Kendra Dority

In the first scene of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, a character deliberates whether to join his colleagues in their pursuit of learning. When he asks, “What is the end of study?” his question addresses, in part, the circumstances required to learn. His friends have decided to seal themselves off from their communities for three years to start their “little academe,” demonstrating a belief that learning is done in relative isolation, away from the “outside” world. If our goal is to learn, this character seems to ask, why would we design an academy that restricts our access to those outside of it, and their access to us?

Shakespeare’s scenario sets the scene for my own inquiry into the social role of humanities education and people’s access to it. To my mind, humanities education plays an important role in shaping students’ perspectives and imaginations. Rather than being an isolating endeavor, it can develop our concern for others and transform our relationships with our communities. But who has access to these forms of education, especially when state and institutional budget cuts often hit humanities and arts programs first—and disproportionately affect communities that are already under-resourced?

I recently spent time with Love’s Labor’s Lost while working alongside a UC Santa Cruz performing arts group that brings performances of Shakespeare’s plays to local schools. While developing their curricular materials, I began to consider how institutions of higher learning—especially research institutions like my own—might build educational partnerships beyond their own walls to increase access to humanistic inquiry. As a Public Scholar, I aim to explore this possibility. I seek to build partnerships among educators within and outside of my own institution, in order to collectively explore methods for enhancing our students’ meaningful engagement with literary and artistic expression. To do so, I am collaborating with a research center at UC Santa Cruz, Shakespeare Workshop, and a non-profit performing arts organization, Santa Cruz Shakespeare, to develop a summer workshop for Monterey Bay area educators. We hope that this workshop will facilitate the collaborative development of student-centered resources for the teaching of Shakespeare’s texts. Further, we hope to facilitate shared inquiry into the role of artistic expression and imagination in our students’ engagement not only with complex texts but also with their communities.

This collaboration is a step toward enhancing arts education outreach at Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which seeks to increase its community’s access to artistic experience and engagement. I hope that it is also a step toward reimagining the reach of humanities education from within the academy, and toward creating inclusive communities of teaching and learning that extend beyond it.