Humanities for the Public Good

Humanities Labs Foreground Community

The HPG Advisory Board spent the year working in small groups to imagine future humanities labs. Like their counterparts in the sciences, humanities labs foreground inquiry, exploration, and collaboration. Often centered on a project, labs are spaces (physical and/or intellectual) where trans-disciplinary teams convene to respond to a hypothesis or problem of importance in the world and across communities—so-called “wicked problems.” Our labs took up issues around racial justice, healthcare, and comprehensive exams. Members worked together throughout the year to imagine courses or new models based on their topic. 

A member of the Health and Racial Justice group, Ana Rodriguez (Spanish & Portuguese) said of the process, “There were many conversations with colleagues that taught us a lot about the healthcare world. This took us outside our comfort zone. We were trying together to tackle a problem with the aid of different approaches. That’s the philosophy of the lab, and that’s the philosophy of the courses we would like to design.” 

Other participants noted how the pandemic underlined the value of being in process within a community, and to be doing work for the betterment of the community. A graduate student in the College of Education and a lab member, Gordon Louie explained, “The opportunity to work with [with members of my lab], from a variety of departments and different disciplinary backgrounds, but also grounded in that ethic of hope and change and transformation… I don’t know how many times or chances that something like this would come up.”  

Also of value to many lab members was the unique opportunity to use the analytical skills of the humanities to think collectively about the process of graduate school. “It is so exciting and important to ask and contemplate ‘why do we do things this way, and how could we do something different…that could be BETTER?’” said Joni Kinsey, a faculty member in Art & Art History. 

“I don’t know if I would have got out of the last year and half the way that I did if it weren’t for this group, and the way that we parsed out the insanity of this [time]…with a racial justice bent, what is it like for organizations or individuals, either on campus or off to work with community partners. It’s a very tangible resource that I’m really proud of.”

Chuy Renteria reflects on his participation in an HPG Humanities Lab