Oberlin Blogs

ExCos Galore

March 3, 2019

Hanne Williams-Baron ’19

Ahhh, the ExCo. Not a girl, not yet a woman, the ExCo is like the cool, radical younger sister to the established career woman that is academia at Oberlin. The ExCo classroom is one attempt at freeing education from usual social constraints and power dynamics. ExCos are peer-taught by Oberlin students, and often include students from beyond the walls of the college. I’ve taken an ExCo most semesters at Oberlin, and have found them to be exciting, strange, and plain old fun. They’re also a zesty way to spruce up your transcript, like installing a fun disco ball where you least expect it!

*Hiring committee reading my transcript* Hmm...she took a class on essential oils, AND a class on bisexual coming of age stories? This is a highly competitive position, and I’ve never seen a candidate like this before in my life! SHE’S HIRED!

ExCos range in course credit - some are a half course, meaning two credits, and others that are less time-intensive are worth one credit. Many Oberlin students choose to take 3.5 classes per semester, and I’ve found that ExCos can be a useful way to fill out a course schedule. In semesters where I’ve taken especially heavy classes, either from the subject or the reading load, my ExCos have been welcoming and rejuvenating. An ExCo is like a moisturizer for the brain when it gets dried out...mmm.

Here’s a quote from their mission statement that gives you a better picture of what the ExCo community is all about: “Since ExCo’s original charter in 1968, the ever-changing course catalog has served as a unique record of which topics Oberlin students are engaged with, interested in, or experts on. These courses reflect the current academic, cultural, social, political, and intellectual trends of the Oberlin community.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

SexCo is an Oberlin classic! SexCo is taught every semester by the Sexual Information Center, and it's all about sexual health education, power and oppression, and navigating gender, race, and queerness in the landscape of sexuality. It was great to take this early on in my Oberlin education, as it introduced me to a lot of the language and frameworks around sex and reproductive justice that I’d later need to understand in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies classrooms. I remember talking about pleasure, consent, intimate partner violence, risk awareness, alternative justice models, the racial history of doula work -- all subjects that you definitely do not get to cover in high school sex ed, at least not where I’m from. The teachers from the SIC are all wonderful, and make it a really safe, supportive, and still challenging class. I highly recommend that everyone who comes to Oberlin takes SexCo! 

Essential Oils 
Sniff, sniff...What’s that smell? Could that be orange? Lemon? Ah, of course: a grapefruit-bergamot blend, perfect for a face spritz in the morning. What could be better? NOTHING!! This is a scent combination from the Heavens. It is sent straight from God herself. 

In the last few years, essential oils have shown up everywhere. You’ll find at least one oil diffuser in each dorm at Oberlin, and will often whiff the lingering scent of peppermint, tea tree, or amber in random deserted classrooms. You might think the ghost of a gay woman was present — and while you certainly could be right, the most likely answer is that a chipper Essential Oils student just had their freshman seminar.

My dear friend Kate Hall taught this ExCo with her friend Mat Fitz-Reed, and I’m so glad that I got to take this class. We talked a lot about how oils are produced, how much we don’t understand about smell as a sense, and how to mix scents and make our own perfumes and sprays. The class was also a sneaky way to get us to talk about healing outside of the medical system, and the various ways that essential oils have been part of community healing practices throughout time. It was so wonderful to have homework assignments that were about spending time with myself, checking in with my body, and prioritizing self-care (especially when burnout culture can feel overwhelming and too real here). I know so much about scent now, and, most importantly, now my room always smells amazing!! I loved this class!

Queer Women on Screen
This is another classic! In this class, we watched tv episodes and movies that star queer women, analyzed them, and had lots of compelling conversations about representation, coming-out narrative arcs, tokenization, power, and desirability. This class introduced me to so much incredible art, and also helped hone my media analysis skills. It also felt so good to meet other young queer women on campus, and hear what their experiences navigating queerness at Oberlin had been like. My number one film recommendation from QWOS is definitely Pariah (2011), directed by lesbian director Dee Rees. Pariah follows Alike, a young, Black, queer girl coming of age in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Alike is a poet, and is struggling to figure out how her identity and presentation fit into her friendships, family, and school. This is a really tender and profound film and I have re-watched it twice since! 

Live from Studio B Workgroup
This class was taught by the awesome crew at Live From Studio B, a subsect of Oberlin’s wonderful radio station, WOBC. Each Sunday at 2pm, LFSB hosts a live musical or other performance hour on the air, and then films the session, mixes and edits it, and uploads it to their youtube channel. You can read more about my experience in this ExCo here, from my blog about last semester’s classes! I learned the essentials of audio mixing, sound setup, and met many cool music nerds. It was great to take this class at the same time as my first ever radio show, and encouraged me to have another show this semester! (More on that soon.)

Talking to Strangers

I’m currently taking this class — we’ve only had two classes, so I can’t report back quite yet :) But it’s going really well so far! Here is the course description -- the class was actually adapted from a graduate-level seminar at NYU. “As the world becomes larger and more urbanized, interactions with “strangers” become an inescapable part of everyday life. Though one might interact with or brush past hundreds of strangers, the course aims to unravel these charged interactions with a critical eye, pulling from a variety of disciplines to contextualize and understand the nature of stranger interaction. This course pulls from readings and materials in politics, philosophy, sociology, economics, and art, in order to understand why we talk to strangers and the value of doing so on an interpersonal but also community level. The course will explore the history of strangers and the nature of this relationship, the psychology of perception of strangers and forming impressions and social judgments, the specific contexts that form 'fleeting relationships', and what aspects of urban spaces facilitate or inhibit stranger interactions.” I’m hoping that this class will shift how I interact with people I’m not friends with yet, especially as I transition back to city living after graduation. 

There you have it! When registering for your classes this fall, consider trying out an ExCo. Here’s the course catalog from this Spring — as you can see, there is a range wide enough to spark curiosity and joy in just about everyone. 

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