The Oberlin Stories Project

On teaching an ExCo on Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

Lauren Crawford ’16

“I realized I needed to create a space where I could discuss many issues present in contemporary Christian theology with only my peers.”

Lauren is seated at a folding table covered with papers and books

During my first months at Oberlin, I was told over and over I could accomplish anything—that Oberlin students have a remarkable history of taking initiative and implementing change. As an indecisive and confused first-year, I narrowly interpreted this advice as solely referring to Oberlin’s legacy of social justice and activism. It did not occur to me I could apply this advice to my general experience at Oberlin. I was—and still am—deeply interested in philosophy as it relates to literature, and at first I had a hard time finding other students willing to engage me on this topic outside of the classroom.

My perspective changed during the second semester of my first year, I signed up for SexCo, a student-taught ExCo on sexual health and education, because I was interested in learning more about reproductive rights. I saw ExCos as purely educational opportunities for students to learn more about subjects not traditionally taught by Oberlin professors. As I quickly found out, however, ExCos are more than just instructional classes. Because they are student taught, the pressures often apparent in four credit classes are absent—which allows for meaningful dialogue on the subject at hand to develop. The atmosphere is intellectual, but not confined by the rules and regulations of classroom behavior and academic jargon.

Taking SexCo made me aware I could form a space to discuss subjects that were important to me, even if the subjects were confined to the theoretical world. After taking David Kamitsuka’s class on modern religious thought, I realized I needed to create a space where I could discuss many issues present in contemporary Christian theology with only my peers. I created a syllabus and applied to teach an ExCo on Christian theology and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for the following spring. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a pretty small crowd signed up to take my class. Yet, it was a wonderful experience—perhaps the best I’ve had at Oberlin—because every student in the class was interested in the subject and willing to have an informal discussion on the topic that fascinates me most. My students challenged my interpretations of Crime and Punishment, pushing a reading of the text as an early commentary on the dangers of modernist thought.

Teaching a literary ExCo was an invaluable experience because it made me aware of how much I enjoyed teaching, giving me a sense of what I want to pursue following graduation. The sense of initiative Oberlin inspires in its students never fails to amaze me, even when the task at hand is only a glorified book club.