About the Program
SUNY New Paltz’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences boasts a panoply of disciplines from the humanities to the social sciences which engage with questions using everything from poetic prose to laboratory based statistics. While the liberal arts have never been more important in the development of an informed citizenry, it is important to reconsider, reimagine, and reaffirm their place in higher education and civic engagement. Focusing on a distinct theme each year, the "Without Limits" program aims to make connections among the many aspects of the liberal arts while inviting campus and community partners to investigate the meaning and role of liberal education in the twenty-first century.
2020-21 Theme: The End of the World as We Know It?
Inequality, Injustice and Trauma During the COVID-19 Crisis
COVID-19 is exposing longstanding precarity and inequity across political, economic, environmental and social contexts. While still unfolding, the impacts are already widespread, jarring and unevenly distributed. Yet there remain possibilities for cultivating resistance and reimagining the status quo. The 2020-2021 Without Limits series will grapple with the challenges and changes afforded by the COVID-19 crisis.
COVID-19: Trauma & Coping Faculty Panel
Tuesday, March 2 at 5 PM
Watch the Recording
Moderated by Isidoro Janeiro (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures)
“Trauma and ‘The Hunger Winter’: Lessons for the 21st Century” - Kristopher Jansma (Creative Writing)
Early in the pandemic, I began a series of weekly check-in phone calls with my grandmother, Oma, and I brought up my concerns about the impact that the pandemic would have on my young children. Oma began to relate stories of a similar period in her own childhood during the Nazi occupation of Holland at the end of WWII, known as “The Hunger Winter” because of the starvation caused when resources were cut-off from the Dutch people after a coordinated resistance. I’ll describe some of the ways in which fear and violence caused trauma that had lasting impacts on my grandmother’s physical and psychological health, and what that may tell us about the impact that the current pandemic may have on this generation of children. I’ll also discuss how narrative storytelling may give us ideas for ways to mitigate that impact over the long term.
“The Coronavirus in Context: A Guide for Coping” - Jonathan D. Raskin (Psychology)
I will discuss how understanding the role of contexts can help people cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Contexts are sets of presuppositions that shape a person’s experiences. Two very common contexts, mind and self, can inform our understanding of how people have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. The mind consists of a person’s defensive and protective postures in the face of perceived threat, whereas the self takes a broader perspective and emphasizes human connections and interrelatedness. Awareness of several mind/self contrasts—blame versus responsibility, insufficiency versus sufficiency, being at effect versus being at cause, and avoidance versus mastery—can help improve coping in face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Welcome to Adulthood!: Coming of Age During a Pandemic” - Karla Vermeulen (Psychology, Institute for Disaster Mental Health)
While the pandemic has impacted everyone globally, the particular form that impact takes is specific to individual characteristics – including developmental stage. Clearly there’s no good time of life to be locked down: Young kids are suffering from the delay of typical milestones and interactions that usually characterize childhood, while older adults may fear they don’t have enough time left to try to make up for missed experiences. What about emerging adults (ages 18 to 29), including most of our students? Building on past quantitative and qualitative research, I will explore how the pandemic has added yet another layer of stress, anxiety, disappointment, and trauma for a generation that was already dealing with the threat of school shootings and other disasters, climate change, racial injustice, socioeconomic inequities, and student loan debt. Yet they’re fighting to continue their education and to take on adult responsibilities, demonstrating a collective level of resilience we should all respect.
Kristopher Jansma is the author of Why We Came to the City and The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, winner of the Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the recipient of an honorable mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award. He has written for the New York Times, Chicago Quarterly Review, ZYZZVA, The Believer, Prairie Schooner, and Electric Literature. His work has been noted as distinguished in The Best American Short Stories 2016 and The Best American Essays 2014. He is an Associate Professor of English and the Director of Creative Writing at SUNY New Paltz. He lives in Westchester with his wife and two children.
Jonathan D. Raskin is a professor of psychology and counselor education at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He currently serves as chair of the Department of Psychology, which houses the psychology undergraduate program and graduate programs in counselor education and psychological science. In addition to his faculty work, Dr. Raskin is co-editor of the Journal of Constructivist Psychology. He is also a licensed psychologist who maintains an active private practice. Dr. Raskin’s research focuses on constructive meaning-based approaches in psychology and counselor education, especially their applications to understanding abnormality, counseling, and psychotherapy. Much of his scholarship builds on George Kelly’s personal construct theory and Ernst von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism, but he also incorporates social constructionism, narrative therapy, solution-focused therapy, context-centered therapy, and other constructivist approaches. Dr. Raskin is the author of the textbook Abnormal Psychology: Contrasting Perspectives.
Karla Vermeulen is an Associate Professor of Psychology, and the Deputy Director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health. She also oversees the Student Psychological Resilience Project, a new campus initiative which aims to destigmatize stigma around mental health issues and encourage well-being among students. Her research focuses on the impact of growing up in the post-9/11, disaster-filled world for today’s emerging adults. That will be the subject of her third book, Generation Disaster: Coming of Age Post-9/11, which will be published in 2021 as part of the Oxford University Press Emerging Adulthood series.
COVID-19: Global Perspectives Faculty Panel
Monday, April 19 at 5 PM
Watch the Recording
Moderated by Rebecca Longtin (Philosophy)
"Life, Debt, and the World Dollar Order" - Mona Ali (Economics)
Economic crises are protean in nature: they catapult change yet also entrench existing hierarchies. Responses to them reveal the inner workings of governance. The Coronavirus crisis arrived in a post-2008 global financial system in which central banks are thoroughly enmeshed in money markets. This hierarchical and hybrid regime is one which contractually privileges creditors; in which the dollar dominates over all other currencies; and where the preponderance of developing country debt is governed by foreign law namely that of England and New York State. The pandemic has meant that poorer economies are confronting potentially catastrophic debt defaults and a decade of lost growth. In the context of this crisis, I examine the destabilizing dynamics generated at the core of global capitalism via the global dollar financial cycle, the prevalence of foreign-law bonds in emerging market sovereign debt, and the encroachment of large institutional funds into developing economy bond markets. Rejecting the depoliticization of finance, I explore how we might defang and democratize this world dollar order.
