Students find unique academic opportunities through Symposium on Torture
Monday, Mar 9, 2009
Whitman’s recent Symposium on Torture and the Human Body, sponsored by the Global Studies Initiative, was supposed to be a three-hour symposium. But it went longer – close to four hours, as noted authors on the subject, and Whitman student panelists and the general public continued on, not ready to end a significant intellectual exploration and discussion.
“The students really bowled me over with their intelligence, wit and poise. Impressive – and incontrovertible – testimony to what you are achieving at Whitman,” reported Mark Danner to an event organizer. Danner is a contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books who also holds professorships at Bard College and The University of California at Berkeley and is author of “Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror.”(New York Review Books, 2004)
“There was a sense of discussion rather than a lecture,” said Adam Chapman ’09, Whitman student panelist, about what he thought was unique about the symposium and meaningful for him educationally.
Chapman, a philosophy major and one of the three student panelists, said that while the symposium involved learning much information from the invited experts, he also appreciated the opportunity to offer his own perspective.
About a week before the event, Chapman was given a speech by one of the presenters, and was assigned to prepare his own response to it. Two other student panelists also prepared remarks: Nadim Damluji ’10 and Valerie Lopez ’09.
“The Global Studies Steering Committee is to be commended on the format of the symposium,” said Lori Bettison-Varga, provost and dean of the faculty.
“Including student voices and perspectives in response to the panelists’ presentations was innovative, and it was in keeping with the intellectual community we have at Whitman where students are encouraged to gain their own voice.”
Chapman said participating in the symposium helped him in various ways. He’s preparing a thesis on a similar subject, “just war theory,” and the symposium helped him to synthesize the thesis information and made him more aware of the importance and relevancy of his thesis.
Being a panelist also gave him a rare public opportunity to speak about and converge issues he’d been studying. He said it was an honor to be on a panel that included Danner, Darius Rejali and Stephanie Athey.
Rejali, professor of political science, Reed College, is the author of Democracy and Torture (Princeton University Press, 2007), and Athey, associate professor of English at Lasell College, has published articles on representations of torture and is completing a book titled Torture’s Echo: News, Memoir and Fiction since 2001.
The symposium’s purpose was to discuss torture from historical, legal and ethical standpoints and Shampa Biswas, associate professor of politics and director of global studies at Whitman, said she thinks the event was a huge success.
“The presentations came at the issue of torture from very different places and perspectives and were thoughtful and provocative,” she said. “The student and faculty respondents raised excellent critiques and questions that pushed the discussion in new directions.
“In all, this was an intellectually sophisticated, yet accessible, conversation on a very difficult and controversial issue.”
And what better place to have it then on this campus, which focuses on the life of the mind.
Chapman, from Bend, Ore., said Whitman was his top college choice, in part because of a campus visit. He said while conversing with students on the topic of what education truly is, why it was important to them, he noticed that absent from their priority list was the goal of “just cramming facts into their brains to prepare for tests.”
He knew then this was where he wanted to be.
- Virginia Grantier