From Mayflower Hill to Capitol Hill

It’s not an easy time to be in the humanities. It’s often seen in our news cycles stories of universities  consolidating departments, programs cutting cut, and sometimes entire divisions dissolved. At Colby, we are  certainly lucky to be in a position where the humanities are promoted and supported by administration,  

faculty, and staff across all levels. Initiatives such as the Center for the Arts & Humanities (CAH), started in 2009,  have been interwoven into all facets of the learning experience at Colby.  

As members of the Center’s Student Advisory Board, we have seen how the humanities supplement and increase  critical understanding in fields not considered to be in the humanities, and how lessons learned from the humanities  continue to grow in importance. When the opportunity arose to join the Director and Faculty Associate Director  for the CAH to the National Humanities Alliance’s (NHA) Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day, we were excited to bring our work and learning outside of Mayflower Hill, and to Capitol Hill instead.  

In our three, busy, days in Washington, we had the opportunity to hear from and meet some incredible people who  promote and advocate for the humanities, and among them: Shelley Lowe, chair of the National Endowment for  the Humanities, Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree, co-recipients of this year’s NHA Humanities Award,  and the office of Sen. Angus King as well.  

Even in the formal award reception, we found connections to our learning here at Colby. Rep. Chellie Pingree, in  her acceptance speech, spoke about Wabanaki baskets, and the importance of cultural preservation in rural areas.  As some of us may know, the Colby College Museum of Art has a strong collection of Wabanaki and other  indigenous baskets and handiworks – which Nathan had the privilege of learning about in his English course as  part of a in-museum learning day.  

On the first day of the trip, which comprised of the NHA’s Annual Meeting, several sessions expanded our  knowledge and awareness of the going-ons across the humanities, in all senses. A session that stood out to both of  us was regarding careers in advocacy and policy post-graduation, featuring a panel of speakers from a variety of  roles, but all placed their skills acquired in the humanities as a cornerstone. It was fascinating to hear about the  different pathways that other young adults have taken post-graduation, and how the humanities have been critical  part of the journey and continue to support them in their jobs today. Subsequently, another session on the  humanities and professional education expanded on the benefit of the humanities in post-secondary schooling, and  the specific ways that the humanities benefit  

When we embarked into the halls of Congress on our second day, we found Congresspeople and their staffers to be  understanding, and broadly supportive of the goals of the NHA, and NEH. As part of our advocacy, we asked  Congresspeople to sign onto “Dear Colleague” letters, often circulated around the Hill as a way to gain support for  funding, initiatives, etc. This year, the Presidential Budget Request, was published just on the first day of our trip, so  we were working on a short timeline. Tied to this, a term frequently used in our advocacy was parity, and advocating  for parity in the FY2025 budget for the NEH compared to the National Endowment for the Arts. Historically,  these two agencies have been appropriated the same amount, but the FY25 budget request had the NEH budget marked for 10 million less than the NEA. In our conversations with Congresspeople and their staff, we clearly  outlined our points, heard their feedback, and have been following up since. What truly makes the humanities  special is that most everyone has a had a experience with the field, and likely learned a valuable skill from it, used in  their job. We certainly came across this in talking to Congressional staff, especially those recently out of school.  

Returning to Mayflower Hill, we’ve carried a sense of confidence in our work that there is support for the  humanities at the top tier of government, and that the humanities are critical for any and every profession. We are  again truly grateful for this opportunity from Colby, and the Center for the Arts and Humanities.  

Written by  

Rory H. Hallowell ‘24  and Nathan W. Dunn ‘27