Oberlin Blogs

A CLASSic Post

October 23, 2016

Brendan Nuse ’17 and Frances Casey ’17


I've been thinking a lot about change. Being a senior, there's a lot of change coming up for me. The change I've been thinking about the most, though, is the change that I've seen in myself over the past few years. When I was applying to college, I didn't have any strong conception of who I thought I would be 4 years down the road, but I'm sure there are plenty of aspects of my current self that would have surprised 17-year-old Brendan.

When I was applying to colleges, I was sure that I wanted to go to a liberal arts college. I was interested in many different subjects, wanted to take a wide variety of classes, and had no idea how I would ever decide on a major. Now, as a senior, all of my classes are East Asian Studies classes. While I can't say that I'm upset about this--I love my classes, and I was the one who chose them, after all--it's strange to think about how quickly my attitude toward classes has changed.

This blog post will probably, as usual, turn into a plug for the Chinese/East Asian Studies department. It's a post about classes, and since all of my classes are in that area, that's the content we're going to see today. (It's good that I have Frances to give this blog some variety.) However, I should also briefly note that I've been engaged with the EAS department outside of the classroom a lot this semester, as well. I'm one of the EAS major representatives (for Chinese), which means that I get to go to EAS department meetings and give student input. I'm also a student assistant for the Luce Initiative in Asian Studies and the Environment, so I've gotten to play a role in planning events that combine my two majors, which is a great culminating experience for my time at Oberlin. While I'm not taking any ENVS courses, I haven't given up on Environmental Studies either--I'm a TA for the intro Environmental Studies course, and I'm doing research in the Environmental Studies department (technically a 2-credit course, but I won't go into it in my description of my courses here). This is another change that I've seen in my life--there's been a shift from the classroom to extracurricular activities. I love being in class, but as I've taken on more and more work and extracurricular commitments, they've become less of a focus for me. That's not something I ever expected to say.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my classes this semester. I'll do them in order of the number of times they meet a week from most to least, just to switch it up from my normal alphabetical order format (clearly, now that my time at Oberlin is coming to an end, I'm living on the edge and taking big risks).

JAPN101 Elementary Japanese I

Why am I taking an introductory language course as a senior? That's a good question. My standard response is that I'm sort of thinking about applying to PhD programs in Chinese, and most of these require you to have some ability in Japanese by the time you're done, so I thought that it would be a good start to learn some Japanese now. Really, though, I mostly just want to learn languages because I find it fun. So far, Japanese has been great on that front. It's 5 days a week, and it's my first class in the morning every day, so it's a really nice way to start out the morning, especially because it's not until 10 AM. I usually have time to get up and have a lot of time to myself before I get to class. I really like my classmates and my professors, so it's great to start off the morning doing something fun with a lot of people I enjoy being around. I still can't really say many things beyond very basic, but still strangely specific, sentences like "I drink tea everyday at 3:00 PM at the library." but I still like it a lot. 日本語が大好き!

CMPL206 Modern Chinese Literature and Film

This class is technically EAST206, but it's cross-listed in Comparative Literature. I've been telling myself I want to take a comparative literature class since before I started college, so I enrolled in it in that department to make that dream a reality. I haven't been disappointed. To be honest, I originally signed up for this course with the intention of dropping it once I could register for Honors, but after taking a different course with Professor Deppman last semester and realizing that she's the greatest professor of all time and realizing that this course involved both reading and watching Raise the Red Lantern (technically the novella was originally titled Wives and Concubines, but with the popularity of the film, they published it under the same title as the movie when it was translated in the West), I decided that I had to stay in the class. The course is about adaptations, so we read a literary work and then watch the film adaptation, plus we read some adaptation theory. This course has been great for me for a few reasons. Technically, my focus in my East Asian Studies major is "Chinese Language, Literature, and Film," but I had read almost no Chinese literature before this course. Now that I've read a few works, I feel a little more confident in saying that that's my focus. It's also great finally getting to read fiction for classes again--English was often one of my favorite courses in high school, because I love to read books, but I find it really hard to read without feeling like I'm "wasting time," so I really enjoy being "forced" to read for class. It's also great having Professor Deppman for a course again--just being around her makes me feel like my brain is expanding, since she always has something insightful to say. I'm glad I didn't end up dropping this course.

