The art of a liberal arts education


STUDENTS NEED TO MOVE — Professor Graham explores the connection between body and mind. (Hope College)

Hope College’s dance professor M. Linda Graham, MFA, presented “The Necessary Art of Liberal Arts” on Monday in Winants Auditorium. Graham addressed the innovative possibilities inspired by a liberal arts education while connecting the body to the mind.

Graham began teaching at Hope in 1983 and currently teaches dance history, historical social dance, career skills and ballet. She has performed as the Dorothy Wiley DeLong Professor of Dance since 2014. When Graham first came to Hope, it was different than what she was used to. This is when Graham became capable to “change and evolve” as she hopes her students can do with a liberal arts education.

Graham attended the National Academy of Dance in Illinois, where dance was the master curriculum. Once she graduated, she decided to step away from dance and pursue a career in theatre and attend The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois. There, Graham began taking classes outside of theatre and dance, and found an appreciation for different focuses.

Graham was introduced at the event by Dr. Ryan White, Director of Academic Advisng and First Year Seminars. White explained that this presentation of liberal arts is a practical thought for freshmen seminar students, as they address their education and life essays, as well as senior seminar students, to look back and reflect on what Hope has taught them.

White shared a quote from Graham’s colleague, Matthew Farmer, Associate Professor of Dance: “Linda Graham is an individual who keenly understands the connection between the mind, spirit and body.”

Graham explained, “I learned to see the world as an artist from a biologist.” Graham shared a story from her youth. Her camp instructor, Mrs. Lindsey, took her class out to a tree late at night and asked what they saw. The entire class admitted they only saw an old tree. Mrs. Lindsey had a flashlight and revealed a mother and baby bat.

Graham explained the sentiment behind the tale, “Don’t look for what you expect to see, rather, see what is. Do not be afraid. God is hiding in plain sight and we often don’t see past the confetti we bring to our own party.”

When discussing a student’s ability to learn in a liberal arts education, she stated, “Students will be prepared to act in all situations calmly and with wisdom. You’ll be able to breathe, to think and to choose.” She believes all students have “it” but this institution is where students learn how to turn “it” on.

Graham points out, in this age of technology, we are living in a scarcity of the mind and body. Nothing is enough and the screen has no imperative for anything. We aren’t pushed to our strengths. Graham shared her enjoyment of experiential learning and exploring the relationship between communication and physical discipline. In liberal arts, we are pushed to touch and experience in a physical field. Physical work is required. This education takes you away from being a default.

“Movement is essential.” Graham explained that 90 percent of the way humans communicate is through body language. Without these communicative lessons from active learning, it can leave a lot to misinterpret and misconstrue. “How you move influences how you think.” By doing a superhero pose, your body will release more serotonin, making you feel better and happier. A similar occurrence can happen when you cave into yourself. In response, your body will release more cortisol, making you feel more stressed. Graham had the audience then strike superhero poses while she played superhero music.

“The craft of creativity can be learned with liberal arts,” shared Graham. Creativity is an area where 80 percent of the adult population has felt shamed. A social and emotional connection is deeper in the creative experience. Liberal arts pushes students to become more comfortable with taking risks within their creativity. It opens a door to possibility and innovation. “You learn to accept the uncertainty to be creative.”

The presentation concluded with Hope’s mission and philsophy: “Through a liberal arts education and Christian faith, Hope College strives to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society.”

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