New Writing 1 alternative available to freshmen

| Contributing Reporter

Incoming freshmen now have the option to take “What is Justice?” as an alternative to Writing 1 this academic year.

A requirement for most first year students, Writing 1 aims to develop the writing skills of all freshmen to adequately prepare them for college level papers. The “What is Justice?” course has the same goal of improving writing, but intends to offer a more consistent theme in its subject matter.

Wolfram M. Schmidgen, chair of the English department, will teach the class. Schmidgen has been teaching a similar class called “Literature and Justice” for several years, which he feels has helped him develop a good sense of what freshman need out of a writing class.

“The central question that the class asks is ‘what do we owe others?’” Schmidgen said. “I’m interested in situations, the class is interested in situations when we realize that we owe something to others even though we have no contract, we have no other relationship.”

All students, except those in the engineering school who pass a placement exam, are required to take Writing 1. While themed Writing 1 alternatives have been offered in the past in conjunction with freshman seminars like FOCUS: Ireland and Text and Tradition, “What is Justice” is the first Writing 1 alternative to stand alone.

Schmidgen described the process of how the class came to be as “organic.” It was a topic he was interested in, and felt could work well as a Writing 1 class.

“I’ve been talking to [Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences] Jen Smith for maybe two or three years about how exciting it would be to have a thematic, flavored version of Writing 1. Eventually she said ‘let’s run a pilot,’ and so here we are,” Schmidgen said.

The class will be organized slightly differently than a typical Writing 1 class and will focus more on crafting persuasive arguments by skipping assignments like the personal memoir required in Writing 1.

It will be based on more “classical texts” looking at the “question of justice,” while the assignments will be geared more towards arguable claims as opposed to the broader range of styles covered in Writing 1, according to the course description.

Schmidgen admitted that he was surprised the administration agreed to deviate from the typical Writing 1 format.

“I had been talking quite insistently about this idea for a long time,” Schmidgen said. “I’m thrilled to get the opportunity.”

A committee reviewed the proposal for “What is Justice” just as for any course, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Jen Smith said, noting that the particular topic prompted excitement from the group.

If all goes well, there is a possibility there will be more themed Writing 1 alternatives in years to come. But first, the administration wants to make sure the writing abilities of students enrolled in the class are progressing in the same way as those in Writing 1. Smith said she wanted to make sure they were not doing a disservice to any student by allowing them to take this alternative to Writing 1.

Smith noted that even though the program is only a pilot, students taking the course will still be guaranteed credit for the Writing 1 requirement.

“We are not going to put students in jeopardy,” Smith said.

Blakeman Miranda, a freshman in the Olin Business School enrolled in the “What is Justice?” course, expressed that having an overarching theme may make the class more enjoyable.

“It’ll develop our writing skills but also help us critically think about important topics…it’s like two in one,” Miranda said.

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