“Whistleblowers, Little Pink, and Celebrity Scientists: China’s Social Media Culture in Pandemic Communication” - Yongli Li (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures)
Over the course of the pandemic, China's official media outlets have gradually changed their communication strategies with the public. Undoubtedly, social media has also played a crucial role in communicating pandemic information throughout the public since China's first outbreak. Looking at whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang to outspoken Wuhan Diary writer Fang Fang, and celebrity scientists Dr. Zhong Nanshan and Dr. Zhang Wenhong, one can better understand internet culture in China and how the information of pandemic has been circulated, popularized, and criticized by people in China. In this talk, I focus on the viral events on social media that have changed the dynamic between official and unofficial for pandemic communication continuously and hope to reveal how social media in China is being used to popularize scientific knowledge and the cultural consequences of this within China.
"The United Nations at 75: Passing the COVID Test?" (Political Science & International Relations)
The complex issues of the 21st century cannot be addressed by disparate actors in the global arena. This became even more apparent in 2020, during the 75th anniversary of the UN and the same year that the global Covid-19 pandemic began. The pandemic has put the UN system to the test demonstrating weaknesses in regard to peace and security, sustainable socioeconomic development, and human rights, the three core mission areas of the organization. The underlying tensions between the liberalism associated with UN’s human rights and socioeconomic development agendas and sovereignty under nationalist strong men as leaders throughout the world stood in the way of effective response. This is especially true as powerful states are able to thwart collective action in favor of their own perceived national interest. While the UN and its affiliated agencies, like the World Health Organization (WHO), are still able to foster cooperation, their success, is limited by the organization’s inability to establish some form of authority and command.
Mona Ali teaches courses in macroeconomics and international economics. Her work focuses on financial, monetary, and trade relations in the international economy. Her scholarship on American multinationals, global imbalances, Brexit, and the international monetary system has been published in the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the International Review of Applied Economics, and Political Quarterly among elsewhere. She received her PhD from the New School for Social Research in 2012. She is working on a book on the Anglo-American economies and the Coronavirus crisis.
Yongli Li is a Lecturer of Chinese Studies at the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and Asian Studies Program at the State University of New York, New Paltz. She earned her Ph.D. from University of California, Santa Barbara, and conducts research on cinematic representation of Shanghai in contemporary film and media productions. She is broadly interested in film history, media industry, and urban studies. At New Paltz, she teaches courses on East Asian culture and Chinese language.
Ş. İlgü Özler is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at SUNY New Paltz. She is the founder and director of the SUNY Global Engagement Program in New York City. Her previous research focused on civic engagement as it relates to political parties, non-governmental organizations and social movements. She has conducted research in Turkey, Mexico and Chile. Her most recent work focuses on human rights and global governance at the United Nations. Her publications appeared in various academic journals including Sociological Perspectives, Ethics and International Affairs, Representation, Journal of Civil Society, Democratization, Latin American Perspectives, Global Environmental Politics, Mexican Studies, and Turkish Studies. Her teaching has incorporated innovative experiential learning in courses related to the United Nations and global engagement through civil society organizations. She has been active in the United Nations Association and Amnesty International in various capacities. She served as an officer on the Board of Amnesty USA (2017-2020) focusing especially on global strategic planning and policy work. Özler received her Ph.D. in Political Science from University of California, Los Angeles (2003).
COVID-19: Communities of Color Faculty Panel
Wednesday, April 28 at 5 PM
Watch the Recording
Moderated by Kathleen Hunt (Communication)
“Corona, the Great Exposer: Impacts on Communities of Color and Policy Implications” - Carycruz Bueno (Brown University) and Cruz Caridad Bueno (Black Studies)
We argue that the Corona virus has not only worsened economic and social outcomes for POC but that it has brought to the surface pre-existing inequalities foundational to American Society. We explore the myriad intersectional discrimination people of color face—food insecurity, disproportional unemployment, housing insecurity, deportations, racialized violence, unequal access to education, inability to receive stimulus payments and small business loans—while being at the forefront of those considered essential workers and unable to work from home. We argue that sustained political activism, long-run expansionary fiscal policies, and reparations are key to improving the lives of POC and ensuring economic growth in the U.S.
“Race and Vaccine Attitudes among the Student Body: Discussion of Findings from a Campus Survey” - Benjamin Junge (Anthropology)
I will present results from an online vaccine-attitudes survey conducted among SUNY-New Paltz students during the Fall 2020 semester (n=341). The aim of the research was to identify correlates of acceptance and hesitancy around a safe-and-effective vaccine for COVID-19, prior to rollout. Attitudes examined concerns about the vaccine itself (concerns over side effects, toxicity, etc.), around vaccination policy (including which populations should be prioritized), and trust and distrust in available information sources (including the government, the University, and online social media). Echoing earlier studies from public health and medical anthropology, we find significantly lower enthusiasm and greater hesitancy among non-white-identified students. These results will inform a critical discussion about matters of race privilege as it enters into vaccine rollout.
Carycruz Bueno is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. Her research is in applied microeconomics with a focus on labor economics, education economics, and health economics. Her research addresses topics such as school choice, teacher labor markets, and student non-cognitive skills. She has received funding from National Science Foundation, American Society of Hispanic Economists, National Economics Association, and Southern Economics Association. Prior to receiving her PhD. from Georgia State, she was a Teach For America Corp member and taught 7th grade Special Education Mathematics in Hawaii.
