BELONG: Obermann as Connective Space

While the Obermann Center provides many tangible, material benefits to the UI campus, some of our work is more ineffable. While the Center itself is relatively small—we are a team four staff, and our building contains space for six scholars to work in-residence—we nonetheless provide a community in which scholars experience an important sense of belonging. This spring, as the UI campus went to an online format, we found multiple ways to continue to provide this communal space.

One spring 2020 Fellow-in-Residence Brian Ekdale (Journalism & Mass Communication, CLAS), said of our Fellows’ meetings,

“During the second half of the semester, the bi-weekly seminar became a real lifeline for me. Because of public school closures and my partner’s teaching responsibilities, I took primary responsibility for our six year old. The bi-weekly seminar provided both a scholarly reprieve for me and was also a source of accountability. I found myself struggling to find my footing during this uncertain time, especially given the ways my international research was going to invariably be affected. My fellow scholars were incredibly supportive and helpful in thinking through my options moving forward.”

An Ounce of Solace featured performances, visual art, and scholarly talks by UI graduate students in History, English, Music, Art & Art History, and the Center for the Book.

We also take special pride in supporting UI graduate students. As we saw faculty supporting one another and many wonderful examples of people tending to the needs of undergraduates, we wanted to make a special effort to reach out to graduate students. Knowing that these students often live on their own, away from the close support of family, and that they are frequently working on their own studies as well as teaching, we put together a web-based care package, An Ounce of Solace, that highlighted artistic work by current UI graduate students. Each piece was selected to provide solace and beauty during the tumultuous end of the Spring 2020 semester. The care package included artwork from MFA students in the Center for the Book and the School of Art & Art History, as well as poetry, music, a podcast, an interview, and more.