Core Standing Committee seeks student input for next year’s annual theme

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Cathy O'Neil speaks in Thorne Hall as part of the cultural studies program lecture series at Occidental College, in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Marc Campos/ Occidental College

The Core Standing Committee crowdsourced suggestions for next year’s core program annual academic theme from the Occidental community Nov. 7–17. This is the first time the school has asked the community to solicit themes, according to Associate Dean for Core Curriculum and Student Issues Carolyn Brighouse, a professor in the philosophy and Cognitive Science departments. Rob Flot, vice president for student affairs and dean of students as well as a member of the committee, sent an email to students on behalf of the committee Nov. 7 asking for suggestions. Flot provided a link to a Google Document in his email for students to submit their proposals. The outreach yielded 22 suggestions, ranging from “Healthy Sexualities” to “Language, Media and Reality.” Some suggestions were accompanied by potential books and guest speakers.

“We’re going to look at those suggestions, and what we may do as a committee is curate them: it might be that we find that three or four are kind of similar and then group those together, and so we’ll hopefully come with about five themes to present to the faculty for their input,” Brighouse said.

Brighouse is responsible for staffing the Cultural Studies Programs (CSPs) and running the Core Program. According to Brighouse, she created the Core Standing Committee this year. It is composed of 10 members: eight faculty members and two students. Prior to this year, Brighouse and Ed Johnson, director of advising, were in charge of seeking feedback from the faculty regarding the core program. Brighouse said that she plans to have a meeting with the faculty where the committee will present their top four or five ideas in December. According to her, she hopes to announce next year’s theme by February 2018.

Nikki Silestri speaks in Thorne Hall as part of the cultural studies program lecture series at Occidental College, in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Marc Campos/Occidental College

Brighouse, who oversees the committee’s criteria, said she wants a theme that is interdisciplinary and could incorporate speakers from multiple different focuses, ranging from the arts and humanities to the sciences.

“The theme should be one in which we can explore the values of the institution,” Brighouse said. “I think the institution does have core values reflected in the mission and we would like to be able to have speakers who speak to some of those.”

The two students on the committee are Marcus Forbes (senior) and Jagmit Dhami (sophomore), the academic liaisons on the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB). They held a student forum last semester where they asked students how they felt about the core program and brought the resulting feedback to the committee.

Cathy O’Neil speaks in Thorne Hall as part of the cultural studies program lecture series at Occidental College, in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Marc Campos/Occidental College

“Last semester when we were doing the forum, there were just some concerns about if the core program was really coherent, and that’s what we brought to the committee: making sure everything’s connected,” Dhami said.

Forbes said that last year’s forum revealed the differences in content and workload in various CSPs.

“We thought it suffered from a lack of cohesiveness, you didn’t really know what you were getting out of a CSP. You could walk into one class and it’s heavily writing-based and there’s not much cultural relevance and it’s super challenging. And then you can go into another one and it’s very culturally relevant but writing isn’t the emphasis,” Forbes said.

Brighouse said that she acknowledged criticism of CSPs’ consistency. According to her, this is a result of faculty interpreting CSP requirements differently.

“It is true that when you have writing outcomes that you’re trying to reach in a CSP, but you have faculty across the college teaching them, some of those outcomes may be met more in certain CSPs than others,” Brighouse said. “But first years take two CSPs, so the hope is that it balances out.”

Forbes and Dhami said that they aim to continue providing the students’ inputs to the committee, and Forbes said that their work is based on discussions that they have with students.

“We’re really focusing on the theme now because the goal of the core program and the annual theme is to create a learning community out of that first-year class,” Forbes said.

Forbes, Dhami and Brighouse all said that the committee members are planning two panels for next semester — one student-led, the other faculty-led — that will provide a multidisciplinary approach to understanding this year’s theme, Ecosystems of Power.