Category Archives: Campus News

At Home with Death: Reflections on a Residential College Tutorial

Balberg Tutorial at Movies

Death is a difficult topic to tackle, but Mira Balberg, assistant professor of religion and Willard Faculty Fellow, found an intriguing way to make the subject accessible to students living in the Willard Residential College. With plates of cookies handy and a variety of ancient and modern texts as guides, Balberg created a powerful 21st-century academic learning experience. Modeled on the Greek symposium, the residential college tutorial brought together a small group of avid learners in a lively conversation in a non-classroom setting. In designing the tutorial, Balberg was inspired by the wisdom of the ancients, “who famously believed that an awareness of death and an ability to look death ‘in the eye’ as it were, is the key to good, meaningful living.”

As in many other things, the ancient Greeks were the first to get it right: they considered the most meaningful and enjoyable form of learning to be a conversation, which takes place not in a classroom but in a banquet hall. The Greek symposium was essentially a small gathering of friends who dined together while discussing a topic of choice, considering intellectual stimulation to be the flavor of the evening. The Greeks thought of the process of learning itself as a feast, in which, as Plato described it, “wisdom flows from one to the other like wine into glasses,” and found it only appropriate that it would be conducted as such.

Can a college class in the twenty-first century follow the model of the Greek symposium? Insofar as wine, sofas and hired musicians in the background are concerned, probably not: but insofar as genuine, lively conversation taking place in a non-classroom setting among a small group of avid participants is concerned, I discovered that the answer is a resounding yes. It’s called a Residential College Tutorial, and as a faculty fellow at Willard Residential College I had the fortune of teaching one of those in the spring of 2014.

A Residential College Tutorial is a small class, 8 to 10 students, which is offered specifically in one of Northwestern’s 11 residential colleges and is usually designated for the students living in that college. In some ways, it is no different from other college classes: tutorials count for credit and include obligations such as homework and paper writing. But it differs from a standard class in time, in place, and most of all, in feel. Tutorials take place in the late afternoon or evening, in the residential colleges themselves, and as such they generate continuity between two aspects of the college experience that are often conceived as completely disparate from one another: learning and living. A tutorial brings those two together, and therefore generates what is the key both to good learning and to good living: a sense of community. This sense of community is maintained not just during the formal part of the class, but also in going to dinner together as a group afterwards, or in going out to see a class-related movie together, as we have done. It is these seemingly inconsequential things that melt the boundary between disparate areas of college life and make it all the more meaningful – for students and professors alike.

And so it was: once a week ten students and I would gather in the Willard Library. Notable in their absence were laptops, tablets, smart phones and any other modes of distraction. Notable in their presence were cookies, which were a staple of our meetings – not just because of the usual peckishness of 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon, but also to make the point that we are, at least symbolically, partaking in a feast of learning. More notable, however, was what every student brought with him or her to each meeting: a well-crafted and pre-meditated series of thoughts and insights on the readings we were about to discuss that day, which each student wrote down and sent to me ahead of time. The students’ written responses provided the fuel for a lively and vibrant discussion, at the center of which stood a three-way encounter: between the students themselves, between them and me as an instructor, and between us and the third “participant” in our meetings – a silent participant which we have gradually started befriending – Death.

Indeed, the topic of the class was death. More accurately, it was the manner in which human beings confront death, their own or their loved ones’. In this choice of topic, too, I was inspired by the wisdom of the ancients, who famously believed that one’s entire life was essentially a preparation for death, and more importantly, that an awareness of death and an ability to look death “in the eye” as it were, is the key to good, meaningful living. In our own society, in which death is very much ignored if not entirely denied, and is removed from the realm of everyday life into the specialized care of professionals, this wisdom seems to have been forgotten. But death, as we know, remains a reality that we all, at one point or another, encounter nonetheless, now oftentimes without any conceptual or emotional tools to deal with it. As a scholar of Religion, I find the manners in which different religious and philosophical traditions confronted and explained death to be absolutely fascinating. I see death as a particularly potent and powerful prism through which we can explore the diversity of human communities and the development and change in modes of thinking and behaving across time – two issues that I consider to be at the heart of any discipline in the Humanities. However, my interest in this topic is hardly purely intellectual. I fully subscribe to Socrates’ statement that “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and since I view death as a part of life – perhaps the most definitive part of life – I believe it must be examined rigorously, honestly, and courageously. This was the purpose that I set forth for this tutorial.

