Square One Magazine attends Black History Month at York St John University.
By Tia Byer
On Wednesday 25th October lecturers from York St John University’s School of Humanities, Religion and Philosophy spoke about Black History Month. This talk was entitled Black History Month and the Atlantic Imagination. The showcase of information included staff engaging in personal responses to Black cultural History and important events that have impacted on Black identities. From discussions about Marvel comics and diversity to the Funk legacy of the Belville Three, I came away from the event feeling like I had learnt a lot.
My favourite response came from Dr Helen Pleasance’s, ‘Cotton: Touching Transatlantic Lives’. This section of the showcased looked at the connection between the American Civil War and cotton production here in the North of England. The discussion focused on Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 ‘Letter to the Working-man of Manchester’. Lincoln thanked mill workers for their anti-slavery stance. During the height of slavery cotton production resulted in great fortune on both sides of the Atlantic. However, Lancashire mill workers joined the protest against the Slave Trade. They showed support for the Northern Union of the United States war against the evils of slavery by refusing to touch any cotton picked by slaves. It was an extraordinary gesture. Protests would have come at a personal sacrifice to the workers, and the families that they had to support.
This event not only made me think about the ways certain transatlantic moments helped stimulate the Black History Month, but it inspired me to engage with the ongoing movement. Going forward, I intend to read, watch and listen to the films, records and scholarly work staff identified as vital to understanding the significance of this month and all that it celebrates. It was a thoroughly enlightening discussion; well researched and immensely interesting. I give it ten out of ten for inspiration.
An Interview with Dr Adam Smith- Course Leader of the new Liberal Arts Foundation Year.
By Tia Byer
York St John is delving into the liberal arts. As of September 2017, the university is offering students the opportunity to take a Liberal Arts Foundation Year. The university is experiencing some extensive changes in terms of widening their study programmes. With new Undergraduate Degrees being offered, such as Police Studies, the university’s staff have certainly been busy in broadening York St John’s field of study. One such lecturer is Dr Adam Smith. Adam is the Course Leader of the brand new Liberal Arts foundation course. What are the Liberal Arts, I hear you ask? Well, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam on this very subject just the other day. Here is what I found out.
How would you describe the foundation course for Liberal Arts?
“It’s a foundation course in Liberal Arts, obviously, as you say. It is designed with the express intention in mind of widening participation- so making university more accessible for more people. People who have decided to take the foundation year may have done so for a variety of reasons. So it could be that they have been out of education for a long time, or perhaps have never been in higher education. It is also geared towards people who have recently finished their A Levels but perhaps just don’t feel like they want to go straight into undergraduate study. A lot of it is about building confidence and helping students feel part of a broader community. Some people have taken alternative paths to get here, so they may not have done traditional A Levels, they may have an equivalent. There are lots of reasons why people may want to take the course but the course is there to foster community, build confidence and introduce students to a range of different approaches that are applicable to all the different disciplines that they might go on to. It will promote critical thinking and also communication.”
How would you say a foundation course differs from an Undergrad degree?
“Well one of the things that is really exciting about the foundation year, is that because it focuses on Liberal Arts, which is this old, ancient tradition that can be traced back to antiquity, it looks at concepts that are applicable to lots of different specific disciplines without having to stay in one discipline all the time. Students that are taking this course will go on to do all kinds of things like English, History, Geography, Criminology, Languages- loads of different types of courses. And on that degree, they will specialize in that course, so they will learn about the methodologies of that course, the parameters of that discipline and the approaches within it. The key difference with this one is that students are going to experience not only key concepts that are transferable to all those different disciplines, but they get to do sessions that are in disciplines that they might not otherwise have done- which is quite exciting. Also, in terms of the teaching team, it’s very different from an undergraduate degree where you would get, usually speaking, you’d have one tutor for each seminar and then different staff from a relatively small teaching team coming in each week to deliver the lectures. Over the foundation year, we have thirty-seven different academics from all different backgrounds coming in to do separate sessions as part of course. So, though they have constant contact with me, they get to meet a huge variety of academic staff and researchers. The course will be really different and unique.”
“A lot of it is about building confidence and helping students feel part of a broader community”.
You are predominately an English Literature lecturer, why the Liberal Arts?
“How have I ended up working on Liberal Arts? Well, I am the course leader and I was heavily involved in designing this course. The Liberal Arts is more of an approach than a discipline. It is kind of a philosophy really that is about critical thinking and communication. Like I say, it heralds from the tradition that goes all the way back to antiquity, and often it has a big emphasis on citizenship as well or prompting scholars of Liberal Arts or students to think about that: to think about themselves as citizens, and in relation to a state. And that has been used in different ways and different places to promote certain ideologies. But I think fundamentally it is just about helping and promoting the idea that everyone is in some kind of relationship with the state- which is exactly what my research has always been about. So first of all, I would consider that literature as a discipline would be part of a broader Liberal Arts suite of subjects. But also my research which is on political newspapers is all about the relationship between the citizen and the state and how that is articulated and reconfigured through literature. So my actual research interests are very close to the philosophical pillars of Liberal Arts, and I was asked to do this because of those reasons.”
What are your hopes for the future, in terms of this programme?
“Well, I hope that the students who are taking the course will have a really exciting year. I hope it will promote intellectual curiosity, and that they will feel confident that they will have a wide variety of skill sets that will help them through any degree programme they go on to. Long term I would like the course to continue and broaden participation. Personally, as a university, I would like to see us develop an Undergraduate programme in the Liberal Arts or some kind of pathway that could be incorporated into different degrees so that everyone can experience some of what these foundation students are going to be experiencing this year.”
This course definitely seems to be exciting new dimension York St John’s academic sphere. I have to admit that after meeting Adam and hearing about this exciting new course I am slightly jealous that it did not already exist when I applied for university. But alas, I was born too soon. Regrets aside, I wish on behalf of the whole of Square One magazine the very best of luck to our first year Liberal Arts Foundation students. It certainly sounds like an opportunity that will not disappoint.
The official student magazine of York St John University returns for the 2016/17 academic year. In this special issue we have everything you need to survive and thrive in fresher’s week, handy tips on university life and maybe most importantly the best bars and clubs, all the events happening during the week, plus lots more!
Coming this September, the very first Square One Fresher’s Guide. With everything you need to survive and thrive in fresher’s week, handy tips on university life and maybe most importantly the best bars and clubs, plus lots lots more! Stay tuned in to find out more.
Welcome to Square One. The website is up and running so have a browse. The magazine is aimed at the city of York and is produced and run by the students of York St John University, mainly focusing on the arts, culture and creativity.
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