Timothy M. Smith Award Recipient: Noah K. Oakley

Noah K. Oakley presenting at his symposium on January 27th, 2019

Timothy M. Smith lived his life yearning for the next horizon, always visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. His namesake award allows UT students to do just that: visit any place of their heart’s desire and research their passions. Noah Oakley was one such recipient and used his grant to travel to Lisbon, Portugal. He recently presented a symposium on his findings. See his statement below:

Portugal was not only full of myths and legends I had previous experience with, but full of stories surrounding our current issues of human rights. My initial research question going over to Portugal was to look at LGBTQIA+ culture. While I was there a law was actually passed for Gender Determination, meaning that individuals over 18 don’t have to have doctor or guardian approval to legally change their gender. What an amazing law for transgender individuals! While there, I talked with volunteers at Centro LGBT, a community center dedicated to providing resources and a safe space to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a queer person, it is always amazing for me to hear how other people around the world are fighting for our right to exist.

I also had plans to study gay Portuguese poets, however, I had a huge difficulty finding the texts I wanted. This was due to the Estado Novo, a fascist regime controlling Portugal from 1933 to 1974. During the regime, many aspects of life were censored, including works by the authors I had planned to study. Discovering this, a majority of my time in Portugal ended up being spent looking into this dictatorship. At the Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom, I learned all about the oppressive tactics the state and it’s police force instituted, and how fear was bred in the citizens. Eventually, citizens led a coup that overthrew the government. Learning about how people rose up against the regime was truly inspiring, especially when coupled with my talks with those people at Centro LGBT. These stories are ones that don’t always get told, and that’s why I wanted to focus on these items for my symposium. Stories are so important, and it’s up to us to always try and find out more stories so that way we can each rise up and provide a better future, for us and those to come. I can’t thank Lisbon enough for showing me this.

Coffee Conversation: Do drag queens support or subvert normative gender?

Ru Paul’s Drag Race

Dr. David Gudelunas, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Tampa, led a coffee conversation on Thursday on the disruptive possibilities of drag culture. Coffee conversations ask students to participate in a dialogue rather than listen to a lecture; this one was organized around the question: Do drag queens support or subvert normative gender? As part of this event, students talked about much more than just drag, addressing issues such as “Who taught you to behave ‘like a girl’ or ‘behave like a boy,’ and what were you taught that means?” They debated whether or not shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race reified, challenged, or complicated gendered expectations.

Dr. Gudelunas leading a discussion on drag culture.

Dr. Gudelunas researches in the areas of emerging media technologies, gender, sexuality, and communication. He is a widely published scholar and the author of “Confidential to America: Newspaper Advice Columns and Sexual Education” and co-editor of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Shifting Visibility of Drag Culture (Palgrave). Gudelunas serves on the editorial boards of Sexuality & Culture and QED and has appeared in local and national media including MSNBC, The Associated Press, The Christian Science Monitor, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

Symposium: When Rap Spoke Straight to God

Dr. Erica Dawson addressing the crowd during her February 7th Symposium

“Fearless” is a word that comes to mind for many when discussing the style in which UT Professor Dr. Erica Dawson writes. She is forward and unabashed, and that translated into When Rap Spoke Straight to Godher newest book of poetry. Dr. Dawson took the time to share her perspective and passion with Honors students in a recent symposium, in which she read excerpts from her novel and elaborated on her motivations to create it. When Rap Spoke Straight to God covers everything from the impact of the Trump administration to her experiences as a black women. Dr. Dawson walks a line between eloquence and conflict, to draw the attention of readers and listeners. Professors like Dr. Dawson inspire UT students to create art out of experience in a profound way.

Honors Symposium: History of the 2nd Amendment with Dr. Cornell

The packed room of Honors students present for the final Symposium, facilitated by Dr. Saul Cornell

Dr. Saul Cornell is a prolific scholar with an impressive academic pedigree. Currently, he has an endowed Chair in American History at Fordham University and previously worked as a professor in history at Ohio State University and was the director of the Second Amendment Research Center at the John Glenn Institute. It was a great honor to have Dr. Cornell speak for our final symposium of the semester: “The History of the 2nd Amendment.” As a scholar with significant expertise on the wording, historical context, and public impressions of the 2nd Amendment, he had a unique and dynamic understanding of the way that this famous element of our Bill of Rights was meant to be perceived. He was able to present a new interpretation of the current political climate regarding gun legislation: both liberal and conservative stances misunderstand the 2nd Amendment’s few, short phrases. In reality, the 2nd Amendment is a simple commentary on the regulation of militias, a concept foreign to many of the loudest voices in this debate. Dr. Cornell also discussed the jurisprudence surrounding gun laws in the United States, and how much of this ties back to race relations in the United States.

Coffee Conversation- Alisha Menzies

Dr. Menzies laughing with the bright and involved Honors students in attendance (November 12th)

Dr. Alisha Menzies, assistant professor in Communication, championed a fascinating discussion on the burden of moral culpability faced by the famous few. She asked: “Should we hold what celebrities and public figures say to a higher moral standard? Are their communication mistakes worth more?”  The conversation spanned a great distance, first attempting to define which celebrities had a greater obligation than others. One student wondered whether professional athletes should have opinions of the same weight as political figureheads; another scholar questioned the impact of words versus actions (i.e. the Colin Kaepernick protest). Dr. Menzies funneled the discussion through various relevant scandals, from the Valium-induced tweets of Roseanne Barr to Megyn Kelly’s blackface scandal. Unfortunately, time was called before we could shift focus to unpacking rapper Kanye West! Overall, it was an intriguing look into the standards we hold celebrities to and, in turn, the standards we hold ourselves to. 

Coffee Conversation – David Stern

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On October 16th, UT’s Provost, Dr. David Stern, led a Coffee Conversation with Honors Program students in the Honors dorm. The conversation was focused around the following question, “What do nationalism, populism, authoritarianism, sovereignty, and even illiberal democracy mean and why are they so important in understanding our contemporary world?” The conversation was wide-ranging, covering instances of populism and nationalism around the world.