Suspending the Normal

Madeleine Henner-

On Monday, February 8, 2016 at 10:33pm, I was studying in the Davidsoniana Room when I received an invitation from Paul Brennan ‘18 to join his class “Metalinguistics and Children’s Literature: A Seminar on Amelia Bedelia,” complete with a request to post on Moodle about the assigned reading. Instead of finishing the homework that had brought me to the quiet room, I read “Using Semantic Ambiguity Instruction to Improve Third Graders’ Metalinguistic Awareness and Reading Comprehension: An Experimental Study.” We took field trips to the public library on Monday and Tuesday afternoons to check out the week’s assigned book and practice reading to the therapy dog.*

The seminar combined all my favorite things: time with friends, children’s books, and dogs. This very strange and jokingly serious weekly discussion was one of the highlights of my freshman year. With a website and a multitude of class listings, “Metalinguistics and Children’s Literature: A Seminar on Amelia Bedelia” grew into the School of Interdisciplinary Engagement.**

Flash forward two years. One week before spring break, Davidson students are in midterm mode. Essays and exams fill the lines of agendas. Extracurricular activities are in full swing. Postgrad jobs and summer internship applications loom over free time. Friday and Saturday nights are a quasi-sacred time in which Davidson students can relax with friends, socialize down the hill, or catch up on the sleep sacrificed during the week. They are an escape from the week’s responsibilities and all things academic.

However, on Friday February 23, 2018, twenty-five students gathered in the Sustainability Co-op at 8:00pm for TodX. Many readers may have heard of Ted Talks in which experts give lectures about innovative and creative ideas. This completely unrelated event allowed ‘professors’*** of the School of Interdisciplinary Engagement to share knowledge in topics largely ignored by established institutions of higher learning [read: nonsensical presentations about nonsensical topics]. With lectures ranging from “Woven Lies: Environmental and Cultural Neglect in the Fibrous Arts,” and “Lucky Charms to Leprechauns: A Study of Western Appropriation of Irish Legend and Lore,” to “A, B, Z, D: The Reorganization of the English Alphabet” and “LT or RT? More than just the Binary Narrative of the Indie Gamer Generation,” ‘professors’ applied the academic skills required in Davidson classes to an objectively ridiculous event.

With limited time and energy, TodX may seem like an irrational use of both. However, TodX served as a release. It allowed us to mock the academic spaces laden with buzzwords, where regurgitated ideas are dressed in accepted jargon and presented as new. Rather than crafting responses to maximize participation credit or the social capital among fellow classmates, the best-received presentations were unabashedly absurd and unrestrained.

For those who know me, this type of buffoonery is not out of the ordinary. I love when people commit to a joke and really run with it, suspending the normal. Maybe I am simply justifying my behavior, but I believe that shenanigans force people out of their comfort zones and bond us together. At Davidson, it can be difficult to separate the person from the accomplishment. When surrounded with 2,000 people that have done some pretty incredible things, the struggle for adequacy is daunting. But, it is hard to look dumb in a room where a philosophical speech written using Apple’s predictive word service was applauded and the expected response to a speech about the importance of knitting was unison baaing. In this way, we remove ourselves from the hierarchy of accomplishments that dehumanizes us.

Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe TodX was nothing more than a fun couple of hours shared by a small group of friends. Maybe this perspectives piece is just an example of the Davidson art of describing the mundane in a way that makes it sound more intelligent and impressive than it is. Either way, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, question what is normal, and escape the all-consuming nature of pre-midterm Davidson. I encourage you to engage in the ridiculous.

Until the next shenanigan, this is Ms. Dr. Dean**** Madeleine Henner signing off.

*Unlike adults, therapy dogs do not correct young readers, making the experience more enjoyable. Although this program is directed towards children, there is no explicit age limit. The dogs generally come every Monday and Tuesday from 4-5pm.

**The School of Interdisciplinary Engagement is an unaccredited institution that does not engage in the exchange of money, only exchanges of ideas. Some go as far as to call it ‘fake’.

***‘Professors’ refers to the group of nine students that presented their lectures, not Davidson College professors.

****I do not have a doctorate and am in fact struggling to obtain my bachelor’s. In the same vein, the use of ‘dean’ is as generous as it is false. The only true suffix is Ms. I am in fact unmarried.

Madeleine Henner ‘19 is an Anthropology major and Latin American Studies minor from Decatur, Georgia. Contact her at