By Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.
Dean of Freshman Studies and Special Academic Programs
Ask your sons and daughters about their journey. Not the journey from their homes to South Orange, but the journey they have embarked upon in the classroom. All incoming students are inaugurating the new University Core Curriculum, an initiative that was seven years in the making.
The Freshman courses include Journey of Transformation, a course that creates a “community of conversation” around the “big” questions – questions like “What does it mean to be human?” or “What is truth?”
We expect that our 18-year-old population will be a bit overwhelmed by the idea that we are asking them to contemplate the meaning of suffering or the meaning of freedom, so don’t be surprised if you hear some grumbling.
We are also asking these students to read some difficult texts, a smattering of Plato, St. Francis, Rumi and Dante, for starters. We know they can rise to the occasion.
The faculty here at Seton Hall is excited about the possibility of our students seeking a deeper level of understanding of the human condition. We are also excited by the fact that, beginning this year, all Seton Hall students, no matter their college or major, will have a common educational experience.
Before this year, the only common course that our students had was their one-credit University Life course. That hasn’t gone away, but instead we’ve linked the University Life course with the Journey of Transformation so that all the students in one see the same group of “travelers” in the other. This way, we’ve created mini learning communities. We’ve also tried as best we can to group these students together in the Residence Halls so that they are also living/learning communities. Experience and the academic literature tell us that when students go to class together and live together as a group they have a better chance at success. Plus, they have each other’s back. When a student in a learning community gets sick, classmates will provide the notes and a fill of what was missed in class.
We have a group of tutors in residence who can help our incoming class if they stumble. These tutors live in Boland and Aquinas halls and are equipped to help students study better or understand difficult material. A few of the tutors have already participated in the pilot of the University Core class last year and have been through the discussion process that helps bring clarity to a difficult reading.
This year’s freshman class will take their next core class as sophomores when they study “Christianity and Culture in Dialogue.” Then, as juniors, they will take a special topics course that explores “Engaging the World.” Thus, over the course of their time at Seton Hall we will ask students to think critically about their own personal journey on earth, then about how cultures interact through time before we ask them to think about their own personal place and responsibilities in the world.
Our incoming freshmen were also all required to participate in our annual Summer Reading Program. This year’s selection, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza, provides a vivid example of a poignant journey of transformation. It is the story of a young college student whose family is slaughtered during the tribal genocide in 1994 and who survives by hiding in a bathroom with seven other women for 91 days.
While obviously we are hoping and praying that none in our Class of 2012 is called to endure so wrenching a transformation as Immaculee, we are nonetheless convinced that our students need to be active participants in their own transformation into adulthood. We are asking our students to understand that they are one part of a bigger picture. As a teenager I stumbled upon the John Dunne meditation, No Man is an Island. The 1970s, a time when many of you, like me, came of age, were relevant times. I quoted Dunne ad nauseam: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
Fast forward thirty years. Another generation is setting goals for itself and writing its own new story. This new Core Curriculum should help them understand the context of those who have come before so that they can truly understand their own personal responsibilities to humanity.
So go ahead: ask your sons and daughters about their journey. And let’s hope they know what you are talking about!!
If you have any questions, feel free to contact Tracy Gottlieb, dean of Freshman Studies and Special Academic Programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org