Oberlin Blogs

A Peek Into My Second Semester at Oberlin

February 10, 2019

Emma McIlhagga ’22

It’s the beginning of February, which means that the beginning of the second semester is upon us. The glorious freedom of Winter Term has ended, and Oberlin students’ lives are now once again, defined in two ways: doing work, and procrastinating work.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little overdramatic. But if I’m honest, this first week has been a bit stressful. Trying to organize my schedule and get a good balance of classes I want and classes that fulfill requirements is exhausting. It’s also one of those things where you don’t really realize how exhausting it is until you sleep for 10 hours straight on Friday night.

However, the great thing about it almost being the end of add/drop, and now the second week of classes, is that I know what classes I’m taking, and I have all my first impressions down, too!

CMPL240: Gender, Power, and Desire in Middle East and North African Literatures

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 9:00-9:50am

This course is actually taught by one of my favorite professors, Amanda Al-Raba’a. She taught my first-year seminar last semester, and she helped me do some serious writing growth. She’s also introduced me to gender and feminist discourses in the Middle East, which is a subject that I’ve come to find I really love engaging with, and might even major or minor in!

Here is the description from the course listing online: “This course will focus on contemporary literary texts from across the Middle East and North Africa that question normative expectations of gender and desire. In addition to novels, short fiction, poetry, and comics, we will read secondary materials to contextualize gender discourses in the region and to understand how social and political institutions govern gender and desire. Topics will include gender and its relationship to nationalism, colonialism, space, class, and education.” Y’all, I am super pumped for this class. We’ve actually already read our first text for the class, Always Coca-Cola.

This course is listed as a Comparative Literature course, but is also a MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Studies course. This class is a good example of the attributes that a lot of classes at Oberlin have - they are listed as within one major or department, but also are cross-listed as other departments. This means that, in the case of this class, it will count toward both a Comparative Literature major or minor and a MENA minor. Rad!

This class also has the attributes Arts & Humanities (ARHU), Cultural Diversity (CD) and Writing Intensive (WINT). At Oberlin, there aren’t any universal required classes, there’s only specific types of classes, or classes with specific attributes, that a student must take. This includes the above listed attributes, as well as Quantitative and Formal Reasoning (QFR), Natural Science and Mathematics (NSMA), Social and Behavioral Sciences (SSCI), and Writing Advanced (WADV). (There are additional specific requirements for the conservatory, but as a college student, I’m not as familiar with those.)

ETHN100: Introduction to Musics of the World

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 11:00-11:50am

Y’all, I know I said I was excited about the Comparative Literature course, but I’m honestly just as excited for this course, too. Ethnomusicology is the study of music as it relates to people and cultures. I had an ethnomusicology professor visit my Latin America Studies class last semester, and I found it absolutely fascinating, so I decided to register for this course to try out the subject and learn more about it. Professors will frequently guest teach or co-teach one class or day of material in a class or subject that is not their own. Oberlin is a liberal arts school, so they want to make sure that within specific fields, you’re getting exposure to other fields as well, which is super cool, and is how I came about discovering the field of ethnomusicology.

Here’s the course description: “Ethnomusicologists believe that by studying the music of elsewhere we can learn about the world, the people within it, and what matters to them. This course will introduce you to issues in ethnomusicology, looking at historical and contemporary engagements and modes of cultural representation, developing a set of best ethical practices for 2017. We’ll engage ethnomusicological models for social analysis and explore theories for how meaning gets attached to individual and communal practices. This course will also challenge the ways you think about music, taking you inside the ways musical practices are structured, thinking about issues of analysis and graphic representation. In short, we will explore different ways of being, thinking, and sounding.”

