Intersections Spring Symposium

Intersections Spring Symposium and Intersections Scholars Celebration 

Friday, April 23, 2021

2:00 pm to 4:00 pm 

Virtual event was free and open to the public. Register here.

Visit the Facebook event page 

In-person attendance was limited to Intersections Scholars and Intersections Groups
For the last three years, faculty and students have been working across disciplines to address grand-challenge questions, such as “What would the world look like without mass incarceration?” Please join us for the first Intersections Symposium: a celebration of the achievements of the UF Intersections project, cross-disciplinary Intersections Groups, and the first graduating classes of undergraduate Intersections Scholars (Spring 2020 and Spring 2021). With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Intersections introduces students to grand-challenge questions that face our world now and in the future. This event was free and open to all UF students, faculty, staff, their families, and the public. Learn more about the Intersections Scholars program and the role of the humanities in our increasingly complex world.
Intersections introduces students to grand-challenge questions that face our world now and in the future. Our members seek to answer four global questions rooted in the humanities: How do Black and Latinx people shape global and local cultures, politics, and economies? How can we engage ethical issues in public life? What would the world look like without mass incarceration? How do technologies influence our lives, then and now? Together, these grand-challenge questions demonstrate how the humanities can equip us to build a more just and equitable world. Attendees saw how UF faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students have been working together to tackle these pressing questions through cutting-edge research, courses, and extracurricular events.
Part 1: Welcome and Keynote Lecture 
Welcome by UF President Kent Fuchs and Dean Dave Richardson
 “Will Robots Feel Pain?” delivered by Sylvester A. Johnson (Virginia Tech)
Part 2: Celebration of Intersections Groups and Scholars 
Remarks by Associate Provost Angela Lindner
Presentations by Intersections Group Faculty and Graduate Students
Intersections Scholars Video Showcase
Intersections Scholars Award Ceremony

Keynote Speaker: Sylvester A. Johnson (Professor and Assistant Vice Provost, Virginia Tech)

“Will Robots Feel Pain? The Politics of Race, the Governance of Technology, and the Future of Humanity”

From Aristotle’s ancient conception of the soul, to Ibn Rushd’s 12th-century analytics of the intellect, to the information theory underlying neural networks, scholars have queried the agency of things and the relationship between matter and its other (spirit?). Does agency inhere in material things? Can an assemblage of machine parts be a person? What distinguishes humans from mere objects? In this talk, Sylvester Johnson proposes that the use of intelligent machines (in the form of artificial intelligence or machine-learning applications) for human enhancement has crystallized these age-old conundrums in a new key. Machines are now being successfully engineered to write poetry, compose music, make moral decisions, and even program other machines. More importantly, military efforts to combine humans with intelligent machines are beginning to produce far-reaching consequences that move beyond scenarios that pit mere humans against mere machines. By considering the racial history of so-called fetishism, Johnson gives historical depth to contemporary developments in cybernetics and discusses the prospect of new frameworks for humans and non-humans that may create new possibilities of machine life.

Sylvester A. Johnson, the founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities, is a nationally recognized humanities scholar specializing in the study of technology, race, religion, and national security. He is also assistant vice provost for the humanities at Virginia Tech and executive director of the university’s Tech for Humanity initiative. Johnson, who holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Religion and Culture, has authored The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity, a study of race and religious hatred that won the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book award; and African American Religions, 1500-2000, an award-winning interpretation of five centuries of democracy, colonialism, and freedom in the Atlantic world. Johnson has also co-edited The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11. A founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions, he has published more than 70 scholarly articles, essays, and reviews.

This Intersections Spring Symposium keynote was also part of the UF Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere 2020-21 speaker series Rethinking the Public Sphere Part II: Data & Democracy. 

Graduating Intersections Scholars

NameMajorIntersections Group
Spring 2020 Graduates
Dontae BellonyAfrican American Studies/SociologyMass Incarceration
Sara LottmanEconomics/Political ScienceEthics
Travis MazurekPhilosophyMass Incarceration
Ciara McAleaveyPolitical ScienceMass Incarceration
Kevin QuintanaCriminologyMass Incarceration
Spring 2021 Graduates
Maria EcheverryAnthropology/CriminologyMass Incarceration
Brittany FindleyAfrican American Studies/Political ScienceMass Incarceration
Alexandra GomezCriminology/EnglishMass Incarceration
Gabrielle JetteBiochemistryMass Incarceration
Hannah LazarEnglish/Political ScienceGlobal Blackness and Latinx Identity
Chase LawCriminologyMass Incarceration
Bailey LoveskyMathematicsMass Incarceration
Alex ShermanClassical StudiesMass Incarceration
Kathryn YachnisPsychology-Behavioral Cognitive NeuroscienceMass Incarceration
Liel ZoranPsychologyMass Incarceration

This event was free and open to the public. Email for more information. 

This event was organized by the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere in partnership with George A. Smathers Libraries with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.