My freshman year has come to a close. I wish more than anything that it was a whole year in person, rather than just a few fleeting weeks. Even though they’ve been online, I’ve generally liked most of my classes. Most, but not all.
AUx2 has been a prick in my finger this semester. On paper, the class is relevant, poignant and important for all American University freshmen to take. In my experience, unfortunately, AUx2 fails to meet its potential. The class, which places a heavy emphasis on group discussion and sharing of experiences, was particularly awkward over Zoom. Most kids don’t participate and have their cameras off. I commend the professors for trying their best, but it’s like trying to revive a fish on land: it just won’t work. This class might be unsalvageable.
As a freshman, I’ve heard my fair share of AUx2 criticism. I agree with people who think that the class places too much emphasis on BIPOC students to share their experiences to educate the white students in the class. As a white student, I often don’t relate to many of the movements and concepts that the professor is going over, and I choose to listen rather than occupy that space. While it’s often left unsaid, there is definitely an expectation on BIPOC students to share their traumas. Much of the class is spent in awkward silence.
Students seem to be quick to criticize AU for this lackluster AUx experience, and in many ways, they are right to. The curriculum needs to be reconstructed in such a way that the emphasis on BIPOC sharing their own, often traumatic experiences is removed. The criticism about the lack of participation and the silence that often stunts an AUx2 class discussion also needs to be addressed. While students blame the University for this, we, the students, particularly the white students, are also partially to blame for the bad experience in that class. According to the University’s website, “AUx2 seeks to create a space for conversations and learning about race, social identity, and structures of power.” Through the work demanded by the class, the students actively work to create this space of growth and education. But, how can this space come to fruition if the students are not actively working to build it?
You get out what you put into things. Personally, my AUx2 class this semester has been severely lacking in the participation department. While I am sure that Zoom has only compounded the issues that already plagued the course, we are partially to blame. Most kids — myself included — have their cameras off. I try to participate as much as I can, but discussions seem to fizzle out after two minutes and we spend the rest of the time sitting in very awkward silence. In breakout rooms, other students seem focused on other things, rather than the class at hand. I’ve been in breakout rooms where people are cooking, sleeping or just generally disregarding class for something else. There seems to be a general lack of respect for class time.
AUx rightfully earns its criticism for making BIPOC students share their stories in order to educate white students. But, before criticizing the class for being “boring,” students need to start showing up and actually participating. From white student to white student, you need to participate more as you go into AUx2. Know when to listen, and share your experiences and your thoughts — even if you think they have nothing to do with race. They most certainly do. As for the administration, professors need to enforce participation a bit more by placing a heavier emphasis on it when it comes to the final grade.
Riley Lorgus is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and an opinion columnist for The Eagle.