Course registration for the upcoming spring semester is near complete, with only the first years left to register this Friday, Nov. 19 with the exception of student-athletes. As a sophomore student entering the new semester, certain aspects of the Magis Core curriculum have caught my attention more so than previous semesters; these being, the signature elements.
For those who may be unaware, the signature elements consist of seven course attributes that every student at Fairfield is expected to complete before they graduate. These attributes include an interdisciplinary course, MSID, a social justice introduction course, MSJ1, a social justice course, MSJ2 a social justice focus on race course, MSJR, two writing across the curriculum courses, MWAC and one additional MWAC course or one within a major, MWID. There are more specific parameters on Fairfield University’s webpage, but for this article’s purposes, this is all that is important to know.
This year, in particular, signature elements have undergone much student debate regarding the ease at which students can fulfill them.
I want to make clear before I go any further that I appreciate the incorporation of the signature element attributes in our Magis Core at Fairfield. Having the Magis Core, in whole, cultivates well-rounded, intuitive and socially immersed individuals, which would be restricted if courses were confined to merely one’s major. Further, the signature elements highlight two very important skills, intensive writing and activeness within the realm of social justice.
The frustrations that I’ve heard from junior students, who are the first class to have the signature elements required as part of their core, as well as sophomores are geared towards lack of availability. I have heard little to no resentment regarding their status or level of importance within our core.
Basically, there just needs to be more courses offering the social justice attributes to students.
Focusing on this upcoming Spring semester alone and according to the “Browse Classes” feature on Course Registration found on my.fairfield.edu, there are 24 MSJ1 courses with 6 already filled, 13 MSJ2 courses with seven already filled, and 12 MSJR courses with eight already filled being offered to students.
The MWAC and MWID courses, in contrast, are generally not problematic to students because a lot more of them are offered. For instance, this upcoming spring semester there are 61 MWAC courses being offered with 20 already filled and 27 MSID courses with nine already filled.
One can easily see that, comparatively, there are many more writing-intensive courses than there are social justice ones. The average class size at Fairfield is usually around 25 students. Even if one were to assume there were 20 seats offered in each course, there would only be enough MSJ1 courses to hold 480 students, MSJ2 courses to hold 260 students, and MSJR courses to hold 240 students.
With class sizes of over 1,000 students, it seems as though there are not enough of these courses being offered to help the majority of students complete their core before graduation.
Junior Amy Knott shares the significance she finds in the signature elements. “I 100 percent see the importance of taking classes that have these attributes, which is also why I think the university needs to make these course components more frequent and accessible,” she says. “It’s challenging to obtain the signature elements, but especially the social justice ones.”
Another stress that a lack of courses containing these attributes brings students is that some end up having to take courses completely unrelated to their own interests due to a very narrow amount of options to choose from.
“I think it would be very beneficial for the University to incorporate social justice components into more classes so that way you don’t have to take a class just to fulfill one of those elements, especially if you already have a really packed schedule,” Knott says.
It is generally known by students that professors have to undergo extensive measures to meet the specific requirements that fall under each attribute. This takes time and with signature elements being relatively new to the Magis Core, it makes sense that not a lot of professors have completed the measures yet to have their courses include these social justice components for students.
“The Magis Core Curriculum Committee reviews proposals for courses from faculty every two weeks,” says Director of the Magis Core Curriculum Elizabeth Petrino. “The coordinators of the signature elements who work with faculty subcommittees, have been incredibly hard-working and dedicated.”
Petrino acknowledges the challenges currently being faced in ensuring that enough signature element courses are offered for students. “I have been reaching out to faculty in the College and the professional schools to encourage them to propose courses at the appropriate levels within the curriculum that will qualify for signature elements,” she says.
It is imperative, however, that focus is drawn to the offering of more of the social justice courses, specifically. Whether that be by professors, the directors of the signature element courses or a combined effort of both, the social justice attributes need to increase.
Offering only 13 courses with the MSJ2 attribute and 12 courses with the MSJR attribute places undue stress on students. It fosters a highly competitive environment and tension as only a select few are able to fulfill these attributes in a timely manner.
Especially with class sizes rising each year, more social justice attributes need to be implemented for students.