Category Archives: Perspectives

PERSPECTIVES: Generation Snowflake?

 

The first in the series of ‘Perspectives’ talks at St Chad’s College took place on Monday 16th October at 6:30pm. The ‘Perspectives’ series which brings together a wide range of academics from Durham University is St Chad’s College’s very own pioneering interdisciplinary college module. For this first event, a panel of students and researchers came together to discuss the incredibly topical issue of millennials, the ‘snowflake’ generation, notoriously (and perhaps unjustifiably) known for their wayward ideals and expectations. The evening was introduced by College Principal, Dr Margaret Masson and Vice Principal, Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan, who both emphasised the importance of inter-disciplinary and even inter-generational learning and scholarship at Durham. Encouraging students to make the most out of the resources at both St Chad’s and the wider university, they also introduced the notion of the ‘snowflake generation’, which has been recently defined as millennials who are generally more prone to taking offence and less resilient to difference in attitudes and ideas than previous generations.

First up to speak about this issue was Durham Students’ Union’s very own President, Megan Croll. Megan gave a personal insight into the issues and challenges that she faces and helps people with in her role as a student leader. These included issues such as the rise of social media in connecting individuals, as well as the ability of our ‘digital age’ to give us far more choice over who we engage and interact with, citing dating apps such as Tinder as positive ways to identify shared interests. Megan also outlined the heightened level of pressure that students are now being put under to achieve more than previous generations, and claimed that this might be responsible for fuelling the ambitions of students to go further than their predecessors.

Second to speak was Dr Benedict Anderson who is an Assistant Professor in the Law School. Dr Anderson defined a snowflake as a ‘unique item that melts under pressure’, and argued that this can apply to a wide range of people when faced with challenging situations. He also outlined the sketchy area between intention and offence, citing how it might be possible to unconsciously cause offence due to differences in outlook and ideology.

Final to speak was Becca Dean, a youth worker and PhD researcher in the School of Applied Social Sciences. Becca introduced three broad ideas that attempt to explain the effects of the current generation’s excessive use of social media. Firstly, Becca introduced the concept of ‘Elkind’s Personal Fable’, which attempts to explain how self-curation is often imagined as a social act, where our appearance becomes a symbolic representation of who we are. Secondly, Becca unpacked Erikson’s Stages of Development, explaining how our sense of ‘self’ coordinates and changes the way in which we relate with others, creating communities that systematically include and exclude others. Finally, Becca used the research of Caitlin Moran to explain how the internet, still in its relative infancy, is like a teenager; a “new-founded liberal city that failed to install a sheriff” and was consequently a little wayward in its behaviour.

The first Perspectives event was standing room only or bring your own chair!

The audience were very receptive to these ideas, taking the opportunity after the introductory speeches to break into small clusters and explore the issues at stake. This was followed by a more informal networking opportunity to find out more about the experiences, insights and research of the speakers. The next talk in the series takes place on Monday, 30th October at 18.30, where the topic will be the very relevant issue of the future of meat and the ethical issues that surround its consumption.

Perspectives 28/11: Is Democracy working?

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Perspectives last week was on a really interesting and vitally relevant topic. We all know the famous Churchill quote, ‘democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried’; to be honest, I think our political system is something we tend to take for granted. All the more relevant as the final Perspectives event of the term, considering recent events – it is too easy to simply assume this system is the norm and is faultless because it is the only one we have ever been exposed to.

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Professor Fred Robinson

Chad’s hosted Professor Fred Robinson (Professorial Fellow of St Chad’s College), Dr Anna Rowlands (Theology and Religion), and Lily Botrous (Alexandria School of Theology, Egypt), who put forward their very interesting views on the question of democracy – Prof. Robinson and Dr. Rowlands focussed mainly on Brexit, while Ms. Botrous talked about the Arab Spring. In classic form, after their thought-provoking talks, we broke off into small groups, with discussions ranging from the virtues and vices of political correctness to the problem with modern voting systems to how politics is all too often boiled down to basic ideas and ideologies. Some really stimulating discussion, which certainly left us with a lot to think about.

