For Oberlin College, Friday, May 8, was the last day of classes. When coursework switched to being online, I half-believed that it would never end. However, all too soon, I found myself saying goodbye to my professors, classmates, and friends. Now, I can look back at my favorite lessons from each of my classes this semester. If you are joining the Lessons blog series, make sure to check out Lessons from Social Distancing: Introduction, Part 1: Dorm Away from Dorm, and Part 2: Adventures in Cyberspace.
During the spring semester, I took four and a half classes. Out of these courses, all of them counted towards my major requirements. Black Arts Workshop, Black English and Voice: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, Playwriting in a Time of Crisis, and Poetry Workshop counted toward my creative writing major. Political Research and Analysis brought me another course closer to completing my politics major. Each class taught me invaluable lessons that I will use to direct my future academic study.
Africana Studies 268: Black Arts Workshop
Black Arts Workshop is an interdisciplinary performing arts class that analyzes the influences in art made by people of African descent. Throughout the course, we got to learn about the cultural and religious values of various communities. We regularly focused on how history impacts formal expression. Also, we used our unique performance skills to create art together. As we did, we formed a tight-knit class community under the direction of our two professors. The course culminated in everyone performing on Zoom. When we each reflected on our semester with each other, we noticed what strong bonds we formed. People could be vulnerable and express themselves in the ways that felt most genuine to them.
Achieving such a welcoming atmosphere is difficult, especially when there’s a bunch of ambitious and talented students in the room. Far too often, students at the collegiate level can feel afraid that they won’t measure up to some arbitrary standard, even outside of performance-based courses. I’ve frequently found myself wondering if I am somehow an imposter in my classes— everyone here seems so passionate and talented. Black Arts Workshop showed me that Oberlin is a place where everyone is brilliant— and that everyone includes me, too. The students, professors, and staff who choose to work here are incredible. I feel so fortunate that I had a chance to experience one of the best classes at Oberlin. I plan to continue my studies in the second part of this class during the next spring semester. At long last, I think I’ve found a topic I want to study for the rest of my life.
Main Takeaway: Art is resurgent— in the works of art by African Diasporic authors, rituals and history are continually renewed.
Africana Studies/English 263: Black English and Voice
Black English and Voice explored the sociolinguistic features of Black English or African American Vernacular English. Throughout the class, we learned about the historical approaches to studying this linguistic tradition. The common characteristics of Black English across regional dialects were particularly engaging— from the copula be to final consonant “deletion.” We directly faced the similarities and differences in the language variety while interrogating how the system came to be. As we learned to study the language, we also learned the essential theories that guide sociolinguistic studies.
By the end of the class, every student was able to construct a critical analysis of how language is intertwined with a complex series of socio-economic and political identities. It was refreshing to take a class that focused on how beauty and intricacy are constructed within a language. I could sit and study a single phrase for hours, identifying every characteristic displayed. I allowed the sound to play over my tongue, soft and emphatic, assertive and unsure. The versatility of the examples we studied challenged me to be even more intentional in my writing. By changing only a word or gesture, the meaning can be reinvented in the mind of the reader or listener. I enjoyed reading selections written in Black English and seeing how its representation and use evolved. In the future, I hope to study how language is invented. While many linguists hold that language changes very slowly over time, I am interested in how languages and dialects might be flexible.
Main Takeaway: Language is constructed in syntax, morphology, lexicon, and gesture. It is also formed and informed by the society that uses it. The field of sociolinguistics investigates the ways that language, culture, and power are connected.
Theater 375: Playwriting in a Time of Crisis
I added Playwriting in a Time of Crisis to my schedule during the second module, which is the second half of the semester. The class read plays about experiencing a crisis. Weekly, each student wrote an assignment that responded to an emergency we wanted to center. As we did, we also worked through the ways we felt about living through a time of global crisis. The class created space to be vulnerable, creative, and present at this moment. The course lets students feel comfortable sharing their perspectives on the crisis by actively working through difficult moments through our writing. Each class, a few students would workshop the plays they wrote. Through positive feedback and helpful questions, we helped guide each other in our writing process— all without having ever met in person. Before taking this class, I never realized how much I enjoy studying theater. I plan to take more courses in the department in the future. I also plan to finish writing my full-length play in a private reading next semester. Taking this class taught me that I have more interests than I think. The class encouraged me to continue to explore and challenge myself to try new things.
Main Takeaway: Each person brings a unique perspective to a crisis. The study of these perspectives can empower people to frame a crisis on their terms, thereby finding control and inspiration in the eye of the storm.
Creative Writing 310: Poetry Workshop
Poetry Workshop is what it sounds like: a 300-level creative writing workshop that studies poetry. As students read poetry from experienced poets, we also wrote poetry to present in weekly workshops. Every other week, we read our poem of the week aloud to the class to get feedback from the whole group. We studied the fine details of poetry, from the purpose of line breaks to the impact of a single punctuation mark. We also got the chance to experiment with our writing style. Poetry is one of my greatest loves, so I enjoyed the opportunity to take another intensive study of it. I particularly appreciate how the class made sure that I didn’t stop writing poetry after leaving Oberlin. I find that while I can never leave poetry for long, I tend to take extended breaks when I don’t have a writing routine. The workshop gave me a structured timeline to continue practicing my craft. At the end of the class, we had all grown in our writing. I look forward to seeing what everyone writes next!
Main Takeaway: Writing styles can evolve, so feel free to experiment. Each experiment holds a lesson for the next one.
Politics 205: Political Research and Analysis
Political Research and Analysis was probably my most challenging class. In this course, we studied the process of quantitative political research. We learned basic statistics and R coding in preparation for writing a quantitative study at the end of the course. This course took me way out of my comfort zone. As a politics major, I primarily studied political theory. Quantitative American politics seemed like a whole different world. However, at the end of the class, I now feel more confident in my research ability. I am currently writing my final and enjoying data analysis. R is less complicated than I thought. While I doubt I will ever use quantitative research in my future career, I know that I could if I needed to.
Main Takeaway: Exploring political questions through a quantitative study is a useful skill, particularly for increasing one’s statistical literacy.
Only one more part of the Lessons series remains! In Part 4, I will go over some of the personal growth I’ve had this semester. Although this semester has been more challenging than I could’ve imagined, I’m proud to say that I rose to the challenge. At the halfway mark in my college education, I feel prepared for what the future may bring.
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