The project is a staple of that class, something I started designing as soon as I discovered that I was coming to a college with a radio station. The broadcasts always happen during finals week of spring semester and are a way to cap the academic year with a project that extends beyond the classroom. In 2016, my class occupied the last finals slot of the semester, so there were good reasons for students to rush off as soon as we were finished, either to pack their rooms if they weren’t graduating or to begin hydrating for senior week if they were.
Despite the incentives to return home, Reid Libby’16 did not leave the studio. Instead, he sat down on a stool, flipped the appropriate switches to silence the preprogramed music that fills time when a WBCR show is not on air, handed me a pair of headphones, and slid up the volume on both microphones to take us live. “So,” he said, as I sheepishly leaned in to my microphone, “how did your semester go?” I answered honestly, in fairly specific detail, and he asked another question. Eventually, he paused long enough for me to flip the interview, asking him something about what he would say to the version of himself that had arrived at Beloit four years earlier, and soon we were just talking.
Though I began hosting “The Liminal Space” during my first semester teaching at Beloit as an excuse to play music I liked, the radio show was truly born in the odd space that opened up during the 40-minute conversation following Reid’s impromptu question. Many of the things that made the conversation so specific, vital, and enjoyable cannot be replicated: It was the final project of Reid’s Beloit education, neither of us had anticipated the conversation, and both of us were really comfortable on air, with the microphone, and with meandering conversations that become about everything and nothing all at once. And yet, even as it was happening, I realized the conversation—honest, optimistic, tentative, fearful, hopeful, and truly liminal—was one that I wanted to have with as many Beloit students as possible, particularly as they were finishing their life here and headed to promising but uncertain futures.
I have never taught at a college that places as much emphasis as Beloit does upon advising and mentorship. Part of the advising relationship, certainly, happens in offices where students and professors look at transcripts and degree requirements together. However, from my very first semester on campus, I have been seeking out places and opportunities that foster the part of the advising relationship that has to do with bigger questions about education, the process of becoming someone else, and the difficult, endless work of living questions instead of answers. For me, these sorts of conversations have been easier to have outside of my office, when students and professors are doing something else college-related, occasions where both of us are Beloiters watching a play, having lunch, or attending a sporting event. I find such occasions—where we are able to talk about Beloit and its place in a large, complex world as co-conspirators at different points in our journey—to provoke honest conversation about important aspects of identity and intellect in a way that traditional advising sometimes does not.
The incarnation of “The Liminal Space” that has grown out of that first conversation with Reid is an attempt to create and make public that sort of advising, something less like providing advice than making something together. Working from a list of graduating seniors, about to enter a number of liminal spaces themselves, I invite students I have advised or had two classes with to join me, one at a time, to spin some records and talk. The process is simple: Every show starts with Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” an optimistic song about traveling and travelers, and my co-host, in the days before our show, selects a second song. Sometimes they choose something that sonically resembles the Iggy Pop song; sometimes they do not. Sometimes they start out trying to find things I haven’t heard before and out-professor the professor. Sometimes they focus on their favorite songs and more or less ignore my contributions. In any event, I choose a third song and we repeat the process until we have co-curated a playlist that typically lopes through at least three decades and four genres of music.
Then we play it, stopping after every paired selection to talk about their experiences on campus, their thoughts about the debt ceiling, or whatever seems to be, in the moment, the most important thing to talk about.
Matt Vadnais is an assistant professor of English. He teaches courses in Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, and creative writing and has interdisciplinary interests in performance, experimental narrative, and gender.
Music from “The Liminal Space” radio show, broadcast Nov. 28, 2017, on WBCR-FM.
- The Passenger by Iggy Pop
- Long Lonely Road by Valerie June
- Augustine by Blood Orange
- Dear Prudence by Siouxsie and the Banshees
- Deceptacon by Le Tigre
- Chuck E.’s In Love by Rickie Lee Jones
- LSD by Jamila Woods
- Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush
- Stop Your Sobbing by The Pretenders
- Modern Girl by Sleater-Kinney