We are thrilled to announce that our 8th annual Graduate Student Conference, Opening Spaces: Enabling Engagement with Complex Conversations, was a huge success! The event took place Saturday, March 29th and, despite the questionable weather, boasted upwards of 150 attendees and participants. It was hosted in URI’s pharmacy building as a reminder of the conference’s push toward “opening spaces” through interdisciplinary discussion. After signing in, guests were further reminded of this theme as they walked into the beautiful foyer and were greeted by the surprising window display of life-like human dummies lying in mock hospital beds. This sparked unusual conversation among the guests, thus perfectly setting the tone for what proved to be a highly-engaging, challenging, and fruitful day of presentations and discussion.
At the keynote dinner the night before the conference, Writing and Rhetoric doctoral candidate Jenna Morton-Aiken, this year’s Chair, was asked what she was most excited about for the upcoming day. She immediately and enthusiastically responded, “I see this conference as an opportunity to change the world!” With a theme designed to encourage conversation across disciplines and comfort zones, speakers and presenters engaged in the ambitious project of doing just that. The English and Writing and Rhetoric Departments were proudly represented by eleven students, who presented on topics ranging from Ashton Foley’s “Degeneration in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Mental Illness or Individual Choice?” to Jillian Belanger’s “Comedy Meets Media.” There were also presenters from History, Textiles, Merchandising and Design, Education, Communication Studies, Interdisciplinary Neurosciences, Hospitality Management, Marine Affairs, and Psychology.
The keynote speaker Rev. Dr. L. Walden Palmer, who is Senior Pastor of the Kingston Congregational Church and was a research and teaching member of the Project on Issues of Ethics and Values in Health Care throughout his doctoral program at Columbia University, delivered an engaging and smart address. His interdisciplinary experience embodied the conference’s mission to prompt conversations that may be difficult, but are, therefore, all the more necessary. Likewise, faculty speakers Professor Libby Miles of Writing and Rhetoric and Professor Jose Amador, who studies soil science and microbial ecology in the Department of Natural Resources Science, spoke insightfully about the value of uniting seemingly disparate areas of academia in conversation.
At a time when budgets are tight and the tensions caused by funding issues can be high, this year’s Graduate Student Conference served as a welcome reminder that even those disciplines that seem to be on opposing ends of the academic spectrum can engage in meaningful, mutually enriching conversation. In the words of our own English Literature Graduate Studies Director Kathleen Davis, “Many congratulations on a successful conference!”