Philosophy Camp 2019: When Discussions Get Difficult
A “laboratory for pedagogical innovation” is how Hamilton College Summer Program in Philosophy (HCSPiP) Director Associate Professor of Philosophy Russell Marcus described what is commonly referred to on campus as Philosophy Camp. The two-week session concluded with an engaging, interactive discussion presented by instructional consultant Kimberly Van Orman titled “Working with Diverse Student Perspectives: When Discussions Get Difficult” on July 8. Her keynote address focused on what instructors might do when a controversial class conversation becomes emotionally charged and unproductive.
Attracting students from as far away as Ghana, China, Turkey, and India, the 2019 HCSPiP began on June 23. The program offers instructors the opportunity to explore new methods of teaching and learning philosophy while also preparing students for graduate work.
This year, Sara Purinton ’17 worked as assistant director and Chris Bousquet ’16, Mercedes Maria Corredor ’15, and Jackson Kushner worked as tutors. “The alumni bring the joy they all remember as philosophy students on campus and transmit that to the students in the program,” said Marcus. The HCSPiP consists of three classes, guest lectures, a trip to the Adirondacks, and a post-program pedagogical session for the group’s faculty.
The faculty in the HCSPiP aimed to promote inclusive, experimental, global instruction for the 19 students attending the program. In classes, students learned about topics such as philosophical methodologies throughout history and experiential existentialism. Assignments comprised both reading traditional philosophical literature and applying concepts as “experiments.” One such experiment asked students to publicly disrupt a social norm and then reflect on the disruption’s effects. “They love each other and being here at Hamilton with their instructors,” Marcus said of the students.
Van Orman’s talk ended the final portion of the HCSPiP, in which instructors reflected and presented on the pedagogy of the teaching they did during the program. Van Orman is an instructional consultant with the Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership at the University at Albany and has taught philosophy at institutions including the University at Albany and Siena College. Her presentation followed lectures by Ann J. Cahill, Daniel Collette, and Eric Yang, all of whom teach philosophy in higher education and worked as instructors in the 2019 HCSPiP.
“For a long time, I didn’t want to deal with an emotional classroom,” Van Orman said, having described a theoretical situation in which students felt their identities were threatened and had difficulty responding to class discussion. In her presentation, Van Orman worked through the steps faculty might take to diffuse an emotionally heightened environment, asking the audience of instructors to share their own thoughts and experiences. The talk featured participation from the discussion’s attendees and required everyone to evaluate their struggles with sensitive conversations and ways they might facilitate such class occurrences.
There is no tuition for the HCSPiP and room and board is provided for attendees. The HCSPiP is supported by the Truax Fund.