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Intersections, Exchanges, Encounters offers small classes, experiential learning

by Anjum Nayyar

For students seeking a personalized education in humanities on a campus alive with diversity and culture, U of T Scarborough’s new selective honours program called Intersections, Exchanges, Encounters (IEE) may be just the right fit.

UTSC’s new offering is the first program of its kind and is a response to major shifts in humanities research. The Intersections program is building on the innovative teaching that is already being done in the humanities at UTSC.

Intersections provides personalized education and close community, while drawing on the benefits of a major research university, said Professor Ken Mcleod. Students work closely with faculty and will be offered a broader set of methodological and intellectual tools than current humanities degrees offer.

“Intersections emphasizes the subjects and topics that exist between disciplines and are concerned with forms of meeting and relation – as in between cultures, art forms, identities, etc. It will give students an opportunity they have nowhere else at U of T, or indeed the world: they will engage in intense explorations of the moments, places and traditions of contact and interaction – across space, time, geography and discipline.”

For example, Mcleod, who teaches in the department of music history and culture, will be offering a course called Exchanges in Music and Media, examining issues in the study of western and non-western popular music and their intersection with other fields of humanistic inquiry.

The program started as an initiative of UTSC faculty members Susan Lamb and Daniel Bender: a way of reconceptualizing the type of interdisciplinary work that has characterized the humanities for the past 15 years.

“The idea was to focus and drill down on moments when various disciplines overlap – take them as central starting points of inquiry rather than merely mentioning the occasional example that may occur tangentially in the course of teaching,” said Bender, the program’s director.

“We see ourselves as very different from what other universities offer,” he added. “We want students to develop a mode of thought – not to ignore disciplines but rather to think about the relationship of their discipline to other disciplines. That’s why we ask students to choose another major in addition to IEE. We’re trying to give students a kind of nimble thinking, the ability to recognize and think about and bring together a whole set of theories, ideas and messages.”

Students will start the program in their second year at university and will have the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of professors across a wide range of humanities disciplines and receive a much broader and more nuanced understanding of the issues that commonly confront the humanities. The program’s uniqueness also lies in the smaller class sizes, increased interaction with faculty, and the chance to go through the program as a unified cohort. There is also an experiential learning component in the students’ final year. Projects might include research collaboration with faculty or community work.

“Each student will have a mentor throughout their years and will work one on one with faculty members. We want something that will remain small and competitive,” Bender said.

Mcleod said the demand for a shift in teaching in the humanities warrants a selective program like IEE.

“The humanities have been talking about ‘interdisciplinarity’ for many years and it’s time to start practically applying some of this knowledge. Thus the program responds to the major shift in humanities research that has occurred over the last three decades.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough