We’ve all had that moment of opening our emails and finding that a visiting scholar is about to come to campus— perhaps in just a matter of days—and thinking: “I wish I’d known more about this ahead of time. I’ve missed an opportunity to link this resource to my teaching.”
Let’s face it. Planning ahead to help our colleagues, our students, and ourselves take full advantage of such a visit is challenging, given our busy teacher-scholar lives. Just arranging logistics (room reservations, refreshments, AV and such) for these events is demanding enough. When we add the aim of conceptualizing clear goals and communicating about them to the to-do list, those more strategic dimensions of planning often fall by the wayside— or, at best, get postponed to a timeline we know is less than ideal.
Here at TCU and at my previous higher education institutions, I’ve had the exciting benefit of being able to bring a number of international scholars to campus. And, admittedly only gradually, I’ve learned a framework to help organize the visits in ways that expand their reach beyond the typical central event—generally a public talk. So I’ll offer this informal heuristic here in the hope that it will help other colleagues envision, manage, and assess similar visits. (After all, given the relatively high cost of bringing in global specialists, we want to draw as much learning from their time with us as possible.) This framework involves 4 “C” avenues to promote generative global learning associated with an on-campus visit.
In the early stages of planning, even, for instance, at the proposal-writing stage if I need to garner funds, I think about all 4 of learning pathways that I want to address through the Visiting Scholar’s time on campus: curriculum (as experienced, by students, in their courses), co- curriculum, community-building, and consulting.
On the traditional curricular front, I try to identify well ahead of time individual faculty members whose courses might provide a productive audience for the visitor. For instance, in spring 2014, when I organized several days on campus for Kenyan-American writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, I took the rather obvious step of contacting my colleagues in the English Department when drafting my Discovering Global Citizenship Visiting Scholar proposal, so that those who were interested in his work could select readings appropriate to their respective classes. What emerged were course- hosted visits where Ngũgĩ was able to interact with students who had read different novels, stories, and memoirs from his far-ranging oeuvre over the course of a several-day visit. Students in my own “Contact Zones” course for the Honors College read one of his memoirs, In the House of the Interpreter; those enrolled in the Contemporary Reading Symposium read A Grain of Wheat ahead of the visit. Other classes had focused on Petals of Blood or Wizard of the Crow or shorter non-fiction prose and stories. Because they’d had the opportunity to discuss Ngũgĩ’s life and some of his writings in advance of his visit, students were effectively “prepped” for his various class visits and his public talk, which was very well-attended.
Similarly, in fall 2014, looking ahead to a spring 2015 visit by Professor Gerd Hurm, who directs an American Studies program in Trier, Germany, I was able to identify a novel—The Submission—that would dovetail nicely into a Cultural Memory unit on memorializing the 9-11 attacks and its impact for a class Ron Pitcock teaches in the Honors College. That way, Ron was able to assign the text ahead of Professor Hurm’s time on campus, making that scholar’s class time with students all the more valuable. Likewise, before Yale’s Inderpal Grewal came to campus as a Green lecturer in Women and Gender Studies, faculty planning team members like Rima Abunasser reached out to colleagues whose classes might benefit from pre- reading of her scholarship. That way, when students from several different classes meeting in the same day/time slot gathered for a Q and A with Professor Grewal, their questions were ably focused and consistent with elements from her scholarship which they had studied before her arrival, including her influential textbook for positioning Gender Studies in a global context.
Making curricular connections is perhaps the most obvious way to capitalize on campus visits by globally-oriented scholar-experts. But planning for co-curricular opportunities during a visit can be equally valuable. Along those lines, when the Honors College’s Fogelson Forum team selected Anwar Sadat Professor Shibley Telhami for our primary public speaking event in 2014-15, for example, faculty member Manochehr Dorraj had the foresight to arrange an informal, unstructured discussion forum for students to share questions and observations with our guest. Organized as a late-afternoon activity open to students, faculty and staff, this event served as a generative prelude to Telhami’s more formal talk that evening.