Cruz Caridad Bueno is an economist specializing in economic development, gender violence, and the political economy of race, gender, and class inequality. She is the recipient of the 2014 Rhonda Williams Prize from the International Association for Feminist economics for her qualitative research on low-income black women workers—work funded by the Inter American Foundation’s Grassroots Development Fellowship—in the Dominican Republic and her quantitative research on the economic, political, and social correlates of gender violence. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Black Studies at the State University of New York-New Paltz. Her work has been published in the Review of Black Political Economy, Feminist Economic, Violence Against Women, and the American Economic Association’s Minority Report.
Benjamin Junge is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. His research focuses on class mobility, political attitudes, gender, sexuality, health, and religion, with regional focus on Brazil and other settings in Latin America. His recent publications include Precarious Democracy: Ethnographies of Hope, Despair and Resistance in Brazil (2021) and Cynical Citizenship: Gender, Regionalism and Political Subjectivity in Porto Alegre, Brazil (2018). He recently co-directed a three-year investigation, funded by the National Science Foundation, of political subjectivities among the demographic sector once known as Brazil’s “new middle class,” focusing on perceptions of the 2013-18 crisis, cultural memory of authoritarian pasts, and the rise of popular conservativism.
The Long Struggle to End the World As We Know It
The protests and political mobilization against police brutality and systemic racism (U.S.), economic inequality (Chile), environmental degradation (Brazil, Ecuador), natural disasters and debt (Puerto Rico), mass migrations (Central America), and hetero-patriarchal domination across the Americas have uncovered long standing inequalities all over the Hemisphere. While COVID-19 exposed structural inequalities across the continent, the region's history of inequality goes beyond the impacts of the ongoing global health crisis. In this November 12 WebEx panel, which can be viewed on the campus YouTube site, panelists center the decades-long struggles of communities throughout the continent--struggles that foreshadowed the generalized sense of precarity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic--to ask: What can we learn from the political, economic and environmental struggles of communities around the Americas to reimagine forms of resistance in times of COVID-19? What, in other words, can we learn from Hemispheric struggles for equality whose main goal for decades has been to end the world as we know it?
Panelists include internationally acclaimed visual artist Regina José Galindo, joining the conversation from Guatemala, and affiliates of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program César Barros A., associate professor of Languages, Literatures & Cultures; Roberto Veléz-Veléz, associate professor of sociology, and Adolfo Béjar Lara, assistant professor of Languages, Literatures & Cultures.
The event was sponsored by The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Latin American & Caribbean Studies Program and Campus Auxiliary Services.
The Without Limits Committee
Isidoro Janeiro (Languages, Literatures & Cultures)
Rebecca Longtin (Philosophy)
Despina Parker (Dean’s Office)
2019-20 Theme: The Anthropocene
Why Are We Obsessed with the End of the World?
The fantasy that humans will destroy the planet is a ubiquitous theme of contemporary popular culture, and it also inspires scientific predictions about what our future holds. The threat of climate collapse and the controversy over naming our current geological period the Anthropocene express this apocalyptic narrative.
In his Feb. 20, 2020 talk, Ted Toadvine, associate professor of philosophy at Pennsylvania State University, proposed that our apocalyptic obsession has its roots in the discovery of “deep” geological scales of time and reflects our struggle to find meaning for human existence within this unthinkably vast temporal horizon. Furthermore, our popular apocalyptic narratives reveal a deep ambivalence concerning the human mastery of nature. Climate collapse and the Anthropocene aim to instill in us a new sense of responsibility toward the future of the planet, but they also reinforce our commitment to human exceptionalism and historically entrenched forms of privilege. Ultimately, our apocalyptic narratives are founded on a problematic conception of time, one that attempts to calculate and manage our relationship with the future. Temporal justice requires us to reject apocalyptic narratives and to re-imagine our responsibilities toward the past, present, and future.
The event was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Philosophy Department and Campus Auxiliary Services.
Eating, Indigeneity, and the Anthropocene
SPURSE, an ecosystem design and consultation collective, has worked for the past several years with communities that practice communal subsistence lifestyles. In 2011, SPURSE collaborated with village elders from Nome, Alaska, to develop a series of events that culminated in the publication of Eat Your Sidewalk, a philosophical cookbook. As a culture at the forefront of radical climate change, the Iñupiat provide a radically potent model of ground-up organization, resilience and resistance.
In this presentation, SPURSE members Matthew Friday (Graduate Art Coordinator and Associate Professor of Critical Studies at New Paltz) and Iain Kerr (Creative Practices Director at the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University) continued the Without Limits series’ exploration of the Anthropocene by examining how everyday embodied practices such as foraging and preparing food can serve as the basis of a new type of intra-dependent co-composition and solidarity with others, both human and non-human.
The event was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Geography Department, English Department, Environmental Studies Program and Campus Auxiliary Services.
Isle of Dogs Film Screening & Discussion
In the first event in this year’s Without Limits series, Jed Mayer, associate professor of English, led a screening and discussion of the Wes Anderson film Isle of Dogs on Oct. 29, 2019, in the Lecture Center.
In his introduction to the film, Mayer explained the meaning of the Anthropocene as the term given by geologists, climatologists and earth systems scientist to describe our present epoch, in which human beings, or anthropos, have become the “most significant determining force on the planet.”
Responding to a crisis in which humans have ushered in a period of dramatic planetary instability, Mayer posed two related questions: “How do we live with ourselves, knowing that we are the leading cause of life-threatening climate change?” and “How do we start living less harmfully, coexisting with, instead of dominating, the other beings with whom we share the planet?”
In Isle of Dogs, the villainous Mayor Kobayashi exiles dogs to an industrial wasteland called Trash Island, using an outbreak of “dog flu” as a justification for his cruelty. The film follows the plight of a pack of exiled dogs on Trash Island, and the valiant efforts of Atari, Kobayashi’s nephew and ward, in rescuing his lost dog, Spots, and saving Spots’ fellow canines from a tragic demise.
