How do we disseminate knowledge and make it accessible beyond the academic sphere?
University campuses are just one place where scholarship and learning happen, which means that we can turn to sites beyond the classroom to engage students and foster meaningful reflections. Last semester in my FREN 4813 special topics class, “In-Humanity: Cruelty/Literature/Media,” I invited students to visit a museum in Atlanta that aligned with the themes of our course. This exercise in experiential and kinesthetic learning allowed students to gain a deeper understanding of the questions with which we began the course: What is violence and what forms does it take? How do diverse modes of cultural production (literature, poetry, photography, film) respond to various types of violence and their aftermath? Complementing our in-class discussions that responded to assigned readings, films, and podcasts, the museum visit provided a different narrative mode and method through which to process and produce knowledge. This in turn both reinforced what was seen in class and, additionally, introduced students to other sources and their curation. I echo Isis Artze-Vega, Flower Darby, Bryan Dewsbury, and Mays Imad’s words, which draw on the correlation between student support and engagement: “Feeling safe, supported, and empowered, students are practicing democratic participation, engaging respectfully…on questions of sustainability, globalization, our shared history, and other issues that matter deeply to them” (The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching, 2022, p. 247). Through this “place-based epistemology: museums as sites of learning” activity, my hope was to encourage my students to take their profound reflections on the topics that matter deeply to them in a new direction while espousing the ethos of respectful inquiry and practice. The resulting testimonials speak to the power of the public humanities and civic engagement.