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2021 Director Election

The Board seeks to elect a new Director for a three-year term from Fall 2021 to Spring 2024. The Director is elected by the Board with input from faculty. An open forum will be held on May 7 at 11 am, during which faculty may ask questions to the candidate(s) and will have the opportunity to provide confidential feedback to the Board. Faculty may also email the Director or any Board member(s) with feedback in advance of this forum (see People for a list of current Board members).

This year, Amy Letter (English), has accepted a nomination for Director. Please see below for her statement. Her CV will be distributed by email, as will a Zoom invitation to the open forum on May 7.

Dear Colleagues,

I propose myself, Amy Letter, for chair of the Center for the Humanities for the term starting Fall 2021 and ending Spring 2024. 

I am a creative writer and artist deeply interested in science and technology, and in the fascinating insights that come at the borderlands of our academic disciplines. I am also a mother and mere mortal whose experience of the pandemic year was, as I am sure yours was, something like a crucible that burned away inessential and impermanent things and left an iron-hard core of compassion, and passion for the things that most matter in our short time on this Earth. 

I previously served on the board for four years, first from 2013-14 as a one year replacement, and then for a three year term ending in 2017. During those years it was my honor and pleasure to learn about the many fascinating projects being pursued by humanities faculty, and to help find ways to help fund them. 

If elected chair of the board of directors for the Center for the Humanities, I would continue the good stewardship of the Center’s mission and resources. I would seek to streamline the processes by which faculty apply for grants, and explore additional faculty needs where Center resources can be made potent. I would specifically be interested in finding ways the Center’s resources could be employed in helping faculty regain their footing after this staggering pandemic year, and in identifying or creating more opportunities and alliances among faculty not typically included under the heading “humanities.” In 18-19, I served as a member of the committee which designed and proposed the new AI major, an experience which made vivid the ever-increasing overlap between technological and humanistic concerns. 

The Center for the Humanities has been very good to me. In addition to serving on the board, I’ve had the privilege to present twice for the Center on campus, first as part of a Symposium on Science, Technology, and the Humanities, with Mark Vitha and Martin Roth in 2012, and again in 2015 as part of the Humanities Center Colloquium Series, with “Losing the Literature of the Now”: notes on my experience as artist-in-residence at the Media Archaeology Lab at CU Boulder, exploring increasingly inaccessible early digital literature. I was able to bring my prior collaborator Mark Franz, a digital artist and interaction designer, to campus to speak and work with students as part of the Myron "Mike" Marty Arts + Humanities Lecture series. I have been a grateful recipient of the Center’s Green Course Development Grant, and received partial funding from the Center to attend In(ter)ventions, an artists’ residency for experimental and multimodal writing at the Banff Centre in 2013. And of course I was member (11-12), co-chair (12-13), and chair (13-15) of the Susan Glaspell Writers & Critics Reading Series, the luminous project which brought George Saunders, Alison Bechdel, and many other brilliant writers and artists to Drake’s campus during my tenure, events which would not have been possible without the support of many parties, but especially the Center for the Humanities.

It would be my honor to take the helm of the board of directors at this crucial time. 

Amy Letter, M.F.A.

Associate Professor of Creative Writing
Department of English
College of Arts & Sciences, Drake University

2021 Board Elections

The Board is seeking to fill two open positions for the three-year term starting in fall 2020. Please review the statements of purpose from our nominees. A ballot will be distributed by email in late April.

Benjamin Gardner (Art & Design)

As a multimedia artist, the humanities have always been at the core of my art making and studio research. Recently, my paintings and sculptures have focused on the realities of the Anthropocene and how we visualize landscape/space/place and how these ideas converge with the theory of hauntology in pop culture. I also continue to make art works that deal with hallucination, visual phenomena, and their relationship to folklore. Included in this body of work is my short film hallucination dream sequence (2017, color) and my read-along book and record titled The Cabin, which was supported by the Humanities Center.

I usually describe my interest in the humanities as being based in visual culture but have recently found that inadequate due to my increasing fascination in podcasts and experimental music as cultural artifacts. I tend to emphasize art history and visual culture (along with art making, of course) in my teaching, but I am most passionate about mentoring students through the process of ideation and exploring the different media options that work best with their ideas. This can lead students to projects involving digital art making, time-based art work, or audio projects. 

