A discussion post response within the Opinion column
By Grace Brown, Columnist
Dear editor; great article! As always, you write with exquisite vocabulary and a very personable tone. Your details were very well investigated and presented in a coherent and clear manner, supported thoroughly with quotes. Moreover, you effectively communicate a prescribed course of action to the college.
That being said, the article does leave a few lines of logic open to criticism. One, not necessarily myself, might propose alternate arguments… I digress.
Your observation of the modern world as rapidly evolving — thereby revealing the necessity of Canisius to demonstrate adaptation in its core curriculum in order to keep up — is remarkably astute. Given the ever-increasing contention of national politics, along with threats of environmental deterioration and nuclear domination beyond the nation’s borders, it is undeniable that higher education must intensify to equip students with the required knowledge to behave appropriately after graduation.
That being said, I am not sure the core curriculum is capable of achieving such a lofty goal. As you acknowledged in your article, a large portion of the student body is plagued by chronic apathy, thereby inhibiting their performance in class and attendance to extracurricular events.
This is most notable in regards to the core curriculum — which is essentially a more pleasant way of saying required classes, without explicitly stating the obligation of students to enroll in classes they otherwise lack enthusiasm for. If students are paying significant sums of money for their education, might as well make it seem voluntary, right?
The unsurprising result is widespread disingenuousness and disinterest that professors and fellow students are all too familiar with. Core classes are characteristically attended and instructed by participants watching the clocks with hungry eyes, anxiously awaiting their release.
Even the honors college is haunted by apathetic attendance, despite having markedly fewer core requirements and constraints on students. In this case, professors are generally more passionate about teaching topics that rotate more regularly, such as rock’n roll literature, religions in Buffalo and LatinX experience in film.
Regardless, there is always the noticeable presence of a student enrolled simply to “satisfy” a religion or fine arts attribute, dragging down class discussions with disappointing responses to relevant questions. It can be very difficult to overcome a dreary presence, consequently impairing the overall experience and enthusiasm of the class.
My purpose in bringing up this phenomenon any student or professor is familiar with is to emphasize its unpleasantness and argue against fostering more instances of it, with the addition of further requirements to the core curriculum.
I do not deny that the appearance of more speakers at Canisius could be beneficial to the campus and community as a whole. In acquiescence of your own point, the opportunity to attend special events and lecturer events is one of the beautiful hallmarks of higher education we are all fortunate to have access to.
However, I do believe that instituting more requirements upon the student body would only create a more hospitable environment for the virus of apathy to thrive in. Rather than risking the infection of even those students who currently enjoy in- and out-of-class instruction, speakers should remain optional.
I am by no means advocating for less student participation, which you made abundantly clear to be sorely missed at these events as of the current status quo. In fact, the task of modernizing Canisius’s core curriculum can be primarily tackled by ameliorating attendance issues at extracurricular events. Yet if students are already disenfranchised with their core classes — evident in their relative lack of participation — they are unlikely to listen or learn anything from increased lecturing.
While outside speakers offer valuable knowledge to those paying attention, many students are not auditory (or visual, for the powerpoint aficionados) learners. Or perhaps, the speakers visiting Canisius are not versed in a wide enough variety of topics to pique student interest.
To resolve this conundrum while simultaneously aiding the quest to modernize the core curriculum, Canisius should offer interactive workshops or activities with specialists or experts from a diverse background of studies. Ideally, these events would range from writers workshops with successful authors for the English department to lab experiments with accomplished scientists for the STEM majors to seminar discussions with leading gender studies professionals for the blossoming women and gender studies program.
In support of this proposition, I would like to cite Welcome Week and Griff Fest — two highly attended events that students look forward to all semester long. These celebrations feature giveaways, interactive activities and hands-on exercises.
Academic events outside of class time could simulate this model by encouraging audience participation, providing opportunities for work alongside admirable figures in fields of interest or allowing students to try new things in their respective lines of study. This would require the college to consistently coordinate a varied stream of special events and activities in order to treat all departments equally and encourage the hands-on education of all students in the coveted diversity attribute.
Though I must concede that a large reason for the popularity of Griff Fest and Welcome Week is their purely nonacademic nature, I remain adamant that students are more excited about events not requiring them to sit quietly and attentively anymore than they already do each day in class.
In addition, many professors already employ such tactics as this within their own classes. For example, Dr. Richard Reitsma, chair of the Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures department, frequently enables students to Zoom in with native Spanish speakers or members of Hispanic society to reinforce class discussions. This is more effective than requiring students to attend outside lectures, not only because it utilizes class time — therefore sparing the scarce schedules of students — but also because the pertinent presentation is aimed at a smaller audience, more likely to attend in its entirety.
The last note I must make on your article from last week, dear editor, is your mention of the college’s quest to make all of us students “life-long learners.” Although your focus appears to be strictly on academic learning, given your argument that many of us will stop learning after graduation, I beg to dissent.
One of the greatest gifts of higher education, or at least the most long lasting, is the gift of learning how to learn. As humans, we really never stop learning — not if we want to.
Colleges attempt to teach students about diversity and global awareness among other “core” attributes. Arguably, students learn more about investigating, researching and informing themselves. As a result, they are capable of learning anything, anywhere, anytime.