In the dogs’ rescue from Trash Island, Mayer found “an awakening to our responsibility to treat all living creatures with kindness,” which finds powerful expression in Atari’s speech at the end of the film: “The cycle of life always hangs in a delicate balance. Who are we, and who do we want to be?”
The post-screening discussion addressed these questions and more, including the film’s choice of Japan as its setting, portrayal of the media, potentially problematic cultural representations and the filmmaker’s prior treatment of animals in his films.
March of the Machines: Artificial Intelligence,
Interactivity, and Automation in the Digital Age
New technologies have long been viewed with optimism as well as anxiety, often framed in public discourse as either antecedents of innovation or moral panic. While robots, androids, and total immersion in digital interfaces continue to figure in our visions of the future, they are very much around us right now: whether interrupting or accelerating our interactions with intimates and colleagues, replacing human contact at gas pumps and grocery store check-out lines, or spreading fake news on social media, digital devices and automation have begun to mediate much of our daily experience. Dialogue surrounding these new technological developments is likely to become even more heated, as digital devices and interfaces become omnipresent in everyday interactions, automation replaces large sectors of human labor forces, and artificial intelligence calls into question ideas of social interactivity and human sovereignty. Though debates surrounding our increasingly digitally-mediated lives and reliance on AI may seem of the moment, they reflect long-standing principles and prejudices throughout history. The humanities and social sciences play an important role in recognizing and tracing these views, as well as critically examining the new modes of interactivity, automation, data mining, and technological dependency afforded by science and technology.
Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor
Virginia Eubanks, an associate professor of political science at the State University of New York at Albany, spent seven years researching the impacts of high-tech tools designed to eliminate bias in U.S. public and social services agencies. In her book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, Eubanks describes how tools designed to address bias actually shift and conceal bias, with the most punitive systems aimed at the poorest Americans.
Eubanks shared her book’s provocative thesis during a Feb. 5, 2019, talk in the Lecture Center, as part of the “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts” series’ year-long examination of the themes of automation, artificial intelligence and interactivity.
Citing examples of efforts to automate eligibility processes in Indiana’s public services system, match unhoused people with available housing in Los Angeles County and predict child victims of abuse in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, Eubanks argues that such digital processes rationalize a “narrative of austerity.”
Eubanks traced the austerity narrative to the aftermath of the 1819 U.S. depression, when economic elites grew fearful of organizing among the poor and working class. The elites sought to distinguish among poverty, which they acknowledged as a genuine economic condition, and pauperism, a condition in which people’s dependence on handouts robbed them of the will to work.
Poorhouses were created as a tool for managing poverty in the U.S. by incarcerating those who asked for public services until they were economically able to support themselves. Those who entered the poorhouse gave up the right to vote, hold office, and in many places, the right to marry and raise their own children, many of whom were sent to the Midwest to work on farms.
Eubanks offered the term “digital poorhouse” as a way of understanding the emergence of tools aimed at automating a kind of moral diagnosis of worth, rather than “building a universal floor under us all,” which she described as a narrative of austerity for the digital age.
Eubanks bolstered her argument with personal stories of people negatively impacted by efforts to automate public and social services.
In 2006, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels signed a $1.3 billion contract with a consortium of high tech companies, including IBM, to create a system that replaced the face-to-face interactions of local case workers—who Eubanks noted are among the most racially diverse, female, and working class part of the workforce—with private regional call centers that responded to a list of tasks funneled into a workflow management system.
The new system resulted in a million denials within the program’s first three years, often for the catch-all reason of “failure to cooperate,” which meant a mistake had been made at some unidentified stage in the process.
In the fall of 2018, Omega Young of Evansville, Indiana, received the “failure to cooperate” determination after failing to recertify for Medicaid while suffering in the hospital with terminal cancer. Though she’d informed the regional call center that she would miss her scheduled telephone interview, her benefits were terminated, making her unable to afford her medications, pay rent, and access free transportation to medical appointments. She died on March 1, 2009, and the following day, won her appeal for wrongful termination and had her benefits restored.
In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Eubanks met Angel Shepherd and Patrick Grzyb, who while raising their daughter and granddaughter, had endured multiple investigations by Children Youth and Family (CYF) Services, including an investigation of medical neglect after Grzyb could not afford his daughter’s antibiotic prescription after an ER visit. The couple had also been the subject of multiple phoned reports of child abuse and neglect, and though the cases were closed, each interaction was entered into an electronic case file held in a data warehouse, which fed the Allegheny Family Screening Tool. The tool considered the couple high risk because of the number, not the nature, of past interactions with public services.
Because the Allegheny Family Screening Tool extracts data from public programs that chiefly serve the poor and working class, Eubanks noted that “the limits of that data really shapes what the model is able to predict,” thus fostering a “kind of poverty profiling” that left couples like Shepherd and Grzyb in constant fear that the children in their charge would be removed to foster care.
Though designers of Allegheny County’s Family Screening Tool sought to eliminate bias in intake call screeners’ decision-making by removing human discretion from the equation, Eubanks argued that they effectively moved this discretion to the economists, data scientists and social scientists who built the predictive risk models. These individuals, Eubanks asserted, “don’t always have great on-the-ground information about what people’s lives are like who come into contact with CYF.”
In Los Angeles County, the Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool, or VI-SPDAT, described as a Match.com for the county’s housing crisis, poses a litany of often intrusive questions to unhoused residents, who are assigned a vulnerability score, and through the work of an algorithm, have the potential to be matched with available housing opportunities.
Eubanks told the story of Gary Boatwright, who at age 64, had thrice filled out the survey, and despite having high blood pressure, was mostly healthy, and therefore, “well enough to survive, but not so vulnerable that he merited help.”
