Piero Guerra, who is majoring in international relations with a focus on Asian and Latin American regions, loves making connections between the policies he studies and the humanities. He’s especially interested in Indigenous studies, cultural studies, and, as he says, “learning about the people who are most affected by policies.” With fellow Institute for the Humanities Public Humanities Intern Lauren Ors, Guerra is working to create a newsletter for students all about the humanities. For this project, Ors honed her InDesign and Photoshop skills and is learning the Mailchimp email marketing platform.
“Being an English major,” Ors says, “I have lots of humanities conversations all about literature, and I’m excited about expanding into the humanities in other disciplines, and bringing these conversations into events, marketing, and planning.” These aspects align with her career goals, and she’s getting public-facing job experiences now.
As a first-generation college student, Guerra says one of his goals for the newsletter is to create “a single repository for job opportunities, interesting courses that might otherwise be hidden because they have no designation, and resources.” He’s passionate about making resources available to first-generation students. “It can be easy to forget for us [first-generation students] that these resources are for us, too,” he says.
Guerra and Ors are two of the eight students in the new year-long Public Humanities internship. The internship gives the students an opportunity to expand their understanding of the humanities and communicate the value of the humanities to their peers in the undergraduate community and the broader public, as well as gain valuable experience with program development and event marketing.
This year’s cohort includes undergraduate students who are studying a range of disciplines, bringing diverse perspectives from film, television, and media (FTVM), anthropology, political science, Afroamerican and African studies (DAAS), philosophy, classical studies, Asian languages and cultures (ALC), women’s and gender studies, American culture, and English to the public conversation.
Led by Stephanie Harrell, assistant director of undergraduate engagement and marketing, interns meet biweekly at the Institute. While each project is served by two lead interns, every member of the cohort contributes to each project, multiplying the opportunities for intersection of ideas and the learning of new skills.
Shaunda Bunton, assistant director of public programming and engagement, is floored by the creativity and commitment of this cohort. “My office is within earshot of their meeting room,” she says, “and the other day I heard a bunch of them getting together just for fun, planning events on their non-meeting day.”
Seniors Isabel Berg and Lola Yang are creating a podcast about the humanities, called “The Michigan 10,” because each episode runs about 10 minutes—perfect for students to listen to in between classes, Berg says. Students are the focus here, and Berg and Yang are seeking the participation of professors, graduate students, and fellows from the Institute who are doing projects with the local community on topics that range from gentrification in Ann Arbor to the culture of “ghosting.” Berg, who specializes in the technical side of the podcast production, would love for listeners to hear the sound of carillon bells from Burton Tower. Professor Tiffany Ng from the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, who plays the bells, shared an mp3 of those familiar chimes with the team.
Yuan Fang, a transfer student, and Toryanna Deyoung led an Institute for the Humanities gallery exhibition experience called “Don’t Swipe” for students at the end of 2022. Fang and Deyoung guided participants through the in-the-round art exhibition created by artist Salvador Díaz and led mindfulness exercises as well. Deyoung, a nontraditional student, musician, and artist, dreams of generating “real sustained change through legislation someday,” and views art as an access point for enacting meaningful social change.
Trey Droste and Celia Morones, a first-generation student, led the “Humanities Afrofutures” theme month in celebration of Black History Month in February. The theme is visionary, explored in art, music, literature, film, and political theory. It’s about Black people’s relationships to the future and technologies, and moving forward from a Black point of view, the interns explain.
The internship offers Droste and Morones a chance to get a closer look at the administrative side of planning creative events. Among other activities, they hosted a screening of the Afrofuturist musical film Neptune Frost at the State Theatre, invited students to a bingo game night centered on Afrofuturist authors, and attended a discussion featuring Hannah Beachler, production designer of the film Moonlight, the Black Panther film series, and Beyonce’s “Lemonade” video.
The interns are aware of a larger conversation about the humanities that is sometimes tinged with derision or even antipathy. But from their point of view, those bad vibes come from a place of ignorance, and that’s all the more reason for them to engage in this work. “I’ve encountered many people who are hostile to humanities,” Fang says. “But because I study philosophy,” Fang laughs, “I understand the theory of ‘demonization.’” She says that “being hostile to the humanities breeds a lack of sympathy for others.”
“There’s a law in the state where I’m from which determines state educational funding depending upon the major you choose,” Guerra says. “You get less money for studying the humanities. That scares me,” he says. The idea of the humanities being under attack motivated him to apply for the internship, to protect the humanities and to share their value.
At the end of the term, the interns invited U-M alumni who have earned a bachelor’s degree in the humanities (but no graduate degree in a non-humanities discipline) for a panel discussion about how LSA humanities graduates are living the humanities out in the world.
Yang speaks to the value of the humanities and their relevance to our daily lives, mentioning the pain of a recent spate of anti-Asian hate. “Specifically being in ALC courses,” she says, “I feel this more vividly—we have lots of students from different backgrounds in classes, but I may not see them speaking up for anti-Asian racism. That’s a cognitive dissonance that really disturbed me.” But, she says, public humanities might have a part in bridging that gap between learning and action, which is why she got involved in the internship.
“Public humanities is a great way to bridge that disconnect,” Yang says. “Not like, here’s a video, here’s a reading. More like, here’s an event. Here’s a conversation. Here’s a foundation for understanding. I hope we’re creating foundations for people who are interested in starting humanities conversations on their own.”
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