Columns / Discourse / May 29, 2014

The renaissance student

Having grown up in Germany, I have had the benefit of being raised with a multicultural perspective and developing an intimate knowledge of foreign countries and cultures.  It had always been a dream of mine to study at an American liberal arts college, both for the education it provides and to gain a fuller experience of life in America.  At Knox College, I have had the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects from music theory to art history while completing a major in Biochemistry and a minor in Neuroscience.  This type of curriculum is unique to a liberal arts education and I am grateful to have had the chance to take full advantage of it. The experience of late-night study sessions, trying to make sense of neuroscience papers, the joy of playing music and socializing at Jazz Night have all formed bonds that will last long after graduation. I think many students would agree that these experiences have nourished our intellectual curiosity and led to the growth of great friendships.

Four years ago, after going through the college application process, my final decision was whether to attend Knox or Northwestern University. Choosing Knox was a decision that came easily to me because I felt that the warmth from the faculty and the student body would make this place a good fit for me. Having professors who supported me throughout my college career has been incredible. In the sciences, I have worked most closely with Associate Professors of Biology Esther Penick and Matt Jones-Rhoades. They have always welcomed me into their offices, whether it is to discuss class readings and research projects or talk about the effects of chocolate on the brain. Esther and Matt have always had an open ear when I had a bad day. These experiences have set me on the path to becoming a budding member of an international scientific community when I leave Knox.

Furthermore, Knox professors contribute to the cultural life of the college. The annual Rootabaga Jazz Festival, organized by Associate in Applied Music Andy Crawford and Assistant Professor of Music Nikki Malley, was another aspect of life at Knox that drew me to the college. This special atmosphere cannot be found everywhere and we should not take it for granted. In many ways, our professors are the unsung heroes of Knox College.

Recently, the Title IX investigation of the college and the walkout, organized by the Student Diversity Initiative, have been eye-opening to witness.  The courage displayed by students retelling painful experiences at the walkout on May 14 provided a more personal perspective on issues specific to Knox, as well as the problem of sexual harassment in higher education across the United States. However, I am disenchanted by the hostile attitudes towards the faculty and administration that were inherent in some of the statements made at the walkout. Additionally, the validity of some remarks was questionable and detracted from the credibility of the event as a whole —  for example, allegations that President Amott is putting wires on students to spy on other students. The administration clearly acknowledges that there are problems that need to be addressed; they are eager to hear student concerns and are taking measures to work more effectively with the student body. President Amott attended the walkout, despite being on crutches. Isn’t that a sign that the administration is committed to listening to the student body?

Knox’s liberal arts education gives its students more than mere career preparation. In encouraging an immersion into the multitude of human pursuits that have shaped cultures and histories, the liberal arts foster creativity and conscientiousness. The necessity for an educated population to have personal knowledge and skills in these areas is as relevant to our lives today as it was in 1837 when the college was founded. As Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel shows in his most recent book “The Age of Insight,” interdisciplinary approaches are becoming increasingly indispensable in understanding new developments in science, the arts and the humanities. While the administration works on improving aspects of Knox life, I hope students remember that this can be a wonderful place to grow into a young adult, where professors want to see their students succeed.

Alex Burik

Tags:  liberal arts

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