Academia tends to place the greatest value on one form of expression: the paper. Often written by scholars far advanced in their field of study, these research papers and dissertations address a variety of topics ranging from aboriginal eating habits to the scandalous life of a second-rate Enlightenment philosopher. It is no wonder that some people dismiss intellectuals as locked up in their ivory towers. Few people see any relationship between these specialized topics and everyday interactions. Others fail to understand why academia gives no credence to other expressions like music, poetry, or literature. These two accusations highlight a severe disconnect between the university and the citizenry.
On the flipside, students in higher education have so much latent potential. The King’s College has Interregnum, where the school cancels classes for three days to hold debates, create art, and listen to lectures. Other schools publish journals with student poetry, photography, and essays. This is the genesis of great thought, of ideas that can shape culture. Unfortunately, none of this work reaches past the confines of the campus.
This is why my friends and I started the Ideas Forum, or IF. IF is an undergraduate think tank that provokes intercollegiate civil discourse on timeless topics in different expressions. From short stories to business proposals, IF aims to generate discussion and action on four broad themes: wealth and poverty; individual responsibility; faith and reason; and the role of government.
IF represents a logical extension of what the university hopes to achieve. This organization contributes excellent undergraduate work to the Great Conversation of thinkers past and present. While the great thinkers expressed their ideas in papers, many also explored the same concepts with other expressions. Poet Emily Dickenson wrestled with the meaning of love in her poetry. Composer John Cage experimented with music produced by chance because he found the idea of sound fascinating. Politician William Wilberforce introduced bills in Parliament for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire because he found the gross injustice inflicted on fellow human beings appalling. These people did not simply present ideas. They acted. They persevered. They followed through.
By publishing student work and encouraging action on such ideas, the Ideas Forum aims to reconnect the university and the citizenry, the head and heart with the hands. Many undergraduates think that changing the world happens after college. That is not true. Changing the world and shaping culture begin right now. Only those faithful with little are entrusted with much.
Samuel Tran is a sophomore in the House of Bonhoeffer.