Oberlin’s first Public Intellectuals in a Changing World symposium launched this week, with a mission to foster impactful interdisciplinary and intercultural conversations. The event will consist of five panels and 15 different speakers and runs from Feb. 28 through March 2.
“This might be the first time that the College hosts an event that has a really grand ambition of combining all the different fields — arts, sciences, and music — together,” said Hsiu-Chuang Deppman, director of the Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures, director of East Asian Studies, professor of Chinese and Cinema Studies, and the organizer of the symposium. “So it really works with the two broad goals for liberal arts education — internationalization and interdisciplinary learning.”
The symposium kicked off cross-cultural dialogues yesterday with a showing of Faith in Ailao Mountain, directed by Zhang Ci and Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers, directed by Wu Wenguang. Wenguang also delivered a keynote speech titled “The Art of Unforgetting: A Folk Memory Project” earlier today. His most recent film, Investigating My Father, will be shown later tonight at 9 p.m. in Hallock Auditorium.
Many students who attended the showings left with new perspectives and felt inspired to learn more.
“I don’t have much knowledge [about China]” said College first-year Harper Ross. “It’s good that I have to branch out from my normal areas of interests.”
Deppman explained that the events are particularly powerful because they can communicate information to all individuals, regardless of culture, language, academic discipline, or geographical location.
“Art is a lingua franca,” Deppman said. “[All people] can use art to speak to people from different parts of the world.”
Many students echoed Deppman’s sentiments, expressing that the documentaries in particular had the unique ability to explain complex cultural issues and practices. “I feel like [American Oberlin] students are interested [in international culture], but sometimes I feel like I did not do a good job at presenting my own culture,” said first-year international student Rachel Fung. “Sometimes I have an idea, but I do not know how to explain it. [Art] is helpful, and I think that more students should come and see these things.”
Overall, the symposium hopes to promote understanding, and global communication in times of seemingly increasing divisions.
“This is the time for us to be together, to envision new possibilities.” Deppman said. “As of now, we feel that a storm is surging. There are so many ways of dividing borders, and creating boundaries. This symposium functions to see what possibilities are out there. I would categorize it with a Chinese expression, which was invented during the the warring period around the 5th century B.C: ‘Four seas as one family.’… It projects a peaceful optimistic vision of bringing people together and just to see that we are in this endeavor and adventure together.”
The organizers of Public Intellectuals in a Changing World hope that these events will continue to promote cultural understanding and communication at Oberlin College.
“The goal is to integrate language and the teaching of culture across the curriculum, across the different units of the College and the Conservatory,” said symposium co-organizer and Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian Stiliana Milkova. “To see the connections between different languages and cultures — nothing is in isolation, or in a vacuum.”
She also encourages students to take language courses during their time at Oberlin.
“Take advantage of what we have here at Oberlin,” she said. “Take languages, learn about other cultures. Languages give you access to another culture, to another way of thinking. That’s probably the best way to challenge your own preconceived notions.”