Connections form the common thread in IU?s `Themester? program this year

  • Sept. 16, 2013

By Jon Blau

Today’s college students grew up in a “connected” world. Their televisions have brought them images from across the world, and their social networks have transferred their lives onto the Internet.

What Indiana University’s “Themester” program hopes to accomplish this fall, according to Bernice Pescosolido, a sociology professor and chairwoman of the 2013 Themester advisory committee, is to show these students how these connections affect their lives. The theme for this semester is “Connectedness: Networks in a Complex World.”

Actress Glenn Close, who heads a mental health advocacy group called Bring Change 2 Mind, will speak Nov. 5 at Whittenberger Auditorium, with a focus on combating societal stigma attached to mental illness. Valerie Plame Wilson, a former CIA operations officer who was outed in a Washington Post piece in 2003, will speak Nov. 11 in Alumni Hall about the “dark side” of connectedness, Pescosolido said.

Themester, with its wide range of programs, is aimed at getting students to think about issues in a holistic way rather than just from one or two perspectives. The semester-long event is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, and Pescosolido led a group of people from disciplines such as English, political science, brain science and psychology, fine arts and media in developing the Themester.

Through the process of finding speakers and homing in on a theme like “connectedness,” Pescosolido said, the faculty and students discovered that, while they might use different words to describe concepts within their discipline, some “100 years of social science” has brought those disciplines closer together.

For example, Pescosolido looks to the relationship between atoms -- from the atoms that make up people, to the people who make up countries  -- and sees a world that is defined by connections. “In physics, we know about particles, and those particles combine to create so many different things. It’s about the connections, it’s not just about the particles,” Pescosolido said.

No tickets are required to see Close and Wilson. There will also be movie showings, plays and art displays that will go along with a series of lectures that cross many disciplines. Bill Darrow helped plot the “network dynamics” that proved the spread of HIV as a blood-borne illness, and he will be at IU Tuesday.

Pescosolido is on the advisory council for Bring Change 2 Mind and so has a special connection to Close. The actress’s speech will be an opportunity for the audience to see how connected they are to the issue of mental illness, which studies suggest affects one in five Americans during their lifetimes.

“It’s time to talk about this and bring this out of the shadow,” Pescosolido said. “Most people don’t have to scratch too deep to find someone who has a mental health problem.”

More info online

For more information about IU’s Themester, visit

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.