Kendi on antiracism

You may have read at BU Today that Ibram X. Kendi, a scholar of racism, has been recruited to join the BU faculty and to launch a BU Center for Antiracist Research. Last week, Dr. Kendi was interviewed by TED’s current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers and speaker development curator Cloe Shasha. In their conversation, which addresses the difference between between being “not racist” and antiracist, Dr. Kendi defines the transformative concept of antiracism to help us more clearly recognize, take responsibility for and reject prejudices in our public policies, workplaces and personal beliefs. A video of the virtual talk appears below; you can also find it here on the TED website.


A website for the Antiracist Center has been already been created; find it here. You can sign up for their newsletter on the homepage.

The poems of the 2020 Core Poetry Reading


On the evening of April 15th, four and a half dozen classmates, alumni, lecturers, and friends, all members of the extended community we call the BU Core, came together on Zoom for our traditional spring poetry reading, an event Core has organized for nearly two decades. Despite a hitch at the start (we were Zoom bombed early on! how irritating, yet exciting, to be a target of pranks?) we listened, from our respective homes, to our fifteen readers share texts over the internet.

It was a moving event; it turns out that we don’t need fancy rooms, costumes, or production values, to achieve a sense of shared being-in-art; just human faces (yes, on screen), and human voices, and human-heartedness. In the background of some of our windows could be seen housecats, and children, and paintings on the wall, and friends in the room. How lovely to be able to gather in this way for an anthology evening.

For the benefit of those who were unable to join us, here is a list of the poems which were read, with at least a snippet from each:

  • “The Root of the Trouble” by Hugh MacDiarmid, read by Zachary Bos, and which is in its entirety: “There couldn’t be any war / If nobody went; / There couldn’t be any poor / Without their own consent.”
  • “Ave Maria” by Frank O’Hara, read by Sean Desilets: “Mothers of America / let your kids go to the movies!”
  • “The Eel” by Eugenio Montale, translated by William Arrowsmith, read by Stephen Esposito: “The eel, coldwater / siren, who leaves the Baltic behind her…”
  • “An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovsky in a Summer Cottage” by Vladimir Mayakovsky, translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey, read by Kyna Hamill: “I yelled at the sun point-blank: / ‘Get down! / Stop crawling into that hellhole!'”
  • “The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” by Li Po, in a version by Ezra Pound, read by Jonathan Han: “I let down the crystal curtain / And watch the moon through the clear autumn.”
  • Fifty-four lines from Paradise Lost, Book IX, by John Milton, read by Jonathan Han, and beginning: “O Sacred, Wise, and Wisdom-giving Plant, / Mother of Science, Now I feel thy Power…”
  • “Spring and All” by William Carlos Williams, read by Brian Jorgensen: “Now the grass, / tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf…”
  • Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, read by Sophie Klein: “Socks on chicks and chicks on fox.”
  • “When All Is Said and Done” by ABBA, read by Peter La Fontaine: “Here’s to us, one more toast, and then we’ll pay the bill…”
  • “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” by Dylan Thomas, read by Stephanie Nelson: “After the first death, there is no other.”
  • “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, read by Stephanie Nelson: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
  • “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes, read byAnita Patterson: “I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.”
  • “The Root of Our Evil” by D. H. Lawrence, read by Christopher Ricks: “Ultimately, we are all busy buying and selling one another.”
  • “Death-bed of a Financier” by Stevie Smith, read by Christopher Ricks: “Deal not with me as I have dealt on earth.”
  • “Behavior of Money” by Bernard Spencer, read by Christopher Ricks: “Shall we recognize each other, crowding around the body?”
  • “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost, read by Katie Robiadek: “I have passed by the watchman on his beat / And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.”
  • Twenty-nine lines from The Georgics of Virgil, translated by David Ferry, read by Sassan Tabatabai, and beginning: “It’s spring that adorns the woods and groves with leaves…”
  • A lyric by Rainer Maria Rilke (translator not specified), read by William Waters: “…as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small / and in the vast you vastly yield yourself…”
  • “Spring Pools” by Robert Frost, read by William Waters: “The trees that have it in their pent-up buds / To darken nature and be summer woods…”
  • “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, read by William Waters: “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame”
  • “Song of a Second April” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, read by Zachary Bos: “…only you are gone, / You that alone I cared to keep.”

Some poems hewed closely to the proposed theme, “roots”, approaching along routes of ancestry, influence, word-play, and etymology, while other poems were chosen for quite other reasons. As demonstrated by this list of titles and lines, the evening was thoroughly particolored and polyphonic.

