Q & A: The Story Behind The Third Annual Common CAHSS 2021: Truth

The 2021 Common CAHSS event, themed “Truth, Information, Misinformation, and Democracy,” seeks to explore the role of the modern university in supporting the “continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found,” which has been part of the University of Wisconsin identity for over a century.

Common CAHSS is a free event that will include panels, performances, and a powerful presentation from keynote Clifton Ganyard. Learn more and register here!

I spoke with some of the people involved with Common CAHSS about how the event came to be and their vision for the day and beyond.

  • Dr. Chuck Rybak: Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and Professor of English and Humanistic Studies
  • Dr. Ryan Martin: Associate Dean for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and Professor of Psychology
  • Renee Ettinger: Assistant Library Director- Research and Outreach Services

Renee, You’re one of the co-planners for this year’s conference. Why does this topic interest you?
What are you most excited about for the day?

Renee: The majority of my work involves thinking about, talking about, and teaching information literacy.  This year’s theme: Truth: Information, Misinformation, and Democracy is tightly tied to the concept of information literacy.  I believe libraries and librarians have a huge role to play in helping people manage and make sense out of the overwhelming amount of information we are faced with each day. Especially the pieces of it that are intentionally misleading or masquerading as something they are not.

Renee, you’ve been responsible for the conference programming. Are there any particular topics you’re excited about?

Renee:  There are so many sessions I’m looking forward to! It is difficult to identify just a few because I want to see them all. One upside to spreading the conference out over two days is that we will have fewer sessions per time slot so attendees will have the chance to see more presenters. I am particularly excited to hear from UWGB alum, Emily Vogels, who now works for one of my favorite online resources, the Pew Research Center. Pew is one of my go to websites, so hearing first-hand how they collect their research will be great. I’m also interested in seeing how the theme of truth is tied to social justice issues like information privilege, mental health stigma, critical race theory, and climate change.

Ryan and Chuck, how do you see Common CAHSS unfolding in the future?  What do you want next year? The year after? And so on?

Chuck: My hope for Common CAHSS is that it changes and evolves. I wish for it to experiment with its format, subject matter, and vehicles, and opportunities for expression. With that said, what I hope remains constant is that an intellectual community gathers together around an issue that is of significance to us all.

Ryan:  It’s hard to say at this point. This is our third year and third format. I’ve loved the way the event has gone so far.  As we move forward, I hope for even more community engagement (we have a lot of exciting presenters from the community this year so that’s great). My hope is that we continue to bring in those interested community members to build a broader community conversation.

So, what are you all most excited about for the day?

Chuck: I am most excited about our community being able to share ideas in person again, while also building on the virtual experience that we’ve developed over the past year and a half. This year’s theme is of critical importance, especially given our reliance on digital platforms for news and information. The social adversity we’ve experienced during COVID is inseparable from how we have received and interpreted information along the way.

Renee: I am used to reading about and discussing post-truth issues from a librarian point-of-view. I’m really looking forward to hearing about how other disciplines are processing the misinformation problem. I expect to be surprised and I expect to learn a lot.  Overall, I’m excited to see the talent our University has to offer on a subject that is central to my work.

Ryan:  There are so many sessions that look interesting to me so it’s hard to say.  The keynote, of course, looks incredible, and Renee’s session sounds fascinating to me. Selfishly, I’m excited about the session I’m doing.  I’ve wanted to talk with people about the role of scholarship in social media for a long time, so this is exciting for me.  A session I’m really intrigued by, though, is the one about truth in storytelling.  I’ve long been curious about the responsibility of storytellers to stick to the truth when they make biopics, make documentaries, or write stories based on true events.  I’m looking forward to that panel.


Renee, Chuck, and Ryan also wanted to thank the entire planning committee for Common CAHSS 2019. You can learn more about the organizers here.

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