CHIN457 Classical Chinese

It wouldn't be a semester with Brendan without Chinese. My situation in this class is a little unusual. Basically, the 5th-year Chinese class got condensed from 2 semesters into 1 semester, and since I took the 2nd semester of the class last year but not the 1st semester, this leaves me in kind of a strange position. The current plan is that when we get back from break, I'll start doing a private reading instead of actually attending class, since the second half of the semester is going to be spent going over material that I learned last semester.

I've been enjoying this course a lot more than I did last semester, now that I actually know some Classical Chinese (the way that it worked out last semester, I came into the class partway through without knowing any Classical Chinese, which caused some confusion). I'm still not the biggest fan of Classical Chinese in general--I still want to be working on perfecting my Modern Chinese, so it can be frustrating to be basically learning a different language in Chinese class--but at least I'm starting to feel like I've actually accomplished something by trying to learn it. I'll 继续加油!

EAST401 Honors Program

Writing this down in a blog post is a little surreal. I've looked up to people doing honors projects since my first year at Oberlin, and I've long thought about doing one, so it's strange to think that I'm actually doing one now.

My project probably belongs in a different post, so I won't go into too much detail about it here, but it's about China and vegetarianism (cue shock from the audience of this blog...). Basically, an honors project involves doing some kind of original research that results in a pretty large project--in my case, a ~50 page thesis. If the department (East Asian Studies) approves your final project, you get a line on your diploma that says you got honors (or high honors or highest honors). Woohoo, validation! Applying to do my project was an exhausting process in itself--I had to revise my proposal many times, and then had a struggle to get my research approved by the Institutional Review Board. Now that I'm approved for my project, I meet about once a week with my advisor, but for the most part it is a very self-directed project. This has been a challenge for me--while I think of myself as a pretty hardworking person, I'm not very used to being the one who has to hold myself accountable for meeting deadlines that I largely set for myself. Since I'm pretty busy with jobs, extracurricular activities, and work for my other classes, it can be easy to make work for my project my last priority, which results in situations like this break, where I've had to read 8 books. I think I'm getting a little better at holding myself accountable, though, so hopefully I'll make some more progress during the second half of the semester.

Overall, it's been a nice semester in the classroom so far. Taking all of my classes in one department (though discerning readers might notice that I'm technically enrolled in classes in 4 different departments--Chinese, Japanese, East Asian Studies, and Comparative Literature--I guess feeling like you have variety even when you're taking all of your classes for one major is the benefit to having an interdisciplinary major) is an interesting new experience, but it's one that I've enjoyed a lot so far. Here's to a great rest of the semester!


So far, senior year has been a lot of work. OSCA, my job, anxiously pondering what I'll be doing a year from now, and (of course!) my classes have been filling up most of my free time. Even though my classes have been really rigorous, I'm very content with what I chose to take this semester. I was checking out my transcript recently, and it's pretty obvious to me how the classes I've taken have gotten better and better over the course of my semesters here. That's not to say that I haven't taken great classes every semester--I have--but I have definitely gotten better at choosing classes for myself. Plus, I've gotten through all my distribution requirements required for graduation. (If you're not hip to the lingo, Oberlin requires students to take classes across different disciplines in order to get that sweet, sweet liberal arts-y variety before graduating.) Thus, I've been able to tailor my class schedule to be more specific to my interests and tastes over time.

This semester, my schedule is very GSFS (that's Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies)-heavy, not entirely intentionally, but mostly because there were several GSFS classes that I happened to be interested in this semester. I was worried that the similarities between three of my classes would be too much, but so far, it's been cool to be able to draw such strong connections between my coursework. Because my three GSFS classes are in three different departments, they are actually taught in really different ways, and I'm expected to approach each one differently, so they definitely haven't been blending together much at all.

Here is my fall semester senior schedule, in all its glory:

Race and Sexuality in U.S. History:
This is my second 300-level history seminar, which is basically a smaller, discussion-based class that culminates in a large research paper at the end of the semester. There are mostly juniors and seniors in this class with me, and while most of us are history majors, there are plenty of people from diverse academic backgrounds. In this class, we talk about the intersections of race and sexuality throughout the history of the United States. When I signed up for this course, I had ideas about some of the things we would talk about, but I've found that it's pretty much impossible to find a theme or event in U.S. history that doesn't have to do with race and/or sexuality. I've really liked the readings for this course; right now, we are reading Dorothy Roberts' Killing the Black Body, which I've wanted to read for a long time because it's about reproductive injustice against Black people (which is not adequately recognized in many white-dominated reproductive justice spaces.)

