Special seminars create space for exploration, conversation

Saint Michael's student start with shared first-year experience and continue in junior year to expand horizons and interests

August 9, 2022
By Kaylee Sayers '23
Seminar crowd

Kaylee Sayers, author of this article, was in this Recital Hall audience just pre-pandemic to hear a presentation on a First Year Seminar Common Text.

The Junior and First-Year Seminars at Saint Michael’s College create a space for exploration, conversation, and renewed global and local perspectives, contributing a thought-provoking and essential part of a liberal arts education.

That is the view of many College leaders, faculty and students who are the seminars’ chief constituents and enthusiasts. They see the seminars approach as more flexible and desirable than the alternative of more prescriptive and specific course requirements for different majors.

Along with reading the Common Text, which for the 2022/23 school year is The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans, Saint Michael’s College first-year students can expect to take a First Year Seminar course. These courses are not only an introduction to fellow first-years but also an introduction to critical thinking, academic writing, and deep thought about the community and world within which we live.

Professors across multiple departments craft and teach a writing intensive course through which students can expect to learn and discuss a plethora of social, political, and philosophical issues. The topics of these seminars differ from other courses available throughout a student’s time at Saint Michael’s College.

First Year Seminars this upcoming fall are:

  • The Examined Life, which focuses on the lenses through which one can view their own life, and how to write about experiences from literary, historical, philosophical or psychological angle;
  • American Environmental Imagination, which has an honors section available to honors students and focuses on how we treat nature based on how we understand it through the media we consume;
  • Theater and Social Justice, which examines how performance and art can speak to social justice issues as well as facilitate dialogue and action regarding these issues;
  • On Memory, which examines the philosophical question of what role memory plays in our idea of identity, society, and existence;
  • Journey Stories, which reads, examines, and listens to the unique life stories that people tell while debating how those stories help our understanding of the world around us;
  • Place and Placelessness, which is just for honors students, discusses the significance of “place” in how we identify ourselves and others through the meaning associated with place, or placelessness;
  • Peace and Justice, which introduces the individuals and causes that make up many of the topics related to social justice;
  • Race/Gender/Sexuality in Film, which will explore democracy and diversity in film and relate race, gender, and sexuality back to the cultures and politics of different countries, and;
  • Memoir: LGBTQI Authors, which will explore racism, misogyny, and homophobia throughout the lives of different LGBTQI authors from around the world.
common cover

This year’s Common Text cover.

Junior Seminars follow a similar concept as the First Year Seminars, but faculty advisors typically encourage rising juniors to look for a seminar course outside of their major(s), since these seminars give students the opportunity to think critically about different topics while pushing students outside the normal mode of study.

Acquiring a holistic skill set is a fundamental part of a liberal arts education, seminar proponents say, and the Junior Seminar courses allow students to explore areas outside their initial realms of study. The subjects of Junior Seminars therefore more often relate to the philosophical questions, focusing more on personal introspection, as opposed to the more writing-intensive, skill-oriented primary focus of First Year Seminars — although both seminar experiences encourage reflection about one’s place in the world to some extent.

Junior Seminars this upcoming fall are:

  • A Nation Inside and Out, which will use Cuba as a vehicle to discuss cultural themes, works, and makers;
  • Data Visualization, which will cast a spotlight on creating effective visualizations of data based on design, statistics, and psychology;
  • Radical Love & Liberation, which will investigate the power of yoga, meditation, Buddhism, and mindfulness in terms of liberation, transformation, and revolution, particularly in the context of race;
  • Project Censored, which will focus on fake news versus real journalism in tandem with the Project Censored “Validated Independent News” initiative network of college and universities across North America;
  • Medicine, Environment, and Body, which will examine how healers, activists, and scholars of medicine view the relationship between the politics of the human body and natural environments;
  • CAN Research Action Practicum, which is a hands-on course using the Community Health Action Network (CAN+) as a vehicle to learn about public health challenges;
  • Economics of Health Care, which is the study of the cost, quality, and access to healthcare in the context of international health care systems as well as the effects of American systems such as the Affordable Care Act, and;
  • Utopian Ideals which explores topics that impact planetary as well as human well-being.

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