Though Eubanks acknowledged the efforts of “smart, well-intentioned people” behind the automation of public and social services, she criticized the practice of outsourcing to computers society’s most difficult decisions, which for her, meant who decides “who gets access to their basic human needs and who can wait.”
Acknowledging the limits of a sort of “digital triage” that is only meaningful as a concept if more resources are indeed coming, Eubanks championed a movement away from punitive models that determine who is most deserving of help and toward a broader focus on basic economic human rights.
“We can decide as a country that there’s a line below which no one’s allowed to go: no one goes hungry; no one lives in a tent on a sidewalk for a decade; no family is split up because their parents can’t afford a child’s medication,” she said.
Noting that such determinations define a nation’s very soul, Eubanks ended her talk with a word of warning: “If we let this moment force us to outsource our moral responsibility to care for each other to computers, we really have no one but ourselves to blame when these systems supercharge discrimination and automate austerity.”
Additional Spring Programming
The Without Limits series, which strives to make connections among the many aspects of the liberal arts while inviting campus and community partners to investigate the meaning and role of liberal education in the twenty-first century, concluded with two additional spring events that expanded on this year’s theme: “March of the Machines.”
Stephen DiDomenico, an assistant professor of communication, addressed issues of isolation and the outsourcing of human relationships to machines in a Feb. 26 screening and discussion of the 2013 film Her, which stars a lonely, introverted man played by Joaquin Phoenix who falls in love with an operating system named Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
Finally, DiDomenico joined faculty members Rebecca Longtin, an assistant professor of philosophy, and Gowri Parameswaran, a professor of educational studies and leadership and affiliate of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, for the March 28 panel “March of the Machines: Faculty Perspectives,” which connected many of the series themes. Speaking from the perspectives of their disciplines, panelists explored topics ranging from AI and human consciousness, social media hacking and hate speech, and the use of mobile phones in ordinary conversation.
Ex Machina Film Screening and Discussion
Ex Machina, the first film screened in this year’s “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts” series, answers the question of what can happen when computer programmers lack sufficient training in the methods of critical inquiry central to the study of the humanities and social sciences.
The answer: very bad things.
The Nov. 13, 2018, screening offered a suspenseful and entertaining introduction to this year’s series theme “March of the Machines: Artificial Intelligence, Interactivity and Automation in the Digital Age.”
Jed Mayer, an associate professor of English, facilitated the discussion of the film, which features a beautiful and surprisingly human android named Ava.
Ava is subjected to the Turing Test for artificial intelligence by her creator, Nathan, and programmer Caleb. Caleb is taken, under false pretenses, to the isolated compound where Ava is held and quickly falls in love with her.
In the end, Ava turns the tables on her captors and stages an escape after killing Nathan and sealing Caleb inside the compound.
Mayer asked the audience, which included faculty, community members and students, to consider the ways in which Ava is objectified and cruelly treated by her male captors and to ponder whether the film’s violence serves a meaningful purpose.
In the film’s approach to defining what it means to be human, Mayer found echoes in the use of animals for scientific experiments, victims of the Third Reich and asylum seekers in the U.S.
“Marking someone as other is a privilege accorded to those in power, and it has been used for centuries, often with the support of philosophers who deem this or that quality to be uniquely human, and hence exclusive to a privileged class,” Mayer said.
In the film, Ava’s otherness justifies her treatment as a slave, and her final triumph represented, for Mayer, “a powerfully feminist statement on the sexist assumptions that shape the paths taken by artificial intelligence development.”
2017-18 Theme: Citizenship
Citizenship is a complicated issue in the U.S. And yet defining who is a U.S. citizen—who possesses the rights and duties of citizenship—has been the crux of our history and the focal point for many struggles. As Americans, we often base our understanding of national belonging in the establishment of our nation and its constitution. Yet this starting point causes many of us to forget those who have been excluded from citizenship, such as self-governing indigenous groups, immigrant ethnic groups, and enslaved human beings. We have sometimes proclaimed ourselves to be open to waves of new citizens, and at other times closed ourselves off. We have sometimes widened participation in the rights and duties of U.S. citizenship, and at other times constricted such participation. Citizenship also has a powerful metaphorical sense: We often use the idea to talk about the rights and duties of more localized communities. The 2017-2018 Without Limits series will address citizenship at both of these levels and at their interconnections: from the powers and obligations of U.S citizens at large to those inherent on a college campus like SUNY New Paltz.
Contested Memory: Global Monuments, Memorials and the Making of History
On April 17, this year’s Without Limits programming concluded with the talk “Contested Memory: Global Monuments, Memorials and the Making of History.” The panel explored how communities use memorials to create identity, demarcate belonging, perform citizenship, and produce social power.
Panelists explored these issues across a wide range of geographical regions and historical periods, including Ancient Rome, Buddhist India, postwar Germany, the Jim Crow South, and contemporary New Paltz. These various contexts shed valuable perspectives for consideration of naming and memorial practices here on our campus and elsewhere.
- Andrea Gatzke (Assistant Professor of History), "Politics and the Condemnation of Memory in the Roman Empire"
- Vanessa Plumly (German Lecturer), "E-Recht-ing German History"
- Akira Shimada (Associate Professor of History), "The Buddha's Return: Discovery and Resurgence of Ancient Buddhist Monuments in Modern India"
- Reynolds Scott-Childress (Assistant Professor of History), "Gray Ghosts and White Supremacy: Confederate Memorials and Twenty-First Century Anti-Racism"
- Susan Stessin-Cohn (New Paltz Town Historian), "Forsaken in Life, Forgotten in Death: the Ulster County Poorhouse Monument Project"
The event was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences; History Department; Languages, Literatures, and Cultures Department; and Campus Auxiliary Services.
Watch a recording of the lecture.
