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OSWEGO -- A field trip to Seneca Falls, a performance by a slam poet and a visit to a feminist bookstore are some of the ingredients for a new learning community at SUNY Oswego.
Getting together and getting out of the classroom are two of the main components of the Women's Studies Learning Communities Project, Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Geraldine Forbes said.
"This project enables us to have some of the feel of a small college, presenting experiences in small groups," said Forbes, who teaches one of the classes involved and chairs Oswego's history department.
Fifteen women and three men make up the learning community, part of an initiative by the SUNY Oswego Provost's Office to develop programs that cluster classes around an interdisciplinary theme.
One of the goals in the college's strategic plan is to establish learning communities to generate a passion for learning and develop habits of intellectual inquiry, said Robert Cole, director of the women's studies program.
A small grant from Provost's Office will cover travel, stipends and the cost of events for the pilot learning community in women's studies, Cole said. "This allowed us to develop a mix of intellectual, artistic, recreational and social experiences to meet the particular goals of women's studies," Cole said.
Students earn one credit for participating in the program while gaining a greater understanding of women's studies issues, including activism and social change, Cole added.
The students, who come from three women's studies classes, applied for the learning community during the first week of classes by submitting a statement on why they wanted to join. Original plans were to select up to 15 participants, but Forbes said she and the other two professors -- Maureen Shanahan, assistant professor of art, and Mary McCune, visiting assistant professor of history -- were so impressed by the response that they decided to take a larger group.
"We figured, let's just go with it," Forbes said. "We told them what we wanted to do, and they replied enthusiastically."
Forbes is pleased with the diversity of the group. Women's studies majors and minors are complemented by students from fields such as business and geology. Reasons students cited for applying included opportunities to develop self-awareness, experience unique events and expand knowledge, Forbes said.
Early activities included an orientation session and a performance by slam poet Alix Olsen. Discussions follow every event.
"That's an important part of blurring the boundaries between faculty and students," Cole said. "It breaks down the hierarchical relationship and moves student-faculty conversations beyond the
classroom. They all participate together, and they all learn together."
Future events will include visiting the Syracuse feminist bookstore My Sister's Words, attending SUNY Oswego's "Women Aloud" performances celebrating women's achievements, viewing a retrospective exhibit by activist artist Sue Coe at Tyler Art Gallery, taking in "The Dybbuk" at Syracuse Stage, and going to the Seneca Falls National Park and Women's Hall of Fame. Students must participate in at least four of the activities.
Since it is a pilot project, Cole said one important element is students' written evaluations, which will help determine future programs.
Forbes takes the initial reaction as a positive sign. "We're thrilled," she said. "The response and the interest have been beyond what we expected."
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