Woolf conference showcases university collaboration

While Virginia Woolf may be the focus of an international conference taking place at the U of S in June, the real highlight will be unique collaborations and partnerships it has spawned across campus and beyond.

A graduate student seminar, a play, a poetry reading, public forums, film, research posters, an undergraduate course, new pedagogy, mentorships, cross-disciplinary teaching, music, experiential learning—it is all tied to Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary Woolf, the 22nd annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, being held for the first time in Canada June 7-10. For lead organizer Ann Martin, a professor in the Department of English, the conference created the chance to "show off the richness of our university … (and) break down the perceived divisions, the internal divides that hold us back potentially from wonderful collaborations, many of which happen on a personal level."

In the two years she has spent planning what she admits is "an incredibly complicated conference," Martin has sought out opportunities to build on the conference theme – interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary – with a particular emphasis on student involvement. "And to engage students, the most obvious course is to set up a course."

Last fall, she ran a graduate seminar called Virginia Woolf, setting the stage for involving them in the academic professionalism of the event. About half of the students will be presenting papers at the conference and about one-third are volunteering in various capacities.

"As grad students, it's time for them to go to a full academic conference," she said, "and they'll be meeting the people whose works they used in their studies. It's an incredible opportunity for mentoring the students."

Martin also considered undergraduate students. Along with the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness and the Interdisciplinary Center for Culture and Creativity, the conference organizers developed a Women's and Gender Studies course that shares the conference title and presents ideas and research across disciplinary bounds using various methodologies and a number of different instructors who were eager to participate. They are, said Martin, generous scholars.

"The most important aspect though, is that the students will be presenting research posters on the first morning of the conference. Research posters are not familiar in English so this is one example of how we are changing up methodologies for our students.

"And at the same time … I'm also exploring new pedagological methods. It's about reciprocal teaching and reciprocal learning."

Just as important as the student experiences is involving the wider community with the university itself. There will be public presentations of Angel in the House, a student-directed play. Louise Halfe will do a poetry reading at the Mendel Art Gallery. Public forums with representatives of community organizations will be held to discuss two topics Woolf wrote about – access to education and the institutional response to sexual violence.

Martin speaks enthusiastically about how, in putting the various events together, opening one door inevitably led to other open doors. "The unofficial connections, the informal relationships that develop – it's just incredible." The participation of students, scholars and community members is about recruitment and retention, she said, but it is also about how communities can be unified.

The point, said Martin, "is to show that there is no real boundary between the university and the community where we're located. We want to give people a sense of how the university works and a sense of how these collaborations work. It's about education, and if those educational opportunities involve us learning from the people we live next door to, that's where the conversations can really get productive."

Details about all of the events taking place as part of or associated with Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary Woolf can be found on the conference website.
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