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Dr. Shane Hall explores the democratic imagination through literature

News

BY ABBY BIVENS

Staff Writer

Dr. Shane Hall is a first-year professor at Salisbury University in the Environmental Studies department, but he focuses on the intersections of art, nature and culture.

An avid literature fan himself, Dr. Hall often studies environmental literature, which he describes as “the white man hiking” genre because these types of stories dominate a majority of popular American nature stories.

However, Dr. Hall believes that this is a reflection of the nation’s cultural values.

This comes from a widely agreed upon concept that all forms of arts are representative of how people see the world.

He explored the meaning of the word ‘represent’, using the literal definition “to make present again.” If certain groups are not properly represented in everyday culture, they will be less present in different art forms like literature.

“For many, this is a narrative of oppression and exclusion,” Dr. Hall said.

Dr. Hall has recognized the lack of representation of certain demographics in his line of work.

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Dr. Hall used this graph to quantify the lack of diversity in the U.S. environmental industry. Source: diversegreen.org

According to Dr. Hall, people of color presently make up 36 percent of the nation and minorities are consistently more concerned about issues like climate change than white people.

He suggests that this vast underrepresentation of minorities in the environmental industry may be due to unfairly biased hiring processes.

Proposing a potential remedy, Dr. Hall argued that studying diverse literature can cultivate a more democratic imagination.  By exposing oneself to a variety of experiences and mindsets that may not be identical to one’s personal life experience it helps to foster this imagination.

This may lead to a growing sense of empathy, make people better communicators, expand critical thinking skills and enhance one’s attentiveness to ‘gray areas’ and ambiguity.

The lecture then transitioned into an interactive component, learning how to create a public narrative to better fulfill one’s democratic imagination. Each member of the audience was given a series of questions to prompt their narrative.

Participants were asked to describe a public issue that they were drawn to, how they are drawn to it, how their story might resonate with people in the community and how to change this issue.

Answered varied from the “massification” of individuals to issues like racism and income inequality.

Dr. Hall asked attendees to “make themselves a little uncomfortable” and share their narratives with the person next to them.

In closing, Dr. Hall shared a compelling poem about American democracy, Let America be America Again, by Langston Hughes.

He explained that he shared this piece with the class because although the piece is over eighty years old, he believes that it still describes a reality that exists within the nation.

This poem has recently grown in popularity, with many analysts comparing the satirical portion of the poem to Donald Trump’s election platform in last year’s election.  Experts agree that Hughes’ poem now has a renewed importance in today’s world.

The poem is satirical in nature, describing the “land of the free” but in the stanza breaks saying things such as “there’s never been equality for me, nor freedom in this homeland of the free.”

His writing tells the story of a group that is frequently overlooked by those who do experience the ‘American dream,’ “the millions who have nothing for our pay.”

The next lecture in PACE’s “Democracy Across the Disciplines” will be an interactive discussion entitled “Democracy Every Day” on Nov. 6.

Lectures are held Monday evenings at 7 p.m. in Fulton Hall, Room 111. All lectures in this series are open to any SU student as well as the general public.

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