Founders Day looks at modern relationships in the technological age

Dean of the Faculty Therese McCarty presents the Gideown Hawley Teacher Recognition Award to David Elstein. Elstein, a music director in the Hartford School District in Connecticut, was nominated by Union student Zachary Sayah ’18. (Anna Klug | Concordiensis )

This year’s Founders Day celebration was held on Feb. 25 and commemorates the 221st anniversary of the acceptance of Union’s charter.

In commemoration of Union’s anniversary, students and staff gathered in Memorial Chapel. They were greeted with the celebratory sound of bagpipes (provided by the Schenectady Pipe Band).

Speeches began with William A. Finley, College Marshal and Professor of Theater and Dance. After Finlay spoke, David L. Henle, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, proceeded to welcome the crowd with a brief overview of Union’s history.

President Stephen C. Ainlay then spoke about the significance of Founders Day, saying that Founders Day, “provides us with a unique opportunity to revisit Union’s history.”

Peter R. Bedford, John and Jane Wold Professor of Religious Studies and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, followed up previous speakers with a speech focused on the academic precedence of Union’s faculty.

Bedford commented on the scholarly achievements of the staff, claiming them to be excellent embodiments of Union’s values. “We honor the founders and their values through our continuous commitment to them,” Bedford proudly stated.

President of Student Forum Ilan Levine ’16 took the stage with the statement, “It would be a daunting task to try and squeeze two centuries of history into five minutes.”

Levine proceeded to give a summary of student activity on campus throughout the college’s history.

Levine expanded this topic to incorporate student involvement with the college faculty, and the strong cooperation between students and administrators. Throughout Union’s history this relationship has worked as a driving force to pursue changes at Union.

Levine assured the crowd that Student Forum is very much a living and influential power on campus, remarking that “Founder’s Day looks not only in the past, but ahead.”

Levine proceeded to reveal that Zipcar will be on campus starting spring term – proof that the Student Forum is working towards providing students with the best campus experience possible.

Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Therese A. McCarty presented the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching to Claire Bracken, Associate professor of English.

McCarty described Bracken as a teacher with “infectious enthusiasm,” who works closely with students on writing projects and creates an excellent classroom environment.

McCarty then presented the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award to David Epstein, Director of Bands at Classical Magnet School in Hartford, CT.

Epstein was nominated for this award by his former student Zachary Sayah ’18, who worked closely with Epstein both academically and musically as Epstein dedicated his time to help Sayah start a jazz band.

In her description, McCarty applauded Epstein as someone who “simply will not settle for anything but excellence.”

The Founders Day address was given by Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sherry Turkle.

Turkle has a doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University, and is licensed as a clinical psychologist.

Two of Turkle’s well known books are “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” and “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.”

Turkle presented an address on technology in modern society. She identifies the problem her thesis as the “Share-therefore-I-am Pyschology.”

Her thesis recognizes a large problem that technology has created: people often cannot feel themselves unless they are online sharing themselves.

As addressed in her book “Alone Together,” Turkle talked about how being behind a screen feels much safer than face-to-face interaction, where one experiences inevitable “risk and vulnerability.”

People therefore do everything in their power to avoid this kind of vulnerable communication, often at the expense of real conversation.

However, Turkle emphasizes the importance that this kind of face-to-face interaction: “I know the work that conversation does. It is where empathy comes from.”

Empathy, Turkle stresses, is the collateral damage occurring when people avoid face-to-face conversation.

Empathy can only be gained through real life interaction: being able to see what a person is thinking, feeling, and allowing conversation to be a natural action in which we as humans partake. “This technology is ending up as an assault on empathy,” concludes Turkle.

Although so many people are dependent on their phones, the majority of the population consciously realizes the negative effects this reliance on technology is causing.

“We are at a very funny moment,” Turkle says. “We do it knowing that it is not enhancing us.”

As Turkle explains in her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” conversation is something beyond our control. This lack of control drives us to less vulnerable but extremely limiting forms of communication — provided by our technological devices.

To regain empathy in human interaction, Turkle urges us to give more effort to face-to-face interactions, and to use technology mindfully. “Face to face conversation is the most humanizing thing that we do,” says Turkle. “Conversation is the talking cure.”




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