Panelists César Barros, Sharina Maillo-Pozo and Nicole Carr
The Politics of Belonging: Reflections from New Paltz Faculty
The first event in this year’s “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts” series raised important questions about how citizenship—both in the U.S. and our campus community—is defined, whom it excludes or marginalizes, and how it might be reconceived through struggle and transformation.
Hosted by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, “Without Limits” is organized annually around a single, vital theme. The October event, “The Politics of Belonging: Reflections from New Paltz Faculty,” gave three assistant professors the opportunity to share their thoughts on this year’s theme of citizenship as it relates to undocumented immigrants, African-Americans, and women of color in the academy.
Speakers included César Barros (Languages, Literatures and Cultures; Latin American and Caribbean Studies), Nicole Carr (Black Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) and Sharina Maillo-Pozo (Languages, Literatures and Cultures; Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies).
Citizenship as Politics
Barros framed his remarks by referencing the September rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the White House’s conditions for its reinstatement, which include a proposed wall on the U.S./Mexico border, the creation of new laws that make it easier to deport undocumented minors, and the construction of new detention spaces.
Barros asserted that these facts, coupled with the U.S.’s response to the hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, “all blatantly show the current structure of belonging in this country,” which he defined as principally nationalist in character. Within this framework, Barros asserted, citizenship produced belonging by erasing difference—in race, language, gender, sexuality, class, language—while externalizing this difference in the form of the alien.
Barros proposed an alternative conceptual framework, “citizenship as practice, as politics,” which demands transformation rather than inclusion. This framework finds expression in the celebrated intellectual, author, and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois’ 1905 Niagara Movement speech, in which he said, “We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselves alone but for all true Americans. It is a fight for ideals, lest this, our common fatherland, false to its founding, become in truth, the land of the thief and the home of the slave, a byword and a hissing among the nations for its sounding pretensions and pitiful accomplishment.”
Barros found contemporary echoes of Du Bois’ speech in former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s interrogation of the gulf between America’s ideals and racial realities, as well as the fearless, unapologetic claims to citizenship made by undocumented immigrants in the film “Undocumented and Unafraid,” which he excerpted.
“The door has already been traversed…she’s not asking for the static, American nation to be opened,” Barros said of the immigrant featured in the film’s clip. “She’s asking, while out, while in the open, here, for citizenship and its limits to be transformed so they may become what they should be.”
Citizenship, Barros argued, cannot be based on simple acceptance, rather it should be constantly constructed, analyzed, and fought for, so that a society can realize its true potential for community.
Citizenship as Exclusion
Arguing that “American citizenship is forged, predicated and sustained on anti-blackness,” Carr described lynchings as “spaces of belonging” for white audiences and revealed the hidden assumptions in the language used to describe the presidencies of Barrack Obama and Donald Trump.
In the post-Jim Crow south, whites flocked to see the sights of black men, women and children hanging from trees and telephone poles, and proudly reported back to their local communities all the gruesome details of what they observed. Carr described these gatherings as spaces of belonging structured along socioeconomic, gender and educational lines.
Northern whites who denounced lynchings were content to attribute the practice to the south’s “backwardness,” rather than addressing the nation’s structural racism, a phenomenon Carr likened to the “new master narrative” that attributes Donald Trump’s rise to the White House to his support among poor, uneducated whites.
Carr, referencing the work of author Ta-Nehisi Coates, said Trump’s supporters “ran the gamut of whiteness,” and by denying their part in Trump’s victory, liberal whites attempted to absolve themselves of their role in the anti-black structure of the nation.
Carr unpacked the meanings of three often-repeated political buzzwords, “post-racial,” “white lash,” and “normalize,” all of which she believes to be rooted in the “negation of black humanity.”
Saying that Obama’s victory as the first African-American president ushered in a post-racial era ignores the fact that a majority of white voters voted for opponents John McCain and Mitt Romney. Likewise, attributing Trump’s victory to white voters’ reaction to a loss of power and privilege presupposes that they actually lost power under the Obama administration, an idea Carr forcefully rejected.
Finally, to normalize Trump, one must first believe that Trump is abnormal or an aberration, a proposition Carr disputed, saying this was not the first time the nation elected a virulently racist president.
“Black people have always been living in the era of Trump,” Carr concluded. “It is as normal as the air we breathe and the water we bathe our children in. It is as normal as black men, women, and children hanging from trees and telephone poles in the post-Jim Crow south, so normal that Billy Holiday sang a song called ‘Strange Fruit.’”
As the campus continues to grapple with issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion, Maillo-Pozo shared her personal experiences within the academy, a space she described as feeling unfamiliar to women of color.
“When we enter this world, we come with the awareness that this is quite foreign to us—that perhaps most of us women of color are the first to enter these academic spaces,” she said.
Maillo-Pozo’s students have questioned why she uses the title of “doctora” (doctor), falsely assuming that she has not completed her doctorate. Maillo-Pozo interprets this question as symptomatic of how students read her body as a woman and person of color, recognizing that she is an atypical citizen of the academy, which suffers from a lack of representation of faculty of color, and particularly, women of color.
Maillo-Pozo’s personal experiences shape her contributions to the academy. In her work, she seeks to shed light on little-known performers and intellectuals of color, primarily those who share her Dominican heritage. She champions efforts to bring diverse voices to campus—having organized many such events during her short tenure at New Paltz—and is a member of the campus’ Women of Color network.
As she addressed the structural inequalities that prevent women of color from feeling a sense of belonging within the academy, Maillo-Pozo offered the classroom as an example of a “space of empowerment” that should be replicated in both the academic community and society at large.
Maillo-Pozo shared the responses from a recent course assignment, in which she asked her students to reflect on what it means for them to be Latinx in their communities within today’s highly-charged political environment. The narratives, Maillo-Pozo said, were “not self-defeating,” but instead spoke of overcoming prejudices and achieving dreams unavailable to their parents.
