Challenging the ‘center’ of liberal arts education

Carter Brown – Staff Writer

On Tuesday, April 26, the sixth annual Matthias Wahlstrom lecture was held in Beck 101 at 4:30 PM. This was the first lecture held in two years, as the previous two lectures for 2021 and 2020 were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. The speech is given by a Gustavus facility member on the topic of liberal arts in the 21st century, and this year’s lecture was on “Challenging the ‘Center’ in Liberal Arts Education in the USA” by Professor of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Culture Paschal Kyoore. The lecture was prefaced by a brief speech from President Rebecca Bergman introducing the speaker, followed by his entrance and a brief introduction about himself. Kyoore began the lecture by dispelling common stereotypes that the Western world holds about Africa by beginning with a discussion about proverbs as told by women in Africa. “We cherish the wisdom of elders – especially women – despite what the Western world thinks,” Kyoore said.
He then dove into the topic of challenging the “world view” of the current status quo of liberal arts higher education within the United States. “Liberal arts should avoid the telling of single stories…other cultures shouldn’t be viewed as exotic or strange…The human being is like a pumpkin plant, human beings are all interconnected in one way or another and the individual is expected to sacrifice for the good of the community,” Kyoore said.
Next, he delved into what exactly the “center” is. The “center” is, in short, the West and its perspectives. As Kyoore explains it, other perspectives are denied or shut out and Western higher education institutions are treated as the standard and impose their stories and world views on other cultures. Kyoore believes that the value of a liberal arts education is crucial to being prepared in the job market as well as the 21st century, and helps to supplement a meaningful life. The only issue, however, is the current “center” that liberal arts education holds.
The most prominent example that he gives is in relation to Africa and the stereotypes surrounding it. Kyoore states that the Western world has invented Africa through stereotypes and history, elaborating that Europeans that had entered the continent and labeled it and its people as “savage” and “less-than”.
Kyoore tied this back into his point about how stories from one perspective are dangerous. Specifically, he references Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her book “The Danger of a Single Story”, and how it can stifle progress by telling tall tales, since although things such as folklore or stories can be used to connect, it can also be used to divide. What matters most importantly is context.
Finally, he rounded out the lecture by stating that instead of continuing to push the current center onto students within a liberal arts education, students should instead be allowed to take a step back and encouraged to integrate and immerse themselves in other cultures, as well as given the opportunity to reflect on the current hegemony that is held across the world by the Western worldview.
Additionally, Kyoore argues that not allowing students to do this will stifle political and economic ability, as well as the liberal arts education itself.

“Why is the West so afraid about not being the dominant worldview? That is a rhetorical question, I will tell you why: It is about center and periphery. The West does not want to be out of the center,” Kyoore said.

He then told a story about an old student he had, and how she had recently reached out to him and thanked him for teaching her and how it had opened her mind to other cultures and the world itself.
“Why is the West so afraid about not being the the dominant worldview? That is a rhetorical question, I will tell you why: It is about center and periphery. The West does not want to be out of the center… ”

His lecture ended with a brief Q&A in which participants asked if liberal arts education, although deeply rooted in the current “center”, can be saved. “You must allow the tendrils of the metaphorical pumpkin plant to spread as much as possible and to produce pumpkin roots that can feed hungry stomachs. Yes, hungry minds,” Kyoore said.