Liberal arts universities are a place for students to foster intellectual growth by investing time in a holistic education. But the idea of having a liberal arts education is of very little importance to many students at Benedictine University. This collective lack of interest has resulted in a lack of genuine participation in intellectual conversations, which is destructive to the intended mission of the Benedictine liberal arts institution.
Benedictine University’s student body, like many liberal arts institutions nationwide, is a conglomerate of identities and career interests. Most students are aware of the diversity of thought and identities on this campus, which is why all are able to maintain a mutual understanding of each other and can come together in a variety of activities on campus. However, this understanding falls short in the realm of intellectual engagement where there is underwhelming participation on campus among students.
Part of this lack of interest is a direct result of the composition of the student body on campus. Many students at Benedictine University are pre-professional science students, who are here predominantly to fulfill the prerequisites for future professional schools and training programs. But many of these students do not participate in the large catalog of educational events offered on campus because they are disinterested in the idea of exploring opportunities to broaden their understanding of the world. This argument seems completely reasonable because learning and talking about broader topics such as faith and politics do not benefit students that are trying to become doctors, physician assistants, and other health professions. However, these students would be failing to gain a greater understanding of how the world actually works, which is important as they interact with a wide range of people daily.
I do understand a resonating sentiment among students who want to establish themselves so that they can move onto further schooling later— myself included.
The significant presence of nontraditional students—who often have full-time, personal obligations —also makes it difficult to call out the student body.
Beyond the Gen Ed Requirements
Knowledge, in all forms, is necessary for personal growth and crucial to success in the professional fields. The General Education requirements at this institution does an excellent job of enforcing this, but it can only do so much to encourage a well-rounded approach to learning. But what about events and opportunities offered on campus to supplement this education.
Sometimes professors require students to attend presentations or events happening on campus, or even offer extra credit. However, extra credit and forcing students to attend events breed extrinsic motivation—not intrinsic motivation—among students. Does our school find a large proportion of students at these on-campus events, who out of their own will, sincerely decide to invest time in a presentation or event? It is safe to say that this usually does not happen.
Students who choose to come to Benedictine also make the decision to pursue a liberal arts education that emphasizes certain values and principles and should take a personal duty to represent these values. These values would be represented very well if students decided to engage in intellectual conversations and activities, but those who decide to stall their own intellectual growth without regret are failing to uphold these values and thus are worthy of condemnation.
Disappointment During Teach-In Dialogue
Like many students, I participated in the break-out sessions during Teach-In, where students conversed about the incidence of social injustice on a personal level. To my misfortune, I was one of the few student-participants that was invested in this conversation. I realized that the conversation became burdensome that I had to initiate the dialogue to avoid the even more burdensome silence that swallowed most of the dialoguers.
The point of dialogue is to try to come to an agreement after having a thorough discussion about a topic, but it felt like I was giving a lecture about how people should think about the contents of this discussion. Thus, challenging this perspective was nonexistent, except for when I intentionally made controversial points. Even then, most students were still silent on my opinion, as if they were not interested or they weren’t sure what to say. It is fair to say the event was disappointing from a student’s perspective
Is Promoting Intellectual Curiosity a Hopeless Cause Among BU Students?
When I graduate in two years, I do not only want to remember the times I spent in class or with my friends, I want to remember the times I engaged in thought-provoking, intellectual discussions. I also want my thoughts and ideas to be challenged by other students that are equally-invested in a discussion. However, I cannot help but feel anguish when I think of how my peers, many of whom have been unwilling to engage in these broader, intellectual discussions beyond the classroom, perceive these discussions.
If there is a way to make students become more interested in broader conversations and activities that would improve their understanding of the world, then students should fully commit to resolving this issue. However, the truth is that there is no immediate solution to change the atmosphere, except hoping that students will realize that they are failing themselves as much as they are failing this school when they choose to not be a part of the intellectual community.
If you would like to follow up with the writer with any comments about this article, you may reach him by email at Omair_Ali@ben.edu.