Citizen Scholars Learn from Unique Forms of Artistic and Cultural Expression

During their first semester at Michigan State University, students in the Citizen Scholars program were exposed to unfamiliar forms of artistic and cultural expression and asked to reflect on those experiences as part of a requirement toward earning their Citizen Scholars Badge.

“Our students are invited to participate in many forms of experiential learning during their first year as Citizen Scholars — this is a year of exploration for them, as they start down the path toward engaged scholarship that will shape them as tomorrow’s citizen leaders,” said Associate Professor Sandra Logan, Director of the Citizen Scholars program. “Our project this first semester was to complete their cross-cultural engagement requirement, one of the major achievements of their Citizen Scholars Badge.”

The cross-cultural engagement requirement includes attending three events that expose the students to unfamiliar forms of artistic or cultural expression, and reflecting on those experiences to recognize how each event offers insight into the values and perspectives of the cultures they emerge from.

students looking at posters in exhibit
Citizen Scholars view the Refuge Lansing exhibit at the MSU Library.

“The aim is to broaden and deepen their understanding of cultural difference, but also to increase their capacity to engage and connect across those differences,” Logan said.

The Citizen Scholar program had a packed schedule of events this past semester, giving students plenty of opportunities to fulfill their cross-cultural engagement requirement.

After participating in these events, students wrote reflections considering the relationship between the different representations of culture they experienced, focusing especially on how cultural values and identity are expressed through these various representational and creative forms.

This fulfills one requirement in their Global Leadership Badge, one of four themed badges that comprise the overarching Citizen Scholars Badge, which they will complete over their four years as an undergraduate student in the College of Arts & Letters.

The Citizen Scholar events that took place this past semester include the following:

MSU Museum Event


Citizen Scholars met at the MSU Museum to discuss how language and words help highlight and explain the importance and significance of the natural world.

Students first learned about the “resilient tree,” which stands between Linton Hall and the MSU Museum. The students collaborated to “look deeply” at the tree to create placards that would encourage passersby to stop and connect to the tree’s physical and symbolic meanings.

people standing around the resilient tree
Citizen Scholars learn about MSU's resilient tree.  

The students also engaged with a photography exhibit at the MSU Museum by indigenous artist Camille Seaman. The exhibit, “All My Relations: an Indigenous Perspective on Landscape,” included images of melting icebergs and enormous storm clouds shot in the Arctic, Antarctica, and the Midwest. The students selected photographs that moved them to voice the explicit and implicit meanings the images instigated.

“Our objective with this event was to encourage students to connect to the natural world through both factual and empathetic pathways, to combine physical history with symbolic meaning through creative and artistic means,” Logan said. “We especially wanted to push them to express their experience of ‘close looking’ in a verbal form that would encourage others to slow down and engage with their environment. The ideas of awareness and insight are central to the Citizen Scholars program, and this event aimed at cultivating these capacities in our students.”

Duane Linklater Exhibit


Before the opening of Duane Linklater’s art installation at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Citizen Scholars had an exclusive interaction with the artist at the museum.

“By bringing the students into contact with an artist from an indigenous community, we encouraged them to think about how perspectives and understanding differ depending on the conditions and contexts they emerge from, and to recognize how art can serve as a means to broaden and enrich our relationship with the human and natural worlds we are immersed in,” Logan said.

The Citizen Scholar students spent an hour with Linklater, viewing his work, hearing about and discussing his ideas and inspirations as an artist, and gaining an understanding of his experiences as an Omaskêko Cree artist seeking to find his voice in the contemporary art world.

“I’ve never been able to meet an artist in front of their own work, so I thought that was a really neat experience to have,” said freshman Graphic Design major Lindsey Dellinger. “I enjoyed hearing the theories behind his work. This experience will help me think more critically about what I see in museums and also help me to analyze my environment more in general.”

Professor Bettina L. Love Talk


A powerful, perspective-shifting presentation by Bettina L. Love, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice at the University of Georgia and an established author, offered Citizen Scholars challenges to traditional conceptions of civic engagement. Her multimedia approach, “Get Free: Creativity, Hip Hop Civics Ed, Intersectionality and Joy,” demonstrated how urban youth use Hip-Hop music to create social, cultural, and political identities, and to engage with issues that are central to forward-thinking leadership and effective citizenship.

