What is social consciousness? Faculty consideration aside, what would a social consciousness curriculum look like? Given that over 95% of students take courses that cover issues of social consciousness, would a requirement actually expand student perspective? What would its focuses be? Where would it start?
The problem with having an academic social consciousness requirement lies not only in its curricular viability, but in its scope and application. In teaching consciousness, you have to have a perspective of what that consciousness is and, in most cases, be able to prioritize issues of consciousness. Do you focus on race or on gender? Take the intersectional approach? Explore issues of sexuality? Transmisogyny? Ableism? Tackle the ever broad question of “identity?”
What would Vassar deem critical to a social consciousness requirement?What would be acceptable to be left out?
An academic social consciousness requirement is problematic not only practically but philosophically. Beyond that, it is pretentious. But the sentiment is worthwhile examining…
Social (adj): of or relating to society or its organization.
Consciousness (noun): the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings.
Given the above definitions, a social consciousness curriculum would better manifest itself within residential, rather than academic, life. Housing dynamics most directly embody students social organization, especially within the first semester of Freshman year. Adjusting to residence life forces students to become aware of others personal spaces, so why not personal identities? While learning to respect shared, gender neutral restrooms and the preferences of a roommate, students should be given the tools to also better understand the myriad of individuals they are living with.
On the most basic level, this curriculum entails being literate in social concerns. Frosh week covers concerns regarding personal health and safety, informing students of rules, regulations and resources; why not integrate diversity and sexuality programming (beyond a video) as well? Student fellows help students navigate campus terminology and geography; why not social terminology and geography?
But literacy is not enough. Social consciousness is derived from experience and must be actively sought, not simply spoken about. Socially minded fellow group activities could help open dialogue. These exercises need not be radically minded, but rather should prompt students into questioning what constitutes their identity and the identity of those around them; provide a starting point.
The administration should also make a more active effort to create socially diverse fellow groups. When assigning freshman housing and constituting freshman fellow groups, why not make an active effort to ensure diversity along socio-economic, cultural, and geographic lines? Last year, my fellow group had 3 people from NYC private schools and about half of us were Jewish… A commitment to diversity should begin with creating diverse living spaces.
Freshman should also be asked to spend more time within Poughkeepsie/Arlington proper. If social consciousness means being aware of ones surrounding, Vassar should make a more pointed effort to integrate students with the surrounding community. While there are programs that facilitate such actions, they need to be better organized, better funded and better advertised.
In short, Vassar needs to advocate for experiences that constitute consciousness as opposed to conversations that contemplate consciousness.