English Department Announces 2012-13 Common Context

The English Department at the University of St. Thomas is pleased to announce “Work” as this year’s Common Context for its 100-level writing courses. The Common Context program, which was introduced for the 2010-11 academic year, focuses on a single context that has strong contemporary relevance for our lives and the potential to promote interdisciplinary learning and conversations from a variety of cultural, historical and political perspectives.

This year’s context speaks to a central fact of human experience. Certainly, this university, which includes the phrase “to work skillfully” in its mission statement, as well as the student population that we teach, are preoccupied with work. Without its workers, the university could not function, and the students we serve work daily with the expectation that they soon will enter the workforce and help contribute toward building our society.

But work is often broader and more complicated than we realize. The notion of work and working speaks directly to who we are as human beings. Work is often said to ennoble our lives, particularly if understood as a vocation, as Dorothy Sayers argues in her essay, “Why Work?”; at other times work is said to degrade, alienate and render our lives absurd, as in the television series, “The Office.” Thinking and talking about work in all its complexity can be an essential part of understanding what place we want to occupy in our collective society.

It is our hope that during the course of this school year, students, faculty, and staff will be able to engage in productive conversations about the significance of work in both our private and public lives.

Fall 2012 events are listed below:

3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, OSF Library, Room 108
Lecture: "Work, Race and Masculinity in the Jim Crow Era: The Case of the Black Musician"

In an American culture preoccupied with the ideal of the "self-made man," hard work has been an essential requirement of manhood; however, not all groups of Americans have agreed as to what counts as "work" in the first place. By comparing Jim Crow-era vagrancy laws with ideas expressed by black musicians, Dr. Robert Hawkins of Bradley University demonstrates how different definitions of work have produced distinct versions of masculinity. These competing masculinities, in turn, were crucial factors in struggles over racial equality and economic justice. This event is co-sponsored by the American Culture and Difference program.

3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, OSF Library, Room 108
Performance: "The Mill"

Dr. Amy Kritzer directs a student reading of Duluth playwright Jeannine Coulombe's play based on real-life events that took place in 1989 in International Falls, Minn. Faced with the Boise Cascade paper mill's attempts to undermine the power of their local union, workers must decide between accepting the company's terms or taking action that might ultimately destroy their town. This heated conflict boils over into a violent confrontation and one local family is irrevocably drawn into the fray. "The Mill" is a powerful drama about work, workers, immigration, race and resistance. Jeannine Coulombe will be on hand to speak to students following the reading.

7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, JRC Auditorium, Room 126
Film: "The Harvest / La Cosecha"

From award-winning filmmaker, photographer and activist Roberto Romano and executive producer Eva Longoria, this acclaimed documentary provides a startling, heartbreaking, and inspiring look into the lives of Zulema, Perla, and Victor – three children who "struggle to dream while working 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week to feed America." Co-sponsored by UST Libraries.

Noon, Thursday, Oct. 11, James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall, Anderson Student Center
Lecture from Annie Baxter of National Public Radio

Annie Baxter, of Minnesota Public Radio, and more recently, National Public Radio, will speak about her reporting on work, unemployment, and the economy in Minnesota. She'll also talk about the work of being a journalist and what it takes to tell the stories of the community you live in. Co-sponsored by the Communication and Journalism Department.