“Trigger Warnings” for Hamlet

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This week the British publication The Guardian reported that “Students in America have been asking for “trigger warnings” to be included on works of literature which deal with topics such as rape or war.”  Works that were of concern to students at the University of California at Santa Barbara included Things Fall ApartMrs. Dalloway, and The Great Gatsby, all of which I have taught.  This demand for fair warning so that those who have been traumatized can adequately prepare for the shock of what they read assumes that having something in a syllabus (which may or may not be read by students anyway) will insulate students from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that may come up in any given text.

I’m not so sure.
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IFest: The Best Houston Has to Offer (For Extra Credit)!

Have you ever wanted to travel to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, China, India or Ireland?  How can you do that without buying a plane ticket, getting a passport, or taking time off from work?

There is a way to do just that in the cosmopolitan city of Houston, which is one of America’s most diverse urban areas.  It’s called the Houston International Festival (or IFest for short).  For two weekends (this year April 26-27 and May 3-4), downtown Houston becomes another place on the planet.  Literally.  The countries/regions that I just listed have been the featured cultures at IFest in the last six years.

If you want to visit Australia in the next two weekends, head to IFest because that is the highlighted country this year.  The culture of “the land down under” will be presented with a lot of activities.  I must say as an American expatriate, I always resonated with the Aussies I met traveling or working. They are a lot like us Americans, yet also a little bit different (in a very good way) so it should be a lot of fun.

Between 100,000-150,000 people visit IFest annually.  This is probably the largest international festival in the United States.  When I teach Intercultural Communication here at HBU, I offer students extra credit to attend the festival and then have them write a paper about the food, music, and cultural artifacts that they observed using the theoretical concepts we learned in class.  There is a lot to eat, hear, and see! Continue reading

To My Sophomores

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Dear New Sophomore,

I would call you by your first name, but I haven’t met you yet.  But I will, in about a week, and then I really need to know your name, because it is important to call people by their names.  In fact, I am so excited to know who you are, I want you to go ahead and learn the names of everyone in our class.  This way you know that we are a team, and we are all trying, together, to fill in the gaps of knowledge that we all have.

You might meet your new best friend in this class, so go ahead and learn names in case that is the case.  You might also meet your intellectual nemesis, the person who drives you so crazy with their condescension and pretensions that you throw yourself into your work, graduate summa cum laude, and get your law degree from Harvard, just to show that person a thing or two.  People want to be addressed by their names, because almost everything in this world is personal to someone, and you are kidding yourself if you think otherwise.  Plus, it is harder to say something unkind if you have started that sentence with someone’s first name.  Trust me, if you can learn the periodic table, you can learn to remember names.

I want to reassure you that I completely agree that it is unfair that you are labeled “sophomores,” which inevitably makes anyone with a pulse think of the word “sophomoric,” and I am here to tell you that I have met people with doctorates who better fit that description than many of my students.  What can I say?  Labels are unjust, but they can also be great incentives for proving everyone else wrong.  The traditional meaning of “sophomore” comes from the Greek roots for “wisdom” (think of the the word “philosopher,” which means a lover of wisdom) and then the root for “fool” (the same root for words like “moronic”).  I know this seems oxymoronic:  How can you be wise and foolish at the same time?   Some roughly translate “sophomore” (besides being a second year student in high school or college) as someone who has gained knowledge, but not enough wisdom to know how to apply it.  Some think of sophomores as those who think they know more than they actually do.

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“Do you have a minute, Dr. Wilson?”

tumblr_m9dqe50JY11rekgalo1_400To commemorate the end of the semester and the beginning of finals, I thought I would revisit a few glimmering moments I have had with my students for anyone who has ever taken a class, taught a class, or even heard of a class.  Trust me, I cannot make this stuff up.

1.  “Our final is comprehensive.  Does that mean that it covers everything we have read?”

2.  “Dr. XYZ  is letting us do these really creative dialogues and just footnote our sources instead of doing a research paper like you are making us do.  Could I do this for this class too?  I mean I am a fiction writer and that would be an assignment where I would actually learn something.Continue reading