University Park, IL,
08:30 AM

Honored to Chat: Honorary Degree Recipients Discuss Role of Art in Social Justice and Healing

Governors State University’s honorary degree recipients took time on the eve of the 48th commencement to meet with faculty, staff and students in an intimate setting that sometimes felt like a robust living room conversation that flowed from the arts to social justice and finally pooled around healing.

“Art provides a context for difficult conversations,’’ said GSU President Elaine P. Maimon, who led the discussion between civic leader Terry Mazany, Goodman Theatre Director Chuck Smith and about 20 members of the GSU community.

Mazany is a longtime supporter of GSU through his leadership with Chicago Community Trust (CCT), and Smith is a 1977 alumnus who became the Resident Director of the Chicago Goodman Theatre. GSU honored both with honorary doctorate degrees during commencement for their work to remove cultural barriers while promoting a vision of equity and inclusion.

During the chat, both men stressed the importance of theater in society and students’ development, while praising the university for its dedication to living in the midst of art.

“Seeing what this institution is all about is very gratifying in the community that is underserved by anchor institutions,’’ said Mazany, who served as president and CEO of CCT until 2017, providing funding for “One More Night,” a series that evolved into the “Made in Chicago” series to bring urban shows at the Center Performing Arts (CPA).

With its nationally recognized auditorium, art gallery and outdoor sculpture park, as well as its fine arts journal and myriad clubs and organizations, “Governors State the cultural center for the region,’’ he said.

A native south sider, Smith traveled from Chicago to University Park for night classes to earn his Board of Governors degree. Ultimately, his degree helped him land a teaching position at Columbia College. He encouraged GSU’s Theatre and Performance Studies (TAPS) students to focus on discipline and dedication – even more so than their talent.

Smith spoke with the wisdom of a 25-year acting instructor who has served as Goodman Theatre’s Emmy Award-winning Resident Director for three decades.

“Performing arts is an avenue for anything you want to do in life. If you have skills in the theater, that is a foundation for anything you want to do in life.”Senior Nicole Ames, an Elementary Education major and TAPS minor, said she plans to use the arts to help her future students heal from trauma. Her comments inspired a series of observations by Social Work scholars.“The arts is a natural blend for healing,’’ said Associate Professor Lorri Glass.

Lecturer Phyllis West said, “A creative educator helped me to learn history through the songs of Stevie Wonder – ‘the first man to die for the flag we now hold high was a black man.’” This method of instilling fun and music in the lessons helped her to engage with the concepts learned in class.

Dr. Maimon ended the session by issuing a challenge to faculty to infuse art in the curriculum in the same way writing is weaved throughout courses and disciplines in Writing across the Curriculum.

Inspired, Mazany echoed the room’s sentiment, saying the arts could help heal a fragmented nation.

“Governors State could be at the leading edge to demonstrate how you rebuild communities with learning that fully embodies the whole person.”