The Core staff will be reviewing the recording of the event, to see if it will be possible to share it on YouTube or Facebook. If you’d like to be notified of that outcome, email us and we’ll be sure to keep you posted. Below, feel free to share your thoughts about the poems and readings, if you were on the Zoom; or, if you were not there, let us know what poems you’d have liked to share if you’d been with us.

We thank Prof. Sophie Klein for her gracious performance as master-of-ceremonies, and Zachary Bos for managing the tech.Shown below: a screenshot of the reading, showing a few of those in attendance.


An update on Summer Study in Athens

header-spring-2020-greeceFollowing the University/s announcement that all in-person summer abroad programs have been canceled, the organizers of the Summer Study in Athens asked that we share this announcement of their reconfigured plans for the summer 2020 program:

We know you are all wondering about this year’sSummer Study in Athens. As you may know, Boston University has now canceled summer study abroad programs. However, this will not keep you from experiencing Greek culture AND studying in Greece in 2021.We are planning a virtual Summer Study in 2020 that will help you visit Greece in 2021! To that end, we are planning to offer the following.

  1. An online course or courses in Greek culture THIS SUMMER that can be transferred to Boston University (and for which scholarships will be available: see below).
  2. Anyone who takes and passes the online course(s) offered will be guaranteed admission and a scholarship to next years (2021) Summer Study in Athens.
  3. An additional scholarship of up to $1,000 (applied to the Summer Study 2020 online courses cost) for anyone who registers for a Modern Greek course for this fall semester (Example: CG111).

Essentially, our goal is to allow you to take an online courseat little or no cost this summerand to receive anadditional scholarship and admission to the program for the summer of 2021.Keep a lookout for more messages about courses this summer (and visiting Athens next year)! And stay healthy and safe.

With best wishes,

Prof. L. J. Samons,

How Core courses will be carrying on

If you did not see the Director’s email from 3/13 about the way our spring Core courses are adjusting in response to the COVID-19 crisis, you can now find that message on the program website:

How One Alumna Is Spending Her Time At Home

Many millions of people are staying at home, to minimize the risk of transmission, and to adhere to social distancing and shelter-in-place advisories. We caught up with one of our alumni, Kim Santo (Core ’98, BU ’00 & ’02), on Facebook, to ask how she’s prioritizing self-care and healthy habits.

Kim writes:

“Hello, Core! Here are a few self-care recommendations for people stuck at home for the time being.Clockwise from the center top:

  1. Snacks: Prunes and Pistachios!
  2. Bar soap (everyone is scrounging for anti-bac liquid – a humble bar of moisturizing bar soap works just fine)
  3. A way to listen to music, either a Bluetooth speaker or headphones or both
  4. Some good books, of course. Are we not Core? Cmon now. And…
  5. Caffeine-free herbal teas are good nerve tonics, but if you want the caffeinated stuff, I recommend plain ol green tea such as Japanese Sencha or Chinese Mao Jian.”

Sound suggestions! Kim is often to be found in the EnCore Facebook group, and has made a commitment to attend as many of our weekly Digital Core Tea gatherings on Zoom through the remainder of this spring semester.

The Devlin Award


Every year, the Core Curriculum awards two students with the James Patrick Devlin Memorial Award, in memory of one of the founding members of the Core who inspired students and colleagues alike. It is presented on the basis of the excellence of a first-year Core essay, as recommended to a committee of Core professors by other Core professors.

The James Patrick Devlin Award means a lot to the Core community, and each year some of our professors and founders talks briefly about why it is important to them. Below are comments that Professors Nelson and Jorgensen made about the award and its namesake, during the Spring 2017 Core Banquet:

The arete, or excellence, of a Core student is to think well — to think deeply, originally, and clearly, and then to express their thoughts clearly, persuasively, and even elegantly. We have students who achieve this, and they are who the Devlin Award is for: for first year students who wrote outstanding essays. – Professor Stephanie Nelson

The award is based on your best paper from first year and on recommendations from professors. James Devlin was a great teacher, a great lecturer, one of the founders of Core, and an inspiration to everyone who was there to start. – Professor Brian Jorgensen

Devlin Award winners receive a prize of course books, and a cash stipend. These prizes are actually funded by donations from the Core community, especially alumni, as gifts made during BU’s annual Giving Day. Current first-year students will be invited to submit applications for consideration, upon their return to campus after Spring Break. To see a list of past winners, visit the Core website.

