UB English Club invites humanities majors to participate in undergraduate conference

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The Spectrum

A little-known group of scholars is working in Clemens Hall to put on Western New York's first-ever undergraduate conference for the humanities.

The UB English Club, a non-Student Association group, is encouraging undergrads to submit papers on the broad topic, "On Violence and Representation." Though many students at UB dread writing papers for classes, this conference asks students to freely research, write and present papers or creative works on the topic, which spans across many disciplines.

"The purpose of the conference is to give undergraduates a chance to display conversation of a creative thread and this conversation can be carried simultaneously within a mixed audience of both the academic and the non-academic," said Farhana Hasan, a senior English and linguistics major and vice president of the English Club, in an email.

Not only is this the first conference of its kind in the area, but it also is open to all majors in all disciplines, according to Hasan. Submissions for 250-word abstracts are open until March 26and the conference will be on Saturday, April 26, according to an email from Nicole Lazzaro, the English department secretary.

The conference is also open to students outside of UB. Students from Buffalo State College, Canisius College and Medaille College can submit work. The conference will also be a public event for all of Western New York.

With a "steering committee" of 12 students from a variety of disciplines, including English, biology, classics, philosophy and global gender studies, the conference is the combined effort of a unique group.

The committee was created so the humanities could be "represented as a whole by the conference" and so the "interdisciplinary mission of the conference" could be realized, said Andrew Grabowski, a senior English and philosophy major and the treasurer of the English Club, in an email.

Professors have also joined to help to steer the organization. Grabowski cited the helpful advice given by several professors from the English department including Graham Hammill, the English department chair, associate professor David Schmid, assistant professor Walter Hakala and associate professor Barbara Bono.

"Some representatives from the English Club approached me last semester about the possibility of organizing an undergraduate conference," Hammill said in an email. "I thought it was a great idea, and was really impressed by the amount of thought that the students had put into the proposal. I gave a bit of advice, and some funding, and then met with the students several times subsequently to talk about some of their ideas. But the conference is completely organized and begin carried about by students."

Hammill believes the conference gives students the opportunity to present their work in a refreshing setting.

"It's incredibly gratifying to research an idea and then present your work to others," Hammill said. "You get to practice the skills of independent thinking and communication. These are the kinds of things that truly distinguish students on their resumes or when they are applying to graduate schools. It's also gratifying to be a member of a community grappling with key questions around a central topic."

The conference intends to bring together students and non-students from a variety of interests, skillsets and performance techniques. Representation, the second part of the conference's theme, allows for creative approaches to presentations, which can range in style as much as the research itself can.

From looking at health in relation to violence, to exploring representations of violence in music, to referencing psychological studies, students have a lot of room for creativity.

Although conference organizers welcome the exercise of scholarly freedom, students will need to adhere to certain traditional modes of presentation. Students are expected to prepare a poster and be prepared to make a verbal presentation of their work.

The conference is a large undertaking for the English Club. The committee has been focused on planning the conference since last semester, when they first came up with the idea.

Hasan said she will determine the conference's success by looking at its attendance and level of participation. She hopes that although the conference may not be well known around campus yet, students will take advantage of the event.

The English Club also hosts film showings, parties and readings; it also participates in community service, according to Hasan.

Grabowski is looking forward to a series of film screenings the club is organizing as well as charitable work through a new activity called "Books for Africa."

The English Club does not get funds from SA and encourages "the actions of individuals and the collective drive to achieve projects," according to Grabowski.

"Our club officers serve only as spokespeople and as conduits for the ideas generated by the club as collective phenomena," he added.

The group also represents the English department at official UB events, including Open House and Accepted Students Day, to encourage incoming students to consider pursuing a major in literature.

The club's freedom from bureaucracy and its dedication to creativity and personal motivation represents the purpose of the undergraduate conference - that is, to give students the freedom to purposefully do research and have the opportunity to present for an academic and non-academic audience.

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