Have you ever wondered what we are all doing here? Why are we in college? Is it worth it?

You are certainly not alone. All through my first year here, this has crossed my mind many times. The common answer is that we are here to become intelligent citizens so we can do what we want well later on.

What, then, is intelligence?

This may seem like a simple question, but think about it. Can you come up with a concise definition? It’s hard! Realizing this, I wondered what definitions our peers, professors, and alumni had and set out on about 20 interviews to see what I could find. Here, I will cover the highlights. Please understand that I am not claiming the following to be representative of the Bates community as a whole. On the contrary, the following are incredibly thought-provoking ideas from only a handful of our peers, professors, and alumni about the reason we are here, doing what we are doing.

In each of my interviews, I asked three main questions: What is your definition of intelligence? How do you see, or not see, this implemented here at Bates? What is your ideal form of cultivating intelligence? This article looks at questions one and two.

What is Your Definition of Intelligence?

In response to the first question, Professor of Organic Chemistry Glen T. Lawson said, “Different people’s minds are wired differently–no one better or worse, just different.” This idea that everyone has a unique mind was fairly common, and also the refrain of my interview with Mathematics Professor Scott Balcomb. He said, “We all have a beautiful mind,” therefore intelligence is just a question of “do you want to use it?”

Recognizing the breadth of variation in individuals and their ways of thinking, most people I spoke with agreed that there are multiple intelligences or no single definition. Psychology Professor and Director of Program Design for Purposeful Work Rebecca Fraser-Thill brought up the ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets in which you are either born with abilities or are able to develop them. Most psychologists, including Fraser-Thill, see the ‘growth’ mindset as much more beneficial than the former. Professor of Environmental Studies, Ethan Miller, echoes this with imagery: “We are all these bundles of different kinds of intelligences.” Professor of Classical & Medieval Studies, Margaret Imber, informed me that the Latin roots of the word “intelligence” come together to form the meaning, “choosing between things.” Perhaps sorting through your bundle, rather than the contents of your bundle, is what really matters.

A whole other class of definitions came about when ‘relational’ intelligence was brought up. For Detmer Kremer, class of 2016, intelligence has a lot to do with the ability to “navigate communities.” Professor of Economics James Hughes agreed that intelligence is “the ability to make sense of the world around us and act affirmatively in that world.” Dean of Faculty Matt Auer acknowledged the conventional ideas of intelligence and that defining an “emotional intelligence…seems to imply that it’s different from conventional or ordinary intelligence,” though he doesn’t think it is. Similarly, Choir Director and Music Professor John Corrie hopes intelligence can include a “concern about people” and an ability to “be open” with new, even scary ideas, rather than closing itself off to only what we learn in our S, L and Q’s.

In the same vein, first-year Charlotte Cramer adds to this with the hope that we soon recognize diversity as a necessity in order to create an atmosphere of true learning. Miller similarly thinks there is a real importance to “enabl[ing] movement between different people’s experiences.” Professor of Rhetoric Jon Cavallero also hopes to see diversity in his classroom in order to have as many other ideas as possible to “gain perspective on my own.” To him, it is important to “see other people’s ways of thinking,” for we are not “just individuals” living alone, but members of communities in which we need to respect and understand one another to feel the same about ourselves.

Creating an environment of respect ties back to the initial discussion of not classifying one intelligence over another. Professor of Spanish Francisca Lopez sees intelligence in someone who possesses “the right amount of energy and self-determination to pursue it,” along with “a good dose of humility.” Senior Jaqui Veazey sums it up with the idea that “passion” drives each one of our mind’s “persistence and perseverance and curiosity”–none are better or worse, just different.

How is your definition of intelligence implemented, or not, here at Bates?

Aspects of Bates that came up often were Practitioner-Taught Short Term courses, Purposeful Work, student-professor relationships, the academic requirements, and athletics. Fraser-Thill extolled the Practitioner-Taught Short Terms and Purposeful Work programs for their ability to bring out, in a real setting, where student’s education has brought them and where they still need to go. She went on to say that she hopes more “reflection” can be implemented for this purpose of realizing what still needs improvement and what the work means. Other opinions on these programs ranged from hoping they would expand to questioning their intentions and results.

Balcomb wonders, similarly to Miller, whether the Purposeful Work initiative is what Bates wants or what the world outside Bates wants. Miller considers this a way in which the school is partaking in only a “banking model” of education with an “expert filling a receptacle with knowledge”.

In this, the relationship between student and professor is key. Cavallero, in his third year here and coming from large state schools, loves being “at a place that shares my values,” where students “are comfortable talking, disagreeing, and respecting each other.” Philosophy Professor Thomas Tracy loves how there is ample opportunity here for him to not only see his students in class, but also in performances, presentations, and club activities–there is much more crossover at our fingertips with a small campus, which should be able to discourage the “banking model” if we let it.

Corrie, however, is a bit saddened by the fact that the Olin Theater is not full for more performances. He puts it in terms of the fact that “we can’t possibly know everything,” but it is unfortunate that people can go through their four years here at Bates without ever setting foot in Olin. “Get outside your departments!” he wants to tell them–respect and explore others’ intelligences, especially if they aren’t your own.

In preparing ourselves for the “real world,” college should be a time for encountering diversity. Cramer wishes the requirements could be more diverse to help push people out of their departments, especially in the sciences. As of now, she feels that the “requirements tell us that knowing the sciences is being intelligent,” while she hopes “religion and humanities” could be emphasized more. Through this, we could “change the way we view intelligence” for the better–broadening it from the conventional definition of “science-smarts.”

Through the same vein, diversity in the broad sense of the word means walking a thin line. On the one hand, it is desired for the reasons addressed above. However, on the other hand, with all of the extracurriculars we encourage each other to take part in, are we then distracting from the reason we are here? Should we, as Professor Imber suggests, have “greater control over the time athletics puts on students”? In her mind, if we were to “lower the time commitment and account for all practices throughout the conference to maintain competition” we could not only spend more time on the reason we are here–academics–but also have “time to read a book.” Imber believes that our “imagination needs exercise” and it is not getting it in a typical Batesie’s day–busy with volunteering, working, a cappella, and all the other one hundred things we do. The “benefits of playing are underrated in college,” continues Imber, and she clarifies that she doesn’t mean “playing” on the athletics teams, but “playing” as in using our minds–creating our own entertainment.

So, where do we go from now? Can we change our whole way of viewing intelligence and education? If this is what is needed, we can only begin by noticing how we feel toward the questions I have laid out. For Professor Tracy, only in the practice of asking “these questions continually and chang[ing] and refin[ing] our answers,” we can further understand how we see this system and our place in it.

If you would like to contribute to this conversation, I am presenting my research more fully at the Mount David Summit. Please contact me before the end of the month at kgaillar@bates.edu if you would like to set up an interview.