Measuring the Possibilities of a New Semester, One Sonnet at a Time

This semester began with a fortuitous alignment of numbers. At the encouragement of a colleague, I decided to offer a course this semester in The Sonnet. It has been several years since I have taught an entire course focusing on the thousands of poetic creations in this enduring 14 line form.

As I was making final preparations for the class a few weeks ago, I noticed on the class roster that 14 students were enrolled. Coincidence? Okay, if you say so, but this was 2014 and our first class meeting was on January 14th. I didn’t check to see if there were 14 inches of snow outside. Enough numbers were aligned to step forward into the 14th century and measure our way one quatrain at a time all the way to the 21st.

Now the numbers vary. This week a fifteenth student enrolled in the class. Some snow has melted, some more has accumulated. Some days demand boots and some others, at about 14 degrees, require extra layers. The daily planner forecasts our busy days, appointments and commitments while outside the winter days lengthen by one bright moment each day. But who’s counting?

Dr. Jonathan Lupo: In His Own Words

With a new semester well on its way, Bradley’s back porch is once more a busy place. It will be my privilege in the year ahead to introduce various colleagues and students and let them speak about the things that matter to them. Meet Dr. Jonathan Lupo who joined our Department last year after establishing his teaching and scholarly career in the Department of Communication at Colorado State University. -GB

Dr. Jonathan Lupo

Dr. Jonathan Lupo

One of the perks of writing and teaching about movies, television, and other aspects of popular culture is that it’s a perfect opening to discuss what people are watching, reading, and listening to and what they think about it. Whether it’s a “did you see that?” (the controversial performance of Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards) or “you must see that” (all of Breaking Bad and Mad Men), these are conversations I love to have. Since joining the English department last year, I’ve been lucky to have many of them – spirited discussions in class, lively exchanges with students in my office, and illuminating talks with colleagues in the halls of Bradley and over lunch in the Coffee Shop.

For me, these conversations are not simply commentary on the popular or ephemeral but fascinating windows into how people make sense of themselves and the world around them, made even more complex as they occur in a media-saturated society such as ours. What people are talking about (or not), and more importantly, how they are talking about it, is at the heart of why I study communication. The National Communication Association (the academic organization for the field) defines the field of communication as “focus[ing] on how people use messages to generate meanings within and across various contexts, cultures, channels, and media." While these concerns are hardly the sole province of Communication Studies, I am proud to be part of a discipline that foregrounds them.

While it’s clear that I’m personally most interested in the mediated aspects of communication, this is only one facet of the forms of symbolic expression by which we structure ourselves and our world. As scholars and teachers of communication, we’re also interested in how communication works between individuals, groups, families and organizations. We’re interested in the rhetoric of media images and sounds. We’re interested in the politics of representation. We’re interested in the way that language and its use helps us form identity and community.

Ultimately, I am gratified to be part of a department and College that values the study of communication as a key feature of the liberal arts educational experience. My colleague Chani Marchiselli, who joined the department faculty with me last year, says it best: “As teachers, this liberal arts orientation takes shape first in learning what communication strategies, forms and uses of media communication best facilitate democratic participation in public culture. So, we’re invested in helping students to become articulate citizens in the immediate community and in the world. Also, as a liberal art, communication means to help you live well – to help you develop communication competencies that lead to richer and more pleasurable lives.”

For certain, no matter our majors or fields, we all want our words to have weight. We all want our interactions – personal and professional – to be meaningful. We all want to be mindful consumers of messages, too – to be engaged and inspired but also to be skeptical (without being cynical). Above all, no one wants to be misunderstood. Just ask Miley.

Conversatio: The Core Conversation

Lest I add to the misperception of professors having the summer “off,” you should know that I have done more in recent months than sit on a back porch, listen to frogs and seek out the gravesites of dead poets. Like most of my colleagues, I have spent many summer hours in solitude and with others attending to the significant thought and work that the inherent busyness of an academic year does not afford. One portion of that work for me this summer has been working with other faculty to complete the design of Conversatio, the first iteration of the new Humanities Program for incoming Saint Anselm students.

“Conver-what?” If this is your response, you are not the first one to be puzzled by this Latin word that occurs several times in the Rule of Saint Benedict and has been part of the vows professed by Benedictines ever since the sixth century. Simply, conversatio means “way of life.” In the context of the Rule it means “monastic way of life,” or the way men and women who vow to be Benedictine monks or sisters promise to live as individuals within their community.

For Saint Anselm students conversatio signals the “way of life” which they have chosen by coming to study within a Catholic, Benedictine Liberal Arts community. It also challenges them to begin to consider the way of life that they will ultimately choose for themselves. From its various biblical and other uses, conversatio carries the rich connotations of citizenship and conversion. Significantly it is also the root of our English word conversation.

For the past three years I have been engaged in hundreds of conversations with people on and off campus involved or interested in the shaping of a new core curriculum for the College. As my various roles in this process have evolved, these conversations have frequently been intense, sometimes contentious, usually rational, often fruitful, rarely brief, and nearly always passionate. In fact, despite the inevitable diverging viewpoints that are the source of life in any academic community, nearly every one of the core conversations I have had was with someone whose heartfelt concern was what they believed was best for Saint Anselm students.

Never has this been more the case than with the group of faculty and administrators with whom I have been working this summer to shape Saint Anselm’s new first year common learning experience. Our work began nearly a year ago and together we have read stacks of books, shared hours of inspired conversations, engaged in many lively debates, and made some really difficult choices. Our degrees and decades of teaching experience notwithstanding, each of us has read things that we had never read before. Together and individually we have reflected upon our own way of life, our own cherished beliefs and what our greatest hopes and greatest fears are for the students we are privileged to teach.

Now in only a few weeks all of those hours of our thoughtful speculation and imagining will give way to real life as we inaugurate Conversatio by welcoming a significant cohort of the Class of 2017 into our seminars. We share some of the anxiousness of what NASA engineers must feel before the actual launch of an intricately designed and innovative machine. We also share the cautious optimism and excitement of an author and cast of a new play on the eve of its public debut. Personally, I am very hopeful that in the years ahead, Conversatio will inspire on this campus thoughtful, substantive and even life altering conversations.  I report that in the year that has passed, it already has.