I am one of dozens of professors who have been teaching a yearlong course called the “Common Intellectual Experience” at Ursinus College. All of our first-year students take the course simultaneously, grouped into classes of approximately 16, each led by a different professor. They read the same books at the same time, write papers with the same deadlines, and so on.
In their first semester, students read works by writers such as Plato, Galileo, and Descartes, and then discussed the course’s three main questions from the perspectives of those different authors: (1) What does it mean to be human? (2) What is the universe and how do we fit into it? (3) How should we live our lives? The college is rightly proud of the course as it is a fine example of liberal-arts education, and I am happy to be a part of it.
In the course, we view one aspect of the human experience—homosexuality—through the lens of the first text of the second semester, Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home. The book is focused on the author’s coming to terms with being a lesbian and dealing with the revelation of her father’s homosexuality. It gives the second semester of the course a contemporary start and allows students to view the course questions in fresh ways.
However, as the only openly gay tenured (or tenure-track) faculty member teaching the course, I found myself in a unique position this semester. The course is discussion-based, so my students are encouraged to debate opposing viewpoints respectfully, to shape reasoned arguments with strong points of view, and to learn from diversity of opinion. I want them to express their educated opinions without fear of being shut down or disparaged. <Read more.>