Alex Holler reading outside with a stack of books
The Humanities Are Home
Trinity’s enduring commitment to the disciplines of the human experience
Thursday, August 25, 2022

What turns a house into a home?


It is no small irony that Trinity University, where the disciplines that make up the Humanities have been enmeshed with the very fabric of the University itself, has not yet had a singular physical roof under which to unite these studies. 

From history, philosophy, and the classics to languages, literature, and religion, the Humanities at Trinity have spent more than 150 years doing what they do best: breaking down walls and silos between disciplines, and sparking collaboration wherever they’ve been housed.

Dicke Hall is Trinity's new home for the Humanities. Photo credit: Robert Gomez

But now, Trinity’s new Dicke Hall—the first center specifically for the Humanities in San Antonio and one of a handful of its kind in Texas—is open, and ready to host. The sparkling, 40,000 square foot facility, built and named thanks to the generous support of Janet ’68 and Jim ’68 Dicke and 11 other donors, represents a new, welcoming front door to campus and sits within the overall footprint of the larger Chapman-Halsell-Dicke Complex.

As we invite you to celebrate the opening of Dicke Hall this Sept. 22-23, let us be clear: this is not a homecoming. After all, you can’t put out a welcome mat for something that never left. 

This is a renovation, rejuvenation, and reaffirmation of the solid and steadfast bedrock upon which our academic legacy has been assembled: a study of the human experience, conducted generation by generation, whose findings and revelations are compiled, as if red brick by red brick.

When Trinity first moved to San Antonio, the library was housed in military-style quonset huts.

Connected to Our Past

If the Humanities are built into the 150-year tradition of human inquiry and interdisciplinarity that serves as our figurative academic foundation, then Dicke Hall is the physical manifestation of this commitment.

The structure itself is a nod to our history, as Dicke Hall’s innovative mass-timber construction and design celebrate O’Neil Ford’s architectural legacy and support Trinity’s National Historic District designation. 

But Dicke Hall is also a celebration of Trinity’s history of answering questions—and questioning answers—in the timeless spirit of the Humanities.

Trinity University's faculty in 1889.

This academic tradition can be traced all the way back to our first two campuses in Tehuacana and Waxahachie, where Trinity’s curriculum included Humanities-centric courses in philosophy, English, and ancient languages, along with biblical instruction, which prepared pre-ministerial students for seminary and pastoral careers. This would eventually expand to include Greek, Latin, modern languages, history, and philosophy by the 20th century.

In true Trinity fashion, professors haven’t been the only ones asking questions in Humanities fields. Some of Trinity’s earliest student research opportunities came through critical studies of the Bible that incorporated research projects examining scripture.  

Humanities research and experiential opportunities have only expanded through the decades, emboldened by a sense of adventure and excitement at reconnecting us with our past. Trinity students have saved medieval manuscripts and music from oblivion, they’ve engaged in annual transcriptions of documents of black history; they’ve breathed new life into Medieval Latin poems, and they’ve even helped chart the sites of ancient shipwrecks.

Every step of the way, our Humanities faculty have been right alongside their students, acting as partners and collaborators just as much (if not more) than instructors. Indeed - our Humanities professors are world-class researchers in their own rights. 

They’ve launched initiatives such as Trinity’s Roman World Lab, for example, offer students the chance to retain ties and partnerships with faculty that span multiple semesters, the same way a student working in a chemistry or biology lab might do. 

At Trinity, the Humanities flourish through an ever-evolving, collaborative, and adaptable approach: one that is not afraid to incorporate the tools and resources necessary to keep these disciplines connected and relevant to the present, too.

Andrew Kraebel sits between two students as they translate the poems on their laptops

Grounded in Our Present

Dicke Hall represents a modern, cutting-edge commitment to the collaboration and interdisciplinarity that has become synonymous with Trinity’s brand in the modern era.

As part of the Chapman-Halsell-Dicke Complex, which brings together the Departments of Classical Studies, Economics, English, History, Philosophy, and Religion, along with Health Care Administration and the Michael Neidorff School of Business, this complex is ideally suited for the types of interdisciplinary collisions that occur so frequently in research, learning, and experiential opportunities on this campus. 

Students discuss research in Roman World Lab

Programs such as the Humanities Collective, the Arts, Letters, and Enterprise program, and the Mellon Initiative, which all play roles in promoting opportunities for faculty and student research and internships in the Humanities, will finally have a space worthy of their ambitious—and inclusive—approach to discovery.

Founded in 2016, the Humanities Collective is an initiative that Trinity faculty launched to support, coordinate, and promote Humanities activities, research, and programming across these disciplines. This aptly-named organization gathers and promotes Humanities events for students, faculty, and the broader San Antonio community, connects students with alumni in their career fields to learn new ways to apply their skills, and offers fellowships to Trinity faculty working on projects in the arts and Humanities.

Vanessa Silva '24 interned with the San Antonio Museum of Art in 2021 as part of Trinity's Arts, Letters, and Enterprise program. 

Founded in 2013, the Arts, Letters, and Enterprise (ALE) program is Trinity’s one-of-a-kind connection between the liberal arts classroom and the professional world. ALE places Tigers in highly competitive, paid internships in nonprofits across San Antonio and other U.S. cities.

Over the past decade, many Humanities students have used the ALE program to find ways to apply their academic knowledge in a professional setting, often with nonprofits aimed at protecting and cherishing some of the most visible aspects of the Humanities themselves, such as libraries, museums, theaters, and opera houses.

The Mellon Initiative advances undergraduate research in the arts and humanities at Trinity.

And the Mellon Initiative (by way of the Mellon Foundation) improves and expands access to undergraduate research in the arts and Humanities. A recent expansion of the Mellon Initiative at Trinity has also helped the University increase access for underrepresented students who may not be aware of the opportunities and benefits of such research. 

Even now, students and faculty are using Mellon funding and resources to find new ways to apply modern digital and technologically-sophisticated processes to ongoing research in the Humanities fields. Mellon-funded research opportunities have given students a chance to develop new skills by conducting archival research, studying ancient and modern texts, writing contributions to appear in academic publications, and conducting interviews in the field.

And just as importantly, many of these projects are helping to amplify marginalized voices, telling stories that might have otherwise been lost.

Student studies film

A Window to Our Future

In the end, aren’t fresh and diverse perspectives what provide us with new answers to age-old questions?

And if we are to also question age-old answers, are we not compelled to find new ways to bridge disciplines and elevate unheard voices just as much as we are to preserve and honor the classical components of our literature, history, philosophy, language, and spirituality?

This is the future of the Humanities—and the human beings they concern—at Trinity University: they will work together, under one roof, to provide both new questions and new answers.

These are the new ironies and paradoxes of a project like Dicke Hall: that as high and as fast as these walls have risen, the more quickly the walls and silos between disciplines can now crash down.

That, as the world felt spread and isolated these past few years, Trinity invested in a space where we can sit together, where even minds walking different paths can walk them alongside each other.

That Dicke Hall is an opening to a future that is both familiar and undiscovered. 

That the Humanities have always lived at Trinity, yet now they have a home for the first time. 

Dicke Hall is a new front door to campus. We’ve left it open for you, and the lights are on.

All that’s left to do is to step forward.

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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