Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Distribution classes uncover new interests

As a first-year at Whitman, current senior Jenna Stearns could not get into the English class she wanted to take for her major. Instead, she took an introductory economics course. Now, Stearns is an economics major.

College: especially first and sophomore years: is a good chance to explore fields of knowledge to which most students   have little exposure in high school, and many students find their major, like Stearns did, through such early exploration. While Stearns explored because of necessity, Whitman’s distribution requirements are designed to act as an incentive for students, even those who have decided on a major and can take the classes they desire, to sample different fields because they know that they are required for graduation.

According to the 2009-2010 academic catalog, “Distribution requirements are the primary means of achieving breadth and perspective; the student is required to sample disparate areas of knowledge and ways of knowing.”

The distribution requirements demand completion of six credits in each of the areas of social science, humanities, fine arts, science and alternative voices, and three credits in quantitative analysis. The system was revised in 2000.

“[Distribution classes] are really important in encouraging well-rounded educations,” said Stearns. “You can’t just take math and science classes, or you can’t just take psychology classes.”

The general form of a distribution requirement is six credits in a broad field with multiple departments in which most of the classes qualify, and where one class cannot fulfill two distribution requirements. The two exceptions are quantitative analysis, which requires fewer credits and can fulfill two requirements at once, and alternative voices, which describes a set of classes in many departments which are decided upon by the General Studies Committee.

“There are no classes that are automatically alternative voices; all alternative voices classes have been approved by the General Studies Committee,” said Elizabeth Vandiver, associate professor of classics and chair of the General Studies Committee.

Most of the serious complaints she had heard about the requirements came as complaints about registration and scheduling, like the unavailability of desired courses, according to Vandiver. Many courses fill before first year students and sophomores have a chance at them, including some popular courses for distribution requirements, like Chemistry of Art, a popular science class specific to non-science majors. While the unavailability of desired courses may lead some students to taking courses they wouldn’t otherwise, like a distribution requirement, as it did for Stearns, it may also prevent some students from getting the most out of the requirements by blocking the desired out-of-major courses.

Some students, particularly science majors who have to take certain courses in order and have multiple afternoon labs, may have a hard time fitting in the classes, especially afternoon classes. However, according to Stearns, most seniors have their distribution requirements finished or nearly finished, so it seems like it is not a major hurdle for most students.

Stearns has completed all the distribution requirements with the exception of fine arts. She plans to take a photography course in spring 2010 to fulfill that requirement.

“Some students ask ‘Why do I have to take this stuff I’m not interested in?’, but presumably one reason you chose to come to a liberal arts college was for the breadth of education, and the distribution requirements contribute to that,” said Professor Vandiver.

Many liberal arts colleges have distribution requirements similar to Whitman’s, including Reed College, Pomona College and Willamette University, often including some requirement similar to “Alternative Voices.” It’s a common cornerstone in the philosophy of a liberal arts education.

Stearns had no complaints about the distribution requirements.

“It gives you a much better perspective, not just in general knowledge but in how your major applies to other fields,” said Stearns.

View Comments (2)
More to Discover

Comments (2)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

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