The Daily Iowan

American Dream theme semester creates campus and community conversation

The UI’s latest theme semester, “The American Dream,” brings a variety of events, classes, and speakers to Iowa City to discuss what the American Dream means in 2019.

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American Dream theme semester creates campus and community conversation

The Old Capitol is seen on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.

The Old Capitol is seen on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.

Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.

Lily Smith

Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.

Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

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For the spring 2019 semester, the University of Iowa will host a variety of events, discussions, and classes centered on the idea of the American Dream as part of the ongoing theme semester program.

Now in its fifth year, the theme semester is designed to create campus and community-wide conversations focused on a particular topic. Jordan Brown, coordinator for the UI Office of Outreach and Engagement and the project manager for the theme semester, said the choice of the American Dream as this semester’s theme is designed to expand the scope of the conversations.

“Really, what we wanted to do is start conversations, especially with people who don’t have a seat at the table,” Brown said.  “It’s a really important topic, especially given today’s political climate, but it’s all about starting conversations at the university, our campus, or community, about how we can really address systemic issues and make the American Dream available for all people, whatever that means [to them].”

The theme semester includes documentary screenings, guest speakers, and panel discussions with a variety of people, including formerly incarcerated people, Brown said.

RELATED: City Council partners with UI’s semester theme of environmental sustainability

“It’s all about starting conversations with a bunch of different people about how we can support their American Dream, what the American Dream means to them, and how we can make their lives better as a supportive campus and community,” Brown said.

In addition to public events, nearly 60 courses relating in some manner to the theme semester are offered to students. Brown said a guide advising faculty on how to conduct discussions about the theme-semester topic is in the works.

It’s all about starting conversations with a bunch of different people about how we can support their American Dream, what the American Dream means to them, and how we can make their lives better as a supportive campus and community.”

— Jordan Brown

Brooke Clayton, a student contributor to the theme semester and former Daily Iowan reporter, plans a series of 10 writing workshops in collaboration with the Iowa Writers’ House. The workshops will be taught by various UI faculty and graduate students, focusing on the intersections between identity and the American Dream.

“Right away, I was like, [the UI] community is full of people, full of voices,” Clayton said. “There are so many directions [the American Dream] can go, and we want to get as many people to engage with it as we can.”

Clayton hopes to livestream the workshops to locations around Iowa City in order to involve as many people as possible.

Robin Clark-Bennett, a labor educator at the UI Labor Center, highlighted several events the center will present in connection with the theme semester, including an appearance from Pablo Alvarado, who she described as one of the nation’s most prominent workers’ rights advocates.

“These programs will bring together students, faculty, Iowa workers and community members, and national leaders to examine the hopes, dreams, and achievements of workers at a time of historic income inequality and dramatic shifts in workers’ rights and the structure of work,” Clark-Bennett said in an email to the DI.

Linda Snetselaar, the UI associate provost of outreach and engagement, said the theme semester program has exceeded her original expectations.

“The theme semester has really gone far beyond what we had ever expected it to, because we have also included classes on campus … that’s very positive,” Snetselaar said. “Additionally, I think that the involvement of students in terms of our planning committees and our overall steering committee has really been wonderful and made a huge difference in what we can do in the theme semester.”

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