Congratulations, Emory University class of 2027 — you will be the first participants of Emory’s new general education requirement (GER) plan, now publicized as the “Blue GER Plan” in a March 14 email from the Emory administration to all undergraduate students. While there may be groans from the crowds of students dreading an obligatory STEM class, two sequential semesters of a foreign language or the annoying continued writing credit, you will soon see why GERs should be something to savor and appreciate.
Emory’s new Blue Plan, which includes a more skill-focused curriculum, is definitely a small step in the right direction; however, the progression of GERs needs to be furthered and continually re-evaluated in order to best serve students in the future.
The Blue Plan departs from the former GER requirements — the “Gold GER Plan” — by focusing on the tools and skills students can develop from classes as opposed to simply checking boxes on completed subject areas. Now, GERs are divided into five categories: Exploration Courses, Expression and Communication, Belonging and Community, Experience and Application and Success at Emory. Exploration Courses refers to subject area differentiation — students must take a humanities, natural science, quantitative reasoning and social science course during their time at Emory. The Expression and Communication, Belonging and Community and Success at Emory are other courses that fulfill an essential skill set or experience, such as physical education, a Race and Ethnicity tagged course or a communication-based course. These required courses highlight how Emory values giving students the chance to branch out and explore — not simply stay inside the box of their major.
The Experience and Application requirement is something new — for the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, that is. This section introduces the concept of experiential learning, meaning participating in experiences outside of a traditional classroom setting where students can build skills applicable to the real world that they would not usually have the chance to strengthen. The “E credit,” as it’s known at Oxford College, includes opportunities to study at the Oxford Organic Farm for environmental science, visit a state prison for an English class or interact with native Spanish speakers in the community for an advanced language class.
Experiential learning has been an absent feature of Emory College’s GERs for too long, and it is crucial for the Emory administration to integrate this uniquely Oxford GER into its curriculum as well. Compared to traditional classroom settings, experiential learning has multiple benefits, such as opening students up to broader intellectual and cultural viewpoints and increasing students’ capacity for self-reflection. Critics may call it tedious, but there is no better way to grow your skills, advance your career or make connections within our community.
Wealthy private universities like Emory tend to cultivate a bubble, creating a divide between the student body and those living and working in the surrounding area. This divide ultimately leads to gentrification and a larger cultural disconnect. Without sharing experiences or making connections, Emory students are sitting in a Druid Hills-shaped echo chamber. Heeding Oxford’s example, offering experiential GERs can help remediate Emory students’ lack of understanding of the broader Atlanta area, as well as requiring interactions with the city’s institutions, people and various neighborhoods. An environmental science class could travel to the Atlanta Forest and learn about the local ecology. An African American Studies class on the civil rights movement could visit the Old Fourth Ward and see the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. This could aid in assigning Emory more responsibility in giving back to the city, alongside fostering more responsibility and self-awareness among students.
Emory administration would be well-advised to follow Oxford’s example on a number of other GER features. For example, their Discovery Seminar program matches incoming first-years to a faculty advisor through passion-based seminars designed directly by professors. So what if you’re not going to actually study the science of natural disasters or become a screenwriter — our experiences shape our personalities, identities and skills, not just our resumes.
Prestigious universities like Emory offer not just an education but a brand. This brand focuses on the quality of students that the University produces. By increasing GERs, Emory ensures that their incoming students will be able to leave the University equipped with a deeper sense of knowledge for both personal growth and the workforce, thereby furthering the accomplishment of being educated at Emory. To graduate having taken classes in experiential learning or natural sciences, when you otherwise wouldn’t have, offers a strengthened sense of power to your degree.
Moreover, there are boundless avenues for personal fulfillment that come with expanding GERs. College is often referred to as a “discovery period,” and students traditionally change their mind multiple times throughout their experience, whether it be regarding their major, personal morals or life goals. There is a necessary humility that comes with college students understanding that they may not know what they want out of an institution; expanding GERs in a way that facilitates interdisciplinary learning offers opportunities that one could simply never have explored if not required to take a certain class.
Despite the exploratory benefits, GERs and experiential learning can be key to Emory’s undeniable culture of pre-professionalism. If anything, increasing skill-based GERs will help students seeking opportunities to advance their future careers through internships and community involvement.
However, we do urge students to advocate for themselves concerning GERs. These classes should serve the student experience, not hinder them. The next time the Emory administration plans to alter the student experience and flip around GERs, they should be looking toward students and their experiences, needs and opinions. Students should be given, at the very least, a platform to voice their thoughts and the chance to preview the upcoming changes. The Blue Plan is heading in the right direction, but in order to maximize the value students are receiving from their GERs, transparency and ample fluidity in course requirements is necessary.
Instead of groaning and complaining about your horrible GER class, sit back and consider why you’re required to take it. It’s advancing your identity and skill set as opposed to boosting your application to medical school, and that’s a good thing. There’s a benefit to enjoying an education requirement and valuing the experience, recognizing the skills it’s building and respecting the reason for its inclusion in your education; even if you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless to your education and personal growth.
While it is crucial to be intentional about your educational experience, students should use the GERs as an opportunity to explore new skills and experiences that are not directly related to graduate school or a future job opportunity. Perhaps these classes can start to mend Emory’s relationship with Atlanta, providing students a sense of cultural awareness and responsibility that regular classes simply cannot provide. Maybe they can add a dimension to your personality that extends beyond how early you started studying for the MCAT or the LSAT. At the end of the day, universities are places of debate, ideas, innovation and social change. Let GERs be a way for students to tap into that.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Isabelle Bellott-McGrath, Evelyn Cho, Ellie Fivas, Marc Goedemans, Elyn Lee, Saanvi Nayar, Shruti Nemala, Nushrat Nur and Sara Perez.
The Editorial Board is the official voice of the Emory Wheel and is editorially separate from the Wheel's board of editors.