Independent study courses are just an excuse for the University not to offer certain classes
By MILEN MEHARI
During my three years at the University of Mary Washington, I have declared and switched five different majors and minors. I am not indecisive, just hyper-conscious of my right to curate my academic career. As a rising senior, I am majoring in English and women and gender studies (WGST) and minoring in digital studies.
I have always been interested in studying theory, so naturally, I came in wanting to be a philosophy major. And after my first semester, I was implored to also major in English and WGST because I wanted to explore the theoretical standings in those fields as well.
I continued in this triple major path until the spring of my sophomore year. By that point I was halfway done with my philosophy major, but I had become disenchanted with the program, tired of taking courses about old white people, just so I could get to my senior year to do one independent study on a non-Eurocentric topic.
It was at this point when a graduating friend of mine said to me, “you don’t have to major in it if you don’t want to,” and after that conversation of clarity, I dropped the major.
After two years of identifying as a triple major, and admittedly loving the pretentious feeling it gave me to say so, I had become problematically attached to that title. So when I dropped philosophy, I decided to add on sociology, thinking, it would fulfill my desire of theory study from diverse theorists. And this for the most part was true, however, the major did not challenge me in the ways I hoped it would. Thus, that too had to be dropped.
In the process of dropping sociology, I picked up a minor in digital studies. This partly still had to do with pride, but also because at the turn of my sophomore year I became hyper-aware of the importance of digital fluency and my lack thereof.
While I am currently very satisfied with my academic decisions, there is still a nagging in my belly, part frustration and part content. During my senior year I will be taking 6 independent study courses, exploring topics I am thoroughly excited by with professors I admire greatly. Yet—I am disappointed that not until my senior year will I get to take a course in my field that is exclusively centered on the African continent.
Throughout the years I have seen a few African-labeled classes offered in other departments, but it is the same one or two courses taught every other semester. In addition, African friends of mine that have taken these courses have told me they are not worth taking, citing the problematic teaching methods of some white professors. African course options are limited in their topics, departments, and general reliability.
In fairness, the University is not advertised as a hub for African studies, nor is it an HBCU, or even a large institution from which we can expect a great diversity in course selection. Recognizing this truth, I began to scheme early in my academic career to take as many independent study courses as I could, some broadly covering the African continent and some specifically on Eritrea, my home country.
While the University’s independent study options are alternatives to issues of limited course selection, I do wonder if they are just temporary fixes. While this may not apply to my case of wanting greater access to African courses, and I recognize the demand-supply relationship that is present here, it does still speak to the lack of diversity in academia.