Visitor Center debuts campus tour showcasing Stanford's excellence in the humanities and arts

New campus tour led by Stanford students aims to show the importance of humanities and arts with stops at the new arts district and at key locations for the study of the human experience.

Sculptures in the Rodin Sculpture Garden

The Humanities and Arts Tour focuses on several new state-of-the-art facilities and iconic arts sites on campus such as the Rodin Sculpture Garden. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The Stanford campus is widely recognizable for its palm-lined avenues and the warm California tones of its iconic sandstone architecture. If you visit the campus, however, chances are good that you will come across another common Stanford sight: small crowds of people led by students skillfully walking backward and talking. The students are giving campus tours that over the years have themselves become an institution – guiding about 80,000 tour participants per year around the university.

And now, for the first time, visitors to the campus are able to take a university tour especially dedicated to showcasing the vibrant humanities and arts community at Stanford.

The Humanities and Arts Tour, which debuted in early May, focuses on several new state-of-the-art facilities and iconic arts sites on campus, including Bing Concert Hall, the Anderson Collection, the Cantor Arts Center and the Rodin Sculpture Garden. Beginning this fall, tour participants also will get to see the newly opened McMurtry Building, which will be the new home for the Department of Art & Art History.

The free hourlong tour also includes sites of humanities academics at Stanford, including the Main Quad (home of the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, and other departments such as Philosophy, History, English and Classics), Green Library and the new Lathrop Library.

“This new tour is part of a broader effort by the university to raise the visibility of our humanities and arts departments, which are consistently ranked among the top in the world,” said Jeffrey Schwegman, humanities and arts initiatives coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Humanities & Sciences (H&S).

Renaissance in the arts

“The arts in particular are undergoing a major renaissance at the moment,” adds Schwegman, “with the completion of our stunning new arts district and a dramatic expansion of resources to integrate the arts into student life. This new tour will help showcase these vibrant programs and facilities to the public.”

In the one-hour Humanities and Arts Tour, undergraduate tour guides describe the academic and extracurricular opportunities in the humanities and arts at Stanford, including residence-based programs such as SLE (Structured Liberal Education), ITALIC (Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture) and the new dorm and humanities hub, Humanities House.

The weekly humanities tour joins the existing Science and Engineering Quad Tour as part of an expanding group of specific interest tours offered by Visitor Information Services in order to “provide opportunities for visitors to “experience different aspects of Stanford.”

DJ Dull-MacKenzie, director of visitor relations, said that the tour is part of efforts by the university “to raise the prominence and visibility of our programs in the humanities and arts.” The tour highlights the importance of these programs in “learning to think creatively and critically, to reason, and to ask questions. These are key intellectual abilities and attributes that are directly applicable to virtually all aspects of society.”

One of the undergraduate guides for the humanities tours is Liz Knarr (’16), a junior working on a double major in theater and performance studies and in political science. She says she is passionate about being an artist at Stanford: “Theater has been an incredibly important part of my life, and it is something I want to share with the greater community.”

Through the new tour, Knarr hopes to teach visitors about the academic opportunities available to Stanford students interested in the humanities and arts, “as well as to get involved in humanities and arts outside of the classroom.” She adds that she wants “to dispel the rumors that this is solely a technical school, and highlight the arts district and humanities departments as crucial assets to the university’s academic programs.”

Recent graduate Asia Chiao (’15) was one of the first tour guides in the spring. She just completed an undergraduate degree in art history and is now working on a co-terminal degree in East Asian Studies. Like Knarr, Chiao has been an active member of the Stanford humanities and arts community; she has worked on shows with several theater companies on campus and worked on the first student-produced musical performed at Bing Concert Hall. Chiao has also worked extensively with the Cantor Arts Center and is currently a Cantor Scholar working on a project to develop an augmented-reality tablet application for in-gallery art education.

‘Phenomenal opportunities’

“I’ve always felt that Stanford has offered me truly phenomenal opportunities in the arts and humanities, and it fills me with pride to be able to share all the ways this school has nurtured my passions over the years,” Chiao says. “I truly believe that this new tour offers us a chance to showcase the wealth of resources available here at Stanford, and illuminate the diverse possibilities of a Stanford liberal arts education.”

Knarr and Chiao had a hand in developing the content that they are now sharing in the tours they lead, along with representatives from the School of Humanities & Sciences and the Humanities Center.

According to Melissa Baxter, assistant director of visitor relations at Stanford, “visitors have been very engaged on the Humanities and Arts Tour, and are asking more questions than we typically receive on any given tour.”

Justin Brown, a tour guide who graduated this spring, says most visitors have asked him specific questions about Stanford’s humanities and arts offerings, such as which authors are in the creative writing program, what advising opportunities are available for humanities students, and about the music ensembles in the Music Department.

“It was great to know that the group was deeply interested and invested in these programs. I was able to direct them to the departments and resources that could help them better, and there was definitely a sense that they were actually going to go visit the places I recommended, which is a bit different from the more casual visitors on our general walking tour.”

In one case, Brown adds, an alumnus on the tour was delighted to hear Brown describe the research taking place at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). The alum said his experience with CCRMA as an undergraduate had been a highlight of his Stanford experience.

Baxter says there has been a lot of interest in the Humanities and Arts Tours since the spring debut, and summer tours have booked up quickly. Especially during the summer, they have seen prospective students as the main audience for the tour, though the spring tours welcomed many general visitors to the campus.

During the summer, the tour is generally available one or two times a week, depending on demand. Plans are for the tours to be regularly available twice a week during the academic year. Visitors can check the availability of the Humanities and Arts Tour on the Stanford Visitor Information website and complete the required pre-registration.