Books pinned to wall

Food for Thought: Our Time in The Lyceum

Written by Meghan Barnes

“The conversations don’t just end in the classroom,” said senior econ major Ingrid Degroot. “That’s the great thing about The Lyceum.”

Ingrid is the president of this interdisciplinary student group whose aim, according to their webpage, is to do just that: provide students the opportunity to continue to wrestle with serious topics extracurricularly. They do this through their recently rejuvenated Liberal Arts Friday Forums as well as through four book discussions per semester. This semester, the book of choice is Robert Nisbett’s The Quest for Community, and my husband, associate professor of psychology Collin Barnes, and I had the opportunity to join in on the discussion.

When we arrived at the off-campus house, dinner was ready and being set out. Spicy chicken tortilla soup with salad. I tried to remember a time I actually cooked a meal in college, apart from visiting my parents’ house, and came up short — the perks of living in a sorority house, I suppose.

“It’s amazing how getting together and talking over food brings community together,” Ingrid said. “So often students just want to be in a house or to have a home-cooked meal.” And The Lyceum provides that space.

The nine of us prayed and dished up, then settled into comfy furniture to talk about this classic work among conservative thinkers. This was the group’s third meeting of the semester, so we had to read 192 pages to get caught up, but we were happy to because, one, it’s a fascinating book, and two, we knew we were in for a treat: Hillsdale students are some of the brightest. Ingrid put it best when she said, “It’s incredible to hear how brilliant your classmates are, and it’s not just coming from a professor. It’s coming out of your classmates’ heads.”

Some words and phrases that stood out during our conversation include the limits of multiculturalism, local community and service versus global humanitarianism, inviting pluralism/diversity without sacrificing common transcendent value, and child rearing.

“Sometimes what we talk about is an extension of what we hear in class or office hours somewhere,” Ingrid said, “but what The Lyceum is doing is applying those ideas to different aspects of life. We discuss how academics relate to the rest of our lives. It’s a challenge to add another book to the list of books but worth it to hear from your peers and to talk about big ideas outside of a classroom setting.”

In the spring the group breaks into lower and upper class discussions as “a way to explore texts we never would have gotten in the classroom,” Ingrid said. The freshman usually read A.G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, and this year the upperclassmen are hoping to read a novel.

“So far we’re thinking of Brideshead Revisited, Till We Have Faces, or Vodolazkin’s Laurus, though we might also do a Wendell Berry novel. It’s still a bit nebulous.”

There are currently fifty students on The Lyceum’s email list. The more active members this year include mostly students who have been part of the group for at least two semesters, so it’s a tight-knit bunch, but Ingrid hopes another such group will form in her stead after she graduates.

“The extra reading is worth it for the community we get to build. The people who want to take on the extra reading and discussing really want to do it and really enjoy it.”

Dr. Barnes and I were happy to experience that joy and left our dinner full and excited to join the last discussion of the semester — as well as sad because this particular off-campus house was throwing a birthday party for Dostoyevsky that night, and we had to relieve the babysitter rather than accept our invitation to stay.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Lyceum, visit their page on the College’s website. They can also be found at The Source.

Meghan BarnesMeghan Barnes is managing editor of the blog and has worked in publishing since graduating with her MA in Journalism from University of Oklahoma in 2003. She lives in Hillsdale with her three daughters, three pets, and husband, Dr. Collin Barnes.

Published in January 2020