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‘Meet the weirdos,’ dean urges students at USU opening event

August 28th, 2012 Posted in Opinion
Photos by Ted Pease
LOGAN—Self-described “weirdos” and other students, faculty and friends of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences gathered Monday night at the Amphitheatre on Old Main Hill for the 2nd annual Light on the Hill ceremony to welcome the start of a new school year at Utah State University.

Dean John Allen introduces the leadership of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences during Monday’s “Light on the Hill” event in the USU Amphitheater. (Ted Pease photo)

Advertised on buttons and fliers, the theme of the event—“Meet the Weirdos”—referenced CHaSS Dean John Allen’s Last Lecture convocation last year, which he reprised this year, urging incoming freshmen and returning students to reach outside their comfort zones by connecting with people they may not otherwise affiliate with outside the university setting.

“I really believe that if you build community, positive things come from that,” Allen told a crowd of students, faculty and others during his opening statements. “So this is a beginning of what we hope is a culture. This is year No. 2.
By meeting “weirdos,” Allen said, students can make the best of their college years.
CHaSS student Senator Trent Morrison added his take on weirdos by telling the crowd of about 150 gathered in the dusk of the first day of classes that he originally declared a major in psychology—outside of the college—when he first came to USU, but, after a friend suggested a class in communication studies, he chose a liberal arts degree.
“Please take a journey with CHaSS, ignite your passion, and get involved,” Morrison said. “Choose a degree to everywhere.”
USU alumnus Grant Bulltail, an elder of the Crow Tribe of Montana who will teach folklore and Native American studies this year, offered parables about inspiration.
“I’m always glad to come to Logan and the university, because good things happen to me here,” Bulltail said. “And I wish the same for you, too. Knowledge is a wonderful thing.”

Students, faculty and friends of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences celebrate the start of another school year. (Ted Pease photo)

Allen, a rural sociologist, further explained his thoughts on “weirdos” and their roles in a broad, liberal arts education.Here’s why it’s important to “meet the weirdos,” he said.

“As human beings we tend to aggregate to people like ourselves. College is the one place where you don’t have to do that, where you get an opportunity to engage people who think differently, look differently, talk differently, eat different food,” he said. “Engage them. I hope you will open yourselves up to what’s possible in a liberal arts education.”
Many have questioned the value of a liberal arts degree, Allen said. Students, their parents, and lawmakers sometimes wonder if students will be able to get a job or pay off their loans after graduation, Allen said. Some have asked, “Will people still like me if I’m weird?”
“Push yourself, don’t be a passive learner,” Allen said. “Challenge your professors, they like it. Challenge your peers. You will leave Utah State University with an entirely different education if you push yourselves. Make the connections.”
Students sometimes forget to make connections between their classes in order to see the bigger picture, Allen said. This sort of tunnel vision can diminish the potential returns that a quality liberal arts education may offer to those who push themselves, he said.
After the ceremony, which featured a lighting of candles by the audience to symbolize the light of knowledge, philosophy Professor Harrison Kleiner said it’s important that professors and instructors take the lead by setting the example in how to connect various disciplines within the college and the university.
“One of the problems with the modern academy, as it is, is there has been a tendency to divide ourselves up into these little island disciplines,” Kleiner said. “Each of these little island disciplines has its own tribal language, so it’s very hard to connect concepts and ideas, even if they are actually connected.”
Therefore, he said, it’s good that attempts be made to build such bridges across disciplines.
“The purpose of an education is to educate the whole person,” Kleiner said. “In that sense, an education isn’t complete until the whole person and all of his or her knowledge bases are integrated and synthesized into one statement about … the nature of things. That requires integrating knowledge from all various fields, and it’s hard to do.”
During the ceremony, the dean acknowledged the diversity of the college by introducing the heads of the many academic departments and programs that make up the college—ranging from humanities areas such as history, English and languages, to social sciences like political science and sociology, to professional and applied programs like military science, journalism/public relations and Utah Public Radio.
“These are the people that make this system run while you’re all trying to learn and the others are trying to teach,” Allen said.
The department heads help symbolize the spreading of the “light on the hill” by lighting their own candles and then passing the flame on, one person at a time, row by row, until each member of the audience eventually held a lit candle.
Natalie A. Smoot, assistant to the dean, said as the flames are passed on and the glow of the light grows, it symbolizes the way knowledge is passed on as students and faculty make connections between one another.
“The light is just kind of a unique thing that no one does here at Utah State,” Smoot said. “And we wanted to start something new. We wanted to be different, we wanted to stand out.”

Members of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences celebrate “weirdos.” (Ted Pease photo)

Smoot said the number of people at this year’s event was twice that of last year, and she hopes the annual event will continue to grow in the future.

“It’s really cool to see this much support for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences,” said student senator Morrison.
Prior to the dean’s convocation and new to this year’s ceremony, Smoot said, representatives from various departments and student organizations met around tables south of Old Main to give incoming freshmen and returning students an opportunity to learn more about opportunities associated with the college. 


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