Conventional Wisdom: Events from the Humanities Center’s Syracuse Symposium to Investigate Changing Norms


From the transformative impact of COVID-19 on people’s daily lives to the global reckoning with histories of colonialism and racism, norms are constantly shifting. The Year of the Center for the Humanities at Syracuse University Syracuse Symposium [PDF]titled Conventions, explores ever-changing political, social and cultural currents through a series of lectures, workshops, performances, exhibitions, films, readings and more.

The theme of the Symposium, chosen by the Center Advisory Boardfeatures events intended to inspire critical thinking and encourage ethically-based action through a humanistic lens.

According to Vivian May, director of the Humanities Center and the Central New York Humanities Corridor, the events this spring will help participants confront and rework the powerful norms and expectations that shape people’s lives and imaginations. “We hope the Spring Symposium programming will spark open reflection on the conventions we have come to accept, in our collective and personal lives,” says May. Below is a selection of upcoming Symposium events.

Supporting Urban Communities During COVID

Community programs play a vital role in bringing together and forging solidarity among vulnerable urban communities. La Casita Cultural Center, a program of the College of Arts and Sciences, is a space for cultural and community exchange, connecting the Hispanic communities of Syracuse University and Central New York for 10 years. But according to Tere Paniagua, executive director of La Casita and the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community at Syracuse University, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting isolation severed ties. developed through community programs at La Casita and similar organizations.

MSW candidate Zach Pearson leads mindfulness dialogue with teens at La Casita Cultural Center

Zach Pearson (left), an MSW candidate at Falk College’s School of Social Work, leads an open mindfulness dialogue with teens enrolled in ECHOES, a program focused on theatre, acting and self-expression.

“The divide in our system appears to have deepened, separating people from each other and disengaging communities from service agencies, youth programs and other resources available at no cost to residents,” Paniagua says. “Strategies that worked well for building community connections in the past aren’t as effective now.”

In response, La Casita hosts Engaging urban communities: bouncing back from COVID-19 and the new “normal”—an open and candid dialogue among community organizers, artists, scholars, educators, and students about how to bridge these divides in urban communities in the Syracuse area. They will discuss the challenges that can hinder community support and the need to reassess traditional ways of engaging. The event will take place on February 24 from 6-7:30 p.m. and will be held in person at La Casita, located at 109 Otisco Street in Syracuse, and will also be available virtually, broadcast live via Zoom.

Panelists will reflect on the experiences, shortcomings and successes of various community engagement initiatives in reopening programs to the public following the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Current circumstances within urban communities living in poverty demand more from created agencies to engage and serve,” says Paniagua. “The panel will take into account social and cultural elements; the disruptions linked to the pandemic which have highlighted disparities and inequalities; and what changes are needed to achieve positive results.

The event will be hosted by Paniagua and panelists will include:

  • Bea Gonzalez, community organizer and former University Vice President for Community Engagement
  • Fanny Villarreal, Executive Director, Women’s Y
  • Elisa Morales, Executive Director, Spanish Action League
  • Maria Emma Ticio, Associate Professor and Chair, Spanish and Linguistics
  • Brice Nordquist, Dean’s Professor of Community Engagement
  • Zachary Pearson, MSW Candidate, School of Social Work
  • Lizmarie Montemayor, research assistant hired at the undergraduate level in the humanities
  • Zakery Munoz, Ph.D. candidate, writing and rhetoric

Care agreements

five Narratio Fellows during a summer workshop

Narratio Fellows at the Summer Institute (Photo by Edward Grattan)

Since 2019, the Storytelling Fellowship inspired former young refugees from the Syracuse area to share their stories in a way that was authentic and meaningful to them. The fellowship is launched each summer with an intensive month-long workshop where fellows learn to use artistic expression as a method of storytelling. They work with artists in residence to explore and represent a full range of their own stories and experiences through different creative mediums.

With the 2021-22 cohort marking the largest Narratio class to date, this year’s fellowship included two groups: a poetry cohort, led by Somali writer and community organizer Khadija Mohamed, herself a 2019 Storytelling Fellowand a cohort of photographers led by Colombian-American photographer and filmmaker Stefano Castro in collaboration with Vision workshops and National Geographic photographers Matt Moyer and Amy Toensing, also a professor at the Newhouse School.

Fellows will showcase their original poetry and photography in an exhibition titled “Care agreementson May 5 at La Casita. The exhibition will be linked to the spring showcase of La Casita celebrating the art of young people in Syracuse.

The Fellows’ work emanates from an ongoing collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The fellows traveled to the Met in New York last fall where they worked closely with conservationists and conservators to learn how to repair, conserve and reconstruct objects. Fellows used the trip as inspiration for their own creative works, as the cohort of poets based their writings on objects from the museum’s Ancient Near East collection.

According to fellowship co-founder Brice Nordquist, who is also associate professor of writing, rhetoric, and composition studies and dean’s professor of community engagement in the College of Arts and Sciences, the themes of conservation and caregiving were pronounced in the work of fellows throughout the year.

“What emerged from the poet cohort’s writing processes were the caring relationships between family members across generations,” says Nordquist. “On the photography side, most of the scenes capture moments and practices of caring for each other, for oneself, families and communities.”

The exhibition will feature photo series centered on caregiving relationships as well as poetry displayed with the Met objects that fellows have used as inspiration. Fragments of the poems will also be linked to the photo series to demonstrate the community and connectedness of the fellows’ work. In addition to presentations from each fellow, the first will include talks from Nordquist, co-founder of the fellowship Ahmad Badr and artists in residence.

According to Nordquist, the Conventions of Care event exemplifies one of the fellowship’s main goals: to show each Fellow that they are a cultural producer with the power to move the public into action. “We want them to recognize their own agency and ability as artists and know that their communities value them and their voices. They have a lot to teach us about the ethics of care.

Other Syracuse Symposium events include:

For more information about the Center for Humanities or any of this year’s Symposium events, visit the Humanities Center website.


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