‘Defining America’ selected as campus interdisciplinary learning theme for 2018-19

The new campus learning theme, “Defining America,” will tie in with issues of diversity and inclusion currently being discussed on campus, which has involved a recent faculty-led “March For Equity.”

With Western Carolina University’s successful campus learning theme, “Cherokee: Community. Culture. Connections.” coming to a close, it’s time to make way for a new theme.

After a campuswide poll last fall, the selected theme the 2018-19 academic year is “Defining America.” Since 2009, WCU has selected an interdisciplinary theme for campus conversations, curricular and co-curricular connections, and enrichment.

“During our times of rapid change and development, it can be valuable to take pause and reflect on how far and from where we have come, to seek clarification and to recognize where we are, and to intentionally plan for how best to move forward together,” said Center for Service Learning Director Lane Perry, who is overseeing this year’s theme. “This theme is designed to be that moment in time. The period to reflect through historical, cultural, economic, political and geographical lenses with the greater intention of reflecting, exploring and learning about America `from sea to shining sea.’ ”

Dana Patterson

The steering committee for “Defining America” is co-chaired by Intercultural Affairs Director Dana Patterson and Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professor of Regional Economic Development Angela Dills. The theme’s broad scope will allow disciplines from across campus to participate.

“Every discipline will be encouraged to highlight the contributions that their field has made, continues to make and has the potential to make in the future,” Patterson said. “America has a long and complex history, as well as an exciting outlook for the future. I believe that students will find this theme engaging and exciting as they are encouraged to go beyond the surface and intelligently question some of the previously held beliefs about how America has been defined and understood by previous generations. It invites a new and innovative perception that includes every voice, every perspective and every idea that comes out of the unique journey that we will embark on as members of the Catamount community.”

Dills points out that a lot of those discussions are already taking place in classrooms across campus. Having this theme will allow them to come together.

Angela Dills

“The committee is excited about connecting these discussions across classrooms, outside classrooms, and with the wide variety of extracurricular and community-engaged events on campus,” Dills said. “We look to provide opportunities for students to share their own varied definitions of America and to participate in a deep and broad intellectual discussion of how America might be.”

Carol Burton, who oversaw the campus themes prior to taking on her new role as acting provost in January, said the Cherokee theme was immensely popular and believes “Defining America” is a timely theme.

“The selection of (Cherokee) gave impetus to us to celebrate, learn about and honor the rich legacy of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that is so important to our region and location,” Burton said. “Our relationship with the Cherokee came into its own this year, and I salute the efforts of Sky Sampson, director of the Cherokee Center and Dr. Lisa Bloom, endowed professor in the School of Teaching and Learning and chair of the theme committee this year, as well as the committee and so many others for their diligence and passion for the topic.

“I think we have a real opportunity with next year’s theme to tie in what we are currently discussing on campus around the issues of climate, as well as to explore new and old concepts of America. The theme also ties in nicely with the OneBook selection for next year, `The Book of Unknown Americans.’ ”

Previous campus themes were:

2009-10: Josefina Niggli – A Celebration of Culture, Life, and Art

2010-11: Sweet ‘N Low – An Interdisciplinary Journey to Living Well

2011-12: The WCU Poverty Project

2012-13: Citizenship and Civility

2013-14: The Decade of the 1960s – Take It All In

2014-15: North Carolina: Our State, Our Time

2015-17: Africa: More Than A Continent

2017-18: Cherokee: Community. Culture. Connections.