By Sean Callahan, News Editor
Saint Vincent College hosted the Association for Core Texts and Courses’ (ACTC) undergraduate conference from Apr. 1 to Apr. 2. The events featured in the conference were a part of the Philosophy Department’s 15th Annual Spring Colloquium. Visiting college and SVC students alike took part in the conference and were invited to attend a lecture— “What is Work?”— presented by Dr. Zena Hitz of Saint John’s College (Annapolis, Maryland) to end the evening of Apr. 2. This colloquium talk “aims to enrich the intellectual formation of students,” regardless of major.
ACTC is an organization dedicated to encouraging the use of core texts in undergraduate education and to ensure popular or required core programs include these texts. The undergraduate conferences are annual and hosted by different colleges that are members of ACTC, with a different theme every year. SVC hosted this year’s undergraduate conference. Academic paper submissions were encouraged for the theme, “Work, Leisure and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Nine SVC students and 16 visiting college students from various states—such as Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and California—presented academic papers and engaged in seminar discussions that were relevant to the conference’s theme. After the opening panel and dinner on Apr. 1, students were invited to an evening of Chinese classical music, “High Mountain – Running Stream,” put on by SVC’s Loe Center. Most of the student panels were held on Apr. 2, from 8:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Afterwards, a campus hike was offered, followed by a dinner held at the Fred Rogers Center and Hitz’s closing discussion.
Sophia Bringman, freshman philosophy and politics major, attended multiple panels throughout the two-day event and presented an academic paper titled “Socrates and the Importance of Leisure” during a student panel on Apr. 2. She enjoyed the community experience and found the seminar-style of each panel to be an encouraging surprise.
“I came in thinking it was going to be a formal presentation where I present my paper and then people make comments or ask questions about it, but it was much more discussion based,” Bringman said.
Maria Arcara, senior mathematics and computer science major, presented an academic paper titled “The Desire and Danger of Leisure in the Life of Tom Bombadil” during one of the student panels on Apr. 2. Like Bringman, she also enjoyed the conference.
“It wasn’t just a few people asking and answering questions. It felt like everybody was involved and that everybody was invested in the conversation we had,” Arcara said.
Dr. Michael Krom, philosophy professor and chair of the philosophy department, explained that Hitz’s book, Lost In Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, came to SVC’s attention two years ago, when the school had considered revising their introductory philosophy courses.
“We want our students to see that the love of wisdom is a way of life for all times. Dr. Hitz’s book has shown exactly this,” Krom said.
Hitz began the talk with a classical argument in her book, that work is not for its own sake, but rather for the sake of leisure, which is the place where our life really finds meaning. Work is necessary to make leisure possible. Hitz explained that she believes this argument addresses what she called an “contemporary disease”: working for the sake of working and nothing else.
Regarding status, Hitz recalled past experiences teaching in higher education, in which she had moments where she felt like something in her work “was connected to something that didn’t matter,” or that she was using herself as a means to an end.
“I was using my activity to create an image of myself that I could then use to move up and down this imaginary staircase. It became like a video game,” Hitz said.
Hitz went on to provide two examples of bad jobs, in which individuals had jobs that served no clear benefit or purpose to anyone, including a man who was paid to pretend to fix things. She described this as a form of alienation because it is “soul destroying” for people who hold these jobs. In contrast, she elaborated on good job alienation, in which jobs that provide important services to society, such as food service and sanitization, are provided little respect by society.
“They’re low paying, low prestige. Even if you hold these jobs and know why it matters, you don’t receive a lot of respect for it,” Hitz said.
The talk concluded at approximately 8:00 p.m. and a closing reception followed in which all attendees were invited to enjoy small appetizers and drinks to end the conference.
Krom reported that he believed the ACTC conference was a great success. He felt that structuring the student panels thematically and leaving the discussion to the students led to fruitful engagement.