AddRan College of Liberal Arts hosted Howard University’s Dana A. Williams, Ph.D., to celebrate TCU and AddRan’s Sesquicentennial. Williams, professor of African American literature and Dean of the Graduate School at Howard, delivered a lecture titled “The Liberal Arts as a Public Good” in the Community Commons, followed by a reception in the Schabauer Hall lobby. The event was attended by AddRan students, faculty and staff, as well as Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr., Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Teresa Abi-Nader Dahlberg, Student Body president Joe Winnick and Student Body vice president Dominic Mendlik.
Dean Sonja Watson, Ph.D., opened the lecture with welcoming remarks and introductions. She reminded the audience of AddRan’s yearlong theme – AddRan is everything – that captures the spirit of the college’s influence on all students, faculty and staff at TCU. Dean Watson also provided a history of the college, noting the foundational role of AddRan in TCU’s 150 years.
“This afternoon’s talk ‘The Liberal Arts as a Public Good’ seeks to communicate how the liberal arts prepares you to do what we all know – anything you want to do,” said Dean Watson.
Future-Proofing and Providing Access
During her lecture, Williams emphasized the importance of preparing students for an uncertain future. She underscored how liberal arts education is a potent tool for "future-proofing" students in an ever-evolving job market. Williams asserted, "Proponents of liberal arts education remind us often that in this way the liberal arts help us to future-proof our education."
Williams delved into how societal divisions are exacerbated by a dearth of critical thinking and the rise of a celebrity culture that values fame over substance. "The fragility of democracy is undeniable,” Williams said. “Our fund, the first response to the low-level trauma of a broken imagination, is to rally unreasonably around symbols and figures that allow one final attempt to believe in and to project images of our own strength."
Historical context featured prominently in Williams’ lecture. She highlighted the exclusive origins of liberal arts education, initially reserved for the privileged upper classes, and emphasized the urgent need to democratize access to liberal arts.
"Even as access to the university became and continues to become, more democratized, access to the liberal arts preserves its status too often as a luxury,” Williams said. “Reimagining the liberal arts means doing only that which is most likely to improve the world in our proximity and the world and all of its inhabitants."
Williams calls for a paradigm shift in the perception of liberal arts education, asserting that it must become more inclusive and accessible to all.
“We can replace violence, symbolic and otherwise, with debate and civility. We can replace stick waving with diplomatic persuasion. Only then will we be free to use the skills liberal arts equip us with, uniquely the ability to redirect hard power to soft power to solve problems, to improve the human condition and ensure flourishing for all.
“This is good news about the Earth and good news for its inhabitants. AddRan is well poised to spend its next 150 years living out the creed of the TCU’s Lead On campaign. To you, AddRan College of Liberal Arts, I say, quite simply: lead the way.”
About Dana A. Williams, Ph.D.
Williams is a professor of African American literature and Dean of the Graduate School at Howard University. She served as Chair of English at Howard University for nine years before becoming Dean. She is the first vice president of the Modern Languages Association, a former president of the College Language Association (the oldest and largest professional organization in the U.S. for faculty of color who teach languages and literature) and president of the Toni Morrison Society. Before joining the faculty at Howard, she held a faculty position at Louisiana State University, a Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University and a faculty fellowship at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University. Harper/Amistad will publish a book about Toni Morrison edited by Williams in August 2024.