Writer vs. Writer: Is the required reading for DWC in need of a refresh?
Anna Fakhri ’24
The Development of Western Civilization class does not need to update the books required for the course. There is something inherently special about reading ancient literature, whether that be Greek mythology in works like Homer’s Odyssey or theological texts like the Bible. It forces us to consider elements of past histories and cultures. If we refrain from engaging in ancient texts, how will we ever maintain a basic knowledge of the past?
Understanding our world’s past histories and cultures is crucial in the development of our current world. Ensuring we recognize the mistakes of the past in order to provide a more successful future requires us to acknowledge old literature. Reading ancient literature provides us with this knowledge and also helps us to analyze diverse writing styles. After all, ancient literature serves as the primary source of inspiration for all future works and styles of writing.
The modern literature assigned in the course is of equal importance, however. My colloquium course specifically focused on comparing modern retellings of ancient stories to their originals. This worked effectively to demonstrate the similarities and differences between the two and how literature has developed over centuries. Ultimately, both the modern and ancient texts in the Development of Western Civilization courses can provide crucial cultural and historical information. Thus, the works of literature assigned to students in the course should not be refreshed.
Abby Brockway ’24
Historians, professors of the classics, and college students can agree that higher education relies on sources that derive from or highlight the victor’s experience. Narratives of and from the opposite side have vanished from the agenda—socially eclipsed and even physically destroyed by the victor. We live in far more modern times than the days of imperialism and empires. It is our duty as inclusive and globally aware humans to discover the “other sides” in history, philosophy, and religion, and to fight to have those stories told.
One topic that already experienced a source-material refresh was America’s past with slavery. Two decades ago, students were reading from matter-of-fact textbooks and classical works like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Classical texts are successful in showcasing a point of view from a particular time, but in this case, students were not reading the most important point of view when it came to slavery; the slave’s perspective is ignored if students only read these novels. Within the past decade, curriculum developers have instead taken the inclusive route and highlighted narratives written by former slaves that showcase exactly what was suppressed for centuries. Works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project replaced the classical texts written by well-off white men.
In terms of editing the reading content within the Development of Western Civilization program at Providence College, I encourage DWC professors to reevaluate their syllabi and ask: how will my students benefit in the grand scheme of things after reading these works? Professors need to include perspectives from both sides of global contentions like wars, all perspectives from landmark socio-political events like presidential elections, and question if the material is truly beneficial to the student in the long run. Yes, reading classical texts is important because they give readers a glance at what a time period was like, but really, how much is there to learn from the entirety of Beowulf? DWC is a core part of the Providence College experience. Instead of requiring students to read entire classical texts that are complicated, lengthy, and traditional, professors can consider shortening some requirements so more time is available to feature the “other sides” of history.
Accessibility: Actually for All
I’ve been missing Civ lately. I was always the odd man out because I enjoyed Providence College’s niche course, since I’m a history nerd at heart. Still, I’ve felt that my classes this semester lack something my Civ classes always featured: the potential for audiobooks. I’ve known since high school that I learn best when spoken to. I’ve had teachers who have played audiobooks during class time instead of assigning reading for homework. Ever since that experience, I’ve relied on listening to audiobooks for long readings as I’ve seen what a difference hearing what I’m reading makes for my comprehension and my usually wandering attention. I felt that I understood most of my readings in Civ because the required classical texts usually had some audio recording I could find on Audible or YouTube. When the texts became more obscure, I paid $12/month for a “Speechify” account to create my text-to-speech recordings. This semester, I’ve found myself in a predicament as my classes are so topic-specific that virtually no audiobooks or recordings exist for the 15-18 page scholarly research studies I’ve been assigned to read twice a week. So I considered arguing that PC should offer free or reduced Speechify accounts for students that learn best through listening.
However, to argue that PC needs to provide differently, I had to determine how they currently provide for students that either have a formal visual processing disorder or know they would benefit as a learner from audio recordings. I am one of the latter group, so I reached out to the Office of Student Success, formally known as OAS, and met with an advisor to discuss if there were any options.
