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CICC chooses “Air” as 2024-25 academic theme

There’s something in the air, and SUNY Cortland’s Cultural and Intellectual Climate Committee (CICC) is encouraging the campus community to spend the next year exploring the possibilities of how invisible forces impact our lives.

“Air” will be the essential theme of SUNY Cortland’s interdisciplinary series of lectures, discussions, film screenings and art exhibitions during the 2024-25 academic year. It follows last year’s focus on “Food,” a similar life-or-death topic that inspired strong participation among faculty, staff and students. They are expected to be as involved in the ongoing series as last year, according to Benjamin Wilson, associate professor and chair of the Economics Department, who organizes the annual series through the university’s Cultural and Intellectual Climate Committee (CICC).

“Building on the tremendous positive momentum generated by this year’s theme, ‘Food,’ and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s extraordinary ‘Harvest Week’ keynote, ‘Air’ will further elevate our emphasis on wellness and good health,” Wilson said.

Image by Patrick Fischer for Pixabay

“Like ‘Food,’ ‘Air’ will provide our community with the opportunity to explore a myriad of interdisciplinary topics while placing a central focus on health and wellbeing,” he said. “We will delve into concrete examinations of air pollution, carbon sequestration and atmospheric changes, as well as engage in substantially more abstract conversations, exploring the stars, the heavens and the depths of our cosmos.

“For example, the late neuroscientist Dr. Paul Kalanithi pondered the question, ‘When does breath become air’? as he grappled with understanding his life after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer,” Wilson said.

“From such spiritual and metaphysical interpretations, we can also examine air as a holder or possessor of human emotion,” he said. “When is love or tension palpable in the air? Is it possible for a place to exude an air of secrecy or foreboding? Furthermore, what emerges seemingly out of thin air? Money, perhaps? Do our words and thoughts traverse through the air, akin to how Wi-Fi and radio waves invisibly transmit information all around us?”

All these questions and more give depth and breadth to an expansive collection of possibilities for interdisciplinary and community driven activities that generate ideas, knowledge, and hopefully a lot of fun along the way, Wilson said.

For many years the CICC, an all-campus committee of faculty and staff appointed by the provost, has developed the series around a single theme that changes from year to year. As in past years, the events will be free and open to the public. The wind is really in their sails this year.

Common read no. 1

Wilson hopes campus community members from many different disciplines will begin early planning talks or other programs that they might contribute to engage the campus community starting in the fall.

To help everyone think through some of these topics and generate conversations in classrooms, living rooms and common spaces, the committee is very excited to announce two firsts for the common read, the book chosen for participants to read in tandem with the series, Wilson said.

For the first time, the CICC this year partnered with the Student Government Association (SGA) in making the book selections. The CICC presented a collection of books for consideration, and the SGA voted for their top choices.

“From those votes, we arrived at our second first,” Wilson said. “We had two clear winners emerge: one nonfiction and the other a fictional tale. Thus, we will have two common reads this year for the first time.”

The fiction work is Bewilderment: A Novel, a 2021 selection written by Richard Powers about an astrobiologist who searches for life throughout the cosmos while raising his increasingly unusual 9-year-old son after the death of his wife.

Common read no. 2

The nonfiction book is The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, a 2022 work by Gabor Maté with his son, Daniel Maté. It explores the roles that trauma and stress, and the pressures of modern-day living, exert on our bodies and our minds at the expense of good health.

Abigail Droge, a SUNY Cortland assistant professor of British literature and culture, will organize the next year’s events relating to the common read.

The CICC encourages faculty to consider including these common read texts — or excerpts from them — in their Fall 2024 and Spring 2025 classes. Starting in August. both will be available as eBooks through Memorial Library.

To submit an event, volunteer to support this year’s activities and programming, or for more information, visit the CICC website for details or contact Wilson.

Top image of balloons by Karosieben for Pixabay