Foundations 2 was built around the idea of diversity and power. We agree that these topics are important because they teach empathy and tolerance to students living in a diverse world. However, we disagree that students should be forced to take a year-long class when Foundations 1 covers a lot of the base DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) concepts, such as our analysis of the “Letter of Birmingham Jail” from Martin Luther King, Jr.
We propose combining Foundations 1 and 2 into a one-semester class. In addition, we should restore the ECC Diversity and Power requirement into the requirements of the core curriculum. This will allow students to choose their subject and the environment in which they will learn this important content. This will help students stay more engaged in the topics of the class, and it will also help with the issue of the professors teaching the classes being inexperienced within that field.
We are making this proposal because it is clear that while Foundations 2 is broken, DP courses continue to work well. Here are some comparisons, reactions, and takes from current first-year students taking a Foundations 2 class and a DP class of their choosing.
The first student stated, “The difference between Foundations 2 and the DP class I am in now is noticeable. The class that I am in now is called African American History. This course has been one of my favorite ones as it has allowed me to be exposed to several different topics while also spending adequate time on those topics where I can understand the material. This is where it is vastly different from Foundations 2, [where] we talk about topics that are vastly different for every class. The same professor teaches the courses, so it is not due to the faculty.”
The second student stated, “We asked a few first-year students in a DP class, Women and Gender Studies, why they preferred this class over the small section taught in their Foundations portion. They said, ‘I feel more comfortable speaking out in the class knowing I will get an engaged and legitimate response from the professor and my peers.’”
A third said, “I am way more likely to participate and be engaged in-class discussions in Women and Gender Studies just because I am interested in what is being discussed rather than when I am in foundations. I have also talked to other people in that class whom I see every day when I attend class, and they have all said they are more likely to skip foundations rather than Women and Gender Studies.”
Foundations Two professors gave some feedback in a survey we sent to them about the students’ engagement in their class.
One professor stated, “Students often start deeply disengaged in required courses. This is perhaps especially true for students who are not high academic performers, for whom academic engagement is not something at which they already excel. This disengagement has been worsened for Foundations 2. In part, students have not been persuaded that the faculty have good reasons for requiring this course. When students do not buy into a course’s learning objectives, the professor is working uphill.”
Many professors are also critical of the four hours of class time we have each week.
The first professor stated, “It is horrible that students must attend a second college course – 4 days a week at 1 p.m.”
The second professor stated, “Meeting four times a week is too much. Some students do not see the point of the class, but because I do not give them too hard of a time, they do not resent it.”
A third professor stated, “One of the changes I plan to make next year is to limit the number of times we meet.” The professors and students agree that meeting four times a week for an hour is entirely overbearing, disengaging, and way too much, especially for two semesters.
Another thing we asked professors about was their thoughts and opinions on the Foundations 2 course. A few of them had many things they had to say.
One professor stated, “This is a horrible idea and one that needs to be eliminated. We need to address issues of DEI and get student engagement through other means.”
Another professor said, “A major problem is mental health. The college does not realize the mental health burdens they put on students. Some students experienced these horrible situations – such as parents being incarcerated and police brutality. They are immersed in this discussion with no ability to opt-out if too sensitive. Shame on the general education proponents for not even considering this. Shame on the college for not considering the mental health aspects of faculty. This course and the repeated discussion have taken a mental health toll on me and have negatively impacted my personal life and family.”
The last professor stated, “I wish the people who promoted this general education program would have to TEACH the course instead of picking a few poor souls to fill in. I would like to know how they feel after talking about police shootings and racial divides for four hours a week.”
From above, it is clear that Foundations 2 is not just disengaging but also extremely hard on many students and faculty members. We understand and see these problems; therefore, we recommend that students to take Foundations 1 in the first semester and reinstate the Diversity and Power credit class to be taken some time during the four-year plan at Simpson College. It will still be required to take a DP class, but it is too much to ask faculty and students to meet that requirement within the first and second semester of their first year here.
Foundations 2 classes are broken for various reasons. The classes are too specific to what each professor has expertise in. For example, we have a history professor, so we do things that deal with history. Other first-years might have English professors, so they do things that deal with English. While this sounds acceptable, many students were placed in a class that taught about a topic they were not interested in. Many of those students are doing poorly in the class or skip it altogether because they do not care about it. Foundations 2 is supposed to be represented as a DEI course, but we students do not see how it is. We believe that DEI is not being taught to the fullest and fail to see the benefit of the course.
One of the significant concerns, as mentioned, is the lack of specialty and cohesion concerning the Foundations 2 courses. Many first-year students enrolled in Foundations 2 courses want a class with more engagement and personal interest.
Combining Foundations 1 and 2 would make for a more productive class. We propose separating Foundations 1 into thirds. To start, “transition” would be the first topic, as a first-year student in this quarter will learn everything they need to know about how to be successful here at Simpson, how to prepare for the next four years, where specific buildings are, how to use CARS and the library, and what to expect from professors.
The second topic will mainly focus on civic engagement and discuss the importance of being active and involved.
The third topic would be discussing the DEI content that we still believe is important to talk about during the first semester. We would continue to learn about fundamental DEI issues through reading and discussing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and contemporary issues.
The fourth topic would be interest-specific, which the first-year students would choose at SOAR, and this way, the professors can get the chance to get to know their future students and answer any questions about different jobs or the major, as well as provide clarity to those who are not sure what they want to major in.
Using this setup for Foundations would create a better outline for what students are supposed to be learning; along with having an outline, it would create a structure so there would be similarities between Foundations classes, and students would be more engaged as a whole. We believe this setup would fix the problems we have discovered about this class.
Finally, in a student survey that we conducted, many first-year students shared similar responses regarding this course. 64.6% of students deemed Foundations 2 irrelevant compared to their other classes. Similarly, 63.4% of students believe that Foundations 2 is not beneficial. If a student deems a course irrelevant or not beneficial, it can be expected that their engagement is to decline. Within the survey, we asked, “On a scale of 0-5, how engaged are you within your Foundations course this semester?” 43.9% of students reported that their engagement level was 0 or 1.
Our proposal is a reasonable solution to the issue many have faced this past year. We hope you consider it and recognize that we will not be silenced on this issue.
Teghan Booth, Aubrie Chapman, Zoey Harmon, Giselle Joint, Lexy Lemke, Emily Lowe, Espoire Nkomezi, Morgan Pietig, Anthony Potratz, Kenzie Reynolds, Aida Shcharansky, Shaniah Temple, and Samuel Vanderpool