Featured Image: Rev. Claude Atcho speaks about Countee Cullen. Ross Winner | Marlin Chronicle
From Ukraine to Hollywood, from climate change to abortion, the Robert Nusbaum Center is a cultural and religious hub for students and community members alike.
Dr. Craig Wansink, the director of the Robert Nusbaum Center and a professor of Religious Studies, runs the Nusbaum Center with Associate Director Kelly Jackson. With smiles and welcoming words, Wansink and Jackson host speaking and discussion-based events from the campus community and the community beyond the bounds of campus.
Kainaat Trehan, a junior and student employee for the Nusbaum Center, praised the discussions that occur at Nusbaum Center events. “You are exposed to so many perspectives, and these are also very unique perspectives,” Trehan said.
For Trehan, the speakers are very skilled and respectful of the possible diversity in perspectives from the audience. “Even if you don’t understand that perspective, or even if you don’t know a lot about it, I think the speakers don’t bombard you,” Trehan said. “They are presenting their story.”
Abigail Peterson, a senior and Biology major, is interested in the events that the Nusbaum Center hosts. “The Nusbaum Center, in my opinion, has the most interesting events on campus,” Peterson said.
On March 2, Rev. Claude Atcho presented on the writings of Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen in a talk entitled “Jesus Hanging from a Poplar Tree.” Atcho, a writer from Charlottesville, Virginia, described the current view of Jesus and his crucifixion in terms of a “diseased social imagination” that relied on racialized topics.
Cullen, in contrast to the current view of crucifixion that Atcho discussed, wrote about Jesus as a Black man hanging from a poplar tree in the southern states of the U.S. Using Cullen’s writings, Atcho urged the audience to analyze the historical context of Jesus to understand how Christianity has been used to oppress and reduce the struggles of the African American population.
Another such event occurred on March 9 with Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg, the Senior Rabbi at the Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk. Rabbi Mandelberg spoke on the protections that the Jewish religion has in place for abortion.
Rabbi Mandelberg quoted everything from the Book of Genesis to the Talmud, a Jewish commentary on the Hebrew Bible and a source of Jewish religious law and theology. With the support of Jewish law dating back centuries, Rabbi Mandelberg discussed how and when abortions are permitted or even expected within Judaism.
She emphasized that women should be free to choose if an abortion is their best decision based on the mental and physical health of the fetus and mother. Rabbi Mandelberg said that it is a necessary religious freedom to be able to receive or refrain from an abortion.
Peterson complemented the Nusbaum Center, but hoped for more variety as well. “I wish they would include more variety in political opinion, but for the most part everything with the Nusbaum Center has been excellent,” Peterson said.
The events are often held in Blocker Auditorium for a crowd of students and adults, with attendance varying based on the event and night.
“It’s sad to attend events with little attendance,” Peterson said.
Trehan attributed much of the smaller attendance sizes to the complexity of the issues discussed. “You need to have a certain level of respect and maturity to come to these events, which is why the audience is very limited,” Trehan said.
Given that the Nusbaum Center links the college community and the larger community, there is a wider audience to cater to.
“I don’t think they cater to every person’s interests, because not everybody thinks about these things,” Trehan said. “But regardless, it is a good thing that they don’t because through that they’re bringing a unique perspective on campus.”
Peterson was interested in seeing a wider variety of events from the Nusbaum Center. “I would like to see maybe some live debates or a variety of events like movie nights or something else. The Nusbaum Center mainly hosts speaker events,” Peterson said.
For Trehan, the events bring opportunities to campus that otherwise would be difficult to find. “They’re kind of uplifting the community on campus because we don’t really think about these things or we’re afraid to talk about these things,” Trehan said.
Peterson recommended that students find the time to attend. “I know that students are incredibly busy but attending these events are both interesting and challenge your perspectives,” Peterson said.
The Nusbaum Center will continue to host events throughout the semester and beyond. On April 6, Robert Shoup will discuss music’s ability to heal or divide society, and on April 21, the Generation Uniting to Address Climate Change Symposium will offer multiple panel discussions and a career and volunteer fair.
More speaking events can be found in the Spring 2023 publication of the Nusbaum Center’s pamphlet and at vwu.edu/academics/robert-nusbaum-center/spring-events.php.
By Rhian Tramontana