Starting this fall with the Class of 2017, the double-dipping rules and specifications for General Education Concentrations are changing to allow more open crossover between majors, minors, and GECs. In response to the altered system, various members of the student community weighed in with their thoughts on GECs at Bates.
According to the Bates College website, “General Education requirements help students develop a range of skills across many disciplines and challenge them to think in complex, interdisciplinary ways.” The current General Education requirement system was created in 2007 and included the scientific reasoning, laboratory experience, and quantitative literacy requirements (SLQ); three writing requirements; and two interdisciplinary General Education Concentrations (GECs).
The change this year comes as a relief to many students who were previously concerned about finishing all of the requirements.
I think it is easier now with the ability to double-dip, because otherwise it would be a struggle to fit in all my classes,” said sophomore Hannah Kiesler. She does, however, see the benefit of the GECs, because they “allow us to diversify classes a little bit.”
The purpose of GECs is to complement a major and encourage students to explore classes outside of their focus of study, besides taking a smattering of introductory-level courses. This requirement sets Bates apart from other NESCAC colleges, which mostly only have requirements similar to the SLQ and writing requirements.
Will Wise, a senior at Bowdoin College, says, “Even without as many requirements, people [at Bowdoin] still take classes that don’t have anything to do with their major.” As an Economics major with a minor in Government, Wise has found that even classes outside his areas of study have related back to other subjects and courses.
I am taking theater design right now which has nothing to do with my major, but if you think about it, the research and creative process of designing a set is the same as it is for writing a paper,” said Wise.
At Colby College, there are requirements for courses in international diversity; U.S. diversity; two science classes, one with and one without a lab; writing; literature; art; and foreign language.
Colby senior Peter Quayle says, “I think the language requirement may be good for some people but it wasn’t as good for me. Every requirement is more rewarding for some than others.”
Quayle is an Environmental Science major with a concentration in Marine Science. He is also pre-med, which does not leave him with a lot of room in his schedule. “I think that to some extent the requirements are inhibiting” of academic exploration, he says.
A common concern of Bates students is that despite the intention of allowing students to take a variety of classes, GECs limit the electives a student can take. “Many students start out taking classes that are interesting to them but then are forced to take more similar classes in order to finish a GEC, rather than exploring other areas outside of their GEC,” says senior Margaux Donze.
William Pollard, also a senior, agrees, “My understanding of the GEC system is that it is supposed to get us out of our comfort zone, but it is self-defeating because people struggle to fit their fourth GEC class in rather than taking something they really want to take.”
There are some GECs that are more interdisciplinary than others. For example, Public Health and Latin American Studies encompass a variety of departments, while others are not interdisciplinary at all. These include GECs such as Chemistry, English, and Philosophy.
“My GEC is essentially just classes that could also count for my major so it doesn’t force me to go very far from my focus,” explains senior Neuroscience major Jake Sandor, whose GEC is Psychology and Philosophy.
A similar concern arises in relation to the breadth that is actually gained by the distribution requirements, specifically because the requirements seem to be easier for “science people” to meet.
Senior Tess Ferguson said, “As a Biochemistry major, I had no problem completing SLQ and the Ws [writing requirements] within the classes needed for my major, but students who major in humanities have a much harder time fitting all of the classes into their schedules.”
Adds junior Rachel Lippin-Foster, “Often students pick a GEC because it includes classes they have already taken, so it defeats the purpose of providing an interdisciplinary education.”
Jake Barbato, also a junior, remembers, “My [First-Year Seminar] was cross-listed with a bunch of GECs, so I just chose the GEC with the most classes I would want to take.”
While there is the opportunity to use GECs to explore other courses with a unified theme, “A lot of people don’t view GECs as a way to get outside of their major but as a hurdle, and if that is how they are viewed, [the GECs] aren’t really doing their job,” said sophomore Jon Gougelet.
Overall, students expressed a significant amount of frustration with the planning required to fulfill all of the requirements, which actually ends up decreasing the amount of academic freedom. Instead of being able to try new things, students have to incorporate extra required classes into their schedules to complete their requirements.
Gougelet adds, “It makes it so hard to have so many requirements in addition to a major; there is probably a better way to encourage people to study outside of their fields.”