Sterling Hosts “Virtues of Place” Symposium

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Yesterday, Sterling College hosted a lecture entitled “Virtues of Place: Wendell Berry and Rural Kansas”. There was also a panel earlier in the day to invite community members to discuss the ideas of agriculture and each person’s place in their own community.

Dr. Jack Baker and Dr. Jeffrey Bilbro, authors of Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place shared the panel with Dr. Aubrey Streit Krug, the Director of Ecosphere Studies at the Land Institute, an organization in Salina dedicated to developing a replacement for ruinous agrarian practices.

Dr. Rachel Griffis, the assistant professor of language and literature and Sterling College’s Director for the Integration of Faith and Learning, moderated the discussion panel.

Dr. Griffis discussed why students should be involved in community.

“Students should make a point of caring for their places and communities, even if they are in them for a short time. They can be intentional about starting to develop good habits of mind and behavior that are place-based and community-oriented.” Dr. Griffis said.

The three speakers focused on the ideas of author and environmental activist, Wendell Berry, who discusses themes such as place, community and the role of agriculture in our contemporary society.

One topic was at the center of discussion: changing the narrative of modern education to “retrain” students to value place and their roles in their community. The panelists argued against the contemporary idea that one can “be anything they want to be”, saying that that idea is a “denial of limitations”.

Another major focus of the panel was the idea of staying in one’s community. To paraphrase Dr. Baker, “Exploitative businesses lead to financial challenges within the community. Locality is a day-to-day concern.”

To summarize the main argument of both the discussion panel and the lecture, “When educators teach mobility and extraction as necessity, young adults begin to leave the areas that need them the most. Family-run farms and local businesses rely heavily on community support. Educators therefore must teach locality if they wish for strong agrarian practices, culture and community to grow.”

Dr. Griffis discussed the value of caring about these issues as a trait of humankind.

“Caring for place and community is an important aspect of being human. I think we are wired to attach to places and communities; however, there are things in our current culture that make it challenging to do so, and so learning about those obstacles and how we can overcome them are important steps”

The panel answered multiple questions and later addressed audience questions before speaking at the lecture later in the day.


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