Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Students attempt to define Alternative Voices

For the past three years the  General Studies Committee has taken on the arduous task of defining the Alternative Voices distribution requirement.  Senior Will Canine, ASWC student advocacy coordinator and student representative on the General Studies Committee, announced at an ASWC meeting on Feb. 7 that a definition drafted this year was voted down by faculty members.

Currently, the only information listed for the  Alternative Voices distribution requirement in the Course Catalog is a list of classes that fulfill it; it does not include a definition. Alternative voices classes range from Women in Antiquity to Asian Architecture to advanced Spanish and French.

According to Canine, the decision to vote down the definition was due to its breadth. After defining Alternative Voices as including anything that presents critical perspectives of western history or that teaches about other cultures, faculty felt the majority of classes at Whitman College could be included. However, a continued push for a definition of the requirement, which may include a change in name, is underway.

“There are many questions we’re asking. Right now is a time of transition . . . in higher education . . . as we look at the effects of western globalization,” explained Canine.

One of the proposed changes to the Alternative Voices requirement is the inclusion of Encounters, the first-year required class which encompasses more cultures than its predecessor, Antiquity and Modernity.

“[Alternative voices] is the worst [requirement] to fulfill,” said first-year Victoria Faling via e-mail. “Encounters should sufficiently count for it.”

Phil Lundquist, ’08 alumnus and Prentiss resident director, thinks students should be required to explore a variety of Alternative Voices.

“[It] frees people to branch out in terms of areas of study that they haven’t explored very much or hadn’t thought of exploring,” he said.

First-year Gabriella Friedman agreed that the Alternative Voices requirement is important.

“If anything, I think it should be changed so that fewer classes fulfill it,” she said. “I think the purpose of Alternative Voices should be to expose students to non-western, non-traditional voices that are often silenced . . . It’s so important to learn about other perspectives in order to be open-minded.”

This variation in student opinion, as well as the concept of what Alternative Voices is and what Encounters should encompass, is precisely what the General Studies Committee is struggling to unravel.

“I don’t mind Alternative Voices as a requirement, save for the fact that it makes the presumption that there’s a ‘regular’ voice which only some things are alternative to,” said first-year Sarah Schaefer. “[That]  just seems a little dated of an idea to me.”

Lundquist and Friedman each posed the view that some of the language classes, such as French and Spanish, have less grounds as Alternative Voices classes than others because they present students with cultures relatively similar to our own. By defining what Alternative Voices is, this question would be resolved.

In future years the General Studies Committee will be looking to come up with a concrete definition of Alternative Voices.

As they do so, Canine asks students to consider “what Alternative Voices means to them.”

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