Big Idea Talks

Maegan Nelson

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Illustration by Eduardo Vazquez

Illustration by Eduardo Vazquez

For the past few weeks, several “Big Idea Talks” posters have been covering the campus grounds, advertising a first-time collaboration between the Walla Walla Public Library and Whitman faculty to give a series of locally-themed lectures open to the public. The talks, given by faculty members such as Senior Lecturer of Environmental Humanities/General Studies Don Snow and Grace Farnsworth Phillips Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies Bob Carson, focus on the theme of what needs to be done in the future to keep Walla Walla a wonderful place to live.

Put together in collaboration between Assistant Professor of Philosophy Julia Ireland and Walla Walla Public Library Director Beth Hudson, these talks are funded by a grant from the Washington Humanities Council, based in Olympia.

Although Walla Walla is unique for a town of its size in that it has three colleges, Ireland noted that there are few places for the public as a whole to comfortably get information.

“Sometimes, it’s really difficult to get certain constituencies to walk on campus because campus is intimidating, and so the thought was to bring these professors who are in some way engaged in the community [to] the Walla Walla Public Library, a place where people who are under-resourced are comfortable going,” said Ireland.

Hudson has been working with Ireland to make some of the educational resources on the Whitman campus more available to the public.

“I wanted to promote and expand the role of the public library in our community as the place to develop, discover, refine and question ideas. The library is a natural gathering place with its resources, central location and its openness to new ideas. Big Idea Talks uncover questions and possibly answers through discussions led by experts in the fields of art, sociology, literature, philosophy and the natural sciences,” said Hudson.

Because these talks are for the community, Whitman professors have been asked to think locally when giving their presentations.

Professor Don Snow gave the first talk of the Big Idea series on March 28. Although it was never specified by the organizers what his “Big Idea Talk” should entail, the focus was always intended to be on Walla Walla.

“[The Big Idea Talks were designed to show what] Whitman scholars and thinkers and artists think about the community; what do we think are some big ideas that Walla Walla maybe need[s] to think about to maintain a high quality of life,” he said.

In his speech two weeks ago, Snow talked about the resources that Walla Walla has to offer and the natural “commons” that the citizens share, such as land and water.

Professor Bob Carson is excited about his upcoming talk on Thursday, April 11, themed around sustainability in Walla Walla.

“When I was asked to give a Big Idea Talk, I thought long and hard, and I wanted to talk about Walla Walla and sustainability,” said Carson.

In his talk, Carson will focus specifically on how to minimize the potential environmental damage from everyday activities.

For example, “leaf blowers… put out more pollutants…than the average car.” said Carson. While he acknowledges in his talk that eliminating these items completely is not feasible, he emphasizes that reducing their use is a goal for the community.

Hudson believes that these Big Idea Talks could be a huge asset to the community.

“Whitman has the experts and they live among us, so it seemed natural to ask them to join us in the development of this program. My hope is that through these discussions, awareness builds and perhaps the ideas we discuss will serve as solutions for some of the challenges in the community we love,” she said.

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