SSA invites students to embrace liberal arts

Students will present their research and discuss their interests at the interdisciplinary conference


Catherine McKean

Students can learn more about SSA by visiting any of their informational tables. Photo by Catherine McKean, ‘24

Emma Malinak, Arts & Life Editor

Washington and Lee University will host its 10th Science, Society and the Arts (SSA) conference from March 16 to 18.
The conference is designed to give undergraduate and law students the opportunity to present and engage with numerous forms of original work, including scholarly research and visual and performing arts. The schedule also includes colloquia, which are small group discussions about books, films, albums and TV shows, and a keynote speaker.
SSA Committee Chair Chris Dobbins said the diverse range of ways that students and faculty members can get involved in the conference compliments Washington and Lee’s culture of academic exploration.
“The whole event was originally designed for students to just showcase what they’re good at and what they love,” Dobbins said. “I think that’s a great way to embrace the liberal arts side of what we do at W&L.”
The university hosts SSA every two years, but because the 2021 conference was virtual, Dobbins said this year’s event is slightly smaller than past years’. Even so, the SSA committee was able to select and organize a schedule of 20 research presentations.
The presentations, which will be held on March 18, allow undergraduate and law students to showcase their original research, answer questions from audience members and receive feedback on their work.
Many of the presentations are inherently interdisciplinary. Charli Brown, ’23, said she will be presenting on the new genre of the queer fairytale while focusing on a hybrid of women’s studies, literary theory and biological evolutionary theory.
“There are not a lot of institutions or conferences that allow that kind of hybridity in one’s research, but that’s kind of the whole point of SSA,” Brown said. “We don’t just have one box with strict bounds when it comes to research and research topics, but rather, we have an immense spectrum of possible subject matter.”
SSA committee member Natalia Micheli, ’23L, said that SSA can be a safe space to learn how to present at a professional conference and prepare for a future career in academia.
“I think the idea of presenting your research or just publishing it is an incredibly daunting experience,” Micheli said. “So I think this is a very nice stepping stone into that.”
Brown agreed, saying that SSA is “a valuable opportunity to hear feedback from peers and professors” and “a great way to hone public speaking skills while still having a nice learning environment.”
Colloquia discussions will also be held on March 18. Colloquia are less formal than research presentations, but still allow students and faculty members to share their interests and generate conversation.
Brown, who is leading a colloquia discussion along with presenting her research, said both styles of discussion are “equally important aspects of education.”
Colloquia topics range from Brown’s discussion on the TV show “Once Upon a Time” to others’ presentations on subjects such as Led Zeppelin’s debut studio album and the book “How To Break Up with Your Phone.” Micheli said there is a colloquium for everyone.
“Finding the connection between all those things and just seeing the passion that everyone brings to the table regardless of the topic is a really cool experience. I think it’s super rewarding for everyone involved, both viewer and presenter.”
The March 18 events will be hosted in the Law School and Leyburn Library, and poster sessions will be set up in each building for audience members to view between events. SSA shirts, coffee from Pronto and fish and chips from LexVegas Bistro will be available throughout the day as well.
The conference will conclude with a keynote address by Irish musician and activist Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich. Beaglaoich will share his love for traditional Irish music as well as talk about his grassroots activism surrounding land use and the rural-urban divide in Ireland.
Dobbins said Beaglaoich’s address will be special because he will not focus on purely academic topics like past keynote speakers have.
“He’s going to tell a story and play a tune, and that tune will remind him of another story,” Dobbins said. “It’ll be the most conversational keynote address that anyone has ever experienced.”
Events on March 16 and 17 will serve as kick-off programming for the weekend. SSA will host a viewing of “The Camino Voyage,” a film that documents Beaglaoich and his friends’ journey from Ireland to Spain in a hand-built traditional boat, on March 16.
On March 17, the Law School will host a law symposium and the Lenfest Center for the Arts will host a Music Department convocation.
Brown said that no matter which events the Washington and Lee community attends, there will be plenty of opportunities to make connections between their personal interests and others’ passions.
“I truly believe that the biggest advancements in any field are made when people step outside of the box and draw influence from diverse and engaging research,” Brown said. “That’s how we become well-rounded researchers, well-rounded students and ultimately well-rounded people.”