Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson class discussions aren’t as enriching as professors think they are

Illustration by Rachel Choi.

Opinions expressed in Beacon Op-Eds are not necessarily shared by the entire staff. It is the responsibility of Opinion editors to elevate each individual’s unique voice. 

Emerson classrooms often feel like a United Nations summit. 

Any Emerson College student can tell you that class discussions are a key component of our courses. And while they can be beneficial by encouraging intellectual diversity and engaging reluctant students, they can also be a complete train-wreck.

At Emerson, academics tend to diverge from the traditional college class format, avoiding large auditoriums, lectures, and exam-focused syllabuses. However, finding a balance between engaging with the content and truly absorbing the material without defaulting to an echo chamber can be a challenge.

This problem is protocol in predominantly white institutions—and even if humanities and liberal arts courses often feature well-rounded syllabi that highlight readings from marginalized voices, class discussions tend to either stifle or oversimplify these readings.

Members of the Editorial board can recall specific classes that were initially exciting because the syllabi included  literary voices from all different backgrounds. Some were queer, some were disabled, and many were women of color or first-generation, all with diverse family upbringings and economic statuses. 

However, these classes were primarily discussion-based, with the majority of students being predominantly white and of economic privilege—an assumption based on the predominantly affluent demographic of Emerson. Due to this glaring disparity, most of the class shared almost identical experiences that don’t relate to the readings whatsoever. It’s painful to think that after loans, grants, and scholarships, we’re often paying $6k per course to listen to the most insufferable population of Emerson College play trauma Olympics.

This democratic class structure, which emphasizes discussions among students rather than just between professors and students, provides us with total control over the material, even when it’s beyond our areas of expertise. Meaning you have to put up with “That Guy” who sees themselves as a brilliant philosopher after reading a chapter of Kant, constantly interrupting your Post-colonial and Indigenous environments class with unnecessary anecdotes about their own life—like that one time they broke up with someone because they weren’t emotionally available because it was the “categorical imperative.”

Alongside mildly adjacent anecdotes not directly addressing the question posed, students will default to certain phrases that most will have heard of. From things like “to piggyback,” “to circle back,” “going off of that,” “adding to that,” “at the end of the day,” and so on and so forth, there is often a lack of actual, generative discussion and instead a boggle of people who want to say something but have nothing real to contribute. 

This is a student issue, and professors should not be blamed. They are often trying their best to encourage student participation in any way possible. If that means giving them a platform to share their opinions on complex content, no matter how poorly informed, they will do so. 

However, professors sometimes fall into an odd silence when it comes to reining in conversations that spiral into a repetitive, unsubstantial, limited, and sometimes ludicrously superfluous mess where nothing is said but all is muddied. Students with genuine experiences or perspectives to bring to the table are often pushed aside for those few students who wish to be the smartest in the class but are unable to think beyond their limited bubble of the high school elitist mindset. 

That is to say, some students simply are not aware that they are speaking over those who should be speaking, and professors sometimes do little to fix this dynamic.  

For instance, it’s a waste of time to break into small groups and discuss something only to restore the groups back to the classroom and share again what we just discussed in our small groups—like it isn’t just one voice per group saying the same profound thing twice. And then the whole class will talk about each group’s contribution which just feels like it could’ve been avoided if there had just been a facilitated class discussion in the first place.

The enthusiasm to contribute to discussion is admirable, and the excitement for sharing personal thoughts is something all can relate to. However, if the true value of a class discussion is to engage in a guided, fruitful dialogue with diverse perspectives that illuminate the nuance of a topic, some students are going to have to shut up. 

Listening is just as much a skill as contributing. Learning how to actively listen, internalize, and critically analyze the thoughts of others before crafting a response is central to dynamic conversation. Don’t worry about your participation grade; more often than not the quality of your comments will certainly outweigh the quantity. Your fellow students will be grateful for it. 

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

The Berkeley Beacon intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. We welcome strong opinions and criticism that are respectful and constructive. Comments are only posted once approved by a moderator and you have verified your email. All users are expected to adhere to our comment section policy. READ THE FULL POLICY HERE: https://berkeleybeacon.com/comments/
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *