When Caitlyn Jenner was introduced to the world via a photo spread in Vanity Fair last year, some could not believe what they were seeing. The idea that sometimes seeing helps people believe, and an exploration of what it means to “see,” are just two ways this year’s Theme Semester, “Seeing /Believing: Evidence, Perception, and Interpretation,” will challenge the Worcester State community.
The theme will be explored by the University Keynote speaker Jennifer Finney Boylan , who will speak about her 2003 memoir, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, on Thursday, Feb. 25 in Fuller Theater at 7 p.m. An activist as well as an author of several books, Boylan has raised awareness and advocated for transgender rights for many years. Worcester State’s Honors students and many classes are reading She’s Not There as part of the curriculum this semester.
In addition to the lecture, two book discussions are open to all faculty, staff, and students: on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in Sheehan 109, and on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 2:30 in Wasylean 109. According to Theme Semester Director Sam O’Connell of the Visual and Performing Arts Department , a number of faculty in history, English, sociology and urban studies have built the book into their syllabi for this semester.
The Boylan lecture is co-sponsored by the Honors Program, Theme Semester, Academic Affairs, Pride Alliance, LASC, the Library, First Year Experience, the Writing Center, Liberal Studies, and the Departments of English, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology. In addition, staff from many departments and offices are helping to ensure the success of the event.
Other events related to Theme Semester include a March 17 lecture by Dr. Jeremy Wilmer of the Wellesley College Psychology Department. He will speak at 11:30 a.m. in the Blue Lounge on the topic “TestMyBrain.org  – A Story of Science, Self-Discovery, and 1.5 Million Minds,” describing his research addressing human variation in visual perception and cognition, and how we can use the Internet to reach a diverse set of study participants. Another lecture for March or April is also in the planning stage.
This is the first year the Theme Semester falls in the spring rather than the fall. “One of the reasons we shifted to the spring was to align with the keynote lecture better,” said O’Connell, which has traditionally taken place the last week of February. “We also wanted to align with the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity.” That event is held in April each year.
Jennifer Hood-DeGrenier of the Biology Department , assistant director of the Honors Program, said that since the keynote lecture was initiated in 2014, “it has worked to have one really prominent person that we can have to build other events around.” Tentative plans are underway to bring two additional speakers to campus related to the theme, according to O’Connell.