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Artsy perspective in time for Diversity Symposium

September 16, 2013

In time for the 13th annual Diversity Symposium, professor Patrick Fahey offers a unique perspective about diversity and the arts.

What brought you to Colorado State University?

There were three things that bought me to Colorado State University. First, the vision the University had for service-learning. As an art educator it’s important for me to expose my students to diverse populations of learners and learning experiences. CSU’s development and support of service-learning provides the opportunity to develop those pedagogical resources. Second, was CSU’s ground breaking work developing Professional Develop Schools in the School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation (STEPP). This model puts pre-service teacher candidates in K-12 settings early in their program of study. Students work in a “real world experience” of public school teaching with teachers in their content areas. It is nationally recognized model and considered one of the best in the country. Finally, the depth and quality of the Department of Art was very important to my decision in coming here. The opportunity to both write about and make art was strongly supported and encouraged by the Chair when I was hired and is still encouraged today.   

How do you define diversity?

I’d like to answer this question by also addressing the question about diverse visions in artistic expressions. Diversity is about understanding; not on the periphery, but at the center. Lawrence Weschler, in his book on the sculptor Robert Irwin, See is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, explains that “naming” or defining how we come to understand the world through only labels or categories keeps us from really knowing the “truthfulness” of a person or experience. Based on my second-hand knowledge -- informed by the naming or labeling of who a person is or what the meaning of the experience is -- prevents me from a true understanding of that person or experience. To embrace diversity is to be willing to forget the name -- to move from the outside -- and examine the center. Diversity is this process. To come to an unmediated knowing (as much as that is possible) is about ignoring the name, label, or category and involves being vulnerable, uncomfortable, reserving judgment, and being open to new experiences in the process.

Artists embrace diversity in recognizing that once their work is “released” and viewed by the public it is open to interpretations dependent on the knowledge, subjectivities, and experiences of the people interacting with the art work. The potential for a work of art to be considered on many levels is what makes the arts unique. As an arts educator I strive to provide opportunities for the arts to be more accessible. Access is an important consideration in diversity and the arts.

Why is having a diverse faculty important for a university?

It is not only important but essential that a university have a diverse faculty that can provide opportunities for students to “see beyond the label” and get students to challenge their current perceptions and understanding of the world. Most importantly, the university has to go beyond teaching students information; beyond providing knowledge of diverse cultures, peoples, histories, etc. and lead students to an understanding of these things. Knowledge does not necessarily lead to understanding, but a  faculty rich with diverse histories and experiences can, I believe, move students to understand the “less known” and enrich their own lives.

I asked my students this question and they responded that a diverse faculty was important to a university to provide students with multiple perspectives, foster empathy, to teach how people are similar, and provide opportunities for students to interact with people, situations and ideas that are unfamiliar to them.

Can you tell me more about your research with “life-world?”

My research in this area concerns how students in art education handle the transition from student to teacher during the student teaching experience. During this time they are, in essence, caught between two cultures -- the culture of teaching and the student culture. Student teachers are moving through three layers of understanding during this experience. The first layer is the unknown; student teachers are open to new experiences to inform their learning but are, admittedly, tentative about their situations. The second layer is the theoretical. This understanding is informed by much of their coursework at the university. The final layer is the practical and is reflected in the skills and practices learned during student teaching. Grounded in the elemental need to ask, “What does this mean to me?”, I’ve found that as student-teachers move through these layers of understanding they are primarily focused on the way they develop relationships with students;  forming their identities as future teachers; confronting the schism between idealism and the realities of the public school classroom; and defining the nature of “authentic” art curricula, including student assessment of understanding versus information.