Professors share insights during Williams Thinking

On Monday night, Professors C. Ondine Chavoya, Lee Park and Justin Crowe ’03 presented talks as part of the ongoing Williams Thinking lecture series. The series, which began in the summer of 2011, aims to share the ideas and research of the College’s faculty with the broader community. These 20-minute talks deal with matters currently prevalent on campus and showcase faculty expertise. The night’s event, emceed by President Falk, was free and open to the public.

The first to speak was Chavoya, associate professor of art and Latina/o studies. He presented a talk titled “Mobilizing the Mural.” Chavoya focused on the 1970s Chicano art group Asco and a particularly famous mural created by the group in 1972. Having recently curated an exhibition currently at the Williams College Museum of Art of the group’s work titled “Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective 1972-1787,” Chavoya said that the point of his talk was to think about the power of the mural as a form of performance art and to examine how its meaning has changed over time.  He also focused on putting the image within important historical contexts.

Park, a professor of chemistry, spoke second. Her talk, titled “Designing Nanoarchitecture,” focused on her research in chemistry and nanotechnology. She joked that after she was asked by Williams Thinking to talk about something big, she decided to talk about something really, really small. Park discussed methods of constructing polymers that were both similar to and completely different from macro forms of creation.  Her goal, she said, was to focus on “how we design and construct intricate structures at these astonishingly small length scales.” She focused on two approaches: “top-down,” which she likened to conventional construction, like a building or a sculpture, and “bottom-up,” which is unlike anything we use at a macro scale. Bottom-up nanoarchitecture depends on concepts such as how proteins self-assemble.

Lastly, Crowe, assistant professor of political science, presented “In Search of the Center.” He opened with a discussion of the literal center of America in Bell Fourche, S.D., as written about by journalist Dan Barry. Despite the absence of even a gift shop, the town itself makes it clear that “the centers of things matter,” Crowe said. Crowe’s work is “systematically in search of them.” He discussed two meanings of the center: the literal midpoint between or within things and the core or heart of a single thing. Though “we valorize the former,” he said, Crowe also suggested that we should focus on the latter.

That point in South Dakota conjures something quintessentially American, according to Crowe. The drive to find centers is omnipresent, but “funny things happen searching for the center,” he said, lamenting that instead of searching for the genuine center, people “take the easier, imposter center.” He cited gambling on Native American reservations, rather than experiencing the culture, as an example  to illustrate the way “convenience lets us out of doing the real work of citizenship in favor of the fake work of tourism.

“Finding the center should be central,” Crowe said, going on to clarify that he did not mean compromise. “As long as we take the search for the center to heart,” he said, “we will never be left without one.”

Falk gave closing remarks, and from there the conversation moved outside Paresky Auditorium to the reception. Over snacks, all three speakers remarked upon the differences between the lectures they gave and the lectures they give every day in classrooms. One important differ-ence they remarked on is that with a Williams Thinking lecture, you cannot wrap things up next time if you do not finish.

The lectures will be available to view on the College’s website within the next few weeks. “I’m pleased to be able to share with our local community the type of intellectual stimulation that’s available every day to our students,” Falk said. “And, I’m excited that the Williams Thinking webpage allows people outside of Williamstown, especially alumni and prospective students, to experience some of the remarkable teaching that takes place here.”

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