By Dr. Patrick Collier
As you know, Ball State has just finished up its centennial year with a set of inspiring celebrations and events. In addition to giving us an excuse to celebrate, anniversaries of this sort prompt reflection. Cathy Day has written previously about the English Department’s history. But what might the future hold for the English Department?
As it happens, my duties as department chair recently required me to craft a “Vision Statement” expressing our shared hopes for what the English Department might look like in 2040; 2040!
The mind reels. I can only assume that by then we’ll be driving wind-powered, self-controlling automobiles and will have sub-dermal chips implanted that allow us to make purchases with our minds.
Seriously, though: we are living in a time and place where imaginary visions of the future tend more towards the dystopian. It was thus heartening to attend this year’s gala for our Digital Literature Review, an online critical journal produced annually Ball State students as part of our immersive learning offerings.
Led this year by Dr. Vanessa Rapatz, the class produced a strong issue on the theme “Brave New Worlds: Utopias and Dystopias in Literature and Film.” The work students produced in the class—and the sharp, incisive work published in the journal—manages both to cast a sober, critical eye at the American present and to validate the optimism at the core of utopian writing.
In “Ayn Rand’s Utopian Visions in Theory and Realization,” Ball State English student Ben Sapet traces the migration of Rand’s extreme individualism from the pages of her novels to mainstream, corporate culture. Sapet argues that Rand’s fiction helped to produce “an America in which billionaire moguls and the top one percent of society have been moralized to the point where one has been elected president.”
In “Family and Feminism in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed,” Natalie Kuss locates the revolutionary optimism in Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed,” a novel that prompts readers to envision a world in which “familial values and feminist pursuits” can be mutually reinforcing.
I was left with the impression that our students are both facing the difficulties of our present political moment squarely and keeping in touch with the optimism that will have to fuel our way forward as a society.
In that spirit, I am emphasizing the positive in imagining our department in 2040.
A Utopian Vision of #BSUEnglish
In short, I hope that we continue to do everything we are doing now, but with more students in our fold, more recognition for our work, and a clearer message to our community about the ways studying English makes the world a better place.
I hope that our department will be well-known around campus as a place where students can both feed their souls and develop the skills of advanced literacy—analysis, writing, synthesis, souped-up reading comprehension—that will allow them to thrive in the workplace.
I hope that our department will be more fully integrated with other programs on campus, so that we can work with professors in other disciplines to help our students build the critical mindset necessary to diagnose and solve social problems.
Finally, I hope we attract more and more students who recognize the links between language, communication, literature, and social justice—who realize the power of words and stories to change the world for the better.
I want the English Department to be a place where young people harness their utopian energies.
Call to Action
You can act on your own utopian impulses by helping us out in these efforts.
If you are in a position to hire young people, you can employ our graduates, offer them internships, or simply offer yourself as a mentor to one of our students. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to help in any of these ways.
You can also make a difference by donating to the English Department.
Thank you all for your continued interest and support for our work.