School links students to community – and then the world

Award-winning professor Joel Faflak teaches 18th-century Romantic poetry. (Western News file photo)

After spending the summer in Montreal and Quebec City, Maryam Golafshani was not looking forward to coming back to London. But ‘the Crawl’ changed her mind.

‘‘It just opened my eyes to the fact that there are a lot of people living in London who are incredibly passionate about the city, and making sure that it has a vibrant arts and culture scene,’’ said the 19-year-old student.

The Forest City Culture Crawl, a yearly event in partnership with cultural organizations such as the London Arts Council, consists of a tour that takes place in early September and that takes students downtown to various cultural venues.


The Culture Crawl is just one of the many community-partnership initiatives that Western’s School of Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities (SASAH) conducts every year. Others include concert series, public lectures and many other activities that link Western with the city of London.

Admitting a cohort of 25 students per year, SASAH collaborates with four organizations on campus: the McIntosh Gallery, Western International, Public Humanities @ Western and Student Service Centre.

Run by English Literature professor Joel Faflak, the school employs a team of three employees and seven research fellows, who all teach at the school. It also involves an advisory council of seven professionals who meet twice a year to discuss academic content and community initiatives.

The courses taught at the school merge community engagement and scholarly achievement because students have to undertake theoretical courses as well as classes conducted into the community.

In February, the school will be partnering with Aeolian Hall to announce its larger collaboration with East London Village. For students, there will be assignments relative to the venue and to East London’s history, most of them done through the Digital Tools, Digital Literacies course.

‘‘Joel really promotes creativity amongst the students, and he encourages us all to use our critical skills to the best extent that we can. He wants us to cultivate our own individuality within the school and part of that is applying skills outside of the classroom,’’ said Nicholas Pincombe, 20, a second-year student.

In addition to its student-geared happenings, SASAH holds several public events per year in partnership with other organizations at Western or throughout the city.

This academic year, the school is teaming up with the Don Wright Faculty of Music for a concert series, a string of five concerts per semester happening at The D.B. Weldon Library, with the exception of one in the winter, at Aeolian Hall.

Music in a library is sort of unusual, but that’s exactly the point. Faflak collaborated on this project with SASAH’s research fellow Laurence de Looze and Music professor Sharon Wei, who teaches viola. ‘‘The first concert was so great because we got almost 300 people to stop and listen. I think that’s the most important part, the sharing,’’ Wei said.

Faflak also initiated the Public Matters lecture series, which is a free yearly event happening at Museum London that is open to the public and features well-known Canadian speakers. Past guests included Cameron Bailey, a Western graduate and Toronto International Film Festival’s art director, and Jeff Melanson, incoming president and CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (then of the Banff Centre). These people drew attention to Western as a university and also inspired students to consider future opportunities, said Faflak.

‘‘We want to get them thinking about how their education engages them in a local or regional context as a prelude to the global context. Turning them into global citizens, and getting them to think about the fact that they’re not just here in a classroom in London, Ontario, they’re part of a classroom that’s part of a world that’s increasingly global and globalized,’’ he said.