Critical Conversations

Collage featuring an abstract image of cells, an etching of an eye, a soothing color gradation, a closeup of a microscope, clouds in a blue sky and antique script writing, representing the 2022–2023 Critical Conversations talks.

A required part of the Brandeis Core, the First Year Experience includes a series of "Critical Conversations" to introduce students to our academic community, to model the different types of intellectual inquiries available on the university campus, to create a shared experience, and to invite students to think and talk about issues that are central to their educational development and the world around them.

In particular, Critical Conversations feature interdisciplinary conversations that highlight both the range and substance of intellectual activity on our campus, and the ways in which different disciplines present evidence and rhetorical arguments. Because diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of Brandeis’ history and mission, we value and seek participants with a variety of social identities as well as proposals that engage with ongoing conversations about diversity and social justice.

Spring 2024 Critical Conversations

Storytelling and Letter Writing in Fiction and Social Science

Wednesday, February 28 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. 
Sherman Function Hall

Pu Wang, German, Russian, and Asian Languages/Comparative Literature and Culture
Elizabeth Ferry, Anthropology/Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies

Storytelling is essential to human life, and how we tell—and read—stories define who we are and what we become. Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous mobilizes the epistolary form that has a centuries’ long history in fiction, crafted as a letter from the narrator, Little Dog, to his mother. These are techniques also used in contemporary social science texts. Wang, a literary scholar, and Ferry, an anthropologist, will discuss the effects of these strategies in describing the particularities of individual experience and collective processes of such as migration, war, and categories of class, race, gender, and sexuality. This discussion starts with different perspectives of humanities and social sciences, and yet aims toward an interdisciplinary convergence on storytelling—and letter writing as its form.

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Briefly Gorgeous: Writing Our Stories

Tuesday, March 5 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Sherman Function Hall

Elizabeth Bradfield, English—Creative Writing
ChaeRan Freeze, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies/Near Eastern Judaic Studies

Inspired by Ocean Vuong's On Earth, We're Briefly Gorgeous and Night Sky with Exit Wounds we will read and discuss excerpts of Vuong’s writing and then also write our own from the beautiful particulars of our own lives. How can we find strength in vulnerability? How can we offer empathy through writing to both those around us and to ourselves? How can we transform the events of our lives—be they quotidian, beautiful, painful, or strange—into art?

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Fall 2023 Critical Conversations

How Social Scientists Study Identity and Family

Wednesday, September 27 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. 
Sherman Function Hall

Hannah Clark, Psychology
Sarah Mayorga, Sociology

Our conversation will address the individual in context, highlighting the distinct but related ways that psychologists and sociologists approach issues of identity, family, and trauma. We will discuss both the individual-level and family system-level aspects of Little Dog’s experience from a psychological point of view and from a sociological perspective, emphasizing the role of interpersonal and social factors. We will highlight how these perspectives complement each other and emphasize different entry points of analysis to understand how individuals make meaning of their lives.

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Reading Asian America through Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Tuesday, October 3 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. 
Sherman Function Hall

Yuri Dolan, History
Howie Tam, English

This Critical Conversation uses Ocean Vuong’s semi-autobiographical novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous as a launching point to discuss a variety of Asian American experiences often obscured by the ideology of American Exceptionalism that frames Asian migration to the United States through the lens of “push” and “pull” factors (such as economic uncertainty in Asia and economic opportunity in America). Instead, it indexes the centrality of US militarism and imperialism to Asian American experience and, in doing so, introduces students to a variety of themes and issues prevalent in the field of Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies (AAPI).

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Past Years

Watch videos from previous Critical Conversations using the links listed below.