As we have previously reported, the university has recently launched a year-long project titled Rethinking Community, which is a campus-wide effort to create a better understanding of the implications of living in a diverse, polarized, global and virtual community.
In an email sent out on Oct. 12, Provost Rogan Kersh encouraged students to register for the Rethinking Community Conference, which will start today on Thursday, Oct. 19 and run through Saturday, Oct. 21. The event, which will feature a variety of speakers, panels and breakout sessions, is jointly organized by the Pro Humanitate Institute and the Eudaimonia Institute. These two hosts, while independent in their missions, receive portions of their funding from different ideological groups and have connections that span across the political aisles.
For context on the two hosts, the Pro Humanitate Institute spearheads many social justice and civic engagement initiatives on campus. As stated on the institute’s website, it is “charged with serving as the programmatic facilitator of our university motto” and it is a “core of learning, teaching, service and action that transforms the ethos of WFU into an explicit mission connected to clear practices with meaningful social justice outcomes.”
Led by the Faculty director, Melissa Harris-Perry, Executive Director Marianne Magjuka and a team of staff dedicated to campus programming and outreach, the Institute oversees a variety of campus programs including the Anna Julia Cooper Center, BRANCHES Social Justice Retreat, BUILD, Campus Kitchen, SPARC, Wake The Vote and many others. The institute has been one of the first to respond with messages of inclusivity and panels after events such as the Charlottesville riots or President Trump’s Executive Order Banning Refugees and citizens of seven nations. The other sponsor, the Eudaimonia Institute, grounds its purpose in exploring and developing an interdisciplinary understanding of Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia. As stated on its website, its purpose “is to explore the elements of and institutions that support Eudaimonia, or genuine human flourishing” and its mission is “to investigate the nature of eudaimonia” and “to understand what kinds of lives are truly worth living, as well as what policies, practices, and conventions should be encouraged to help people to lead such lives.”
According to the website, professor of economics James Otteson is the Executive Director of the Eudaimonia Institute, while Adam Hyde is the Assistant Director and the advisory board is composed of 13 members. The institute has hosted events that work to uncover the idea of human flourishing through examining the intersection of different disciplines such as philosophy, economics, business and the arts. Although it would appear difficult to be juxtaposed to an institute aimed at revealing happiness, the Eudaimonia Institute has faced faculty push-back, largely due to a $3.69 million donation from the Charles Koch Foundation that it received in the Fall of 2016. Due to the political ties of the foundation’s owners Charles and David Koch, professors from a variety of departments raised concern about the ability for the Eudaimonia Institute to remain autonomous and independent of political ties.
The pairing of these two groups to host an event aimed at Rethinking Wake Forest’s Community is the kind of spark that the university needs to start the longer conversations about how we are going to fix the political, cultural and social strife that exists on this campus and within our larger community. Although these groups may have overlaps in their missions, the way they operate in practice span across the political spectrum.
By uniting these two institutes we are uniting parts of campus that, whether intentionally or not, are likely to separate. For this reason, we think this conference will be one that the campus body should not miss.