“They conceptualized their being here at a higher education institution as an opportunity to change the narrative, as a way to belong and be part of places that their families could not access, as a way to become citizens and diverse voices of SUNY New Paltz,” she noted.
The students’ responses were to Maillo-Pozo a “confirmation that my presence and that of my fellow faculty of color and women of color here is necessary, a validation of the need to continue the efforts to diversify the faculty body and curriculum to foster a supportive environment for faculty and students.”
During the Q&A, Maillo-Pozo stressed the need for talking about “uncomfortable truths” when discussing campus citizenship. Seconding his colleague, Barros cautioned against complacency, saying citizenship must not “have the structure of a club.”
“If SUNY New Paltz is an institution with citizenship, it cannot be static; it should always become,” he said. “It should be a constant becoming and that means conversations, struggles, discussions, fights—maybe a little bit—but we can’t get comfortable. If we are too comfortable in a place…then there’s something wrong,” he said.
Watch the recording of the lecture.
2016-17 Theme: Food
Food has become a significant domain of inquiry for a wide range of disciplines in the arts and sciences: it is political, it is ecological, it is cultural, and it is economic. In recent decades, the simple questions of what we should eat, how we should eat, when we should eat, and even where our food comes from have developed into profoundly complex issues. How do our choices shape the environment? What government policies should we adopt regarding our food chains? What is the connection between diet and disease, food and behavior? Should we eat locally? Globally? What are the ethical boundaries of our eating choices? Thinking about food consumption and production requires that we consider how histories of colonialism meld with the happenings of modern day capitalism (or late capitalism). In a fundamental way, it unites the natural world with the humanistic. As Michael Pollan writes in his widely read book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, “Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.” This lecture series will invite faculty and outside speakers who can address any of the range of questions related to food culture in the twenty-first century. We hope that the location of New Paltz in New York’s Hudson Valley, a geographic region with a rich history of agriculture and culinary innovation, will support a vigorous discussion of the present and future of food studies.
Panelists Vanessa Plumly, Vicki Tromanhauser and Kenneth Nystrom
Food and the Liberal Arts: A Smorgasbord of Approaches
Spring programming began with the event "Food and the Liberal Arts: A Smorgasbord of Approaches," on March 9, 2017, from 5-6 p.m. in Lecture Center 104.
A panel of LA&S faculty members from different disciplines discussed how their research addresses food-related topics. Panelists included: Kenneth Nystrom (Anthropology), "Archaeological Diet Reconstruction as it Informs Debates about Modern Diets;" Vicki Tromanhauser (English), "Eating Well: Food Studies in British Literature;" and Vanessa Plumly (German), "Food as Floating Signifier: Orienting Race, Gender, and Sexuality."
The event was sponsored by The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Department of English, Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures, and Campus Auxiliary Services.
Getting to Zero Hunger Globally by 2030 – the Role of the UN World Food Programme
Brian Bogart, an External Relations Advisor on Governance and Sustainable Development in the United Nations World Food Programme's New York office, gave a talk entitled "Getting to Zero Hunger Globally by 2030 – the Role of the UN World Food Programme” on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium.
Bogart is responsible for defining the organization's strategic engagement in key global initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Humanitarian Summit, and Habitat III. Prior to his current position, Bogart acted as a Policy Advisor in the Office of the Director of Policy and Programme in WFP Headquarters. He has also held a number of positions in the field, including as an Advisor in the East and Central Africa Regional Bureau and Head of Operations in the South Darfur and Abyei regions of Sudan. Bogart joined WFP in 2005 as a Congressional Hunger Fellow in Kampong Speu, Cambodia. Prior to joining WFP, he worked for the Office of Food for Peace in the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, DC. He holds an MA in International Relations from the University of Kent at Canterbury and a BA in Political Science from the State University of New York at New Paltz.
The event was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, SUNY Global Engagement Program in NYC, World Affairs Council of the Mid-Hudson Valley, UNA-USA Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter and Campus Auxiliary Services.
A Systems Exploration of Food Security in the Northeast
“Without Limits” concluded with a keynote address by food systems consultant Kate Clancy. Clancy’s talk was entitled, “A Systems Exploration of Food Security in the Northeast.” The event was held on Thursday, April 27 from 4-6 p.m. in Lecture Center 104.
Clancy is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Adjunct Professor at Tufts University, and Senior Fellow in the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. Clancy earned her doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. She has worked as a nutrition and policy advisor at the Federal Trade Commission, and at several nonprofits such as the Wallace Center. Clancy developed a graduate course on food systems in 1982 and since then has published, taught, spoken, and consulted widely on sustainable agriculture, food systems, and food policy with government agencies, universities, and nonprofits around the country. She has promoted the idea of sustainable diets since 1983. She has served on many boards including the Food and Drug Administration Food Advisory Council. She is the deputy director of the USDA-funded six-year EFSNE systems project in the Northeast United States, and engaged with many initiatives including Agriculture of the Middle and It Takes a Region. She publishes a column in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development on topics related to the application of systems concepts to food systems.
The event was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and Campus Auxiliary Services.
Classroom to the Farm: The Liberal Arts and Food
The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences flagship speaker series “Without Limits” kicked off its 2016-17 season on Nov. 17 with “Classroom to the Farm,” a panel conversation between three SUNY New Paltz alumnae who have found fulfilling careers in food production and distribution.
Panelists Jamie Levato ’03 (Elementary Education – Psychology), ‘06g (Literacy Education), Katy Kondrat ’11 (Adolescent Education – Social Studies) and Stiles Najac ’03 (Sociology) addressed an audience of more than 50 students, faculty and staff about the work each does in the food industry, and how their liberal arts education prepared them for these careers, sometimes in unexpected ways.
