Diversity and difference are at the heart of many contemporary social challenges. Changing demographics provoke national debates about citizenship and basic human rights. Humans and associated global economic activity contribute to the spread of invasive species and declines in native biodiversity. Colleges and universities struggle to recruit and retain diverse faculty and students. Efforts to develop collective responses to these and other challenges are often stymied by increasing political polarization, decreasing empathy, and the entrenchment of difference.
Transcending these divides requires consideration of fundamental philosophical and empirical questions about how we understand and represent difference. How are categories of cultural difference and biodiversity are constructed and maintained? How are notions of difference used to support and undermine communities? How can individuals and groups resist binary demarcations of the self versus “other”?
Themester 2017 engages diversity by considering how otherness has been imagined through time and space, how it is maintained politically and through interpersonal interactions, and how it is represented in literature, film, and mass media. What are the implications of “otherness” for individual well-being, social action, and environmental health?
Our engagement with otherness draws from the full complement of the liberal arts—arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences—and from their wide-ranging subject matter. We examine cognitive research on social categorization and bias; science fiction and dystopian literature; histories of racial conflict; contemporary immigrant experiences; biological diversity, environmental change, and invasive species; stigma and social exclusion; and the ongoing search for life beyond earth.