By Madeleine Mulford |
January 11, 2023
Installation view of “Illuminating the Darkness: Our Carceral Landscape,” Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Photograph by Jason Fronczek. Image courtesy of the authors.

Lovers of the humanities have a diverse lineup of events to be excited about this semester.

From art history, writing and rhetoric, modern languages and history, four events hosted by UCF faculty and subject experts will open conversations with the community exploring the human experience from a variety of perspectives. Each event is free and open to the public, so everyone will have the chance to learn something new.

This programming is possible because four faculty and staff members in the UCF College of Arts and Humanities were awarded Greater Good: Humanities in Academia Grants last October. The grants are awarded by Florida Humanities, a statewide, nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and provides up to $10,000 of funding to support humanities-related departments in Florida universities. Winning proposals must outline programming that seeks to broaden public awareness of what it means to be human.

The grants were awarded to the following faculty members, each of whom will be hosting community events related to their subject areas:

  • Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés, professor of English
  • Co-PI: Lisa Nalbone, professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern languages and Literatures
  • Laurie Pinkert, associate professor of writing and rhetoric and director of Writing Across the Curriculum
  • Co-PI: Vanessa Calkins, associate instructor of writing and rhetoric
  • Co-PI: Melissa Pompos Mansfield, associate instructor of writing and rhetoric
  • Brook Miller, Center for Humanities & Digital Research (CHDR)
  • Keri Watson, director of the Florida Prison Education Project and associate professor of art history in the School of Visual Arts and Design

Milanés and Nalbone will host Operation Pedro Pan: The Voices and Stories of Cuba’s Child Exodus on March 28 and 29. The two-day bilingual program will address Operation Pedro Pan, an exodus of 14,000 unaccompanied minor refugees from Cuba to the United States between 1960 to 1962. Participants will examine how this historical event affected the cultural expression and representation of the displaced children by examining language, music, visual art and literature.

The event will be offered both in-person and virtually and feature panel discussions, an in-conversation session, a musical performance and an interactive workshop.

The first panel discussion will feature art historian Ilenia Colón Mendoza, Cuba expert María de los Angeles Torres, historian Luis Martínez Fernández and graphic novelist Alexis Castellanos ’16MFA. The four speakers will engage in a discussion with the audience on the legacy of Operation Pedro Pan and the ways humanities inform representations of the experiences endured by survivors now in their 70s and beyond.

The second panel, moderated by UCF humanities scholar and Cuba specialist Karina Céspedes, includes three Operation Pedro Pan survivors, including former Florida senator and Orange County Mayor Mel Martinez. The discussion will lend a personalized account of the exodus’ impact on their lives and explore how people who have endured family separation and trauma as children express themselves through the humanities. A Q&A period after both panels will incorporate questions posted to the Zoom and from the live audience.

The second day will include a musical program with Kevin Meehan, professor of English, and Cuban music performances by Jorge Milanés. An in-conversation session with Castellanos will discuss the inspiration behind her graphic novel, Isla to Island, depicting one child’s experience during Operation Pedro Pan. Castellanos will then lead a workshop for students on the creative process, showing how the humanities lead us to move through, expound upon and interpret traumatic historical events.

Milanés says Castellanos’ graphic novel inspired her to host the event and hopes it will help raise awareness about Operation Pedro Pan in the central Florida community.

“Operation Pedro Pan is part of South Florida history, it’s part of Florida history and it’s part of American history, it was the largest exodus of children in the 20th century,” says Milanés. “A lot of people in central Florida don’t know very much about it.”

Pinkert, Calkins and Pompos-Mansfield will host With More Than Words: Exploring Material Rhetorics and Social Change. The project features a virtual public lecture and a one-day community workshop to engage participants in discussions and questions surrounding the significance of material rhetoric in creating and sustaining change, especially for marginalized communities. The events will further enhance the established partnership between the project team and Page 15, a nonprofit in Parramore that serves to strengthen children’s literacy through writing programs.

“Amplifying and elevating voices that are not heard has always been at the thread of the partnership we have with Page 15,” says Calkins. “My hope is that this lecture and workshop will broaden the idea of rhetoric for students and community members. They will learn that there are many ways to convey a message to an audience, beyond language — that things like quilting, art and even body language are also ways to tell a story.”

