As first year students, every hour of Inquiry 111 ingrains into us that part of a liberal arts education is discussion. As first year students, we internalize and demonstrate this notion. Looking back upon not only my own Inquiry experience, but every course first-year core class I took, everyone in the class participated. Multiple hands were raised to answer every question.
We even responded to people’s answers. Responded. As in, real conversation.
Why don’t we do that anymore? The more time I spend as a student at Westminster, the less involved everyone seems to become in class discussions. At face value, that almost makes sense. We’re tired. We’re rundown. We’re busy people who drown ourselves in organizations and commitments outside of being a student. Who has the time or energy to participate in class discussions?
But here’s the thing: the only reason we have a chance to participate in all those other “way more important” commitments is because We Are Students.
When we fill out forms and whatnot for job applications or LinkedIn profiles and other real-world-type stuff, we fill in our occupation as “student.”
When we are frustrated by our institution not catering to its students, the frustration brims because we are the students.
As far as the outside world is concerned, we identify as students. We do not identify as sorority sisters and fraternity brothers. We do not identify as football/soccer/tennis/volleyball/basketball/golf/sports players. We do not identify as event programmers or SGA senators. We identify as students.
As students, it is our responsibility to Be Students. We go to class, participate in class, do our homework, then start the cycle over again.
So many students at WC complete two out of three of those steps – go to class and doing homework. But they don’t participate in class. They don’t discuss. But if you’re not completing all three steps – literally the only steps – then you can't say you’re being a student. Because you’re not. How can you sit idly in class and believe you are getting anything out of it?
Everyone, no matter your class year, has sat through an hour or an hour and a half of class only to say “Well, that was pointless” after finally being dismissed. What makes it pointless, though? Our professors plan lessons for us. We show up for those lessons. At a liberal arts school, though, our education is meant to come not only from our professors, but from one another. We are supposed to bring our opinions and ideas and backgrounds into classrooms. We are supposed to talk to each other – dissent against each other, even – to build deeper and richer understandings of topics. We are meant to agree and disagree and debate and tangentialize. We are meant to make every connection we can possibly make because that is how we grow as scholars.
We don’t do that, though. We show up, shove our faces in our laptops or our textbooks, and tune out. Those lesson plans your professor brought? They only work if you close your laptop and care. You only have to do it for an hour. Sometimes not even that long. You have two classes in a day? Or three? Great, then you still have 21 hours left to not give a darn. As students, it is our responsibility, our job, to discuss. As students, if we are not participating in the discussion in our classrooms then it is our fault lessons are pointless.
You don’t need numbers spouted at you; everyone knows one class costs thousands of dollars. If you show up to class but dissociate with everyone everything, then you didn’t show up to class. Sure, the attendance roster will count you present, but what about your participation grade? I hate to break it to you, but that holds way more weight than crawling out of bed and walking two minutes to a classroom. If you show up physically, but not mentally, not conversationally, then you didn’t show up. You cheated yourself out of thousands of dollars and the most important part of your J-O-B.
The worst part? Not only do you cheat yourself every time you decide you’re too tired or shy or cool to contribute to classroom conversation, you cheat every single person in that room with you.
We’re all paying thousands of dollars to sit in that classroom. No one wants to participate, but we do anyway. Because that is why we came to school. That is why we pay thousands of dollars to sit in the world’s most uncomfortable chairs.
My education – and yours, and your best friend’s, and that of the guy who’s sitting next you – depends upon your willingness to exercise your brain and contribute to conversation. Even if your opinion is boring to you, it could be groundbreaking to someone else. Or someone could feel it is so wrong that your whole class ends up debating the topic and coming up with an even stronger opinion in the process. That can’t happen, though, if you keep those opinions to yourself.
Professors plan for us to speak. Professors want us to speak. We want each other to speak.
It might be too late to fix yourself this semester, but I beg you: going into the spring semester, quit being so selfish. Shut your laptop and tune in for once. It’s not your choice to lessen the education others desire. We can’t pick who we have classes with, so it’s your responsibility to act like the student you wish you could be paired with for group projects.
We are students. We are a discussion-fueled environment. We are here to spend time in the classroom. If you want crickets then get out.
Copy Edited by Nyna Hess