One of the largest liberal arts research symposia in the nation grew even larger this week as more than 700 students from all class years and disciplines shared their scholarly work with the Colby community at the Colby Liberal Arts Symposium (CLAS).

“I think often, with my friends, we don’t necessarily talk about what we’re researching day to day or the independent projects that we’re doing over the course of the semester,” said Catharine Christie ’19, who went to a variety of presentations during the day. “They were all on different subjects, which I think is kind of the point of CLAS—to have a broad, general overview of all the different things that people are learning.”

The Parker-Reed Room was a hub for poster sessions, allowing students to share their work with their peers and professors.

After witnessing her friends’ hard work on their theses during the semester, she said it was great to see the culmination of that effort through CLAS.

The annual celebration began on the evening of May 1 with Arts@CLAS. From musical performances to dance shows to poetry readings to art installations, 261 students showcased a wide range of works. At the painting, sculpture, photography, and printmaking studios, guests got the chance to see student artists at work and converse with them about their pieces. The night ended with jazz combos and tap dance.

The following day was a further celebration of Colby students’ achievements. Poster sessions and presentations took place around campus all day, featuring 403 projects—“Comparing the Management of ADHD in the United States and Vietnam,” “The Great Wave: Interactive Data Art on Global Aging,” “The Effects of Race and Behavior on Facial Recognition,” and “The Stories of the Walls: The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program,” to name a few.

Later in the day, six students delivered speeches at the Phi Beta Kappa David H. Mills Memorial Student Speech Contest, addressing the topic of freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry.

Josiah Johnson ’19 discusses his research on the Northern Black Racer.

“It [freedom of expression] has been in place since our democracy’s founding, and it is responsible for the establishment of women’s suffrage, the desegregation of public schools, and the institutionalization of gay marriage,” said Michael Yorsz ’22, who was voted first place by the audience. “Our society only acquired these attributes because Americans gave speeches, had conversations, and demonstrated effort to change minds and turn once radical ideas into accepted aspects of our country.”

That’s why, he argued, despite the presence of hate speech, limiting freedom of expression is not the way to go. “In doing so, it would limit the very mechanism that moves us closer to a moral society,” Yorsz said.

Marking the end of the day, CLAS Highlights featured research of four seniors. Josiah Johnson ’19, a biology and environmental science double major and a chemistry minor, presented his research on a locally endangered snake, the Northern Black Racer. With radio trackers, he followed these snakes’ movement in southern Maine to determine their habitat preferences.

Grace Yu ’19 and Reggie Huang ’19 present their results of a research project about NGOs in China’s Pearl River Delta.

Ethnographic research by Cat Ledue ’19, an anthropology major and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies minor, looked at how low-income children exercise agency in pursuing lives of pleasure and meaning. Her work at Waterville’s South End Teen Center revealed that residents of the neighborhood are part of a community that takes care of each other.

A native of India, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and philosophy double major Mansi Hitesh ’19 shared her work titled “Affectively Indian: Configuring Persons and Pressure Cookers as Assemblages.” Her research questioned Indian-ness of people and Indian-ness of objects, starting with her Indian-made Prestige pressure cooker.

Gabriella Foster ’19, a theater and dance and religious studies double major, presented “Mobilizing Jewishness,” a work in which she used dance to process and respond to intolerance and divisiveness.  

In the audience was Chioma Akali ’21, who knew Foster from their dance class. “I saw her as she was working on it [the project],” she said. “It was cool seeing what she has been working on evolved into something like this.” Akali herself was part of a team of psychology students presenting a poster on gift giving and behavior.

First-year student David Serrano ’22 said he was fascinated by CLAS, even as he was unable to attend all the events. “You gain new perspectives you honestly would never have had,” he said. “We can only do that with CLAS—you can’t always do it in the classroom,” he said. “Sometimes you need to do more outside of the classroom, and I feel like that’s what this is.”