The School of Humanities is establishing a committee of at least 20 students this fall to improve undergraduate academic and extracurricular experiences in the department, according to Associate Dean of Humanities Lora Wildenthal.

Wildenthal emailed students in the humanities to invite them to join the committee, asking for applications by Sept. 12. According to Wildenthal, she and Dean of Humanities Kathleen Canning will review the applications. Wildenthal said she might do a second round of invitations to get the breadth of representation they seek.

Darren Pomida, a Will Rice College senior and co-president of the Rice Historical Review, said he believes this committee will enable discovery and better understanding of the needs of humanities students. 

“Having an organization that takes into account the opinions and needs of a diverse set of fields, majors, interests, and experiences in a formal way gives the school a better picture of the realities of humanities life at Rice,” Pomida said.

According to Wildenthal, the idea for a student advisory committee originated three years ago with the Rice undergraduate humanities student-led club Litterarum Lumen, which became inactive when many of its members graduated. Wildenthal said she hopes to establish a more permanent student group.

“While a group founded by the dean’s office is less independent than a student-founded group, it can be somewhat protected from the ebbs and flows of student turnover due to graduation,” Wildenthal said.

Canning, who joined Rice’s faculty in January 2018, said she has an interest in creating greater recognition of the role of the humanities on the Rice campus.

“The present moment is a critical one for the Humanities,” Canning said. “A shift is underway towards recognition of the Humanities as a crucial partner for science, medicine and engineering, for critical thinking about data ethics, medical advances and technological transformations.”

Previously, according to Wildenthal, the dean’s office contacted students on occasion to speak about research, internships and general concerns. The dean and associate dean began working with former Student Association President Justin Onwenu and the rest of the SA to create a permanent platform for communication between the two humanities deans, faculty and staff of the School of Humanities and humanities undergraduates.

“We want more regular, sustained, two-way communication with a wider range of students, beyond the ones we happen to know or the ones referred to us, who have committed themselves to the study of a major or minor in the humanities,” Wildenthal said.

Wildenthal also said the SA hoped to create these types of committees in all undergraduate schools of study. A similar student advisory board is established in the School of Social Sciences.

Connor Rothschild, a Martel College sophomore and member of the Social Sciences Student Advisory Board, said he sees his role on the committee as providing a critical student perspective to decision-making.

“We continuously collaborate with the dean’s advisory board so as to maximize the effectiveness of changes by providing a student perspective,” Rothschild said.

Sarah Smati, a Sid Richardson College junior, said she sees the student advisory committee as gatekeepers between the student body and the administration.

“The board can truly help with communicating between the two parties and informing students on new initiatives as well as gathering feedback for the dean,” Smati said.