Washburn begins new Themester initiative

Morgan Holloway

To start off the year, Washburn is kicking off the spring semester with a new initiative called Themester.

In May 2018, the Academic Diversity & Inclusion Committee had a brainstorming session to discuss how to connect all the various conversations of diversity and inclusion happening in different parts of campus. The committee is made up of faculty and student representatives from areas all across campus that are committed to diversity and inclusion at Washburn.

Kara Kendall-Morwick, an English professor at Washburn and member of the Academic Diversity & Inclusion Committee, brought up the idea of Themester. The idea originated from Indiana University when Kendall-Morwick was working on her Ph.D.

Indiana began Themester in 2009 to bring big issues to the surface. Indiana introduces the theme in the spring to build up interest for the fall semester’s special courses and events. While the idea was brought from Indiana, other universities have been doing Themester all over the country.

The theme for spring 2019 Themester is freedom of speech and expression.

“[The theme] is at the core of what the university does or should do. It is at the root of intellectual inquiry and the production of knowledge and we need to teach our students the importance of that. Addressing this topic teaches students to think about why freedom of speech is important and think about how to use their freedom of speech in constructive, responsible ways,” said Kelly Erby, history professor and chair of the Academic Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

The Academic Diversity & Inclusion Committee worked to implement programming that would appeal to everyone.

“I’ve been really excited by all the support we have gotten,” Erby said. “It is really amazing to see so many disciplines and departments get involved. Students should expect to find something that appeals to them and be useful for their education no matter what major they are or what their career goal is.”

The Academic Diversity & Inclusion Committee has been putting together panels, film screenings, guest lectures, talks in the Union Underground and more.

Along with programming events, there are five special courses offered this semester in four areas including arts, English, history and philosophy.

One of the courses is called Banned Books and Films and it is taught by Kendall-Morwick. There are 22 students enrolled in the class and it is cross-listed as a 100 level general education course, a 200 level honors course and a 300 level English elective.

“It means I get to teach some texts that don’t normally fall under my purview with classes I teach. I don’t ordinarily teach a lot of film so I’m excited to teach some new things and learn more myself about this topic,” Kendall-Morwick said.

While there are few special courses for Themester, many professors are planning on implementing topics that pertain to the theme.

“I am really excited about Themester. My class this morning was Academic Reading and Research, a 100 level course, and it’s not specifically a Themester class but I’m integrating that theme in key ways,” Kendall-Morwick said.

The university is also participating by hosting a special designation Apeiron for Themester. Students doing projects for a Themester-related course or another class with a topic relevant to the theme can participate.

The Academic Diversity & Inclusion Committee hopes that every student can grow and learn from Themester events and programs.

Students interested in events and how Themester is impacting campus can go to https://washburn.edu/diversity/Themester.html.

If any student organization sees a way of connecting something they want to do, contact Kelly Erby, Kara Kendall-Morwick or anyone on the Academic Diversity & Inclusion Committee.