A Paradigm Shift of his Own: Revisiting Thomas Kuhn


The great thing about science is that it’s not always right. For all the theories, equations, and experiments, scientists are just at the mercy of their subjective opinions as any other thinkers– In other words, science relies on subjective perspective and the consensus of the scientific community to establish what a culture views as an accepted scientific truth. Or at least that’s how Thomas Kuhn saw it, as you can see for yourself in a recent article that revisited Kuhn’s landmark 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, author James Franklin examines Kuhns thesis that scientific theories are no better than ones in the humanities in that they rely on accepted paradigms, and how his theory of Paradigm Shifts changed the scientific and artistic world. When the accepted paradigm or established way of thinking is challenged, the culture faces a radical reassessment of what was previously considered “truth”, and thus a new paradigm must be created.

What is your favorite example of a paradigm shift in culture? Or do you have an example of a personal paradigm shift that changed your specific world view? Let us know in the comments!

The Triumphs and Challenges of Chinese Students in American Universities

More often than not, American students entering college feel a sense of anxiety and anticipation as they confront a way of life that is seemingly novel to them. However, this anxiety is diminished by the things that are not novel, namely the language, culture, and mannerisms that remain consistent throughout America. Some students though take the brave step of attending university outside of their home country, for these students the transition to university life is as novel as it could be.

In a recent post on the Asian Review of Books, Peter Gordon reviews Yingyi Ma’s new book, “Ambitious and Anxious: How Chinese Students Succeed and Struggle in American Higher Education,” which analyzes the experience of Chinese students at American universities. In her book, Ma dispels many stereotypes about Chinese students, but in particular she tackles the misconception that Chinese students who attend American universities have stupendous wealth. In fact, many Chinese students who attend American universities come from more modest backgrounds. Ma also describes the immense stress and anxiety that comes with being an international student. To this point, Ma recommends that American universities do better at including Chinese students in university social life.

This all brings to the forefront questions of inclusivity. It is important to ask if we, here at Boston University and the Core Curriculum are doing enough to facilitate a smooth transition for all our international students. How can we in our daily actions make people feel a little more included today, despite their different background and heritage? This is what we must ask ourselves.

A Tour of Ancient Athens, or the Ups and Downs of Core

As any student who’s been on our Summer Study in Greece program can testify, visiting Athens at any time is a life changing experience. But it would be a dream to see it at the height of its glory, and luckily artist Dimitris Tsalkanis made that dream come true. Tsalkanis spent 13 years making a 3-D recreation of Athens as it looked from the Mycenaean period (1600 BCE) to the Early Modern period (AD 1833). Take a look for yourself, and imagine what it would be like to take a walk to the Piraeus with your good friends Socrates.

While writing this, a few of us struck up a conversation in the Core office about what it really meant to go down to the Piraeus in The Republic, and the significance of other characters going down in our curriculum. First there’s Odysseus, who descends into Hades using the same verb that Socrates uses to describe going down to the Piraeus. Dante also descends into Hell, but he also comes back up again. And plenty of other Core friends make similar climbs, from Petrarch reading St. Augustine on Mount Ventoux to Moses and Martin Luther King, Jr. on their mountaintops.

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Just take for example this very real representation of Dante’s descent into Hell, as imagined by an animated princess and her demon cat friend. These ups and downs have captured the human imagination, not just those in Core. However, Core is absolutely full of them, with our heroes going from Hell to Earth to Heaven and back again. But unfortunately, this is just a blog, and I’m out of time to list every single one. So please, I invite you to continue the discussion in the comments below!

Core Writing Fellow Releases New Book on Heritage Tourism in Washington, D.C.


Lauren Kerby, a former Core Writing Fellow and current education specialist and lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and alumni of Boston University’s Graduate School of Religious Studies, is releasing her new book,Saving History: How White Evangelicals Tour the Nations Capital and Redeem a Christian America,this spring.This debut book is forthcoming through the University of North Carolina Press as the first title in the new Where Religion Lives series, and will explore the historical and political narratives crafted and reinforced by Christian heritage tourism in Washington, DC. From the press website:

Millions of tourists visit Washington, D.C., every year, but for some the experience is about much more than sightseeing. Lauren R. Kerby’s lively book takes readers onto tour buses and explores the world of Christian heritage tourism. These expeditions visit the same attractions as their secular counterparts — Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument, the war memorials, and much more — but the white evangelicals who flock to the tours are searching for evidence that America was founded as a Christian nation.
The tours preach a historical jeremiad that resonates far beyond Washington. White evangelicals across the United States tell stories of the nation’s Christian origins, its subsequent fall into moral and spiritual corruption, and its need for repentance and return to founding principles. This vision of American history, Kerby finds, is white evangelicals’ most powerful political resource — it allows them to shapeshift between the roles of faithful patriots and persecuted outsiders. In an era when white evangelicals’ political commitments baffle many observers, this book offers a key for understanding how they continually reimagine the American story and their own place in it.

You can pre-orderSaving History: How White Evangelicals Tour the Nations Capital and Redeem a Christian Americahere.