Bernhardsson leads expansion of Gaudino initiative on danger

Current Gaudino Scholar Magnus Bernhardsson, professor of history and chair of international studies, has continued and expanded the Gaudino initiative this year through incorporating the theme of “danger” into courses, forums and other extracurricular activities that encourage students to engage in unconventional learning.  

The Gaudino Fund, founded by students of the late Professor Robert Gaudino, sponsors the Gaudino Scholar program, which supports the current tri-annual initiative. The Gaudino program strives “to promote uncomfortable learning at Williams,” according to Bernhardsson.

The three-year initiative began modestly, when Bernhardsson arranged three forums focused on the identification of danger last year. Approximately 12 professors from various departments spoke regarding danger in their personal lives and in their personal fields of research (“Professors welcome danger at Gaudino Forum,” Nov. 9). When students and faculty expressed interest in the forums, Bernhardsson worked to expand the program for this year. Following the Committee on Educational Policy’s approval of the initiative in April (“Faculty approve changes to academic requirements and Gaudino program,” April 11), the Gaudino curriculum now includes 18 courses in different departments.

In constructing courses to fall under the danger initiative, Bernhardsson collaborated with various professors to create new courses or modify existing ones. Smaller departments did not always have enough electives to incorporate the danger theme this year, but Bernhardsson is optimistic for next year. “These [dangerous] aspects are at home in every discipline,” he said.

This fall, about 130 students have enrolled in 10 courses marked as Gaudino initiative courses, including classes such as “Dangerous Exposures: Environment, Immunity, and Infectious Disease” in the biology department; “Catastrophe/Apocalypse: The Movie” in the English department; and the tutorial “Financial Crises: Causes and Cures” in the economics department. Course offerings under the danger initiative span all three divisions.

Eight additional courses will be available this spring. One such course offered in the English department incorporates experiential education and will take place in the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction. The class, led by Associate Professor of English Christian Thorne, will consist of approximately eight students of the College and eight inmates at the facility.

Students enrolled in danger courses will meet at two forums this fall to present what they have learned. One to two students from each fall danger course will be selected to present at one forum.

In addition to the four forums, several other on-campus events have been designed or created to reflect the Gaudino theme. These activities include public lectures, play readings, movie screenings and music and dance performances. Like the forums, they are fully open to all College students.

Bernhardsson is pleased with the level of interest in the program, particularly because he considers the theme of danger relevant to many contemporary studies. “Today’s dangerous ideas could be passé tomorrow, and  things that are dangerous sometimes form the basis of progress,” he said.