Empathy, compassion a focus in college presentation

FORKS — Peninsula College interim dean of arts and sciences and former English professor Janet Lucas will explore compassion and empathy, focusing on the controversial and complex ways they affect the classroom and the media, in her multimedia Studium West lecture, “The Art and Science of Empathy,” at 6:30 tonight.

The event will be free and open to the public at the college’s Forks campus, 481 S. Forks Ave.

“Empathy is often assumed to be an unquestioned ‘good’ to strive for in college classrooms, with multicultural literary readings and service learning seen as sure-fire ways to inspire students from the dominant culture to understand the Other,” said Lucas, a scholar, poet, and essayist who has taught in Guilin, China.

“In the 1990s and beyond, however, empathy and the (hopefully) resulting compassion have been questioned and even disparaged by cultural studies scholars, specifically in regard to the ability of empathy and compassion to promote social justice and political action.”

Conversely, Lucas said, a number of other scholars claim that popular culture inspires empathy and compassion globally to such a degree that it is leading us into a more peaceful world.

Lucas started college as a returning adult student after a long career waiting tables. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Eastern Washington University and earned her doctorate in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Her dissertation “Not Just a Feeling Anymore: Empathy and the Teaching of Writing” was submitted for the James Berlin Memorial Outstanding Dissertation Award.

In October 2007, the Two-Year College Association honored her with the Lisa Ede Award for Teaching Excellence.

She taught English for many years at Peninsula College and recently became interim dean of arts and sciences.

“Today, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers, evolutionary biologists, medical professionals and neuroscientists are exploring ourselves and our brains on compassion and empathy,” Lucas said.

She will discuss the nuances of compassion and empathy to discover new ways to think about them in classrooms and in the world beyond.

For more information, contact Deborah Scannell at dscannell@pencol.edu.

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