The Triumph of Spectacle

Venturing A Different Vision

The topics covered each year in Nebraska Wesleyan’s Visions and Ventures symposium are often outside the scope of most American colleges. Fully engaged in preparing their students to fill this or that professional niche, some colleges view nebulous cultural issues like these as mostly peripheral.

But liberal arts institutions accept a unique additional burden. The liberal arts university seeks to give its graduates a comprehensive understanding of the larger systems in which they will work, think and live.

Nebraska Wesleyan professors make students better communicators; they teach something at least as valuable as any traditionally vocational skill. They teach students how to pursue, recognize and articulate the truth.

In addition to teaching in the Communication Studies Department, Hawk chairs the university’s forum committee, which selects Visions and Ventures’ topics and speakers. She said the symposium plays a special role in preparing students in this liberal arts model. “I hear from juniors and seniors who say their first Visions and Ventures experiences left their heads spinning,” Hawk said. “But they stick with it. They grapple with complex issues, and grow more and more comfortable on unfamiliar terrain. It’s a journey.”

It's not that they've done everything by the time they become seniors. But they have a lot more experience doing things they've never done before.

Gilligan confirmed Hawk’s view. “The purpose of Visions and Ventures isn’t to present information and conclusions all wrapped up with a nice bow. Instead, they give us an opportunity to use the critical thinking skills that we’re here at Nebraska Wesleyan to develop. It is a crucial experience that we’re lucky to have.”

The more comfortable students are in engaging these speakers and dealing with conflicting views, the better they’ll be at solving problems and resolving conflict in the future.

Professor of English Scott Stanfield sees similar progress in his courses. He’s heartened to see the difference between first year students and seniors. He said, “It’s not that they’ve done everything by the time they become seniors. But they have a lot more experience doing things they’ve never done before.” They’re comfortable with the new and confident in their own ability to learn and decipher the truth.

Nebraska Wesleyan graduates are skeptical of spectacle. In this culture, that might be the liberal arts’ most redeeming and spectacular accomplishment.