December 15, 2009

A Simple Request.

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:03 am by Superintendent

Dear Faculty, Administrators, and Genuinely Interested People of Marist College,

Well, hello there. I hope you’re as excited for Winter Break as I am. While taking a time out during capping, I figured I should take this opportunity to express to you exactly how much fun I had academically this semester. Academics? Fun? Yes, yes, I’m one of “those” kids. But that’s besides the point. I’ve attended Marist for the past three and a half years, have involved myself thoroughly in my studies and in Student Government, and have truly attempted to reap as many benefits as I can out of my audit. I can genuinely say that my experiences in my classes have led me to choose a new career path, one which I hope to venture on starting next fall (should out to the History Department right here). More importantly, I realize though I may leave Marist, I only want the best for the institution and for the students who will attend here years after I am gone. And anyone who has had a mere five minute discussion with me can verify that I frequently have a strong opinion and rarely keep it to myself. Why would I? Why not use my experiences as an enthusiastic student from the past four years to propose suggestions that can improve the college as a whole? And propose I shall.

I never intended on becoming a history major, and I most certainly did not see myself applying to graduate schools to pursue history. But here I am, and here I seek to convey what I believe are severe detriments in our curriculum. I understand the college is undergoing the process of reexamining the core curriculum for the students; apparently the core is older than I am! Anyways, change might be fought against at times (I myself am no huge fan of change), but change is necessary, is vital for survival, and ultimately will help Marist grow. This semester I had the pleasure of taking Islam, Politics, and Human Rights for my political science major. What is it Dr. Shaffer always says, the few, the brave, the proud? Our class epitomized this saying. There were 6, and then there were 5. And the five of us and Professor Jerusa Ali had one exciting semester. I can honestly say this course has been one of my favorites, one that truly sought to expand the minds of students, and Professor Ali always encouraged us to speak, to question, to examine and then reexamine. However, personally speaking for myself as well as my observations from my class, out of the five of us, we had limited knowledge of Islam, of the Middle East, of any background. Often in the beginning weeks, our discussions were hindered by repetitive questions that went back to the introductory material we needed to know in order to understand our readings in context. Not that Professor Ali did not invite questions; indeed, she enthusiastically and very, very patiently answered every question we had and encouraged students to ask anything on their minds. And I appreciate that immensely. However, what could have benefited our class, as well as other political science and history students, is the expansion of Middle Eastern studies and the studies of Islam. I can think of three courses only that deal with Middle Eastern studies, four if you count the special topics history course on Palestine next semester. And yet, picking up any newspaper, watching CNN for one minute, thinking of where men and women our age are fighting, Middle Eastern studies are as vital to our generation as Soviet/Russian studies were in the 1960s-80s. The Berlin Wall has fallen, let us now move on to the next phase of study.

With regards to diversity on this campus, Marist is slowly but surely making improvements, or at least attempting to, but diversity is more than the color of a face. Diversity should not just be the makeup of the student population, but the diversity of thought that is encouraged and taught on campus. I was disheartened quite honestly to find there was a required third philosophy course or religious studies course, and even more so when I saw my choices were relatively limited. If one does not want to take a course in Christianity, there is one selection for Judaism, and one on “global religions”. Besides the fact that I do not see the monopolization of the religious studies department by Christianity as true “religious studies”, I do feel also that, in conjunction with Marist’s wonderfully successful abroad program, diversity in religious courses are dire. Introduction to Islam, Introduction to Buddhism, Introduction to… you name it.  An expansion of the mind, an attempt to make the core curriculum more well-rounded, and potentially opening a new door of interest to a student who had never fathomed such a thought before. I must say, the amount I learned about Islam, both in the past and present, was outstanding. However much I gained from this semester’s course, I cannot but help think how deeper our class could have gone in discussion had we all a working knowledge of the basics of Islam; simple concepts such as the difference between haram and halal or the different sects of Islam and how they differ from each other are vital to a course such as this. Understanding Muhammad was not seen as divine, but was a mortal prophet who came after Jesus also helped in comparing and understanding tension between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I have never been offered an opportunity to learn such concepts in an introductory class, and this is one of my few regrets of my academic career at Marist.

My younger brother enrolled at Rowan University in New Jersey this fall, and in order to help him in picking classes (truth be told, he was doing it on his own, I just wanted to see their course offerings) the amount of classes that discussion Middle Eastern topics and other religious was astounding. I told him he was lucky. And ask anyone, there’s few things I will ever say against Marist. This place has become my home and brought me to a new place in life I am grateful for. But this moment in time, when the college is already considering changes to the core, seems prime for requesting an inclusion of more diverse classes. A current events class perhaps, speaking on issues of Afghanistan and Iraq, their political and social histories? I also took a course Afghanistan and Its Wars in sophomore year. First of all, never have I had so much reading in my life (J) but I also learned the background to a country I knew very little about. I understood finally its political makeup, geographic boundaries, history of “colonialism” and Western influences, its position as a border state to protect India from Russia in the Great Game. These two classes have expanded my mind, have encouraged me to search elsewhere for more knowledge. But why not make it available here at Marist? Why not, in addition to the Latin American, African, and Asian studies also include Middle Eastern courses? There is one regularly taught in history, and it is a level 300, making it relatively illogical and inaccessible for non-History majors to take. And the course I took was a special topic and therefore an elective for most students.

As one student to her faulty and administration, I am beseeching (yes, beseeching) you to look into expanding the academic world of Marist and welcome in new courses and approaches, new parts of history and political science we are currently neglecting. I personally know a number of students who are interested in Middle Eastern studies, some even in pursuing a Middle Eastern minor, but none are available here at Marist. Never once have I encountered a faculty member or administrator uninterested in helping a student pursue their dreams and goals. In fact, a majority is excited, enthusiastic, and truly wishes to make the Marist experience the best it can be. I find this quality unique to Marist, and so I ask you to make Marist even more unique by embracing a new direction of study, by including a diversity in religious studies courses, and by enhancing the possibility of an interdisciplinary approach to a topic that touches each of our lives every day. Please find a way to incorporate Middle Eastern studies more thoroughly into our curriculum and into our core. We will grow together as a college, and new opportunities will be offered to students who wish to pursue them. There is a distinct hole in our college course catalog, one that can easily be fixed and filled. Please consider my proposal, please imagine a more wholesome academic offering, and please envision more students having eye-opening experiences thanks to the efforts of their academic opportunities at Marist College.

Thank you for your time,

Katie Procter

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