“The 19th century,” writes English art critic John Berger in Why Look at Animals, “saw the beginning of a process … by which every tradition which has previously mediated between man and nature was broken.” Berger goes on to explain that before urbanization and industrialization, animals circled mankind, sharing streets and wild spaces with humans. Last semester, Professor of Humanities Tom Kealy and his First Year Symposium (FYS), “Animals in Culture and Nature,” attempted to repair this rupture by placing animals at the center of their academic inquiry.

First year symposia at Colby-Sawyer cover a wide range of topics through different sections and are the backbone of students’ liberal arts education, familiarizing students with intellectual curiosity and interdisciplinary thinking. Professor Kealy’s course traced the role animals played in human society, from Aesop’s Fables to Katmai National Park’s public competition to determine which brown bear gained the most weight last summer.

Along the way, Professor Kealy introduced students to foundational theorists such as Berger and Derrida. They worked through the difficult material to parse out what each author had to say about the relationship between humans and animals, and discussed their own thoughts, too.

“Animals in Culture and Nature” also focused on real-world applications of these intellectual pursuits. Professor Kealy invited Kristin Hubbard, founder and director of NH Kittens, to speak to the class about her organization’s efforts to save displaced cats. Frankie, a tiger striped rescue, accompanied her and captivated the students. For a final project, Professor Kealy gave students the freedom to research a topic that interested them and present their findings in a creative, non-essay format.

For her final project, Kennedy Moore ’22 from Proctorsville, Vt., applied her graphic design major to a topic sparked by the course. She created an infographic on emotional support animals that illustrated the benefits they provide to college students.

“I chose this topic because I thought it would be an interesting way to tie my interest in psychology into the animal theme of the FYS. I also thought it was interesting how the prevalence of emotional support animals on college campuses was increasing and was interested to find out the science behind it,” Moore said. “I am a Graphic Design major and loved being able to present my research in a format I was interested in, such as an infographic that used my skills from my major.”

First year symposiums also equip students with the skills and practices to succeed at Colby-Sawyer. Professor Kealy introduced students to different note-taking methods and research skills, and he introduced them to the various academic resources available on campus. He also asked them to explore buildings and reflect on the college’s physical spaces.

Wesson Honors student Bailey Ellis ’22, from Bedford, N.H., enjoyed that spirit of exploration.

“The most amazing part about this FYS is that it reminds students that much of what we learn is interdisciplinary. Just as there are several ways to study animals (science, art, folklore), there are multiple ways to interpret one's major or future career, so we should be more aware of our potential capabilities,” Ellis said. “As a creative writing major, I appreciated the freedom we had in choosing our own essay and research project topics because it allowed us to be more reflective and explore with enthusiasm. I look forward to carrying that same curiosity throughout the rest of my education, whether I'm writing about an unfamiliar yet interesting subject for class or attending an on-campus event and discussing it after with a friend.”