UMass Boston Will Take Over the Common With Series of ‘Tent Talks’

Think of it as a speed-dating version of Ted Talks, featuring the school's top instructors.

On Tuesday, people passing through Boston Common can get schooled on a variety of topics without having to pay a dime for the class.

As part of UMass Boston’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the school will host “Campus on the Common,” and set up a tent at the public park that will serve as a mini-classroom for individual professors delivering short, expedited speeches about a specific issue in their field of research.

Called “Tent Talks,” a play on the popular TedX speaking engagements, between noon and 4 p.m. teachers from UMass will share their academic expertise and dive into everything from hip-hop education to health trends in the U.S. The 10-to-15 minute talks, which will be timed so that attendees can either pop in for one quick session, or sit through every lesson, will be followed by brief dialogues between the professors and “students.”

Political Science Professor Paul Watanabe will be giving the last talk of the day, discussing race relations in the country as questions loom in the case of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

“This event is really an opportunity for UMass Boston to show off, to use a not-terribly-academic term. It’s a way, in short segments, to really highlight what has been going on at the school for the last half century, and look at the areas of innovative and important research, and outstanding service at all levels,” he said. “It’s giving people a flavor about what’s going on at the school.”

Watanabe, whose Tent Talk topic is called “Hands Up, Why Shoot? Ferguson, the Color Line, and the Dream,” chose this particular subject matter with the hopes of encapsulating a “large, important” narrative into a very short teachable moment.

“I’m really talking about what this means for the nation as a whole. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary, but if you think about it, the timing also marks the signing of the Civil Rights Act, so it’s the idea of looking at the past, looking at what has happened over 50 years, and looking toward the future and where the country is moving toward,” he said.

Watanabe looks at the tent event as an opportunity for anyone visiting or walking through Boston to get “some intellectual nourishment,” and show that important issues that are shaping the nation are being examined right here in the city at local universities.  “I want people to understand the debate on race in the US, and that it’s not settled. This conversation is more important than it’s ever been,” he said.

Free information about the school’s 11 colleges will also be on display at booths staffed by students and faculty throughout the day. The event will conclude with a free concert on the Common.

A full schedule of the Tent Talks can be found here.