Get to Know Your Campus: The Kahn Insitute

Hira Humayun ’17
Features Editor

Some students may be familiar with the lunchtime lectures, film screenings and other events hosted by the Kahn Institute, and some may have seen the Kahn Institute offices on the third floor of Neilson; but what exactly is the Kahn Institute? The Kahn Liberal Arts Institute at Smith fosters hands-on research projects among Smithies and Five College professors across academic disciplines. Every year the Institute receives proposals for projects that the faculty reviews and helps put into action.

The aim of the Kahn Institute is to provide a space where faculty and students can engage in scholarly development unbound by a syllabus or curriculum. The center, established in 1998 with an endowment from Louise Wolff Kahn ’31, has a number of organizing fellows who propose a project, often a year-long one, and ensure that the questions for the project are interdisciplinary.

One of the current short term projects, led by Greg White from the government department and Darcy Buerkle from the history department, focuses on refugees and forced migration. “Refugees and/or forced migration obviously demands an interdisciplinary approach from all around the college,” White said. “The Kahn Institute is ideal because it provides the space for provocative — and perhaps discomfiting — inter-exchanges about refugees.”

Upcoming projects include one on shaping perception, conducted by Daphne Lamothe from Africana studies and Chris AIken from dance. According to Rosetta Cohen, director of the Kahn Institute, the project will “push the parameters of conventional disciplines, and should be really interesting.”

“I’m a big fan of the Kahn Institute,” said Lamothe. “My favorite thing is that the seminars give faculty and students the opportunity to study together.”

“My seminar topic, perception, is an area of interest to people in many different disciplines including the creative arts, education, philosophy, psychology, neurosciences and scholars who study the experiences of people who are others along racial, gendered and sexual axes of oppression,” Lamothe explained.

Students also have the opportunity to take part in Kahn Institute projects. Juniors and seniors are eligible and must develop a research question to spend the fellowship developing and researching. Student and faculty fellows by meet weekly and participate in events such as film screenings and presentations.

“I took over as director four years ago,” said Cohen. “My own interests and research have always been interdisciplinary in scope, and I was drawn to the founding principles of the Kahn Institute from the start.”

“As director, I help faculty to develop projects, sometimes by suggesting topics but more often by working to expand and sharpen ideas that originate from faculty themselves,” she said. “Once the two long-term projects are set for a given year, I work with our staff to solicit applications from faculty and students and to oversee the weekly running of those projects”.

She went on to say, “There is no ‘product’ required from a Kahn project, but we hope to define topics as problems that can generate creative and original thinking.” According to Cohen, all Kahn projects have been successful, bringing diverse minds together to mull over open-ended questions. Kahn projects have gone on to become books, articles, films, and plays.

“Rosetta Cohen and her staff have been superb as we’ve brought together interested colleagues,” said White. “I’m a big fan of the Kahn Institute. Whether as a direct participant or merely attending a Kahn event… it’s an indispensable part of the college landscape and always prompts new thoughts and ideas.”

“To my mind, the Kahn Institute represents the very best of what a liberal arts education is all about: open-ended inquiry, candid debate, and intellectual collaboration,” said Cohen.  The Kahn Institute is a place where faculty and students come together as equals and where hard intellectual work is supported by generous resources.

Leave a Comment