ENGL271: Imagining America - Experimental Contemporary Ethnic American Literature

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 1:30-2:20pm

This course I visited on a whim. It was the fourth class I was visiting on a Monday, and so I was extremely tired and visiting it more out of necessity than I was out of curiosity. Then I was handed the syllabus, and was absolutely fascinated! This course doesn’t fulfill any necessary requirements for me. However, it is expanding upon a topic and field which I am already familiar with, in a way that I am not as well-versed or comfortable in. It is a bit outside of my comfort zone, and it is my philosophy that I, as a student, will learn in a higher and better capacity should I push myself to learn outside of my comfort zone. Also, it’s a 200-level English course, which I’m allowed to take because I received a 5 on the AP Language and Composition exam. Several departments will allow you to take upper-level classes as an underclassman if you took AP or IB courses in high school and got a specific score on them. There's more details here on the Oberlin website. I’m excited to see where this course goes and where it will take me going forward through the semester.

Here’s the course description: “How do contemporary authors of color use literary form to investigate, explore, subvert, or re-imagine the mythos of 'America' and what it means to be American? In this course, we will be reading texts in African American, Asian American, Chicanx, Iranian American, and Latinx literatures. We will consider how these authors experiment with form in order to engage with issues including transatlantic slavery, migration, diaspora, home, war, and citizenship, among other topics. While each text may be differently experimental, they all use experimental forms to 'imagine' the project of America and issues related to national belonging.”

GSFS304: Transnational Feminisms

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:00-4:15pm

This is probably the most challenging course that I’m taking this semester. The prerequisite is only GSFS101, which I took last semester, and so I decided to take this, as it sounded interesting and it seemed to challenge my boundaries of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. I actually had some trouble the first two days of classes comprehending and digesting the subject matter. This was different for me as I’m used to immediately and completely understanding GSFS material and being able to contribute to conversation with ease and naturality; this has not been the case so far with this class. However, I’m trying to remind myself that challenging myself isn’t a bad thing, and not knowing isn’t a bad thing; it just means I have more to learn, I will have more questions to ask, and I will have grown that much more by the end of the semester. The class is also a research course, which means that I will be doing an independent research project, which I’ve never done before! I’m excited for this as I am hoping to incorporate material from my comparative literature class and my English class, and possibly even my Ethnomusicology class into my research. This is another cool thing about Oberlin - there is tons of crossover among course materials in ways you wouldn’t even imagine at first! In fact, I’ve had the same article assigned as reading for two different classes already. I’m sure the overlap will only continue to grow between this class and my other classes, and I’m excited to see where it will go.

Here’s the course description for this class: "This course examines the possibility of transnational feminist resistance to global and local matrices of oppression and domination, in the context of debates about solidarity and difference. Drawing from the works of feminist, queer, post-colonial, and critical race theorists and activists, we interrogate the gendered politics of borders, national membership, state-sponsored violence, colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism. We will also critically analyze how each of these elements interacts with often-divergent forms of feminist politics. Each course module will incorporate an ongoing examination of the ways in which gender, power, and politics come to bear on the production of knowledge."

So there you go, that’s my course load for this semester. In addition to this, I am also in the Oberlin College Arts & Sciences Orchestra or the OASO. I’m super excited for this, as I wanted to participate in orchestra last semester, but couldn’t as I had a class going on at the same time the ensemble rehearses. OASO is a great opportunity for students in the college who want to participate in orchestra or ensemble music without the intensity of the conservatory. The repertoire is exciting and fun, and our first performance is coming up in just a few weeks! You can check out more on the OASO website.

I also have three on-campus jobs as well; writing on here for the Oberlin Blogs, working as an Admissions Ambassador hosting overnight students and helping with general admissions events and tasks, and working as an office assistant at the ID Card Office. These jobs are all going toward my college work-study, which is part of how I’m helping my parents cover tuition. Work-study basically means that I get a certain amount of money subtracted from my tuition with the expectation that I will work it off by being employed by the school. Most students, including myself, find jobs online here.

So that’s pretty much it, y’all - that’s how my semester is looking to shape up. Busy and dense, but I’m looking forward to having a structured schedule that I didn’t get to have during winter term, and also making new friends in my classes and in orchestra!
If you want some play-by-play details of this past week, check out my YouTube video giving you the inside scoop on my first few days of the semester. 

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