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Grateful for Oberlin: ExCos

April 2, 2019

First off, what is an ExCo?

Lifted straight from the ExCo website:

“Welcome to ExCo, Oberlin’s only dual student organization and college department. ExCo gives students, faculty, staff, and community members the opportunity to teach courses that are considered non-traditional, experimental, or simply too niche to be otherwise taught in an academic department. The Experimental College was founded in 1968 and offered five courses that students could take for college credit. Fifty years later, ExCo is able to offer over fifty unique courses per semester to students interested in expanding their education outside of the traditional classroom. Highlights include courses that have now been taught for decades, such as Elementary Korean, Beginning Pottery, and Taiko Drumming, as well as new courses introduced every semester (recent additions include Contemporary Black Queer Film and Culture, Longboarding, and MemeCo, among others).”

In my very first semester, I took three ExCos.

Eager to dive right in to Oberlin, I went to everything for new students, the Club Sports Fair, the Connections Fair (for student orgs), the ExCo Fair. I went to every booth and put my name down on just about every mailing list. Three years later, I’m still deleting emails instead of unsubscribing from mailing lists because maybe one day….

But by far the most successful entry I had into student life was through ExCos.

I signed up for three in my first semester – beginning swing, beginning blues, and circus skills. Now, it’s important to note that I just thought they sounded cool: I wasn’t incredibly passionate about them, since I had no experience at all!

Three years later, and I’m still the Captain of the Tumbling Club and Liaison for OCircus!. I once held a position in OSwing&Blues, but now I’m just a (fairly) regular dancer, and I’ve been to three PittStop Lindy Hops (a swing and blues dancing festival in Pittsburgh, which OSwing organises students to go to).

All of that? I owe to having taken the ExCos first.

I’ve seen first hand as a Club Leader that people are hesitant to just show up and join stuff. Oberlin especially has a lot of niche groups, all of which are as accessible as they can be, but it’s still scary to just walk in to a new environment.

But with ExCos, a class structure, and a shared space with other newbies makes people far more comfortable to try out new things. ExCos become a stepping stone to being involved in clubs themselves.

To be honest, without them, I think many clubs would fail to survive, or at least would have a harder time with recruitment.

Excos are integral to Oberlin student life.

But what is the experience like?

If ExCo’s ‘about’ statement doesn’t sell it to you, I don’t know how I could change your mind.

But let me just say that ExCos don’t feel like classes at all, especially since most of them are taught by students. I can’t speak for all ExCos, but every single one that I’ve been in hasn’t been a hierarchy like ‘one-person lectures and is more important than everyone else’s (not that my regular classes really even feel like that most of the time). They become communities led by passionate people, where people bond and make friendships.

Ever since I took those first three ExCos, it was always a goal of mine to take or teach at least one ExCo a semester. I’ve now taken Continuing Swing, Continuing Blues, TunesCo (how to play folk music!), the Game of Thrones Board Game, and I’ve taught the Juggling ExCo, and now TumbleCo for three semesters.

And that leads me to what I’m most grateful for that ExCo has given me.

Teaching TumbleCo has been one of my favorite experiences at Oberlin.

It started last spring. I was just coming back from being abroad, and I was itching to be involved in my Tumbling Club again. Clara, Keshia and I had been in talks to make an ExCo, so that we could grow our community.

We have since had 60+ applicants every semester (but we can only let in 12-14 for space concerns).

Every session, we’ve managed to improve our formula more and more. Start with a group warm up, split into three groups so each instructor can teach a different skill, switch the groups so everyone does everything, then have an open jam time at the end. It’s so natural at this point that I’ll be honest and admit that we barely stick to the syllabus. We have experimented too, and had some ExCos taught by workshop guests, using our Tumbling budget.

It’s hard to put into words how meaningful it’s become to me. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to teach and watch people grow, to see my club actively bloom beyond me, and to share my joy in acrobatics with others.

Every week I look forward to my ExC, and the shenanigans we’ll get up to.

I’ve loved it so much that I’ve been thinking about just becoming a tumbling/acrobatic/circus coach, and ditching the computer science entirely.

So if you took my ExCo and you’re reading this, thank you. It was awesome.

ExCos are essential to Oberlin as a liberal arts school.

When I first came to Oberlin, I’ll admit I was a little hesitant on the liberal arts thing. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to come here, but I still had my doubts.

The first half of Oberlin’s mission statement reads:

“Oberlin educates students for lives of intellectual, musical, and artistic rigor and breadth; sustained inquiry, creativity and innovation; and leadership. Oberlin aims to prepare graduates with the knowledge, skills, and perspectives essential to confront complex issues and to create change and value in the world.”

Now, that’s quite the sales pitch and buzzword collection. How do you even go about doing that? How do you teach people to have lives of ‘rigor and breadth’ in intellectual, musical, and artistic pursuits?

As it turns out, part of it is just by letting them teach themselves (ExCo has always been a student-led project, created by students and run by students).

The ‘‘Liberal Arts Education’’ is notoriously hard to define and justify because, by definition, it resists checklists and definable utility.

But the idea that anyone can teach a class in anything that they’re passionate about, and learn how to create and foster community?

That’s liberal arts at its best.

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Responses to this Entry

So happy to read about you and your good adventures away at college. Looking forward to seeing you at graduation.

Posted by: Grandma Kelly on April 3, 2019 9:59 AM

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