Humankind series brings the world’s culture to WSCC

SCOTTVILLE — Education is the primary function of any higher learning institution, and one way to achieve that is through a cultural, social and political study of other parts of the world.

Shown are some of the objects in James Lommasson's exhibit "What We Carried" that opens the Humankind series at West Shore Community College. The year long Humankind series will focus on the Middle East and feature literature, art, music, speakers and discussions.

Shown are some of the objects in James Lommasson’s exhibit “What We Carried” that opens the Humankind series at West Shore Community College. The year long Humankind series will focus on the Middle East and feature literature, art, music, speakers and discussions.

For the past two years West Shore Community College has been at the forefront of that effort with its Humankind Series. This three-year project began with a look at Sub-Saharan Africa last year and continues this year with the the Middle East. It concludes in 2019 with a study of Cuba and The Caribbean.

WSCC executive director Thom Hawley explained it has been a tradition for WSCC to provide programs that engage the thought process of the students and community.

“For nearly 20 years the college has provided a series of academic events for students and the community that began in 1999 with a program called the book of semester,” said Hawley. “It has evolved into a co-curricular event spanning an entire academic year.”

Hawley said the three-year Humankind Project is taking students and the community to three regions of the world. It utilizes the use of speakers, exhibits, music and movies to explore those areas.

“This fall we are traveling to the Middle East to learn more about its culture and conflict that exists in that region,” said Hawley. “The academic projects team has organized another outstanding series of Humankind events.”

Helping to coordinate those events were academic projects committee members WSCC dean of arts and sciences Dr. Brooke Portmann and professor of biological sciences/academics projects chair Dr. Michael McKinney. They said this year’s program is shaping up to be an outstanding one.

Portmann said since they made the decision to expand the team putting together the program it has become a multi-disciplinary program.

“It is through Mike that the whole title of Humankind came into being,” said Portmann. “When we were planning we were thinking about how to do a three-year project and he said I think our students really need to focus on what it means to be human. We will teach them about living and that is how the focus has come on being human beings.”

Portmann said there are three goals of the program.

“One goal is that we all move outside of our comfort zone, so you may have been to Sub-Saharan Africa and maybe there is something you haven’t heard yet, but come learn and listen,” said Portmann. “The second goal has always been to think more deeply about complex issues. It’s really easy to throw up our hands and say ‘I don’t know how to get into it.’ That is what we try to unfold through very different programs throughout the year.”

The third one is not only intellectual, but experiential in what other people believe in and why they believe in it and how does it relate to their lives.

McKinney said that the brochure on the Humankind series is something he is excited about.

“I spent one academic year at Michigan State University just a couple of years ago and this is the type of series I would see at a university,” said McKinney. “I am just thrilled with that, as we are doing just a fantastic job on it.”

Right now on campus at the Manierre Dawson Gallery, Jim Lommasson has a photography exhibit of objects brought by Iraqi and Syrian refugees when they came to the United States called “What We Carried.” All the photographs are geared toward the human side of refugee life and what it takes to rebuild a home in another country. It runs until Oct. 26.

“Lommasson is also working with area high school art students and with West Shore students,” said McKinney. “He is focusing on when someone moves to another country why did you bring this item? Why did you bring this domino set, plate or clothing?”

Lommasson then has the refugee write down why they brought that object  to this country and what they want from a new life in this country. He said they plan to do the same type of exercise the different ethnic groups that live in the college district.

McKinney said another early program in the series is they also have Saeed Khan coming in at 7 p.m. to the Ludington Area Council of the Arts on Thursday. He will speak on the Muslim travel ban, immigration, U.S. policy and how it impacts U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens. Overall they have six off campus events at Ludington, Hart and Manistee.

“One of the things I want to emphasize is through this project we can have civil discourse,” said McKenney. “We can talk politely and actually listen to other people’s opinions. We don’t have to fight and argue about it, but it opens our mind to something broader than what we have in Western Michigan.”

He said there is books, literature, art music and more that they will be viewing, listening to and discussing throughout the year.

“This is going on both on and off campus and it really is a great community tie that opens our students up to a diverse group of thoughts,” said McKinney. “We have a group of students here who don’t have a lot of outside experiences, and this is one way as a college that we can increase their knowledge of the world around them.”

He said funding has been a challenge, but they are making the program work.

“This year we received an $11,000 grant from the arts council to take care of the costs, and we are applying for another grant to deal with the speakers,” he said.

Find a full schedule of all the events they have planned for the 2018-19 academic year at Facebook.com/humankindWSCC.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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