Faculty voice:

Stephen Esquith: In the saddle

Sept. 18, 2019

Stephen Esquith is the dean of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.

The number 13 is usually associated with unhappy occurrences, and not just on Friday. Some multi-story buildings will use “M” (the 13th letter of the alphabet) instead of 13 in the elevator, or they simply jump from 12 to 14, as if the 13th floor doesn’t exist. It is not clear why the number 13 has this negative connotation in our culture. Some associate it with it Judas, the 13th apostle at the Last Supper, who betrayed Jesus.

However, in other cultures, 13 is a lucky number. For example, in Cantonese-speaking cultures, 13 sounds like the words meaning “sure to live,” as opposed to 14, which sounds like “sure to die.”

There are always things to be on the lookout for these days. Fear of the number 13 is not one of them. In fact, I would argue that fear and luck are both overrated.

There may be a “luck of the draw” in poker, but not everyone comes to the table with the same experience, the same bankroll and the same options to walk away. Those things are not a matter of luck; they are the result of a specific history of development.

The same can be said about RCAH in its 13th year.

Instead of fearing what’s to come, as if every day were Friday the 13th or, alternatively, hoping that year 13 will be our “lucky day,” I suggest we think of RCAH 13 in terms of another image: a saddle. What interests me about the saddle is that there is a point in the middle that is both the highest point and the lowest point. It’s called, no surprise, the saddle point.

If you think of an actual saddle for a horse, the saddle point is the highest point where the two sides of the saddle meet and, at the same time, the lowest point where the front and back of the saddle meet.

We are at a high point, having created a strong program supported by faculty, staff and alumni. The faculty have grown along with the College. They have explored new courses, created new art, published new research, and often done these things in collaboration with community partners in our signature civic engagement programs at home and abroad. The staff, working hand-in-hand with faculty and students, have made significant strides as well.

You can see it in the way we project our image and tell our stories, in the way our informal learning spaces — the theater, the art studio, the music studios, the Language and Media Center, the Poetry Center — generate new knowledge, and the support we receive from alumni, young and old.

We are also poised to build on this platform. We are making important changes in our curriculum, including a new team-taught course for all entering students. Our Student Affairs Office, including our advising and recruiting staff, is consolidating its activities and opening up shop in its own set of connected spaces on the second floor of the College near the Serenity Lounge.

Just as our students and graduates have built successful academic and career networks that are reflected in their extraordinary graduation and placement rates, RCAH is increasingly integrated into the fabric of the University. For example, as the leader in an emerging Network for Global Civic Engagement, RCAH is bringing faculty and students from other colleges together with RCAH faculty and students.

Is RCAH “in the saddle”? Very much so. Will there be bumps along the way? There always are. In a world in which fear-mongering is becoming more common and luck is too often used as a coverup for privilege, we cannot afford to succumb to the former or rely on the latter.

Better to “saddle up.”

Reused in part from RCAH. Read the full message from the dean