws of the strange bio-dome in which you found yourself.  You finally figured out which side of the Dining Center is the cool side (the left, duh).  You tried every variant of pizza bagel in Lunt Cafe, and they even named one after your goofy Customs Week nickname (“The Dr. Moose II”).  Your Go Boards posts were read, enjoyed, and grudgingly respected by the obscure, thesis-procrastinating seniors who only communicate with each other in a complex parrying of animated gifs.

But just when you think it’s safe, right when you’ve clawed your way into some vague position of campus authority (gallery assistant, Honor Code Orienteer, English major), you’re about to undergo yet another amazing metamorphosis. Caterpillar to butterfly; grape to raisin; Charmander to Charizard.  That kind of thing.  Jane and Joe Sophomore, do some breathing exercises, maybe use a Neti pot, restock your reserves of TLC and TCR (TRUST, CONCERN, and RESPECT), and prepare to be TOTALLY CONFRONTED by the single most important experience of your academic career to date.

I’m talking of course about the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities’ Student Seminar program.

MONDAY, 6PM, “it” happens: Waiting in Stokes lobby for the Blue Bus, you glance over at the crowded bulletin board.  Through the haze of workshop advertisements, visiting speaker flyers, “babysit my hamster” leaflets, and other assorted Haverford print culture, one poster screams out to you in technicolor fury.  Walking up to it, you feel akin to the monkeys approaching the black monolith at the start of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  You reach out to touch the poster, tracing your fingers over the words, faintly sounding them out with your mouth as your friends exit the building and get on to the bus.  THE BUS PULLS AWAY, YOU’RE GOING TO MISS PIZZA IN HAFFNER, but you don’t care, you’re now on a DIFFERENT kind of bus.

Your eyes roll back in your head, but you nevertheless “see” (telepathically or something…whatever) three spirits enter the lobby.  It’s obvious: Even though this is a poster for the “Arts & Humanities Center” the spirits represent the three academic divisions–the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities.  This is no ordinary info session.

Days, weeks, months–what happens next takes place outside of time and space, a total holographic data download revealing that now in its tenth year, the Hurford Center’s Student Seminars program is like Ex-Co on caffeine, encouraging students to imagine their own transdivisional, non-for-credit courses in collaboration with a faculty advisor, often with the help of student co-leader from another department.

Starting with a question or general theme not fully explored within the current curriculum, the student works with the staff of the Hurford Center and faculty to draft a syllabus, deciding on a topic with appeal to students from a wide array of majors.  Once approved, the proposal is distributed to the entire community, and students apply in the spring to join the fall seminar(s).

Looking around, you see the phantoms of past Hurford Center Undergraduate Fellows–participants in the seminar program from (in 2012-13) the Departments of Biology, Classics, Computer Science, English, Environmental Studies, History, Mathematics, Music, Neural and Behavioral Sciences, Philosophy, Physics, Psychology, Religion, and Spanish.

These interdisciplinary apparitions reveal that, not to worry, all books, materials, and refreshments are funded by the Center, and each student receives a generous book stipend to purchase other materials related to the seminar topic. The Center also funds a visiting speaker if desired. In February 2014, the Center will even hold a workshop for those interested in leading a Student Seminar.

Then, in a flash of hypertextual light, you’re instantly given full access to an online archive with details on every Student Seminar from the PAST TEN YEARS.  Browsing through the past seminars (“Poets and Polynomials,” “Synaesthesia,” “Musical Sampling and Cultural Appropriation,” “Borderlands”), you begin to imagine your *own* seminar… but before you can say “The Anthropology of Coolness,” you’re snapped back into Stokes lobby.

Was it all a dream?  A stress-induced hallucination brought on by too many hours in the Instructional Technology Center?  But why is it dark out now?  And what about the burn marks on the Stokes lobby floor?  Before you can ask any more questions, senior English major (and Hurford Center Student Seminar leader) Joshua Bucheister quickly shuffles past, throwing you a knowing wink as he turns the corner.  This is only the beginning…



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