Community Semester: Past, present, future

Only in its third year, the College of Arts and Sciences’ Community Semester is already becoming programming that the community looks forward to each spring. Organizers explain what makes it so special.

It’s appropriate the theme for this year’s Community Semester is “Past, Present, Future,” as the Indiana State University program is in its third year and continually looking to improve from previous experiences.

“It’s been very exciting and fulfilling to me, as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to see the community be this interested about what we do,” said Dean John Murray. “We had over 4,000 people come to events in the first year, and over 5,000 come to events last year. I now have individuals asking me whether we’re doing the Community Semester again this year. People in the Wabash Valley want to see these events.”

Indeed, the university is hosting Community Semester again this year — and promising an impressive lineup of speakers and experiences.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated events is the “Anniversary of Civil Rights Act 1964: Black History Month Gala Concert,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Indiana Theater. The university’s School of Music and history department will present a performance celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Participants can look forward to a 90-minute audio-visual experience featuring gospel, jubilee and wind arrangements, along with a performance of speeches by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Another event marking an important anniversary — the “70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz: Reflections and Discussion,” 6:30 p.m. March 5 at the CANDLES Museum — also promises to enlighten participants about the memory, history and meaning of the Holocaust.

“John Wooden: Setting the Record Straight” at 1:30 p.m. March 25, aims to do just that — present new research findings that differ significantly from the long-held standards about legendary coach and Indiana native John Wooden.

Other lectures and presentations include topics such as women’s history, the Wabash River, Eugene Debs, oil research and development in Terre Haute and African drumming.

“This series a great fit for the College of Arts and Sciences, because it literally delivers the content from the arts and sciences to the community of Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley,” Murray said. “By having lectures, concerts, panel discussions, etc., available to the community (virtually all for free), the community can see how the disciplines in arts and sciences are relevant to their lives and to the world!”

Community Semester was created from the idea of a themed semester, putting a Sycamore spin on it, of course. After all, community engagement is something the Indiana State does best, so introducing similar programming was a natural fit, organizers say.

“It’s also a way to reassert the unique mission of arts and sciences — what do we do in relation to the rest of ISU,” said Isaac Land, associate professor of history and Community Semester facilitator.

Collaboration — between university departments and community organizations — remains integral to Community Semester.

“Although we all basically know that Indiana State plays an important role in the life of Terre Haute, the Wabash Valley, the state and beyond, the Community Semester provides a forum to highlight those vital links,” said Steven Stofferahn, associate professor of history and facilitator of the first two Community Semesters. “For my own part, coordinating the program allowed me to see and appreciate those connections more clearly than before and got me even more excited about the ongoing work of the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Many of the Community Semester events are designed to occur off-campus — such as a Native American-themed event at Dobbs Park Nature Center — which helps ease some difficulties and anxieties about navigating the campus and parking.

One of Community Semester’s early inter-departmental collaborative successes was a labor sing-along, which featured a concert of labor songs by the School of Music faculty, along with a history professor explaining the context and origin of the songs.

“They distributed sheet music to the audience, and they got to sing along,” Land said. “It would have been a great event by the music department by themselves, but it was even better when we combined forces. We won an award from the Wabash Valley Central Labor Council, because it was seen as terrific community outreach and collaboration.”

Experiential learning — another of Indiana State’s mantras — fits in nicely with the goals of Community Semester, too. For example, this year, Lisa Phillips, associate professor of history, will co-present with history majors about the Vigo County Home, also known as the Poor Farm. And the African drumming event, is “as much about teaching kids as it is about drumming itself,” featuring Indiana State students working alongside faculty, Land said.

As the Community Semester prepares to begin its third season, how do organizers gauge success?

“Without a doubt, community engagement has been a core measure of success for Community Semester,” Stofferahn said. “While some events are more traditional, with faculty presenting their research or creative activities and fielding questions from the audience, others showcase collaborations between faculty members, college staff, students and community organizations. Both kinds of events are important, but those collaborative endeavors are especially impactful and exciting.”

Organizers are striving to add more meaningful participation from students in the future.

“Whenever possible, it would be great to have student leaders and organizations join with faculty members and community partners to organize and facilitate Community Semester events,” Stofferahn said. “It not only gives them a deeper stake in their education, but also binds them closer to their alma mater, which is good for everyone.”

This year’s Community Semester kicks off with an opening reception 5-7 p.m. Jan. 20 at Clabber Girl, 900 Wabash Ave. For a complete schedule, go to

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