Speaker Series Explores Education Across Disciplines

This semester, the Educative Studies Initiative kicked off its second interdisciplinary speaker series. The series, which hosted its first event on Sept. 27, invites speakers from different academic backgrounds to campus to discuss issues relating to education.

The series is the product of a proposal for an education studies major, which developed after an outpour of student interest in recent years. Though opportunities in education studies have been available through the five colleges, the initiative aims to provide opportunities directly on campus for students to study education.

Leah Gordon, visiting professor of education studies and the series’ organizer, said that the idea for the series sprouted from student desire to hear more academic perspectives within the field of education studies.

“Part of the idea launching the education studies initiative was that there would be ways to build intellectual community and excitement about the study of education on campus,” she said, adding that the series would allow students and faculty to discuss matters “both in K-12 and higher education and … concerns with diversity and equity issues.”

Gordon sees the interdisciplinary component of the series as a way to introduce students to the different forms that the academic study of education can take. While the series’ first speaker of the year, David Fowler, discussed education from a historical perspective, Derron Wallace, who will speak at the college next semester, is trained as a sociologist.

American studies and English professor Karen Sanchez-Eppler, who is among the faculty and staff working on the proposal, sees the education studies initiative as a way to explore some of society’s most important issues in an academic setting.

“[Education studies] sees a pressing social problem and makes it a curricular node,” she said, noting that educational inequality is a social justice cause that is receiving increased attention from students.

Beyond the support received from the Lewis-Sebring Foundation, events within the series are also co-sponsored by a variety of departments across campus, including the Latinx and Latin American studies, anthropology and English departments, as well as the Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning.

“I wanted this to be a place where [the students] could see all of the exciting work going on in a range of disciplinary areas … so they see models of what the academic study of education looks like and how exciting and rigorous it is,” Gordon said.

Sanchez-Eppler also noted the ways that the education studies initiative will bring together different areas of study on campus, pointing to the mixture of disciplines seen within the faculty and staff working on the proposal.

“I’m finding that from speaker to speaker there’s a lot of the same students who come to [the events] and I hope those students are then going off and talking about the talks and how they compare to one another,” Gordon said.

The events are not just for students, but also for others across the greater Amherst community interested in educational research. Along with Amherst students, faculty within the five colleges, graduate students and other community members have attended the events.

“I think building community with other scholars and thinkers in the five college area around issues of education and questions related to educational research was another of my goals,” she said.

The next event, “Staging Blackqueer Lives in Anti-Black Queer Times: Visual Possibilities, Poetics and Resistance,” will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 5:30 p.m. in Paino Lecture Hall. The talk will feature Durell Callier, assistant professor of educational leadership at Miami University.