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OPINION: Experiencing joy in academia

Written by Amanda Davis, Feature Editor

As a busy college student, finding joy in academia can be a very difficult task. There always seems to be an assignment to finish, a deadline to run, and an exam to stress about. Academia can sometimes turn the things we hold dear and close to our hearts into something we fear. I’ve faced this problem countless times and recently had an experience that gave my stressful academic life a breath of fresh air.

Over the weekend of February 10-11, I attended the 2023 Tennessee Collegiate Honors Conference with two other students, Daeana Roberts and Priscilla Doran, and English professor Lynn Russell, at Austin Peay State University. My fellow students and I researched topics that intrigued us before the conference and wrote a paper on our findings. We presented our research to an audience during one of the morning sessions.

Students were given the opportunity to create posters introducing their research and display them on the third floor of the Morgan University Center. Students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee State University, and many other universities attended.

The theme of the conference was joy and each presentation should focus on this topic. Students expressed their understanding of joy through the lens of their various academic interests. There were presentations on how Jewish prisoners found joy orchestrating music during the Holocaust, how the joy of reading can change someone’s perspective, and how media bias in school shootings can shape our thoughts and emotions .

I observed a lot of creativity and passion during the conference. It was refreshing to see people as enthusiastic about research and learning as I was, and to share that joy even though we were strangers. Seeing other people succeed made me feel, in a way, that I was succeeding too.

Russell was invited to attend the lecture by Dr. Scott Jones, the former dean of the Honors Institute, because she is the research advisor to honors students. Russell said he loved to encourage his students in their research and that it brought her joy to see them succeed. “All of you are passionate about your research, so you picked any topics you found interesting and engaging, and I like to support students’ passion, ideas, and research,” Russell said.

Roberts found joy in a presenter at her session who wrote poetry and prose focusing on a central theme. Roberts said she often worries that she isn’t being taken seriously in the academic field and that the presenter’s theme has encouraged her. “Seeing that kind of presentation at this kind of conference and seeing how it was received, it was received really well, it was done really well, it encouraged me to read more poetry and explore it a little bit more in my life,” Roberts said.

Doran said he saw how the topic of joy opened up many possibilities in research. “It has had so many implications for human learning and experience, especially in the humanities,” Doran said. Doran also liked that the joy aspect showed how much cultures and humanity truly had in common.

Emotions are what define us and make us human. When we celebrate each other’s human experiences, we celebrate our strengths and help build a community. TCHC taught me that joy can be found everywhere and that sometimes we need a fresh perspective before we can truly see it.

Amanda Davis is a sophomore in communication and creative writing at Bryan College. She is originally from Kansas City and loves reading, writing and photography.

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