I have always been interested in books and publishing as well. I’m an avid reader and writer of fiction, particularly in the speculative and weird genres. A relatively new area of publishing culture is the advent of tabletop role-playing games that are produced across the world and are amazing representations of culture in a number of ways. I’ve had a great deal of success in my Digital Media course teaching a game design project in which students in small groups collaboratively design a tabletop game. I will teach a new January term course titled Worldbuilding: A Creative and Critical Approach in January 2022 that builds off of this project as well.

Serving on the board of the Center of the Humanities would be a great honor. I believe strongly in the discourse and research on human society and culture at Drake and hope to do my part pushing forward, helping to maintain the important role that the Center of the Humanities plays in supporting faculty research and the scholarly community on campus. 

Felicia Jamison (History)

I am happy to accept the nomination for a term on the Board for the Center for the Humanities.

Serving on the Board would allow me the opportunity to learn about and support the extraordinary work of faculty, staff, and students at Drake University. As a historian, I understand the importance of receiving funding that allows one time to concentrate and improve their scholarship and/or teaching. My current research project focuses on Black Southern women who accumulated property while enslaved and purchased land in the post-emancipation period. This project has its origins in the oral traditions of my family. Growing up, the elders often told us stories about our ancestors purchasing the land on which we lived. I am fortunate to have the opportunity and historical training to write about this very important and personal history. Thus, for me, the field of History, and the Humanities in general, has provided an avenue in which I can research and recover important stories from the past and connect them to current social issues. I am sure that many of the people who submit applications to the Center for the Humanities are also very passionate about their projects and simply need support to bring their proposals to life. I would be honored to serve on a Board whose mission it is to create these vital opportunities for members of the Drake community.

Dina Smith (English)

I am grateful for and humbled by the recent nomination to stand for election to the Humanities Center Board of Directors. If elected, I would extend my commitment to the field of humanistic inquiry, one that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, by taking seriously the Humanities Center's mission to encourage "excellence in Humanities research, teaching and campus and public programming."

If you do not know me, my areas are film studies, and class and whiteness studies. I teach mostly film courses that have me working across field boundaries: world cinema, historical/political cinema. I work historically to contextualize films, for instance, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) as read through the invention of the postwar teenager in U.S. culture. Yes, the teenager, as a category, was a sociological invention that found interplay with pop culture given ‘teens new consumer mobility given automobile culture in 1950s.

Such an anecdote suggests a curious person who enjoys other curious, inventive, or surprisingly, interdisciplinary projects. I welcome interdisciplinary (weirdo) projects should I be elected.

Neil Ward (Art & Design)

I would like to be considered as a board member for the Center for the Humanities starting in the Fall of 2021. My work focuses on human-centered design (HCD), which is defined as a focus on the people you are designing for/with, the ability to identify the fundamental basic problem, think of the solution as a system, and think about the big picture—what is the final result we care about? 

This path has led to the creation of a History of HCD course examining how the human body has dictated the design of objects and spaces with which we utilize and interact. Specifically focusing on the influence of human biometric data on our surroundings and how this knowledge can be applied to the field of design. 

It has also led me to workshops such as Designing for Equity and Facilitating Intercultural Learning. Both workshops guided me through acknowledging my identity, culture, constructed reality, and impact of my decision-making power along with being mindful and appropriate in situations where I am immersed in a different culture.

This has helped me to form a hypothesis for my classroom. If I can get students to acknowledge their identity, culture, and how they make meaning of the world, it will help them understand where their ideas and inspiration come from. So, when they design for a client who has a different identity, culture, and way of making meaning of the world they will be able to pivot their thinking and actions mindfully to successfully design for and with them.

Over the past two years, in my upper-level design courses, I guided students to acknowledge their identity and find issues around their values to design for. Then asked them to find users who were similar culturally to them to test their designs, avoiding the academic savior complex. The proof of this hypothesis showed up in their projects that ranged from craft kits for fathers to spend quality time with their kids to an app for artists to find inspiration and network with other artists to a board game that helps families split up household chores.

I believe with my ongoing interest and engagement with HCD along with a focus of identity and culture in the classroom that I align with the broad definition of Humanities and feel confident I can uphold the mission of the Center for the Humanities. Thank you for taking the time to read my statement and considering me as a board member for the Center for the Humanities starting in the Fall of 2021.

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