The past weekend marks the first official Peripeteia, a campus-wide festival designed to share knowledge across disciplines. It consists of a series of lectures taught mostly by students. The topics ranged from “Fractals and Chaos,” taught by Aaron Wagener ’17, to “Hip Hop Habitats,” taught by Harsha Sen ’19. The event was open to the entire community.
“[Peripeteia’s] mission is to encourage participants to learn for fun about a wide range of things,” said Victor Gomes ’17, one of Peripeteia’s founders. While the event provides a medium for nonlinear discussions, it also serves as a platform where people’s voices may be heard. “I believe everyone is interested and passionate about something, so the idea was to create a space where people could share those passions.”
This spirit was reflected in the kickoff event on January 29, where students and faculty convened to discuss the importance and urgency of learning across disciplines. “The kickoff focused primarily on the benefits, tradeoffs, and struggles of interdisciplinary studies,” Emma Remy ’18, one of Peripeteia’s organizers, described. These topics were also discussed in the context of the present state of liberal arts education, where there was a heated debate about standardized tests and college admissions at large.
Remy also observed that the level of engagement was high. “We at Peripeteia usually judge the success of our discussion events based on how much it seems like the conversation continues afterward, and there were still people in SCI 101 continuing the conversation forty minutes after the kickoff technically ended,” she said. Before the official kickoff, there were lecture-style discussions, called “preludes,” that provided experiences similar to Peripeteia.
Mackinsey Smith ’19, a Peripeteia attendee, shared a similar sense of enthusiasm.
“I know a lot of people that are involved in it and they are really excited, which makes me really excited,” she remarked.
“But then I also read about the different courses. And they all seemed incredibly exciting, just fun courses to take — learning for the sake of learning.”
The lecturers also exhibited a feeling of eagerness, even as their motivations varied.
For instance, Gabriela Brown ‘18, who taught a class in ballet, was motivated by the desire to offer insights about one of her favorite activities. “I have danced nearly my entire life, so for me ballet is kind of a fundamental way of moving through the world,” she remarked. “I love talking to other people about ballet, because usually they have no idea what actually goes into this type of dancing. My main goal is simply to provide people with a clearer idea of what ballet is… ballet is an incredibly enjoyable form of self-expression, and I want to share that with people!”
Celine Anderson ‘19, lectured on Race and the American Sitcom. For her, the talk was a chance to share her research about over- and underrepresentation of ethnic groups in sitcoms, while encouraging further discussions. “As an Afro-Arab-American (my dad is black, and my mom’s Egyptian), I think about my identities a lot,” she said. “Like lots of people, I get self conscious sometimes and become hyper aware of how others perceive me in relation to race. One way for me to understand racism that I interact with in my personal life is to analyze it in a larger historical context.”
Contemplating her identity through historical lenses, she felt a need to share her own knowledge and observations. “I hope to motivate others to research sitcoms on their own, think about TV in context, and understand how recognizing the history of a show like Amos n’ Andy can better help us to understand the Tyler Perry movies of today,” she said. Amos n’ Andy is a racially-charged sitcom from the 1920s to 50s. Although back then the show was labeled as popular entertainment, it laid the groundwork for modern American sitcoms.
Whether it is the desire to promote certain pursuits or to foster awareness, lecturers of Peripeteia share a common eagerness to engage intellectual conversation on a personal level.
To make Peripeteia a reality, serious dedication and commitment were required. Besides the basic task of recruiting lecturers, the Peripeteia Planning Committee made an effort to create an accommodating schedule, build a website, advertise the event, and support participants. “We have done our best to ensure that everyone leading a course has had access to whatever resources they might have needed or wanted,” Remy said. “This meant meeting with the course leaders, connecting people interested in similar fields, and generally trying to keep in active communication. It’s been a lot of work, but completely worth it.”
According to Remy and Gomes, Peripeteia was funded by a community development grant, which awards projects that promote inclusivity of knowledge and opinions. The grant meant that the event was very well-funded.
Ultimately, such extended efforts are directed towards fulfilling Peripeteia’s founding mission, which strives to encourage the exchange of novel and interdisciplinary ideas. “I hope people who attend Peripeteia can learn something!” Remy said. “Because someone could attend only one course, or many, it’s impossible to say what exactly they’d get out of it, but I hope someone gets something out of it.”
Smith agrees. “I just want to learn something new; that’s really my goal. I think it will be cool to talk about something confidently and just to have an interesting conversation.”
Organizers say that feedback and experience from this event will valuable in planning future events, and Peripeteia is slotted to happen again next year. Preludes will continue for the rest of the semester. The topic of the next prelude is the ways different disciplines use data to build arguments, a topic that reflects the spirit of Peripeteia.