Technologies and associated new media spaces can sometimes aptly complement in-person co-curricular occasions. As an example, I’ll cite a project organized toward the end of fall term 2014, when a “visiting scholar”— Albert Camus–came to us only by virtue of an online discussion board and a roundtable of faculty members assembled for a co-curricular event in Milton Daniel residence hall. Camus himself has of course been dead for many years, but his imaginative depiction of an African city, Oran, caught up in The Plague proved a timely text for interdisciplinary engagement with issues associated with a new plague—the Ebola virus. This “virtual visit” came at a time when Ebola’s trans-oceanic reach into the DFW Metroplex was hitting quite close to our university home, with one local patient a TCU alumna, nurse Nina Pham. Bringing together a scientist (Giri Akkaraju), a Brite Divinity scholar-teacher who could bring ethics into our discussion (Nancy Ramsay), a science educator (Katherine Fogelberg) and a scholar of post-colonial literature (Rima Abunasser), this in-person co-curricular conversation outside the classroom was made all the more lively by a number of students having already read the book in class for a group project that included joining the online conversation on a web-based discussion board entitled “Contagion, Quarantine, and Social Conscience.”
The Camus-centered co-curricular occasion was actually the brainchild of Linda Newman, a TCU alumna who had been a patient in the Emergency Room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas herself just a few days before the arrival of Thomas Eric Duncan there. A former Honors student, Newman was eager to revitalize the co-curricular practice of “fireside” chats around current events through the lens of literary and historical reading. With Linda’s encouragement, a number of other alums participated in the online dialogue, even if they were unable to attend the roundtable later in the project’s timeline. For me, Linda’s vision was a reminder of how generative community outreach can be when we are trying to enable a “real- world” focus on global learning.
Admittedly, however, not all my efforts to engage the larger community with global learning opportunities on campus have been successful. But I’m trying to learn as much from the “misses” as from the “hits.” One of the misses emerged from the Ngũgĩ visit I referenced above. Remembering the HUGE turn-out of transplanted Kenyans his public talk at my previous institution near Atlanta generated, I tried to advertise his TCU visit to local Kenyan ex-pats in the Metroplex by contacting several social service organizations involved with immigrants. Sure enough, having seen the digital fliers we sent out, a few Kenyan- Americans were able to join us for Ngũgĩ’s public reading from his writings, and they thanked me for contacting them ahead of time. However, they also pointed out that if we’d networked more purposefully even earlier, we could have added a day or two to his Texas visit and set up an appearance in Dallas with a later start time than the one we used at TCU. The larger percentage of immigrants from Ngũgĩ’s homeland, they pointed out, reside in the “D” part of the DFW area, and most all of them hold jobs whose end time made it impossible for them to reach Fort Worth in time for his presentation. Those suggestions provided a helpful reminder that “planning ahead” shouldn’t be limited to working with on-campus partners, or alumni groups we may already know—that reaching out well in advance to networks beyond the familiar ones could bring TCU into new partnerships with special potential for broadening our horizons. That is, community-building needs to be intentional and attentive.
While casual, on-the-spot conversations like the one referenced above can certainly help us improve our efforts to build global citizenship in the most local spaces available to us, another important option for listening and learning involves creating structured consulting time when organizing on-campus visits by global scholars. As an example of this fourth C, I’ll again cite Ngũgĩ’s multi- day schedule, which actually included several small-group conversations with faculty eager to hear more about his “globalectics” formulation for scholarship, teaching and community-building. My own teaching on diasporic formulations in recent literature has certainly been enhanced from small-group consulting time with Ngũgĩ: his recommendations have brought new primary texts onto my syllabi and also a sharpened focus to my analysis and updated interpretive tools to share with my students. Recognizing how much I and other colleagues gained from those opportunities during Ngũgĩ’s visit, I was careful to set up similar occasions with Professor Hurm this spring for various individual faculty members and small teams of instructors to draw on his expertise in American popular culture as seen from across the Atlantic; approaches for teaching about Cold War culture in a global context; museum studies as a rhetorical enterprise; and comparative, globally-framed analyses of cultural engagement with social issues. Similarly, during Professor Inderpal Grewal’s visit, faculty and administrators involved in the Women and Gender Studies program benefited enormously from structured small-group planning time with her, when we could ask questions and collaboratively envision ways of “globalizing” our program more effectively.
Having developed this heuristic of four Cs for learning from and along with scholars who have cultivated a global perspective, I’m finding I can be more intentional and strategic when planning such visits. On one level, I use a “check list” version of these Cs—curriculum, co-curriculum, community-building, and consulting—to assess my draft schedule as I set up the structure for a visit, aiming for at least two (and hopefully more) occasions aligned with each of the Cs. On another level, during and after the visit, I find this Cs framework can be a tool for assessing how effectively the project is working for students, faculty, staff, and community members to enhance global learning.
This article was written by Sarah Robbins, Lorraine Sherley Professor of Literature, Department of English, Acting Dean, John V. Roach Honors College, and Koehler Center Fellow for Global Citizenship for the Fall 2015 Issue of Insights.