On April 5 as part of UCF Celebrates the Arts, a virtual webinar and discussion on Indigenous methodologies of storytelling as decolonial and materialist practices will be presented by Emily Legg, assistant professor of composition and rhetoric at Miami University of Ohio. Following the lecture, attendees will be invited to engage in discussion through a Q&A portion.

A half-day community workshop held at a local community center will encourage participants to engage in four activities representing different examples of material rhetoric. “Quilting as Method”, led by assistant professor of writing and rhetoric Sonia Arellano, will introduce participants to the migrant quilt project and invite storytelling through quilting activities.

“Learning from Multimodal Rhetorics of Women of Color Activists”, led by Christina Cedillo, associate professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Houston: Clear Lake, will highlight the interactions of activists’ public speech and writing, embodied presence, and movement through space(s) and invite a corresponding activity.

“Truth Telling Toward Social Change”, led by the project team, will introduce attendees to the Americans Who Tell the Truth project and engage attendees in truth and storytelling with visual images.

Additionally, “Write Your Truth” activities from last October’s National Day on Writing event will be on display to invite further contribution to a community-based collection of truths and truth tellers.

The following two events supported by the grants will take place as part of UCF Celebrates the Arts 2023 at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

War Unfolding: War Through the Words of Soldiers and their Loved Ones, supported by CHDR, will be held on April 7. The event will feature a partial screening and discussion about the new documentary, War Unfolding (2023). The documentary tells powerful stories from war correspondence discovered over the past 25 years from the internationally acclaimed War Letters Project directed by Andrew Carroll. 

The film’s director, John Benitz, and Carroll, the subject expert in the film, will participate in a mediated audience talkback session about the film’s themes and the significance of war correspondence.

“War correspondence is America’s great undiscovered literature,” Carroll says in the documentary. “Letters convey the human stories of people affected by war. Whether the writers are commanding generals musing on the loneliness of command, or children describing the devastation wrought by an aerial assault, their reflections on how war stitches together the ordinary with the sublime, the everyday with the historical, and individual aspiration with collective determination and suffering makes this genre poignant and accessible.”

Additional faculty and staff supporting the event include:

  • Miller, applications programmer for CHDR and the College of Arts and Humanities will coordinate the project.
  • Bruce Janz, professor of philosophy and co-director of CHDR
  • Amelia Lyons associate professor of history
  • James Stoddard, instructor of history
  • Barb Gannon, associate professor of history
  • Connie Lester associate professor of history and director of RICHES digital humanities project
  • Scot French, associate professor of history, associate director of CHDR
  • Amy Giroux, associate director of CHDR

“This is an exciting project, for several reasons. It has a great track record already of collecting important material that sheds light on the experience of the regular person in war. It fits so well with other projects we already have, looking at the experience of veterans in war. And it is an interesting challenge to think about the ways these letters can best be archived and curated, so they help to understand the human costs and struggles in war,” says Janz.

Watson will host The Florida Prison Education Project: An Exhibition and Discussion of Prison-based Art. The event will include an exhibition of artwork made by incarcerated students enrolled in classes as part of the Florida Prison Education Project taught by Jason Fronczek and Jason Burrell and a panel discussion that engages an audience of community members, students and faculty. The exhibition and panel will take place from April 2 through 16.

The panel discussion will feature:

  • Watson, associate professor of art history, director of the Florida Prison Education Project, and the editor of the Routledge Companion to Art and Disability.
  • Baz Dreisinger, professor of English at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the founder of the Prison-to-College Pipeline, the Executive Director of Incarceration Nations Network, and the author of Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World.
  • David Gussak, professor of art therapy, the project coordinator for the Florida State University Department of Corrections Art Therapy in Prisons Program, and the author of Art on Trial: Art Therapy for Capital Murder Cases and Art and Art Therapy with the Imprisoned: Re-Creating Identity.
  • Curt L. Tofteland, the founder of the Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) program and the recipient of two Fulbright Fellowships and a Petra Fellowship.
  • Omari Booker, a professional artist practicing in Los Angeles, California, and Nashville, Tennessee who was formerly incarcerated.

“We are thrilled to receive such a prestigious award and look forward to sharing the artwork of our incarcerated students and this panel discussion with the broader community at UCF Celebrates the Arts,” says Watson.

Funding for these programs was provided through a grant from Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these events do not necessarily represent those of the Florida Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.