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Lily Botrous

All in all, a very successful evening, and a great relief from the summative stress which tends to drown students in the last few weeks of term. I hope that next term’s lectures are as thought-provoking as the fantastic schedule put together already this year.

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Dr Anna Rowlands addresses attendees

Perspectives – Can we trust our Technology?

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The third in our College Series: Perspectives was held on Monday night. Despite the inset of summative season the session was well attended, by a range of individuals from both JCR and MCR.

Following an introduction by Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan the three speakers each laid out their point of view on the question of how far we can trust technology. First up was Dr Toby Breckon (Engineering and Computing Sciences), who argued that we could trust technology because it can only do that which it is taught or programmed to do by human designers. He also emphasized the power of consumers to pressure manufacturers to make trustworthy technology, by voting with their wallets.

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Dr Toby Breckon speaking to MCR and JCR members in the quad

Next was James Page (School of Government and International Affairs) who talked about the ethics and practicalities of drone warfare, and suggested that they are more accurate than human operated aircrafts.

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Dr James Page

Finally Dr Ladan Cockshut (School of Computing, Teesside University) talked about the increase in interest in AI, humanoid robotics, transhumanism in the mainstream media (movies, TV) over the past few decades, and about how our use of social media might change the ways in which we view ourselves, and our relationships with others.

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Dr Lagan Cockshut

 

Attendees then formed groups for discussion before returning to a final overall summary of the thoughts from the evening. One particularly interesting outcome the following day was the discovery of one student that her experiment of leaving Facebook open (with microphone access permissions) on her phone throughout the discussion might well have influenced the advertising she received the following day, with recommendations for AI films appearing on her Facebook.

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Perspectives: Are we living in a post-gender age?

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This Monday’s Perspectives evening kicked off with a fantastic turnout once again, with a diverse range of academics and researchers at the ready to speak about their disciplinary or personal take on whether we are living in a post gender age.

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An introduction to the evening from Dr Masson began proceedings

 

The first speaker, Dr Gillian Campling, kicked off the evening talking about biological sex, posing the question that if we could achieve a post-gender society, could we ignore human genetic make-up?

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Dr Gillian Campling

The next speaker was one of our very own postgrad students, Hannah Earnshaw. They gave an eye opening account of their personal experience about coming out as agender, which challenged the audience to think beyond the binary. This account stimulated open discussions within small groups about current societal positions towards gender.

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PhD student Hannah Earnshaw

The final speaker, Professor Robert Song, talked about the traditional view of man and woman in the Bible, adding to the diversity of the evening. This was followed by a short, but thought-triggering discussion session, aided by cheese and wine.

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Professor Robert Song

The talk was particularly relevant in college as at the JCR meeting the day before, the constitution was changed to recognise students of all gender and none. All in all, it was a really engaging evening, throwing new light on an incredibly relevant issue for today’s students.

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Perspectives: Safe Spaces

Headed by Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan, the new Senior Tutor, St Chad’s’ new college module “Perspectives” was successfully kicked off on Monday night, with a fascinating discussion on ‘Safe Spaces’. Over 100 Chadsians were joined in the Cassidy Quad by several visiting academics: Dr Mark McCormack, Dr Sara Uckelman and Dr Ben Douglas. Dr Douglas gave a brief talk on the legalities of freedom of speech, followed by Dr McCormack and Dr Uckelman offering their opinions on the issue, specifically regarding the right to offend, “trigger warnings” and the practicalities of safe spaces.

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Dr Masson introduces the talks.

Having heard these views, we were encouraged to share our thoughts with those around us and to engage with each other’s opinions. It was really interesting; a chance not only to listen to perspectives you might normally disagree with, but also to discover why people held those beliefs.

The evening was a great success; what struck me the most was that in true Chad’s style everyone gave each other a fair hearing, everyone was respectful, and there was no bitterness or acrimony whatsoever. I’ve only been at Chad’s for two weeks, but Monday made me proud to be a Chadsian; I look forward to attending more Perspectives talks in the future.

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Cheese and wine helped make the evening a great success.