Before fall break, we all picked our research topics for our papers, and I am genuinely so excited to hear about my classmates' research because all the topics are so intriguing! I'm researching modern Black feminist reclamations of Black women's narratives of magic and witchcraft throughout U.S. history. I'm focusing on three modern works: Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust, Maryse Condé's book I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, and Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Gender and Public Health:
So, you may remember that this isn't the first Public Health class I've taken. Last semester I took a class on the Dutch public health system in Amsterdam, and it was far from the best class I've ever taken. I'm happy to report that this one is better. My professor is new to Oberlin (this is the first public health class I've ever seen here) and they are way better at teaching than my public health professor in Amsterdam (who was a doctor, not an academic, so I can't blame her). This class has challenged me to push back against many of my assumptions about health (what does "health" even mean???), healthcare, societal expectations, research, and gender studies as a whole. The topics we discuss in class are always very important and usually very depressing. This doesn't surprise me much, because my parents have both worked in the public health/social work field and I'm used to super depressing dinner table talk. All the same, it's been great to include this course (finally!) in my senior year, and I might try to take another course with the same professor next semester.

Theologies of Abortion:
Because of my interest in reproductive justice, and specifically abortion rights, it should shock nobody that I jumped on taking this class as soon as I saw it in the course catalog last spring. This course has been a ton of work just based on the sheer amount of reading every week, and the fact that there is usually a debate every class session in which we practice defending a particular scholar's viewpoint on abortion. (Spoiler alert: most Christian scholars are not down with abortion, usually for very complicated reasons.) As someone who isn't a religion major and is very pro-choice, it can be hard to read so many works by scholars who are vehemently anti-abortion (or pro-life, but not anti-choice...it gets complicated.) while also having to unpack a lot of dense theology that I'm not used to analyzing in academic settings, or any setting, really.

Luckily, there are a handful of people in this class that aren't religion majors and, like me, are coming at the subject matter from a GSFS standpoint. So, I don't feel too silly for asking what seem like really basic questions about biblical or theological stuff in class. Plus, since I'm now practically an expert on about thirty Christian viewpoints on abortion, I can put up a super nuanced argument in support of abortion, should I come face-to-face with an anti-abortion protester again (it's happened...).

History Senior Projects:
If you're a senior history major, and you want to do a final project of sorts, but not a full year-long honors project, you can sign up to do a "History Senior Project" which is essentially the history department's version of a capstone. I was originally thinking about doing Honors, but I would have had to do a lot of preparation in advance last semester, which seemed like too much to take on while studying abroad. So I opted for the capstone option instead. Basically, this project is supposed to be a culmination of all the knowledge and skills I've gained since studying history at Oberlin. No big deal at all.

For this project, I got to pick whatever I wanted as a topic for my research. Since I'm interested in nineteenth-century American history and colonial history, I decided to research the history of colonialism in California during the nineteenth century. I'm focusing on comparing the stories of two settlements in present-day Sonoma County, which is just north of San Francisco: the Russian mercantile settlement at Fort Ross and Mission San Francisco Solano, established by Spanish Franciscan padres under the Mexican government. Both settlements took very different approaches to controlling and exploiting the region, yet neither was altogether successful, and I'm trying to analyze the how and the why.

Taking on this project has been difficult and a little stressful, because it requires a lot of time and self-discipline to get this much research done. The class, which consists of six students, meets on Monday nights to check in with one another. In class we're pretty much constantly defending why each of our topics matters, which is more difficult than it sounds. I definitely have weeks when I'm convinced that my topic is too niche and a waste of time, and others when I feel confident about my work and proud of myself for making progress. I'm definitely learning a lot about my time management skills, to say the least. Even though this project has been a valuable experience (and sometimes fun!), I'm already starting to look forward to the day when I'll be done with it.

Here's to a post-Fall Break world! If you want to talk about colonial social hierarchies or #OSCAproblems, come find me on the second floor of Mudd.

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