“Is it really possible to discuss death so openly and forwardly with a group of 19 and 20 year olds, who are in the prime of their (allegedly) care-free youth?” I asked myself before the tutorial started. But from very early on, I was surprised by how intensely engaged and committed the students were to this examination of death (and, naturally, of life). For some students, who have suffered losses of close family members, this topic was very personal; but even for those who did not experience death in their immediate environment, the questions we discussed were poignant and, I dare say, emotionally and cognitively urgent. This was a journey on which everyone was eager to embark, and fortunately for us, we had great guides to lead us through this journey. From the Greek poet Homer to the Roman philosopher Seneca, from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to American journalist Mary Roach, we spent each session with the works of wonderful (and very different) writers who spent a lot of time contemplating death and who gave us much to think about, with, and against. However, as fabulous as these guides were, I believe much of the success of the journey had to do with the fellow travelers: with the fact that we explored these texts and questions together, looking at and listening to each other, sharing thoughts, fears, and doubts, and no less importantly – sharing laughter. A lot of it.

Throughout this entire quarter, one sentence kept on recurring to me in respect to this tutorial: that’s how it should be. College education, at its best, is an opportunity to examine the world audaciously from within a supportive, warm, and friendly community of like-minded examiners. Residential College Tutorials prove that in can be this way, and that putting emphasis on human contact – between students and professor, between one student and another, and between students and powerful ideas of people from other times and places – has the power to make higher education truly significant for all those involved.

10 Ways to Brighten Up Your Winter Quarter

Winter Quarter at NorthwesternPolar vortex got you down? Here are 10 things going on around campus to make Winter Quarter your favorite quarter.

10. Northwestern Basketball
Football season is over, but the Big Ten athletic action continues at Welsh-Ryan Arena–a brisk walk or quick shuttle ride away from the main Evanston campus. Admission is free for students, so check out the full schedules for the men’s and women’s teams and come support your Wildcats!

9. Ice Skating and Skiing at Norris
Even if you didn’t make the cut for Sochi 2014, you can still strap on some ice skates and take a spin around the Norris Center ice rink. And while you won’t find any black diamond runs on campus, you can always rent cross-country skis from Norris Outdoors and glide along the snowy lakefront.

8. Free Admission to the Art Institute of Chicago
Thanks to a new partnership with the University, undergraduate students now have completely free access to the Art Institute of Chicago during normal operating hours. A “Northwestern Night” kicking off the partnership will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 23. All Northwestern alumni, faculty, staff (and their friends and families) will have free admission that night, too!

7. NU Nights
Superman or Batman? Marvel Comics or DC Comics? Dress up as your favorite caped crusader for “Superhero Bingo” at 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17., at Norris.

6. Block Museum of Art Reopening
If the Art Institute didn’t give you enough of an artistic fix, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is reopening at 2 p.m. Jan. 18, after being closed for renovations. Check out the full lineup of winter exhibitions, including “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940″ and “Steichen | Warhol: Picturing Fame.”

5. Shrek the Musical
The 72nd annual Northwestern Dolphin Show is all about the timeless journey of an ogre and a talking donkey rescuing an unconventional princess. America’s largest student-produced musical opens Jan. 24 and runs through Feb. 1 at Cahn Auditorium.

4. New Treats at Starbucks
The Starbucks in Norris underwent a facelift over the break and now features pastries and hot breakfast sandwiches from La Boulange. Cozy up to the fireplace or big-screen TV and enjoy a hot chocolate or your favorite coffee concoction.

3. Board Games Night
As long as you’re at Norris, you might as well stick around for Board Games Night with Dead City Productions. There’s nothing like a good round of Settlers of Catan to take the edge off of a cold winter night.

2. Dance Marathon
It’s the biggest fundraiser/dance party on campus and marks the beginning of the end of Winter Quarter. This year’s beneficiary is Team Joseph, which raises money in the fight against Duchenne muscular dystrophy. If you’re not already involved as a dancer or committee member, stop by the NUDM tent to watch the fun. Will another fundraising record be broken this year?

1. Snow
As you’ve already noticed, Northwestern gets lots of snow in the winter. Make sure you take some time to enjoy it! Organizing a snowball fight, making snow angels or just creating some footprints in the fresh powder while walking around the snow globe-like campus are great ways to blow off steam and embrace the beautiful side of the cold weather. Happy winter!

University Library in Winter

Bringing TEDx to Northwestern

Nikita Ramanujam, a junior double majoring in learning and organizational change and French horn performance, is the student organizer of TEDx NorthwesternU 2014. Read about why she wanted to host the “genius talks” event at NU and how you can get involved. The event is scheduled for April 12 in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum.