In my meeting with Molly McKeon, assistant director of Accessibility Service, I was astonished to learn that PC offers a free text-to-speech application that converts word files to MP3 audio files. The application is SensusAccess and is located on the SSC’s homepage under “Accessibility Document Converter.” The application has even more functions, as it can convert text files into braille and e-books. The application can also convert poorly scanned files into files with word recognition, so the file can go back into the processor again to be turned into MP3, braille, or e-book. Molly also showed me other free text-to-speech built-in applications like Natural Reader and Microsoft Lens that allow computer users to highlight particular texts and have them read back to them in AI-formulated voices.
At this point, my opinion was beginning to shift. There was no reason to argue for Speechify accounts if the SSC offers a speech-to-text application that can do even more than Speechify can. I wondered if other students knew of SensusAccess, so I shared what Molly showed me with my roommates, who are a mix of all different academic majors. Like me, my roommates had no idea about SensusAccess and that students who don’t formally qualify for academic accommodations could access speech-to-text assistive applications. My roommates and I concluded that the main issue is that no one, meaning our professors or the administration at PC, told us that these possibilities existed. Therein, my argument took a final turn: professors have a responsibility as educators to learn about and market these assistive technologies not only to students with formal learning disability diagnoses but to all students. Once students are made aware of these technologies, they can develop a unique method of learning that aligns with their learning preferences.
I initially believed that this opinion piece would be an argument that the College should offer free or reduced Speechify subscriptions to all students. However, after a conversation with the Office of Student Success, I learned that PC provides an even better free application for all students. SensusAccess and other applications have yet to be discovered by most students at PC. Professors should prioritize learning about and marketing these applications to their students if they want to see them excel in their classes.
Starting the Spring Semester with Self-love
The spring semester has officially begun, and we have all returned to Friartown ready to dive back into work. Or have we? Hopefully, you spent your break recovering from the fall semester, but regardless, you may be struggling with the return to campus. Research studies indicate that taking vacations can help reduce stress and have numerous other benefits. It’s important that you use your break time to get away from the stress of college and recharge before the next semester. You once again have time to enjoy your hobbies, read a book, or binge-watch that show you’ve been dying to see.
Although many of us are excited to be back on campus and see our friends, it can be a rude awakening to launch back into academics. The work seems to pile up quickly, and all that free time you enjoyed not too long ago instantly vanishes. It’s impossible for that refreshed feeling to stay with you for the whole semester if it goes unnurtured. It’s easy to say you don’t have time for self-care, but it’s just as easy to engage in quick activities that promote positive mental health and help keep you feeling refreshed. There are so many simple things that can be done that will help you both in and out of the classroom.
A relatively new technique to slow down the craziness of college life is referred to as nature bathing. This essentially means taking a walk out in nature. Recent psychological research has found that spending time in and focusing on nature helps both your physical and mental health. The research shows that nature helps reduce stress and anxiety as well as refocus your attention. If you feel yourself starting to get burnt out, take a break from the assignment and take a brief walk through nature and focus only on noticing the things around you. After your walk, you can return to your work feeling refreshed and ready to resume.
If it’s too cold outside or you’re looking for another way to refresh, there are other quick techniques that can save you from burning out. Mindfulness is another way to pause the chaos happening around you. While it’s understandable that not everyone wants—or has the time—to sit down and meditate, there are much simpler (and quicker) ways to go about this. If you truly feel you cannot add anything else into your schedule, add mindfulness to the existing parts of your day. Pay attention to the sounds you hear as you walk from class to class. This is one way to quiet your mind and refocus yourself. Additionally, there are quick mindfulness exercises to listen to while you’re in the shower. No matter what your schedule looks like, you have these in between moments that are perfect for a quick exercise.
If mindfulness really isn’t for you, you need to find what activity you enjoy that always leaves you feeling refreshed. One of the best forms of self-care is simply making time for yourself. Try to find some free time every once in a while to process the events of your day, talk to your friends, read a book, or watch a show. As college students, the days go by so quickly and we often focus on what’s next on our agendas. We need time to reflect on what we’ve done and reflect on the events of the day. If you leave no time to process, reflect, and refocus, this will inevitably lead to burnout. It’s important to set these good techniques now while we’re still in school. For the most part, when we enter the workforce, we don’t get a month off, or any extended breaks at all. It is important for us to learn now how to manage our time while maintaining our mental health and allowing us time for the things we enjoy. This is the time when you get to figure out what works best for you. Don’t waste this opportunity to learn how to help yourself; it goes by far too quickly.