Departments need community-building courses

Sam Thielman

One of my fondest memories of freshman year was when I, alongside 20 of my history major peers, stood in a circle in Garrison Hall singing Kumbaya. 

Okay, so maybe that didn’t happen. But it could have because the Department of History makes a concentrated effort to create a community for history students. While students within a major will take many classes together during their time at UT, lecture-style courses aren’t designed for classmates to get to know each other on a personal level. To help freshmen meet other students within their major and develop skills for their particular degree, other departments should implement required courses designed to foster a community among their students.

As the little italic text at the bottom of this article will tell you, I’m a history major. As a history major, I’m required to take a class called HIS 318W Thinking Like A Historian. It’s described on the history department’s requirements page as a “methods course,” and although that may sound vague, it accomplishes several very specific goals.

The class was created in response to feedback from faculty, alumni and history majors about gaps in the history degree’s coursework. The class is meant to accomplish several goals that are uniquely tailored toward history students, such as teaching the basics of historiography and the ways historians conduct research. However, it is also specifically designed to create a community within the department. 

“Thinking Like a Historian was designed to facilitate cohort bonding and friendships among history majors,” said associate professor Susan Deans-Smith, one of the primary architects of the course.  

Obviously, not all other departments would benefit from teaching students about historical methods — but I can’t think of a single department on campus that wouldn’t benefit from field-specific courses designed to foster a community among its students. 

In large departments, such as economics, chemistry and government, it can be difficult for students to bond in huge lecture classes. Students could benefit from a smaller class to help them get to know each other, rather than just take notes side by side. In smaller majors, such as linguistics or physics, it’s easier for students to meet one another, but building community is arguably even more important as they prepare to take classes with approximately the same 50 people for the next 3 1/2 years.

“I think (having a similar course) would be really helpful,” sophomore government major Kate Dunbar said. “(Having the course be) major centric would be good.” 

Certain systems are already in place at the University to help students with these problems. However, organizations such as FIGs don’t necessarily group students with others in their specific major and consequently may not help them cultivate skills and knowledge tailored to their majors. 

While certain majors, such as architecture, achieve a similar level of community to that of the history department by virtue of how their course progressions are set up, there are still many other departments on campus that could benefit from creating such a class for their students.

There’s no reason not to help students form bonds within their departments. Helping students meet each other and form friendships may end up being just as helpful to them during their college careers as anything they might actually learn in class, and integrating it as part of a degree’s required coursework would be an elegant way of achieving this goal.

If worse comes to worst, though, there’s always Kumbaya to fall back on.

Thielman is a history and rhetoric and writing sophomore from Fort Worth.