By the start of orientation this fall I was relatively confident of my course selection for the first semester. I had my first-year seminar, an intro economics course, a really fun statistics course, and an open spot. Throughout the summer - and during orientation - I was envisioning filling this spot with a history course. However, when my class selection time arrived I completely abandoned the idea and decided to join Professor Krislov's course on the 2014 midterm elections.
The course has been great. My classmates are thoughtful and obsessively engaged in political issues. The fact that the "course material" changes as the year progresses makes the class exciting. This has led the class to act as an investigative unit tracking individual nuances of the election. Some people are interested in third-party candidates or voter ID laws; my topic of interest is money in politics.
Tuesday was the day our class had been waiting for all year. Professor Krislov and his assistant Mrs. O'Dell planned an election party so the class could interact as the results rolled in. Many of the outcomes were different than expected. I think most students expected the Senate to shift parties, but everyone was surprised by the severity of the GOP takeover.
At the election party I had my computer out with tabs open to The Upshot and FiveThirtyEight's live election blog. The televisions were spewing analysis from CNN, MSNBC, and Fox simultaneously. I had paper out as I tried to match my pre-election predictions to reality. In the process of tracking all this data I probably appeared slightly deranged to my classmates. Many students who had dedicated time to particular campaigns watched the screens intently for positive news on their candidates. Some were vigorously texting friends who had worked on the campaign with them.
The next morning at 8:30 - a time considered nothing short of torture for a college student - class convened. Many students were visibly tired. Some had stayed up to see results from Alaska, which had an extremely close Senate race, and other West Coast races. When Professor Krislov arrived he was carrying two large bags. He announced to the class that he had brought bagels for us because he knew it was probably hard to get to class the day after the election.
The next hour and a half was comprised of analysis from all sorts of angles. Why had the Virginia Senate race, which no one had predicted, ended up being such a close race? Maryland elected a Republican for governor, what are the odds? Naturally, many talked about the viability of the polling methodology in this election. Some argued people should have been more focused on the fundamentals of races instead of data-driven predictive mechanisms like polling.
One of my favorite aspects of the class is its collective nature. Sure, there are a ton of discussion and seminar-based courses at Oberlin which lead to rich, insightful conversations among students and faculty. Yet the election course has been a unique experience. Everyone, including Mr. Krislov, is depending on each other to bring in information a single individual couldn't. The class's interdependence mixed with a common thread of borderline obsession with politics has made this course an enjoyable and intellectually fulfilling experience.