Social Misson

The CLASS Scholars were challenged to think about their digital identities by Dr. Sybril Brown, Professor of Journalism at Belmont University, this past Thursday evening. In this first seminar in the Wedgewood Academic Center, the Scholars first viewed a video outlining the global scale and scope of social media, and were asked what surprised or stuck with them. The enormity of the numbers of people on social media, the pervasiveness of technology, and the likelihood that millennials aren’t thinking strategically about their presence online can all lead to important decisions being made about their future that may seem beyond their control. As “Dr. Syb” pointed out, “Your sins may be forgiven offline but they won’t be forgotten online.”

Scholars work on their digital footprint in this selfie with Dr. Syb.
Scholars work on their digital footprint in this selfie with Dr. Syb.

So what are people to do? How do you go about shaping your image online? Dr. Syb cited the work of Erik Qualman, who discusses these issues in terms of someone’s “digital shadow” vs. their “digital footprint.” People’s “digital shadows” are all of those things they cannot control, including other people posting embarrassing or compromising images or information about them online. A “digital footprint” includes measures a person can undertake intentionally to shape image online. “Create a consistent brand of excellence for yourself online,” advised Dr. Syb, so that potential colleges, employers, and others see the “honest and authentic positive reality” of who you are.

Twitter, according to Dr. Syb, has become a hub for research (especially social science research, but also active conversations between experts in science, literature, and business); relationships (she told the story of having been introduced to Erik Qualman via twitter at a conference and forming a positive, mutually beneficial, professional relationship with him); and reputation (along with Linked In, which Dr. Syb dubbed “Facebook for business”).

Dr. Syb's twitter page.
Dr. Syb’s twitter page.

She showed how her own identity online is consistent with her reality and her aspirations, and how becoming “Dr. Syb” created an easily recognizable brand that can move across many platforms.

She then asked the Scholars to begin on their own development of a web presence that can set them apart by having them write down one-word descriptions of themselves and then turning the positive descriptors into a tweetable mission statement. Since anything posted online becomes a part of a person’s public image, every effort should be made to control the part of that image that can be controlled. Thus Dr. Syb encouraged the Scholars to set themselves apart “locally, nationally, and globally” by chronicling their positive experiences online, including their participation in the CLASS Seminars.

The seminar gave the Scholars a lot to consider as they returned to a life led, at least in part, online.


Mansion Mysteries

The CLASS Scholars got a taste of high living, 1850s-style with their visit to the Belmont Mansion on August 27.

The Grand Salon of Belmont Mansion, where the Belmont Scholars heard Dr. Jackson-Abernathy’s talk.

After gathering in the gazebos and on the steps of the mansion, catching up with folks they hadn’t seen all summer, the scholars entered the Grand Salon for a talk by Dr. Brenda Jackson-Abernathy, chair of the History Department at Belmont University. Dr. Jackson-Abernathy explained what academic historians do with reference to her own search for materials about Adelicia Acklen, who had the mansion built in the 1850s. Adelicia Acklen was prominent in Nashville society, mentioned often in the newspapers of her day. When she died in the 1880s and her children sold the house, it was used for a variety of other purposes, including dormitories for the original Belmont College. In the process of preparing the mansion for other uses, the personal papers of Adelicia and her three husbands were destroyed.

Portraiit of Adelicia Acklen.
Portrait of Adelicia Acklen.

Dr. Jackson-Abernathy asked the Scholars to think about where a historian might look for source information about historical figures, and their answers mapped out Dr. Jackson-Abernathy’s own searches through the libraries and the archives of historical societies, court records and real estate transactions, shopping lists and the letters and papers of relatives in the U.S. and abroad. Research into people like Adelicia can lead to a better understanding of life as it was lived in the nineteenth century, both by wealthy people like the Acklens and by the hundreds of servants, slaves, craftspeople, and other laborers who made her lifestyle possible.

The Scholars then got an unscheduled tour by Mark E. Brown, Director of the Belmont Mansion, including some newly restored bedrooms on the second floor and some in-progress restoration work in the main parlor. They browsed through the mansion’s collections of statuary, paintings, porcelain, and other markers of the Acklens’ status. They asked a lot of questions and in the half hour of the tour gained some historical insights they weren’t expecting to have when the night began. Mark Brown and Dr. Jackson-Abernathy concluded the evening by entertaining more questions and dispelling some rumors (sorry, no secret underground tunnels on the premises) and confirming others (Adelicia did indeed keep a bear and even some alligators in the property).

It was a great start to the Fall Semester of CLASS Seminars!

CLASS Scholars reunite on the steps of the Belmont Mansion before the seminar.
CLASS Scholars reunite on the steps of the Belmont Mansion before the seminar.