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Student-Faculty Symposia Promote the Joy of Learning

Washington and Lee University students in pursuit of graduation pack their schedules to fulfill their requirements. Naturally, they study subjects for which they have a passion during the march to a degree. Some students, however, seek intellectual stimulation not only for academic credit, but for the pure pleasure of learning.

For just such students, this term Washington and Lee is sponsoring two student-faculty symposia, adding a self-motivated academic atmosphere to the community.

The first symposium, led by Matthew Bailey, focuses on the medieval religious rite of pilgrimage. Bailey is the head of the Romance Languages Department, and he specializes in medieval Spanish language and culture.

The other symposium, headed by Simon Levy, explores the ideas of the Bloomsbury Group, the informal collection of artists, writers, critics and scientists who lived in the London neighborhood of Bloomsbury during the first half of the 20th century.

Levy is an associate professor of computer science, teaching classes on scientific computing and the theory of computation. Levy’s interest in the Bloomsbury Group stems from his study of formal-logic philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was a satellite member of Bloomsbury.

Faculty involvement in the symposia draws from several academic departments. “We have many activities on campus, but I especially like the sustained focus of the symposium and the possibility of having faculty from different fields focusing on an idea, in this case pilgrimage,” said Bailey.

The Pilgrimage Symposium welcomes participation from the departments of English, classics, art history, Spanish and religion. The Bloomsbury Symposium counts professors in economics, art history, computer science, and English.
The success of the symposia, however, depends on student involvement.

Samantha Copping, a junior classics and religion major, said that her motives for signing up for the Pilgrimage Symposium were purely selfish. “I just really wanted to hear what the professors had to say,” she said. “So far, I’ve really enjoyed watching experts in various fields respond to each other’s comments and seeing what different disciplines can have to say about the same topic. It’s something you never really encounter in the usual classroom environment.”

Bailey is pleased with the students’ participation. “I think it is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in the topic to learn a great deal, from the readings and from the discussions,” he said.

Junior Celeste Cruz-Carandang, who majors in medieval and Renaissance studies and art history, has found inspiration in the Pilgrimage Symposium for both of her theses next year. “Washington and Lee has an environment that encourages intellectual curiosity,” she said, “and I maintain that students thrive on it.”

Copping, who found out about the symposia through a friend, knew it was something she wanted to be part of and is grateful for the opportunity.

“There are so many students at W&L who are dying to do something intellectual outside of class but don’t really have the outlet to do so,” she said. “Reading something on your own is well and good, but I find that I get so much more out of it when I discuss it with other people.”

— by Maggie Sutherland