At Celebration of Authors, Faculty Share How an Idea Becomes a Book

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Whether you were heading down the main Willard staircase to hit Fran’s Cafe for a milkshake or the fitness room for a run, you would have stumbled across a special occasion in the Willard Great Room on Tuesday, January 22. Last month, the Office of Residential Academic Initiatives hosted a tasteful reception in the naturally inviting space for its first book talk with three recently published professors who are also residential college fellows.

Nancy Anderson, Associate Director of Residential Academic Initiatives, welcomed guests and spoke about the pleasure of bringing students and faculty members together in informal settings--that is, not a classroom or office. A diverse cross-section of student members and fellows from five of Northwestern’s ten residential colleges were in attendance.

Professor Saul Morson, Faculty Chair of Willard Residential College, introduced the presenters from a diverse range of academic disciplines: Robert Launay of the Anthropology Department and a fellow at International Studies Residential College; Elizabeth Son of the Theatre Department and a fellow at the Humanities Residential College at Chapin Hall; and Eli Finkel of the Psychology Department and a fellow at both Willard and the Residential College of Cultural and Community Studies.

In a set-up reminiscent of a literary festival with poster-sized versions of their book covers hanging behind them, the authors shared insights that students would not necessarily divine from reading these new books cover to cover. Launay related today’s individuals to early Europeans struggling with identity and comparisons based on his findings in writing Savages, Romans, and Despots: Thinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder. Son explained how her Embodied Reckonings: “Comfort Women,” Performance, and Transpacific Redress examines contemporary performances concerning the history of Japanese military sexual slavery, illuminates the resiliency of survivors, and highlights the power of voice and protest. Finkel used the occasion to tell college students how his book, The All or Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work, can act as a guide for them later in life.

As one of the country’s leading private research institutions, Northwestern offers students access to state-of-the-art facilities and trailblazing professors who are constantly producing riveting studies. This intimate setting helped students feel comfortable asking questions and chatting with the guests of honor.

Weinberg junior Mehek Sethi has enjoyed taking classes with both Launay and Finkel but found the more social occasion made them “more relatable” and “less intimidating.” She added, “I think you get to see a side of them that maybe you don’t necessarily see in class. They’re sharing things they’ve devoted years of their lives to researching and are passionate about.”

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At an event with residential college members and fellows connecting over food and ideas in a homey environment, students were able to see professors as people who are just as curious as they are. “I’ve never seen professors as authors before. I’ve only ever been able to interact with them as teachers,” said Weinberg sophomore Adam Downing. A forum like this, he added, “begins to break down those barriers where, all of a sudden, it’s not just this imposing author, but instead it’s a human being who puts out this amazing piece of work and is coming to share it with students in a place that he loves.”

Students were introduced to career paths to explore, new courses to consider, and different modes of inquiry to ignite their own research as undergraduates. They left with more than greater awareness of these books’ subjects. They also developed greater admiration for and interest in professors’ work. “I would say the biggest takeaway is that the professors all across this campus are doing amazing things,” said Downing. “Up until a few days ago, I didn’t know any of these professors. Now, I’d be thrilled to take a class in any of their disciplines.”

By enriching the residential experience with diverse ways to connect students and faculty, Northwestern is enhancing undergraduate education and broadening the world of possibilities for students.