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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Spring ’14 ExCos cover wide spectrum of interests


Ever pondered global warming? Been intrigued by game studies, critical theory or poetry recitation? Or simply wanted to cook a five-course meal, fix a car or brew beer?

Such skills represent just a sampling of what’s being taught in this semester’s ’14 Experimental College (ExCo) courses. The ExCo Program enables students and faculty alike to create 10-week courses on almost any subject, encouraging teachers to be as creative as possible. Topics range from academic to concrete: poetry to brewing, experimental composition to knitting. Enrollment can range from 10 students to over 30.

But the ExCos are united in one crucial way: each course takes learning far beyond the bounds of the classroom. Take, for instance, Isabel Cooke ’16 and Destini Powell ’17’s course: “Critically Analyzing ‘The Worst Fan Fiction Ever Written.’”

“We want to prove that you can examine anything from a critical standpoint,” Cooke said. “We’re using this as an example to show that you can take anything academically seriously if you approach it the right way.”

This despite the fact that the class focuses on My Immortal, a fan fiction acknowledged as the “worst in the world” and written by a self-proclaimed middle-school girl. Debates continue to rage about its authorship. Some take the author at her word; others insist that the work must be parody. The class will take up some such debates.

But the ExCo will also delve much deeper, touching on themes such as gender, sexuality and mental illness and using techniques learned from Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and Sociology classes. Powell, for instance, hopes to hone in on religion and race.

“There’s a lot of things about vampires and all the Gothic characters as super-pale and really white… So it just seems like there’s one race of people in this fictional world,” Powell said of the fan fiction. “Another thing is religion. There seems to be a dichotomy of just Christianity and just Satanism, and nothing else seems to exist.”

Where Powell and Cooke take a theoretical approach, other courses have a more practical bent. For example, Sheva Greenwood ’16 and Rachel Van Court ’15 are leading a course entitled “Dinner of Champions.”

“Make all of the delicious food. That’s plan number one,” Greenwood explained.

But, she also emphasized their hopes for the course to go beyond this. “There’s a lot of fear around cooking because people haven’t done it. So the point is to give them experience in different types of cooking so they can do it themselves.”

The course will meet five times rather than the usual ten. Each meeting will focus on one of five courses, which include mushroom crostinis, cheese soufflés, ratatouille, squash-stuffed ravioli in a browned butter and sage sauce and chocolate crème brulee.

The pair’s menu selections reflect their goals for the class.

“I think a lot of people know what they are, but they’re definitely thought of as things you would get at a restaurant,” Van Court said. “[But] they’re not actually that hard to make.”

As for themselves, Van Court and Greenwood feel confident that their shared passion for cooking and shared experience as members of Food House have prepared them to teach the course. Both have delighted in cooking since childhood. Here at Grinnell, living in Food House has taught them how to cook in large quantities for group gatherings.

Living in Food House has also taught them to budget— a struggle, Greenwood admitted, even in a class that they’ve worked to decrease to a manageable size. Working alongside ExCo’s director, Greenwood has been able to decrease her original budget of 275 dollars by 100 dollars. Still, Greenwood and Van Court remain unsure of their final budget.

Regardless of these minor issues, both pairs of teachers are optimistic about the opportunity. Cooke and Powell are particularly excited about what their students will bring to the group. Cooke describes a group that includes fan fiction aficionados and fourth-year critical theory and sociology buff.

“Our class … seems to be super-supportive and excited about it,” Cooke said. “So I think it’ll turn out well.”

Greenwood and Van Court likewise look forward to greeting students of all experience levels.

“I don’t think we’re going to be the end-all be-all of anyone’s culinary education,” Greenwood admitted. “But I want people to have fun making food that they might not have made themselves before.”

“Plus the school’s funding us to make chocolate,” Van Court added.

Anyone interested in any of the ExCos listed below can contact [exco] or the ExCo coordinator [sigelbry] to potentially sign up for classes that have not started yet.


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