This summer I traveled to Santiago, Chile for the annual meeting of CHCI: the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes. It was inspiring to learn about the amazing programs and events that my fellow center directors are engaged in, around the world. And among the topics that were discussed is the role of arts and humanities voices and perspectives as necessary to combat forces of fascism. The Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah described their series of events about book bans. A scholar based in Berlin talked about her work as a scholar in exile with the New University in Exile Consortium. And a visit to the Memory and Human Rights Museum solidified how necessary and vital stories and art are to provide testimony to historical harms and solace for survivors to work through trauma.
In the spirit of such moving work, the Center for Humanities & the Arts (CHA) will focus on the theme of “Liberty, Freedom, Democracy: The Fight for Ideas” for all our events. These three terms are often evoked in the US to talk about values – and yet the actual meaning of these terms often contradicts the mission of those wielding these words. Whether it’s an attempt to ban books in the name of liberty, curtailing care for transgender youth as a form of freedom, or curtailing curriculum in the name of democracy, increasingly “liberty,” “freedom” and “democracy” are rhetorically weaponized to demolish the very things that they define.
The arts and humanities give meaning, and we will devote this upcoming 2023-2024 academic year to finding the meaning behind these words and, more importantly, the ideas that give life to these words. Because at the CHA we believe that there are no topics that aren’t worth probing—that in a true democracy, there is freedom to discuss issues to ensure liberty and justice for all.
Director, Center for Humanities & the Arts
Professor, Ethnic Studies