This is part two of Inside Scoop, where I interview my friends about their favorite classes, professors, and course paths at Oberlin. Here, you’ll meet Amy Sahud, Joey Flegel-Mishlove, David Seo, and Kira Findling! Amy is a third-year Biology major, a fellow OSLAM poet, and a co-manager at the Cat in the Cream. Joey is a fourth-year Comparative American Studies major, an improv comedy king, and an assistant director at Oberlin Drama at Grafton (Grafton is a nearby men’s jail). David is a first-year undeclared major, a poet, and a member of Asian American Alliance! He also has incredible fashion sense and the biggest smile on Earth. Kira is a fourth-year Comparative American Studies and Cinema Studies major, a genius filmmaker, and also works in the Title IX office.
In this post, you’ll hear about the myriad ways that Obies choose their classes, find their favorite professors, and decide how to spend their time at Oberlin. I hope you’ll see that there’s no wrong way to do school. In terms of reading through this advice, just take what works for you, and leave the rest!
What's your favorite class you've taken at Oberlin? What made it so special?
Amy: One of my favorite classes I’ve taken at Oberlin was Systems Ecology! It was a lot of work and very tiring, but I loved it because it was exactly what I want to study, and I learned SO much. For the first module, we spent almost every lab outside at a new site. We basically had at least one field trip a week where we learned about ecosystems within the ecosystems and by looking and touching and measuring what was around us. I have never taken a class like that before and it really worked with the way I learn.
Kira: This is such a tough question! It's a tie between two classes that I took during my sophomore year. Race and Sexuality in the United States with Professor Renee Romano discussed content that I'd dreamed of tackling in the classroom and helped me write my first substantial research paper. The Anthropology of Good Intentions with Professor Crystal Biruk was also amazing, since it pushed me to think and write critically in a way that I hadn't before.
David: As a first-year, I can only speak to a very small set of classes I've taken. But, this past semester, my favorite class I've taken is definitely my Intro to Comparative American Studies class with Professor Gina Pérez! The class covered a broad range of American histories and issues, and it was the first class I've ever taken that so faithfully and diligently focused on the movements and work of marginalized American groups, a stark contrast to the white-centered American narratives I learned about in high school. I loved the way the class was structured, peppered with lectures but primarily based on discussion of our readings and other guiding questions. And Professor Pérez was and continues to be such a competent and intelligent instructor, providing us with the tools to successfully understand and process the topics we were working with, but never doing that work for us.
Joey: The best class I've ever taken at Oberlin is probably Repairing the Past: Readings in Historical Justice with Professor Renee Romano. (Honorable mentions go to Gender and Public Health with Chris Barcelos and Work, Workers, and Trade Unions with Chris Howell.) Repairing the Past was about how the world can respond to immense injustices that have taken place throughout history. We talked about Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa after Apartheid, the movement for reparations for slavery in the U.S. and the differences between responses to the Holocaust in East and West Germany in the late 20th century. While Professor Romano's assigned readings and incredible facilitation skills were really important in making the class so great, what pushes this class over the edge and makes it my favorite has to be the other students who were there. It was a small class of 7 or 8 people, but everyone was so passionate about the subject matter and the room was always filled with deep, energetic conversations.
What's the most ~out of your comfort zone~ class you've taken? Did you continue on in similar classes afterwards? Why or why not?
Amy: Taking Speculative Fiction with Abbey Chung this past fall was very ~out of my comfort zone~. I had never taken a creative writing class before, and I haven’t really ever written any fiction longer than like, a page or two. I would definitely take more classes like it in the future! It was out of my comfort zone, but it wasn’t intimidating, and Professor Chung was really helpful and supportive and guiding students like me who hadn’t ever really written stories. I also enjoyed being pushed to read more and give feedback to other classmates.
Kira: Definitely Introduction to Video Production in Cinema Studies! I had never taken a film class before, but had always been interested in it. In the class, I made work I was super proud of and loved the process. The next semester, I ended up declaring a Cinema Studies major, so I definitely continued with the department!
David: The most "out-of-comfort zone" class I've taken so far definitely had to be my Intro to Poetry class with Professor Emily Barton. Though I love writing, I had never actually been in a class where I was required to share my work with my peers and receive critique/suggestions in the workshop setting. Going in, I was scared to share work that often came from extremely vulnerable and personal places within me. But, as I have discovered, my workshop ended up being such a supportive and nurturing environment where I grew a lot as a writer, but never felt insulted or insecure. And now, I can happily say that I am pursuing a Creative Writing major and will be taking many more classes within the department.
Joey: The most "out of my comfort-zone" class that I've taken at Oberlin was Gender and Public Health with Chris Barcelos. I never thought of myself as being particularly interested in public health, nor had I taken any gender studies classes before I took this class in my sophomore year. The class was so great I've become really interested in public health (the class was a big part of the reason I joined Oberlin HIV Peer Testers!) and I now have a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies so...I think it was a good idea in the end.
