Virtual Gatherings: Robert Penn Warren Center connects humanities scholars

Screenshot from Robert Penn Warren Center virtual happy hour on Zoom
Screenshot from the Robert Penn Warren Center’s virtual happy hour March 20 on Zoom.

The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities is among a number of schools, departments and centers keeping scholars connected outside the classroom by using Zoom for its extracurricular gatherings.

Happy hour at the Warren Center, which began last fall as an inclusive, weekly gathering of faculty, students and staff with shared disciplinary interests for informal conversations, started meeting virtually March 21.

Holly Tucker, director of the Robert Penn Warren Center (photo courtesy of Kimberly Wylie)
Holly Tucker (courtesy of Kimberly Wylie)

“During these challenging times in our academic roles as well in as our personal lives, it’s more important than ever to strengthen our campus and scholarly communities and support each other,” said Holly Tucker, director of the Warren Center and a professor of French who holds the Mellon Chair in the Humanities. “The humanities are actually made by and for these moments, as some of the most meaningful cultural production throughout history has occurred in times of great uncertainty and rapid change.”

More than two dozen faculty and one graduate student clicked on the Zoom link for the first virtual happy hour. Tucker said that given the large number of participants, they divided into smaller groups that met in the Zoom break-out rooms. Each participant had the opportunity to express how they have been feeling since all of the changes stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak began, what their work days have been like, and anything else they wanted to share with their colleagues.

“The Warren Center virtual happy hours have been the perfect way to end the work week during these unprecedented times,” said Associate Professor of Communication Studies Paul Stob. “I’m particularly thankful that our conversations via Zoom have been a lot like the conversations I normally participate in at the Warren Center. We talk about research problems, teaching practices, work-life balance, and big questions in the humanities. The Warren Center happy hours are what I look to for a sense of normalcy right now—or at least as close as we can get to normalcy.”

Sarah Swanz, librarian for digital media and publishing, said she is a frequent attendee at the center’s events in general because it’s an opportunity to connect with an interdisciplinary community, including those in the humanities that she might otherwise not encounter on campus.

“This hasn’t changed with the transition to Zoom,” Swanz said. “In these strange times, when we tend to get even more siloed in times of stress, it’s all the more important to stay connected, learn from one another and recognize our common humanity. I’m looking forward to the time when I will see these new connections in person.”

“During these early virtual gatherings, faculty, staff and students can process what has occurred this semester, relay any current needs of the humanities community and consider ideas for moving forward,” Tucker said.

For more information about Warren Center online events, email Terry Tripp.