Interim Dean Davita Silfen Glasberg describes how a liberal arts and sciences education can transform students’ interests and their understanding of the world.
Davita Silfen Glasberg knows firsthand how a liberal arts education can transform the lives of undergraduate students.
Glasberg was in her second semester at Brooklyn College – City University of New York in May of 1970, when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine others.
She recalls learning about the incident while sitting on the campus quad, as a young man with a bullhorn shouted at passersby.
“I thought to myself, wait a second—they’re shooting kids on a college campus? And wait—we’re at war?” says Glasberg. “And the more he screamed, the more I realized, this is what my teacher has been talking about all semester.”
A first-generation college student from Coney Island, N.Y., Glasberg had initially entered college hoping to pursue a career as a kindergarten teacher—a path she chose at the insistence of her father. But that semester, she enrolled by chance in an introductory sociology course, and started learning about the social unrest behind events like the Kent State shootings.
The course inspired her to pursue a new major, and eventually a new career, in sociology.
“My father was furious! But I was so intrigued, and it was such an exciting time, with the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement,” she says. “It suddenly dawned on me that all of these movements were really after the same goals: equal rights and peace. In 2017, we’re still fighting for these things.”
On February 1, Glasberg assumed the role of interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, succeeding Jeremy Teitelbaum, now the University’s interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. Glasberg’s unique background in higher education—as a first-generation college student, a social scientist, an educator, and an administrator—gives her a unique perspective on how a liberal arts and sciences education can transform students’ interests and their understanding of the world.
“We have an obligation as a University to prepare our students so that whatever they major in, they have a toolkit of skills that they can use if the labor market changes—or if their passions change,” says Glasberg. “A liberal arts education also gives them the tools they need to be well-rounded human beings and contributing members of society.”
Glasberg joined the University’s faculty in 1988 as an assistant professor, and served as head of the Department of Sociology from 2004-2011. In 2011, she became the CLAS associate dean for social sciences and undergraduate education, a position she held until her appointment as interim dean.
“Our strength is our disciplinary diversity. It gives our faculty a great opportunity to bring diverse perspectives into the classroom and provide a rich educational experience for our students.”
Davita Silfen Glasberg, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
During her nearly 30 years at UConn, Glasberg watched the Storrs campus grow from what she describes as a “sleepy college town” to a bustling, world-class research institution—thanks in no small part, she says, to the growth of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“In terms of scholarship, right now we have the most talented faculty in the entire University,” she says. “Our strength is our disciplinary diversity. It gives our faculty a great opportunity to bring diverse perspectives into the classroom and provide a rich educational experience for our students.”
Glasberg herself has continued an active research agenda through her long period of administrative leadership in the College. Among her many achievements, her co-edited volume, Human Rights in our Own Back Yard: Injustice and Resistance in the United States (2011), won the Hirabayashi Book Award for Best Book from the Human Rights Section of the American Sociological Association in 2012.
She has also kept herself firmly grounded in the classroom. In addition to teaching graduate seminar courses, for the past 25 consecutive years she has taught Sociology 1001: Introduction to Sociology, which explores the social organization, institutions, roles, and communities of modern society.
“I love teaching an intro course. The students come at the subject matter with a sense of excitement, and they are thirsty for the material and are intrigued by critical analysis,” she says.
Glasberg points out that these introductory courses do not only serve CLAS students. As associate dean for undergraduate education, she was responsible for working with University partners to ensure that enough courses were offered each year to satisfy the general education and major requirements of all UConn students.
“Unlike any other school or college, we have to be concerned with more than just our own programs and majors,” she says. “We provide the building blocks that students need for professional degrees and the educational foundation that makes all of our students the strong citizens they become when they leave this campus.”
She adds that a strong liberal arts and sciences background is especially crucial for young people in the digital age: It helps them confront the mountains of information available to them in order to dissect the complex social and political issues facing our world today.
“If we give students the skills to sort out what they’re hearing and seeing and to ask important questions, they’re not going to be held hostage to whoever screams the loudest and closest to their faces,” she says. “It gives them the tools to push back and say, ‘I want more.’”
By: Bri Diaz, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences