Last year, when Ralph Nader lectured at the first-ever First Monday, more than 1,700 people were in attendance. Both Armstrong Hall and Shove Chapel were filled to capacity.
But you might have noticed some empty seats near you at more recent First Mondays events.
The event series began last school year and can be described as the second version of another event, “Symposium,” that had been discontinued some time before. The program was created to provide a free, open-to-the-public event that could involve speakers, panels, presentations, and other activities all focused on one theme or idea.
The Academic Events Committee—a body composed of three faculty members—and the Blue Key Honor Society direct the lectures, presentations, and performances of First Mondays.
“A liberal arts education is enriched by community-wide conversations on thought-provoking, engaging issues that can be of interest to students, faculty, and staff,” said English Professor Claire Garcia, who sits on the Committee, “regardless of our disciplines, jobs, or majors.”
The number of people who stream the event online has increased, according to Geology Professor Christine Smith Siddoway, also a member of the Committee and one of the first supporters of First Mondays. However, she noted, “the virtually complete attendance of the initial event…has not been repeated.”
Today, the event averages an attendance of roughly 900 people, almost half of what it was when it began.
An eventual drop in attendance is understandable, expected, and can be attributed to a number of factors. One may be the loss of novelty, as with the premiere of a movie or the opening of a new, much-anticipated restaurant, interest generally wanes after prolonged exposure.
For some, First Mondays ceases to be an occasion and becomes one event among many that compete for students’ attention.
In addition, as the years go by, students generally have more and more on their plates. They are involved more heavily in clubs and other extracurricular activities. Events such as First Mondays,
which may have been a pleasant digression at the start of a term, may morph into an unwelcome distraction—or even an obligation.
This is not to say that First Mondays are struggling. Seats at the event are still scarce.
Although no official concern has been voiced, more and more First Monday slots stay open for longer than they have before. In the past, the Committee has worked with several sects and constituencies of the College to fill their airtime.
The First Mondays series is not only a sounding gun for each block, but serves a community-building purpose as well. The lectures or presentations are meant to be intellectually stimulating.
“The hope,” Siddoway said, “is that the events create an impetus for all members of the CC community to enquire, imagine, and embrace the life of the mind.” She added, “First Mondays serves as a focus point for social interaction across academic boundaries or divisions, on the vibrant first day of a block.”
The de facto first First Monday event of this school year was at the beginning of second block. The room was packed. By the time the event started, there was barely floor space on the balcony, let alone open seats. Visiting Professor Idris Goodwin and several students performed excerpts from his play, “How We Got On.”
It was the general feeling on campus that the event had been a success—something owed in no small measure to Goodwin’s well-received play. But what about the idea behind First Mondays?
They are a shot in the arm, of sorts, after the alternate world that is block break, an accent to the beginning of a new class.
Lecturers, presenters, and performers have come from both inside CC and out. Past First Monday guests have ranged from the Chief Curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to CC’s Bowed Piano Ensemble, and from Patagonia’s Chief Marketing Strategist to Syrian-American hip-hop musician Omar Offendum.
One memorable and well-attended First Monday event was the election-themed debate between CC and the Airforce Academy, at which CC debaters represented former Gov. Mitt Romney and the Air Force Academy represented Pres. Barack Obama.
As for the next academic year, only one First Mondays slot has been filled so far, by well-known dancer Cleo Parker Robinson, who will speak about Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Even though, for some, support for the event has waned, the idea still appears strong. Compared to most CC events, First Mondays rank highly in attendance. And, although there are indicators that guests are becoming more difficult to come by, the schedule is full through the end of this school year.