This summer while interning in Boston, I watched A LOT of TED talks. They were my way of keeping grounded and staying inspired. I noticed many of these talks were taking place at universities and I wondered why Northwestern didn’t have a TEDx event. Over the past two years at NU, I had heard some of the most insightful, educated and brave thoughts coming from my peers and professors. We’re a world-renowned institution and our alumni are some of the most recognized across a variety of fields and disciplines. As the TED Talks slogan says, Northwestern definitely has ideas worth spreading.

I submitted an application last July and on Sept. 23 I received a phone call informing me that my license had been approved. From there I began to search for a faculty advisor and a student executive board. I came across Michele Weldon, the director of the Public Voices Fellowship and assistant professor emerita in Medill. We selected our executive board from over 55 student applicants and began planning TEDx NorthwesternU 2014. I’ve been so fortunate to meet some of the most qualified, passionate, and humbling people at Northwestern through this experience. I’m constantly learning from them, and it’s already been such a wonderful journey.

Together we hope to provide a platform for ideas to be heard and passions to be shared. This is going to be an event that unites our community and we truly can’t wait. We will be featuring nine speakers: three students, three faculty members and three alumni. Applicants can submit a one minute video with a description of their talk on our website by January 15, 11:59 PM. Applicants will be notified by February 1st.

What’s NU: Halloween Edition

Wednesday, October 30

Peter Singer: Effective Altruism: What It Is and Why We Should Do It
7-8:30 p.m., Harris Hall, Room 107
Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, will speak at the event. He serves on the advisory board of Academics Stand Against Poverty and of Incentives for Global Health. Singer as also published various books. Join the Buffet Center, NUCHR, One Book One Northwestern and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities for this exciting event! Admission is free.

“Nosferatu” Screening
9 p.m., Dittmar Gallery at Norris University Center
Attend a free screening of the classic silent film “Nosferatu.” Light refreshments will be served, and the film will be accompanied by live music performed by DJ, Mufasa the Philofasa.

Halloween Spooktacular
11:45 p.m-1 a.m., Alice Millar Chapel
Celebrate Halloween with an assortment of spooky organ music, singing and storytelling! Costumes are encouraged and there are free treats! Doors open at 11:30 p.m. Admission is free.

 

Thursday, October 31 

 The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (repeats Friday and Saturday)
7:30-10 p.m., Theatre and Interpretation Center
Enjoy the tunes and laughs at this hilarious and touching Tony Award-winning musical! Directed by Northwestern University alumnus Adam Goldstein, the show’s characters learn that winning isn’t everything and champions come in all shapes and sizes. Tickets are $30 for the general public, $27 for seniors and NU faculty/staff, $10 for full-time students and $5 for NU students (advance purchase only).

Contemporary Music Ensemble
7:30-9:30 p.m., Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Listen to the beautiful sounds of contemporary music, conducted by artistic director and co-founder Alan Pierson. Pierson regularly collaborates with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw and John Adams. Tickets are $6 for the general public and $4 for students.

 

Friday, November 1

Free Play Game Day
12:30-11:30 p.m., Game Room at Norris University Center
Enjoy free gaming, free popcorn and the chance to win a free video game of your choice! The drawing will be held on Monday, Nov. 4. This social event is free for students.

Field Hockey v. Ohio State
2-4 p.m., 2247 Campus Drive
Come support your ‘Cats as they play the OSU Buckeyes. Admission is free for undergraduate students.

Halloween Kirtan Dance Party
7-9 p.m., Parkes Hall, The Oratory
Come experience kirtan – live music that includes audience singing and dancing! There will be guest musicians from NU and Chicago, featuring instruments from around the world. This night of transcendence is hosted by the Bhakti Yoga Society.

The Hundred Dresses (repeats Saturday)
7-9 p.m., Theatre and Interpretation Center
In this musical adaptation of Eleanor Estes’ book, watch the story of Wanda Petronski and explore what it means to have courage. Directed by acclaimed Northwestern faculty member Rives Collins, the show is $10 for adults, $8 for kids and $5 for Northwestern students.

Hang Out at the Block Spot, Engage with the Arts

The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art unveiled a new space last week where the Northwestern community and museum visitors can relax, study and meet with friends. Known as the Block Spot, the new lounge in the first-floor lobby of the museum features wi-fi, comfy chairs, chalkboard walls and study spaces. Watch the video below to take a peek inside the new space and meet Susy Bielak, the Block’s new associate director of engagement, who has plans for new interactive and educational programs when the museum reopens in January. Read more