Oberlin Blogs

Sciences and humanities, comparatively

January 10, 2012

To be blunt, this blog entry is more than overdue. I could recap my entire semester, but an unbelievable number of events can occur within four and a half months. Junior year in short: busy. Aside from eating, sleeping, and studying, I would say my semester consisted of little else (aka the sudden absence of my presence on the Obie blogosphere). As tedious as my science classes were, I did take my first class ever in the Comparative American Studies (CAST) department called Global Health Emergencies, which was such a relief on my brain (as well as my GPA). AND, even more exciting, it was with one of the professors on my oh-so-famous professor list, Meredith Raimondo.

Taking a class the first time it's offered can either be a hit or a complete miss. Because I've never taken a new class at Oberlin that turned out to be 'less than satisfactory,' I think I went into this past semester with no reservations or doubts. I now realize how brave I was actually being, considering I had no previous CAST knowledge and have a small phobia of writing papers. I also had heard amazing things about Meredith; and, per usual, the course description was just too good.

Health emergencies represent some of the most challenging transnational crises of the twenty-first century. This course situates biomedical approaches in social, political, and economic context in order to consider the role of health in the production of and the challenge to deeply entrenched global inequalities. It explores the relationship between states, international health organizations, non-governmental organizations, human rights advocates, community health practitioners and activists, and those affected by a range of health conditions.

So I walk into class on the first day, a Thursday at 1:30 pm, and there are people sitting in all the chairs in the seminar room, as well as sprinkled all over the floor. First clue that a professor or a class is good: during add/drop, everyone and their mom want into the class. I was beginning to feel reassured about taking a class where I was going to have to write papers and synthesize my own ideas (every science major's worst nightmare), and then Meredith opened her mouth and began lecturing. I was impressed. I was so, so impressed. Meredith has this way about her of effortlessly spilling out useful, interesting knowledge while using the most impressive vocabulary. It almost seems like she started reading when she was five years old, never stopped, and retained EVERYTHING.

I was completely sold. Luckily, I was at the top of the wait list, managed to secure a spot on the roster, and never looked back. Without exaggerating, I can honestly say class was interesting every day. Although it was a CAST class, there was a surprising mix of biology, neuroscience, environmental studies, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Comparative American Studies, and other seemingly random majors (East Asian Studies, Art, etc.), which was interesting. Unlike in heavily lecture-based science classes, I would say the students were definitely responsible for the vibe of this class. Also, being in classes with only science majors, you all kind of talk about things the same way. For example here are some key "science-y" words and phrases:

Pathway
Concepts
Properties
Project/Projection
Organism
Structure
Function
Regulation
Cycle
Equilibrium
Applications
Molecular
Cellular
Systemic

Etc., etc., I could go on forever. Turns out in the humanities, they have their own set of fancy terms:

Juxtapose
Context/Contextualize (Often paired with historic or historical)
Intersects/Intersections
Binary
Post-modern (does anyone actually know what this means?)
Perception
Discourse
Intellectual property
Boundaries
Dichotomy
Hedonistic
Non sequitur
Rhetoric
Quintessential

And those are just the ones that I remember most vividly. As it turns out, not only do you learn really big words at Oberlin, you also learn how to use them in classroom discussions well enough to piss other people off. I'll be the first to admit, sometimes class got tense and conversations were a tad bit argumentative (apparently the environment is a really touchy subject). However, I was definitely appreciative of the grace with which my classmates handled disagreement and how it was acceptable to disagree about things.

Aside from everything else, what I appreciated most about this class was its connection to real life and real life problems. I think sometimes it's really easy to lose the importance of what you're studying when it comes to the bigger picture. Every day, I left thinking about if it was truly possible to end world hunger or if we as humans actually have the unregulated right to reproduce. Having these discussions (another humanities word I forgot) really reminded me what the importance is in studying science. Aside from having eons of knowledge, it is important for us to use that knowledge to better shape humankind as well as the world we live in.

Unfortunately, I will not be taking another CAST class this coming semester (registration was awful and I'll most likely be complaining about how I don't know what I'm taking this spring via the blogosphere very soon). I must say, though, now I'm extremely open to exploring more departments and am excited to use my remaining three semesters at Oberlin to do so.

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Responses to this Entry

Excellent observation about the different terminology used in sciences vs. humanities. I've also been interested to observe how some of this classroom vocabulary makes its way into informal conversations between Obies.

Posted by: Nora on January 10, 2012 7:48 PM

Great observations,and three cheers for humanities classes! One observation : I feel you left out the holy grail of humanities phrases,and that is the highly overused "paradigm shift".

When ideas run out in a paper,one can always wrangle out of a dead end thesis by stating " This represented a paradigm shift from blah blah to blah blah, thereby blah blahing the blah thus blah.space bar.increase font.double space.DONE :)

Posted by: Simba on January 11, 2012 11:24 AM

Simba, you are so right. Another humanities gem I forgot: framework.

Posted by: Chinwe on January 25, 2012 4:13 AM

You're kidding about the GPA, right?

Posted by: Cherry on February 27, 2012 7:35 PM

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