Inaugural Symposium: The Power of the Liberal Arts — Sociologist Camille Charles on Evolving Liberal Arts

camille charles

Camille Charles

“The Power of the Liberal Arts,” the symposium that is prelude to the inauguration of Clayton S. Rose as Bowdoin’s 15th president, comprises leaders from the worlds of business, design, government, higher education and public health. The symposium will be held in Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall, 2 p.m.­–5 p.m., Friday, October 16, 2015. In advance of the discussion, we continue a series of participant profiles.

The liberal arts are changing, particularly in two major ways, according to Camille Charles. For one, they’re becoming more inclusive. Charles, the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, is a professor of sociology, Africana studies and education. She is also director of Penn’s Center for Africana Studies.

“A terrific area of change is that the contributions of people of color are being better incorporated into ‘mainstream’ courses in the social sciences and humanities,” she notes in an email.

“It is not so unusual to take courses in ‘American’ history or literature and to see better inclusion of people, events, works of fiction or poetry, etc., from Americans of color.”

Moreover, she continues, sociology courses are going beyond the traditional black-white binary, and even beyond race/ethnicity, as they take more seriously the experiences and perspectives of disadvantaged and marginalized groups.

Additionally, Charles argues that the liberal arts are being enhanced by faculty embracing digital humanities.

“Each of these changes offers opportunities for critical thinking, analysis and engagement of both traditional and emergent sources of information and knowledge, and consideration of multiple perspectives, experiences and contributions to humanity,” she says.

Charles is the author of Won’t You Be My Neighbor: Race, Class and Residence in Los Angeles and the co-author of The Source of the River: The Social Origins of Freshmen at America’s Selective Colleges and Universities. She also co-authored Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities, and several other books.

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