Citizen Scholars attended the Dr. Bettina Love lecture, titled Get Free: Creativity, Hip Hop Civics Ed, Intersectionality and Joy.

“I was blown away by the students’ response to Dr. Love’s presentation,” Logan said. “Hers was one of the most impactful interactions with students that I have ever witnessed. They suddenly saw how dynamic, self-affirming, and significant civic engagement can be — how many ways there are to forge community, how important it is to understand communities in their own terms.”

Refugee Stories Exhibit


The Citizen Scholars program collaborated with several partners, including the MSU Library, to bring the “Refuge Lansing” project to campus. Created by local writers and photographers working with the Refugee Development Center, the exhibit is a storytelling project that documents and celebrates decades of refugee resettlement in mid-Michigan, through images and short accounts of their lives and successes.

students taking notes on posters at the exhibit
Citizen Scholars view and reflect upon the Refuge Lansing exhibit that documents and celebrates decades of refugee resettlement in mid-Michigan.

After touring the exhibit, Citizen Scholars participated in a discussion of its meaning and impact, and then listened as a panel of scholars and activists discussed the challenges refugees face as they are relocated from dangerous regions to host countries, including the United States.

One student reflected after the event, “The refugee project serves to shed a positive light on refugeeism in this day and age when we (the United States) aren’t necessarily so friendly towards people from other parts of the world. The stories they chose to share with us convey how successful refugees have been in our society, in part to celebrate these successes but also to debunk the stereotypes that so many have regarding refugeeism. Refugees add value to our society and to our lives, whether it be through community participation or even starting their own businesses. They enrich our lives in so many ways that we don’t even acknowledge.”

Skeleton Crew Performance


In collaboration between the Citizen Scholars program and the departments of English and Theatre, Citizen Scholars and other College of Arts & Letters students were transported by bus to Detroit to see a performance of Skeleton Crew, which is the third installment in Dominique Morisseau’s acclaimed three-play cycle, The Detroit Project.

This project has brought national attention to the stories of Detroit, at various points in history, and depicts the city — as well as the lives of the people in it — as a vibrant but beleaguered community that is not defined by the trauma it has suffered.

students posing for a photo in the theatre
Citizen Scholar and College of Arts & Letters students attend the Skeleton Crew performance at the Detroit Public Theatre.

This was an opportunity for students to experience a live theatrical performance, in this case one that calls attention to the issues of a local community. The experience encouraged them to reflect on how the creative arts can transform perspectives by calling attention to, and personalizing, important social concerns.

“Students are begging for more opportunities of this kind,” Logan said. “The 40 students who made the trip all expressed how powerful the performance was and how it shaped their understanding of conditions and perspectives they were not familiar with. Events like this cost about $40 per student, so we can only do a limited number of them, but we’re certainly looking for ways to make more events like this available. The students just love them!”

Japanese Master Artists


In celebration of the opening of the Japan Gallery at the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA), Citizen Scholars had the opportunity to interact with several Japanese master artists who were brought to the United States by the DIA.

The artists, including a troupe of traditional musicians and dancers, a ceramicist, a doll maker, and a textile printer, demonstrated their art forms to the students. Speaking through translators, they explained the history and traditions, discussed their training within each apprenticeship system, and answered students’ questions.

japanese master artists in kimonos performing
Japanese master artists perform for a group of Citizen Scholars.

“The visit of these Japanese master artists was a result of an amazing collaboration with the Asian Studies Center and many other units on campus, as well as with the cultural outreach representatives from the DIA,” Logan said. “Students had the opportunity to engage with the values and traditions of another culture. They were especially struck by the differences in the place of arts in U.S. and Japanese society — the Japanese apprenticeship training system, the adherence to tradition coupled with the pride in innovation, the symbolic meaning of these art objects, and the use of them as part of everyday life. It was a rich, immersive, interactive exposure to the role of the arts in a culture very different from their own.”

For more information on the Citizen Scholars program and its digital badging system, visit the Citizen Scholars website