Texas’ liberal studies programs illuminated

Students in Rice’s Master of Liberal Studies program and other Texas liberal studies programs had the opportunity to share their research during the inaugural Texas Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium held June 27 at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies’ Anderson-Clarke Center. The event allowed participants to discuss their experiences and studies and continue to explore timeless and timely human questions within the humanities, social sciences and sciences, according to event organizers.

About 70 students and alumni from graduate liberal studies programs throughout the state gathered at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies' Anderson-Clarke Center for the inaugural Texas Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium. Photo by Laura Bailey

The Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs has encouraged schools around the United States to sponsor regional symposia for some time, said event committee leaders John Freeman and Michele Mrak. Freeman is professor emeritus of space physics and astronomy at Rice and director of the Glasscock School’s Master of Liberal Studies program, and Mrak is executive director of graduate liberal studies at Southern Methodist University’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “This symposium marks the first time the Southwest region has taken up that challenge,” they said in their welcome message.

At various sessions throughout the all-day symposium, scholars, including Rice’s Stephanie Tsuru, Sheila Mayfield and Patsy Liao, presented 21 papers representing the research efforts of graduate liberal studies students.

Tsuru presented on a topic near and dear to her heart, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The families of her husband’s parents were removed from their homes in Seattle and interned for approximately three-and-a-half years, the majority of her in-laws’ high school years, at Camp Minidoka in Idaho. “The camp was so massive the two of them did not have the opportunity to meet during camp, but years later met and married,” Tsuru said. “This dark chapter in American history is often overlooked and hidden because of its embarrassing and egregious nature. I firmly believe it is important to reveal one of our government’s greatest acts of civil injustice so it does not occur again. My presentation was supported by accompanying photographs of the actual camps.”

The celebration of curiosity at the symposium appealed to Mayfield, who presented on the hidden meaning of Eugene Delacroix’s iconic painting “Liberty Leading the People,” which commemorated France’s July Revolution of 1830. “Instead of attending an event to learn specific information in a defined discipline, participants at the symposium seemed to love to simmer in new ideas — delighting in broad insatiable thirsts for knowledge,” Mayfield said. “The symposium covered everything from classical Aphrodite to historical Japanese internment to contemporary slash fiction.”

Liao welcomed the opportunity to gain experience in making a presentation to an audience outside of a classroom setting. Liao’s presentation was titled “The Influence of One Man,” the result of her research on George Leslie Mackay, the first Presbyterian missionary in northern Formosa (Qing-era Taiwan). Mackay is among the best-known Westerners to have lived in Taiwan. Liao learned about Mackay on a trip to Taiwan four years ago. “Although he died over 100 years ago, he left behind a legacy in Taiwan as well as in his native Canada,” Liao said. “My goal was to show not only what one individual can accomplish, but also characteristics we should all possess to expand our minds.”

For more information about the Glasscock School’s Liberal Studies program, visit http://mls.rice.edu.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.