AU misses the mark again in second semester of AUx
AUx II doesn’t live up to the hope for an enriching discussion-based class
Students come to college excited to learn more about their passions and embark on academic journeys that will one day fuel their careers. Many are disheartened to find that, instead of diving into what interests them most, they have to spend their first few semesters fulfilling tedious university requirements, including freshman transition courses.
The American University Experience (AUx) program, which is structured as an instructional semester followed by a discussion based one, continually proves to be that tedious transition course that freshmen dread.
Getting through AUx1 during my first semester was a frustrating experience. Instead of teaching me useful things I could apply to my college experience, I felt as though I was sitting through 75 minutes of class receiving information that I could have found on the University’s website.
AUx2, by contrast, seemed like an exciting class in which we’d be given the opportunity to discuss difficult subjects in a mediated space. Unfortunately, it seems that the second semester of this freshman transition course has missed the mark too.
I came into AUx2 with an open mind, hoping to enjoy the discussion-based class that would tackle topics of identity that need separate platforms to be discussed. While the class isn’t completely disappointing, it just doesn’t do enough to make the room a comfortable setting where dialogue on race, for example, can be held freely.
For example, my class recently did an activity that involved putting beads of different colors in a cup. Each color represented a race/ethnicity and each bead correlated with an individual in your life, such as your best friend, your favorite teacher, etc. The purpose of this activity was unclear and the result was overall discomfort as everyone felt judged for having mostly one bead color filling their cup.
The activity failed in sparking any real conversation and instead stunted any will to volunteer our personal experiences. While my instructor and peer leader made a personal effort to clarify the activity in the following class, the fact that the exercise itself exists in the curriculum with little context goes to show the flaws it holds in its understanding of classroom dynamics.
Similarly to issues with AUx1, it also does not make sense to have the grades of students predicated upon their ability to discuss some potentially challenging subjects. Grading students on completing assignments is one thing, but forcing them to contribute to conversations such as the ones being introduced in AUx2 doesn’t benefit anyone. Assigning a grade to how well you can talk about your own experience with race creates tension and stress in a dialogue where enough of both those things already exist.
Another issue with the class is the demographics of the students who fill the rosters. Discussions about race are entirely fueled by who is having them, whether it be a group of almost all-white students or a group that consists mostly of people of color. Either way, it is inevitable that someone in that group will feel alienated.
There’s no way administration can or should implement some kind of formula that establishes the perfect group to have a productive discussion about race, but it is essential that they recognize each classroom is highly unique and compositionally different. There’s no way to tailor a series of dialogues on race for the entire freshman class since a variety of factors, most significantly the identities of the students and professors in the individual classes, affect the dynamic in different, sometimes harmful ways.
It’s important that students are introduced to real world discussions about race and identities in ways they might have been oblivious to before heading to college. However, trying to fabricate an environment and hoping that every student somehow adapts to and feels comfortable prevents any real education.
It becomes just any other freshman transition course, a requirement we have to endure and get very little out of. While all the course materials do cover the subjects of “power, privilege, and inequality” that AUx2 was created to teach, the implementation of the curriculum prevents the synthesis of the information into educational, meaningful discourse. AUx2, although slightly better than AUx1, fails to achieve the noble goals that it was created to accomplish.
Riya Kohli is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle.