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U.Va. muses On Being Human

Humanities Week lecture series is insightful, honest

Honesty. Blatant, unreserved honesty seemed to be a key characteristic of many Humanities Week presentations. It proved crucial to the understanding and appreciation of the humanities — and in adequately analyzing and understanding what it means to be human.

“The humanities seek to understand exactly what it means to be a human being, in a variety of contexts and through a plethora of methodologies,” fourth-year College student Eric McDaniel said.

The talk “On Being Human” attempts to confront these questions by allowing four undergraduate students to give seven-minute speeches explaining what being human means to them.

The four lecturers spoke from a variety of backgrounds, majors and shaping ideals, but all attested to their interpretation of humanity and human nature.

The first speaker, fourth-year College student Melissa Heide, said the lecture series is an important way to engage the student body.

“At U.Va., we are often passive students, absorbing the knowledge of all the extraordinary people here at this university,” she said. “[The talk] emphasizes that students have passions and interests outside of the classroom and the career path, and provides them with an opportunity to express themselves regarding those interests.”

Heide’s speech, titled “The F Word,” was built around her views on feminism, and how her time at the University enabled her develop her perspective on the subject. She explained while the anthropology class “Language and Gender” was initially entirely out of her comfort zone, she grew to love the class and appreciate the new idea of feminism it presented — one contrary to her experiences growing up in a “church cult structured around principles of exclusion, gendered hierarchy, and oppression.”

Heide also mentioned another “f” word — fear — which she cited as the primary reason people shy away from using the term “feminist” to describe themselves.

Heide ended her speech by bringing feminism back to the concept of humanity.

“To be human is to evolve,” she said. “To be human is to be inclusive. To be human is to be feminist.”

Second-year College student Russell Bogue followed Heide, giving a talk entitled “Love Thy Neighbor,” which advocated the need for love among Christians and non-Christians alike. He said the concept of love has been misused and misunderstood on both sides, referring to radical Christians and LGBTQ individuals and advocates. However, Bogue emphasized the notion that Christianity is a love story, shown in the Bible when Jesus calls the church his bride.

He ended his lecture by calling for “love rooted in the dignity and beauty of every human being,” rendering his conception of the actions of humanity as emitting love.

Breaking the weightiness of the more philosophical arguments presented beforehand, fourth-year College student Ida Knox turned to humor with her speech titled “Why It Matters What We Laugh At.”

“I laugh at myself a whole lot more than I think is socially appropriate,” she said, going on to explain how she and others have all laughed at things not necessarily laughing matters, ultimately posing: what is appropriate to laugh at?

Though Knox avoided getting into a philosophical or biological analysis of why we laugh at what we do, she did explain laughter as a powerful force which transcends cultures. She left the audience with a challenge to not just laugh passively, but rather to consider why.

Lastly, fourth-year Batten student William Warren tackled the issue of health care. He explained humanity lies in universality, and used statistics and research to explain the poverty cycle and how more efficient and accessible health care can help decrease the poverty rate.

Ultimately, the event was a vital part of a weeklong initiative to generate discussion alongside general appreciation for humanities disciplines.

“Humanities Week is vital because it draws focus away from the goal-oriented society in which we exist, and celebrates the things outside of a job and grades,” Heide said.


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