What are the most pressing social challenges facing the world today? Climate change? The refugee crisis? Poverty? Inequality? Political and religious extremism? All of them?
People often think that a challenge like climate change is a technological problem. Or that immigration is a law enforcement problem. But at their core, such problems are social challenges for which science, law, or technology alone cannot provide solutions. The humanities help to get beneath the surface of such problems and to identify the ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and confusions that underlie and perpetuate them. The humanities provide histories, cultural contexts, and values considerations embedded in the social challenges we face. As we seek solutions, the humanities take us to the heart of the matter—whatever it is.
The Humanities Lab at ASU is designed as an experimental space in which interdisciplinary faculty teams work with students from a variety of academic and cultural backgrounds to investigate grand social challenges, to construct researchable questions that delve deeply into those challenges, and to generate possible approaches to complex, “wicked” issues like immigration, health, and climate change, for which there are no easy answers.
In a one- or two-semester classroom experience, students and faculty work in intergenerational collaborative teams, synthesize their research outcomes, and disseminate those outcomes to appropriate publics—in op-ed pieces, performances, art exhibits, public dialogues, e-books, videos, or other media. In the process, both students and the public recognize the generative nature and social significance of the humanities. In today’s world, universities have an obligation to educate students about the grand social challenges they will be called upon to address as citizens and leaders. As America’s #1 university for innovation, it is especially appropriate for ASU to embrace this obligation and develop programs that encourage students to reflect on, deeply discuss, and prepare to address issues such as health, climate change, immigration, sexual violence, and information overload. The Humanities Lab is a crucial component in this effort.
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