What gift do you give a university celebrating its centenary?
On Feb 17, St. Thomas University launched its STU Reader to honour its 100th year of educating students. The reader is comprised of fiction and non-fiction essays, short stories, poetry, plays, and journalism.
Published by Goose Lane Publications, the reader was edited by two STU professors.
Psychology professor Douglas Vipond and English professor Russell Hunt gathered over 50 pieces from writers affiliated with the university. The STU Reader is not specifically about the STU community but on a variety of topics such as Helen Barnwell’s reflection on the SARS epidemic and Sheree Fitch’s profile of her sister titled “Cop.”
“When the committee organizing the celebration of the centenary asked about what kind of projects would be appropriate to celebrate St. Thomas’ 100th year, … it was the first thing I thought about and I asked Doug about putting out a STU reader as a project. A week later the committee said it was a brilliant idea and asked me if I would do it and Doug said he would help,” Hunt said.
Hunt was nervous at the beginning, not knowing how their project would turn out but as time went on he realized how great it would be.
“It seemed important to foreground the fact that St. Thomas produces writers and not just people who do annual reports and scholarship stuff but people like journalists, fiction writers, and poets and that’s what we’ve got in the reader,” Hunt said.
“We have national celebrations where we say Canada is a great place and it has “this kind” of people, and I think the same goes for St. Thomas. …It commits us to dealing with the real world, not just sitting here in an ivory tower studying but also affected what’s going on out in the real world. That’s one of the reasons why I’m happy to be a part of St. Thomas and it seems to me that the book celebrates that. It’s not just an enclosed little thing. We talk to the world and change the world.”
During his speech, Hunt explained that reading and the written word are excellent tools for engaging people in thought, conversation, and leading STU graduates changing the world.
Phillip Lee believes in Hunt’s philosophy.
As a journalist and professor at STU, Lee has taught people to open their minds to new ideas and how to reflect their experiences on paper.
“That’s what my writing has been about as a journalist,” Lee said. “You write to make people think and you write to try to change things in some way or another and how people think about the world. Everything that I’ve ever written has been for that kind of purpose.”
Lee published an article in the STU Reader about a weekly auction in Majorville, New Brunswick that brought people from across the province.
“I thought it [the reader] was a great idea. It is a lovely book and a great collection and I’m happy to be involved. I think it’s really well done.”
STU’s newly appointed president and interim vice chancellor, Dennis Cochrane said he is delighted with Hunt and Vipond’s work for the reader and STU’s 100th year celebration. He said that the book is a great way to showcase the university’s talent.
“It’s an excellent anthology. I think it nicely showcases the talent we have on staff, the talent we have on students who went here, and it’s very positive. It’s a unique project to help celebrate our 100th anniversary and I think a tribute to all the people who made a contribution to St. Thomas.”
Thom Parkhill, a religious studies professor and colleague of Russell Hunt’s, believes change can be done with writing and reading amongst people. In Parkhill and Hunt’s Aquinas programme, students are encouraged to write and to respond to classmate’s ideas and thoughts with written response.
“Even with texting and such, the writing is still there and it’s at the heart of it. And there’s also reading, of course,” said Parkhill. “For example, in the Occasions section of the programme, students go to something and write about it, and then they read about other people’s experiences and write about that, so it’s not just one back and forth motion but it’s a series of engagement involving reading and writing. I think that’s where the really important changes are- not always, but usually.”
The idea of writing as a tool to change the world also resonates in Cochrane.
“Writing is a method of communication. The way that we make changes and the way we make people understand one another better comes from communication. Writing is an excellent method of doing that. Maybe it is something we’ve lost a bit of and that’s a concern to us all but certainly this book and what we teach in English courses and what we talk about as the value of writing is all apart of that communication.”
“So, there’s no question about it- this is an excellent project and I’m happy that St. Thomas did it for its 100th anniversary and I hope people will pick it up and recognize the talent that is St. Thomas.”