Who are some of your top 3 fave professors at Oberlin? Why do they stand out?
Amy: My top 3 favorite professors are probably Abbey Chung, Shelley Lee, and Keren He. All three of these professors are really engaging, accommodating, and pushed me to think and work in different ways. A professor’s lecture style is really important to me. Abbey was great at building a lecture around class participation and asking us questions, which I really enjoyed. Professor Lee is able to convey very complex topics in an almost-conversation-like lecture that made me feel less intimated, especially as a non-CAST or history major taking her Asian American History class (which by the way is an amazing class). Keren He is my Chinese professor and I love how much care she puts into her lesson plans and how accommodating she is with all of her students. She has been there for me through a lot and I never feel afraid to go talk to her or ask her for help!
Kira: Crystal Biruk (Anthropology), Renee Romano (History), Rian Brown-Orso (Cinema Studies), Gina Perez (Comparative American Studies), and Nancy Boutilier (Rhetoric and Composition - unfortunately she left Oberlin in 2016) have been some of the most wonderful professors I've met at Oberlin. They're all so giving and present with their students. I know that that's five people, but I couldn't narrow it down any more than that! :)
David: My first semester, I was extremely lucky to have all my classes with amazing professors. Of the classes I had, my three "favorite" professors were Professor Gina Pérez, Professor Emily Barton, and Professor Sheila Miyoshi Jager. Without a doubt, all three of these professors were and are experts in their field. But one shared trait between these professors that made them spectacular was the quality to never let their expertise make them unapproachable or condescending. They valued each of their students no matter what level of experience/knowledge they were coming to the class with– no question or concern was too small or too silly. Being able to form relationships with each of these professors and never feel afraid to ask questions or pose new ideas has made each class experience infinitely better.
Joey: Professor Gina Pérez (Comparative American Studies), Professor Chris Barcelos (Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; now at University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Professor Ron Cheung (Economics). Each of these Professors knew how to create a classroom that was discussion based and invited students to participate fully in the class, while still inserting their own voice and sharing their own expertise with the classroom. They also found ways to create classrooms that felt relaxed and comfortable spaces to learn and grow while at the same time holding their students to high, academically rigorous standards.
How have you gone about finding classes at Oberlin? Any tips for prospies in terms of planning/not planning out their academic path at Oberlin?
Amy: I usually go through the catalogue and find classes that look interesting to me. Sometimes I ask my friends how they feel about certain professors or classes. Some advice that was given to me when I was a first-year that really helped was that as long as you’re not double majoring, you really don’t need to have things figured out your first year! I’m a biology major and I didn’t take ANY science classes my first semester, and only 1 science class my second semester. And it all worked out just fine for me, and I'm glad I took the time I needed and the classes I did. You have time and you absolutely have permission (though you don’t need it!) to be confused, to explore, to try out different kinds of classes and see how you feel.
Kira: I recommend taking time to sit down and explore the course catalog via OPrestissimo. You'll end up coming across classes you never would've imagined! It's great to look at departments that spark your interest and then try out their classes. Try classes that you feel challenged by - you might surprise yourself!
David: Finding classes was also a pretty scary endeavor for me! For the most part, I would just browse Oberview/Banner for classes in the departments I was interested in, and then compile a very disjointed list of classes that seemed to spark joy for me. To be QUITE honest, I really have done little to no research about the academic "paths" I'm on and what is required of them, other than the fact that I know I want to major in CAST and Creative Writing and am taking classes in those departments. Though it might not be the best strategy, I can confidently say I've been truly enjoying my academic experience and learning things I am very passionate about, more than I ever have in middle or high school. And, I'll get to the logistics of everything... at some point. :)
Joey: I've tried to take classes that create a nice balance for myself each semester and that I feel really good about by the end of the add-drop period. My advice to prospective students or students with a few years left is to take classes based on the professor, the students in the class, and what the syllabus looks like, but never based on the title of the course. Courses often have flashy names or seem to be about a subject you're really interested in, but some professors have a very niche interest within a broader topic that you might not share, and you might be stuck spending a whole semester on something you're not very interested in! It is always a good idea to take a class with a professor you love or with a group of students who you know will create a great class environment; 10/10 times those are the factors that make a great class, far more than the subject matter. That's because great professors and great classmates will help introduce you to a new topic while also helping you make connections to other topics that you're already interested in!
Phew! That was a lot of great information. Now I'm feeling nostalgic...luckily I have a few months left before I have to leave these lovely people and professors. I can't believe this is my last time choosing classes! Now to enjoy these final months, and appreciate how far we've come.
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