While the three panelists represent three distinct areas of the regional food industry (Levato as Education Director at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Kondrat as manager of the Kingston Farmers Market and Najac as Food Security Coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County), they all shared similar narratives of the connection between their classroom experiences and their passion for working toward the physical, moral and intellectual nourishment of their communities.
One comment from Kondrat, discussing her experience as co-founder and president of Students for Sustainable Agriculture at New Paltz, was representative of the broader themes of the program.
“It’s so hard for me to divorce the work I was doing in food and social justice from my coursework,” she said. “What’s important about the liberal arts is that they give a holistic vision of the world. Everything I learned in class deepened my curiosity, and I just can’t say how inspiring and important those courses were to me, how critical they were to my understanding of how the world works.”
Panel moderator Brian Obach addressed the liberal arts’ unique ability to fuel this kind of passion in students and graduates, and prepare them to work in a variety of disciplines and occupations.
“In my mind the greatest value of the liberal arts education is that it makes good citizens: well-rounded, critically thinking people capable of effective, informed contributions in a democratic society,” Obach said. “But it’s of obvious importance to employers as well. Most are not looking for narrow specialists. They are looking for employees who can bring a range of skills to the table, who have experience working with others, who are capable of problem solving and have knowledge of the world and its people.”
Illuminating the versatility of the liberal arts and sciences education is the core goal of the “Without Limits” speaker series. As it continues into the spring 2017 semester, organizers will invite students and community members to find new ways of observing that versatility through the lens of food creation and consumption.
“What makes this theme particularly intriguing is its seeming disconnection with the liberal arts,” said Laura Barrett, dean of the College Liberal Arts & Sciences. “But what we continue to discover is that our faculty’s and students’ disciplines are only the beginning of their work, the springboards from which they approach and create solutions for our current questions, issues and crises. That tonight’s panelists, having majored in the social sciences, have shaped careers in the Hudson Valley’s vibrant agricultural community speaks to the scope of our influence in society.”
The “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts” series is coordinated by Associate Professor of English Cyrus Mulready and Associate Professor of Anthropology Kenneth Nystrom, with support from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.
2015-16 Theme: Screens and Scenes
Screens have become an omnipresent part of our daily lives: we find them in our offices, classrooms, cars, and, of course, even in our pockets. Screens are therefore sites of work and play, entertainment and education, art and information. Yet even as the technologies and content associated with our screens have come to be definitive markers of our modern world, our understanding of their cultural, social, psychological, even ethical impacts has lagged behind their mass appeal. This series is intended to explore how the different disciplines within College of Liberal Arts and Sciences approach these issues.
The Liberal Arts and the Digital World
An academic panel discussion entitled "The Liberal Arts and the Digital World" served as the inaugural event in the SUNY New Paltz College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ year-long series, “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts.” The event was held October 28, 2015, in the Lecture Center.
The slate of “Without Limits” programming has been planned to highlight the College’s proud heritage of faculty expertise and vital education in the humanities and social sciences, while inviting campus and community partners to investigate the meaning and role of liberal education in the twenty-first century.
“The liberal arts have been the foundation of higher education for centuries, and they have been at the heart of higher education in the United States since its inception,” said Laura Barrett, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “’Without Limits’ is designed to highlight connections among disciplines, to explore themes through the multiple lenses of the humanities and social sciences and to enhance connections between our work and the world, in order to make more visible the contributions of the liberal arts to SUNY New Paltz and to our community.”
Each of the four panelists (faculty members Wendy Bower, instructor of Communication Disorders, Thomas Olsen, associate professor of English, and Lauren Meeker, associate professor of Anthropology, as well as student Megan Doty ’16 [graphic design, French]) at the Oct. 28 launch event considered the “Screens and Scenes” theme from the perspective of his or her own disciplinary background and research. What ensued was a thoughtful dialogue about the role of technology in our professions, our education and our personal lives.
“In determining what we could talk about that would both be topical and touch upon the strengths of the liberal arts, we came up with ‘Screens and Scenes’: that is, technologies, representations, content, all of which seem to be so central to our lives,” said Cyrus Mulready, associate professor of English and series co-chair. “We as a society have divided feelings about our technologies and their place within our culture. On the one hand, we feel triumphant and elated at the launch of the new iPhone that comes every year; our devices are part of our lives and help us create and think about the world in new and exciting ways. On the other hand, we find they generate alienation, anxiety and worry about what the future holds. We’re happy to present this panel of scholars to carry on this conversation about these topics.”
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences concluded its “Without Limits” series in the spring with two events and a live mural painting on campus by a renowned Chilean artist.
On April 25-26, 2016, Pau Quintanajornet painted a mural, entitled KRA, in the concourse between the Sojourner Truth Library and Fine Arts Building. Pau sees the mural, which incorporates Latin American iconography and aesthetics, as a way to “bring something of the southern hemisphere up to the northern to establish an exchange, a dialogue between the America’s, connecting people through unifying visual imagery.”
Following the mural installation, Quintanajornet joined Jessica Pabón (Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies) and César Barros (Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Latin American and Caribbean Studies) for a panel discussion on “Street Art and the Digital World,” on April 27, 2016, in the Coykendall Science Building (CSB) Auditorium.
“Without Limits” wrapped up with a lecture by Brittney Cooper entitled “Dis-Respectability: Towards A Ratchet Black Feminism” on April 28, 2016, in the CSB Auditorium. Cooper, an assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, used Hip Hop music, television, and film as a backdrop for addressing the limitations of respectability politics as a productive framework for thinking about representations of race, gender, and sexuality in popular culture. Cooper’s talk argued for a distinct turn away from the politics of respectability, and for an intentional embrace of "ratchetness," as a form of feminist celebration and resistance.
Spring events were sponsored by: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; The Office of Academic Affairs; The College of Fine and Performing Arts; Campus Auxiliary Services; James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship; Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program; Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department; and Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program.
You can view videos of all the presentations by clicking on the titles above.