Jan. 10, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 7

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    Opinions on ‘what matters’ offered during forums

    By Carrie Golus
    News Office

    What matters to you and why?––not a question you would ordinarily ask in polite company. Nevertheless, Alison Boden, Dean of Rockefeller Chapel, has so far persuaded nine members of the University community to answer it in public. This is the second year of the brown bag forum “What Matters to Me and Why,” held at noon on Thursdays during the third and seventh weeks of each quarter.

    Last year’s speakers included President Randel, Ted O’Neill, Dean of College Admissions, and Allen Sanderson, Senior Lecturer in Economics. “The different speakers have answered the question in such original ways,” Boden said. “It’s a real opportunity to explore what they value most, how that came to be and how that influences not only the biggest choices they make, but also the smallest daily choices. For those of us listening, it’s often left our minds reeling, thinking about these questions for ourselves.”

    This year’s series began with Bertram Cohler, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division. Susan Art, Dean of Students in the College, accepted the challenge earlier this month. “When it comes to the question of why,” Art said, “you can either defend your values or explain the origin of your values. So in the next 15 minutes, I’m going to explain where my values come from.”

    For Art, family was a defining influence: her father’s love of life narratives, her mother’s fierce support of her children––“the kind of support that really irritated me when I was a teen-ager,” she said. “I remember having an argument with my sister over abortion. I don’t remember now which side each of us was on, but it was very heated. And my mother listened to us and said, ‘You’re both right.’ This seemed so softheaded at the time, but it resonated as I got older.”

    After attending college and graduate school in English literature, Art lived in England with her husband and three children. “It was one of those transforming experiences, when I turned myself inside out and became a different person,” she said. “As an expatriate, I didn’t have to fit in, and that shook me free.”

    In 1986, she returned to Hyde Park, landed a job in the College advising office and has been there ever since. “Over the years, I’ve advised over 1,000 students, and every single person is different,” she said. “One of the most interesting aspects is listening to each individual narrative.”

    While the “What Matters” series is not explicitly religious, many of the speakers have chosen to discuss their religious or spiritual beliefs. For Art, her involvement in organized religion came surprisingly late in life. “In middle age, church has become really important to me,” she said. “When I think about what I’m getting out of church, I think about the connections––a community of people practicing forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion. In a way, that’s what I’m trying to do as Dean of the Students in the College––build a community of people who are working together on a common project.”

    Next quarter, the series will resume with undergraduate third-year student Jeremy Posadas, who will speak on Thursday, Jan. 17.

    Future speakers include Dennis Hutchinson, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the College; Pamela Bozeman-Evans, Director of the University Community Service Center; and Douglas Duncan, Senior Research Associate in Astronomy & Astrophysics.