As I delve into my fourth semester of Kenyon and gear up for an entire year abroad, I’d like to be candid as to how and what I have truly gained from my experience here so far.
One experience stands out from the rest. A few weeks ago, 10 other students, myself and our sociology professor departed to the U.S.-Mexican border. The travel seminar, which took place during spring break, was a requirement for the course Sociology 237: Borders and Border Crossings.
Our voyage was classified using many labels. Some in the group called it “the trip,” others said “the travel seminar” and the course catalog dubs it “the off-campus experiential component.” Whatever the name, the purpose of the voyage was clear. It was not an attempt for us to fully capture or “live” the immigrant experience. Rather, it was an opportunity to interact with and learn from those directly involved. But while some students may be amazed that I’d be willing to sacrifice more than half of my vacation time, I maintain that it was one of the best — if not the best — learning experiences I’ve had at Kenyon. Perhaps it has something to do with learning by doing, as opposed to discussing countless books and over-rehearsed lectures.
During our time in Arizona and Mexico, we spent hours each day immersing ourselves in every way possible. We went to Border Patrol, traveled to Operation Streamline and volunteered with humanitarian aid groups. We traveled from Tucson, Arizona to Agua Prieta and Nogales, Mexico, crossing the border four times.
After just a week, I was in no way an expert on the situation at the border. The situation is complex, but from this experience I understand that the ideas of the border zone affect us all. The issues immigrants face near the U.S.-Mexico border are happening across the country, yet on a lesser-known scale. There is much to be done, even at Kenyon.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, experiential learning, or hands-on learning, is one of four key parts of the learning process. It requires students to take a more active role in their own education. The University of Chicago and the University of Colorado both boast their own experiential learning centers and are focused on providing valuable hands-on internships and hands-on classes to their students. Some universities even require an internship to graduate, explaining that students need to obtain real-work experience to be of value to employers in the competitive post-graduation job market.
This is why I am surprised to see that so few courses include experiential components here at Kenyon — seven or eight courses out of hundreds offered. As we near graduation, many of my senior friends have told me they wonder how profitable their education has been. How do their skills translate into the real world if, in fact, life on the Hill is anything but the real world? Do writing papers and discussing books translate directly to real-life jobs? I do not mean to knock Kenyon’s education system. Kenyon is an excellent institution of higher learning. But if Kenyon wants to continue to be a unique, elite institution — the College needs to do more than require students to take classes in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the arts.
Since coming back from the trip, the class is often the highlight of my day. Perhaps because I, like many of the other students, am more actively involved in the discussions. Every book that we read, every film that we watch — it’s all real now. And when I think of immigrants crossing the border, I don’t see a faceless shape anymore. Instead, I think of Angélo or Rodriguez or one of the countless other people that I met. I think of their stories, one man seeking asylum for homosexuality. Another being kept in a detention center for seven years, just waiting for his voice to be heard. I’ve never felt more connected to a subject, or more aware of my own role in it, than after this experience.
Kenyon needs to diversify its methods of teaching, as well as its classes, by expanding the availability of its experiential learning classes.
Lelia Jo Dusthimer ’19 is an international studies major and Arabic minor from Danville, Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.