According to Occidental’s website, the Core Program is the “backbone” of an Occidental education. Such a backbone needs to be supportive, sustainable and resilient for the structure it serves. Yet the Cultural Studies Program (CSP), which is an integral part of the Core Program for first-year students, does not live up to these standards.
The CSP courses, according to the Oxy website, “are small seminars in which the lecture and reading material provide the focus for discussion, critical analysis, and intensive instruction in writing.” The offered courses range across disciplines and topics––everything from “Gender and Pop Culture” to “Racial Violence in U.S History and Memory.” CSP courses are a great way for first-years to bond with each other and can often be helpful in easing students’ transition into college academia. However, even if students love their CSP class, the writing instruction is not up to par.
The main goal of the CSP program is to improve students’ writing skills, but ultimately, students do not come out of these classes at the same writing level. According to the college, CSPs are meant to “bring student papers up to the highest standard of collegiate work.” The practice of writing should constantly be developed and honed throughout college, but the aim of the CSP seems to ask students to reach a certain undefined standard and then move on to whatever classes they actually want to take. Students see the writing requirements as tasks to get through rather than engage in; they are transitory in nature. Ideally, students should start seeing writing as a cultivated craft, rather than a remedial service for other disciplines.
Students’ writing abilities and whether or not they reach the standard are then evaluated by different professors across a range of disciplines.The professors are an essential component of the CSP program’s success. But, according to a professor who chose to remain anonymous, professors are sometimes asked at the last minute to teach a CSP. Without prior warning and with inadequate time to prepare for the class, these professors’ classes become less structured and often less writing-intensive.
Additionally, professors are asked to teach CSPs on topics outside of their areas of expertise.
“The first CSP I took was a media class that was taught by a costume design teacher,” Oliver Benezra (junior) said. “I didn’t feel like he was qualified to evaluate my writing abilities.”
The writing “standard” is also evaluated through a timed-writing assignment during a student’s first year, along with a writing score determined by the professor. Not only is this a poor method of measuring writing skill or ability, but many students do not receive sufficient instruction in their CSPs to pass the test. These students are then required to take Writing and Rhetoric 201—a placement that is often met with resentment and an unwillingness to actively participate in the class. Aversion and negativity toward these required writing courses not only hampers learning, but also damages student opinion of the writing and rhetoric department. The writing classes that students may choose to take on their own suddenly become less desirable when they are made a requirement.
Writing is an essential skill to learn at college and will be useful in every facet of life, which is exactly why the CSP program needs to be revised. While some students enjoy their CSP classes and feel as if the experience benefited them, the problem remains that many of these courses do not accomplish what the college expects them to.
The program should be revised to be more uniform so that the all classes, regardless of topic, cover the same writing skills and theories. Additionally, the timed writing test should be discontinued. In implementing these changes, students would be able to choose to take the writing and rhetoric classes instead of being forced to take them. Students would still be able to enjoy their CSP classes and have a greater appreciation for writing as a craft rather than a standardized requirement.