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UCLA Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions celebrates the humanities

(Ashley Ko/Illustrations director)

By Lori Garavartanian

Oct. 11, 2023 2:24 p.m.

For one UCLA center, 2023 is not the year of “The Eras Tour” or the “Barbie” movie.

It is the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, a first-edition copy of William Shakespeare’s plays, which resides in UCLA’s Clark Library, according to Daniel Lowenstein, a professor of law emeritus. This moment and Shakespeare’s life are being celebrated by the Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions this fall.

The anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio is a major moment that is not getting much press, said Lowenstein, who is also the director and founder of CLAFI.

“Sometime or other during the day, you’re quoting Shakespeare,” Lowenstein said. “He affects our language. He affects our way of thinking about people and the way people relate to each other.”

CLAFI was founded in 2009, according to Lowenstein. It is based on principles such as the pursuit of truth in the world, according to its website. The center hosts lectures and discussions outside of officially scheduled classes for students to explore the humanities.

Lowenstein said he first decided to create the center to give a home to members of the community interested in the liberal arts.

“We’re at the point where … majors in liberal arts subjects are plummeting,” he said. “I felt and some others felt that it would be nice to have a home for both students and other people, even people outside UCLA in the community, who would have a hunger for that kind of learning.”

The center and its affiliated club will host events this quarter, including a Constitution Day dinner and multiple screenings and lectures, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, Lowenstein said.

He added that he thinks the liberal arts are important for students because they answer basic questions most people like to think and talk about.

“Undergraduates are at the age where people most intensely do like to think about those things (questions about humanity), but that’s got to be nourished,” Lowenstein said.

Rares Fota, the president of the CLAFI student club, said his club is dedicated to providing students with a space to talk about the humanities.

“It (CLAFI) is a club dedicated to everything that makes us human in the best sense possible,” he said. “CLAFI is a fantastic place for people that share this love (of the humanities).”

Fota, who is also a fourth-year physics student, said he feels the club provides a nonstressful space for students to ask questions that are fundamental to the humanities.

He added that CLAFI allows students to explore deeper meanings to life. Most people read literature and explore the humanities because they want to discover more than just their everyday experience, Fota said.

Joanie Romea, a fourth-year political science student and the former president of CLAFI, said her time in the club has broadened her perspective of the world.

“Our events will sometimes be on topics where … it seems so narrow or seems very specific, but you actually learn so much,” she said.

Romea said one example of an event that impacted her was a professor who gave a lecture on “Uncle Vanya,” the Russian play. She said while she was initially uninterested in such a specific topic, she ended up falling more in love with Russian literature as a whole and learning more about life generally.

Fota also said he hopes more students from other majors explore the liberal arts at UCLA and that CLAFI welcomes anyone and everyone.

“Literature and history and politics and everything is not restricted to any form of identity or any form of background,” Fota said. “It is something that anyone, anywhere can get into because at the end of the day, we’re all human.”

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