Monday, June 23, 2014

Day One Is Done

Today, for the first time in my life, I saw the bare toes of a Cornell professor. This, of course, was because he wore Birkenstocks to lecture on my first day of summer college. 

The day began as any other: I woke up, dressed, and went to eat breakfast with Kevin and Carla. After eating a waffle and potatoes, which were of disappointing quality, and drinking a whole mug of coffee, I left with the others to meet Sue outside her hall. We were there by 8:22 and class started at nine, and we knew where the building was, but we'd decided to leave early to be sure we got there in time anyway. Naturally we were there so early that there was only one student there, and we had our choice of seats. 

The lecture hall filled up by nine, and a minute later Professor Kramnick walked in. A proper hush befell the room, but he started to write the class outline on the blackboard and told us we could continue to talk among ourselves. Someone called out that he was wearing Birkenstocks. I though he'd be offended, but he just laughingly told us that we shouldn't notice such trivialities when we were there to study freedom and justice. Professor Kramnick soon went to stand at the lectern and took off his watch, telling us as he did so that since there are rarely clocks inside Cornell's buildings, the class starts when the professor takes off his or her watch to tell time while he or she is speaking. 

The lecture commenced with an overview of the course, with special emphasis on the canonical authors we're reading and why they're canonical at all. Also touched on was the question of who should rule, and who should decide who should rule. Next was the structure of the class: on Mondays and Wednesdays we'll have a lecture, discussion, lunch, and then a writing workshop, on Tuesdays and Thursdays we'll have a guest "practitioner" of freedom and justice instead of a writing workshop, and on Fridays we'll have only a lecture and discussion. Professor Kramnick talked a bit about the differences between high school and college, noting that we have total freedom in our eating and sleeping habits here, that we can share our diverse religious opinions in class without fear, and that we don't have to ask to go to the bathroom. He acknowledged the fun in this, but reminded us that to do well in the class we should sleep as much as possible and do our readings in the afternoon, before we get sleepy. Finally, he went through the class list and asked each person from a given state or country to raise his or her hand and look at the other students from that place, so that they could bond. At California, one girl plus our cohort, which was lined up in a row, raised hands. Upon seeing our row of four raised hands, Professor Kramnick asked if we were "Ramsey's kids." We affirmed. 

The class was split into two discussion groups of sixteen each by last-name alphabetical order. Since the Freedom and Justice cohort is Mani, Martinez, Meacham, and Mendoza, we were all placed in the second group. Our TA, who will be leading the discussions and workshops, is called Vijay and he's a fifth-year grad student at Cornell in the politics/government department. He seems very intelligent and well-informed, if perhaps more self-confident than is strictly necessary. The sections and workshops take place around a rectangular cluster of tables in a classroom one floor above the lecture hall. 

In our discussion section today, we primarily covered what the class will look like, and what our final paper should be. We were dismissed around noon and Vijay walked us to trilium, where we are expected to eat lunch during the weekdays. It has a different payment system: if our lunch selections cost more than about $9.25 we must pay the difference in cash. My individual cheese pizza, coffee, and chocolate cookie were under nine. 

At lunch we saw and conversed briefly with Jun and Katelyn, who seemed a little overwhelmed by the Hotel Management course. They had to leave within a few minutes, and so once again the Freedom and Justice cohort was left to its own devices. Since we'd been given an hour and fifteen minutes for lunch, we had time to sit and talk, or to get started on the reading, and after a short bit of confusion about the directions we made it back to the writing workshop slightly early. 

In the workshop, Vijay had us write an impromptu essay on what freedom means to us. I tried to cover the notion that all actions have consequences and that freedom is the ability to self-determinate without unreasonable consequences, and that nations can take away some freedoms in order to maintain others and remain a comparatively free state, but I don't think my argument was too organized or convincing. Thank goodness the essay is not a graded assignment. 

After we'd spent half an hour writing, we used the remaining time to list some freedoms like speech, religion, movement, self-determination, etc., and to talk about the arguments we'd written. Vijay was really interested in what Sue had to say about the idea that there is not true freedom, and in another idea from another kid who suggested that there is always freedom to choose. This led to a discussion of freedom with regards to the number and quality of choices a person is offered. Eventually, we were released. Sue, Kevin and I went to the campus bookstore, where I purchased sundry cards and postcards for family. Although I've purchased eleven total in our journey, I've been to busy to write or send any of them yet. I hope I can get that done soon, because it's weighing on my conscience. 

Some buildings are under construction this summer.
Walking back after class.

After returning from the bookstore I relaxed for a bit, wiped out from a school day filled with intense discussion about only one topic, and then hauled myself up again to meet Mr. Chan-Law and my cohort in the Community Center to report on my first day. Then we went upstairs and had dinner: I ate another bean-filled salad and a small bowl of ham-and-potato soup, which was slightly salty but otherwise very good. For dessert, of course, I had a chocolate ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles. 

Balch after dinner

After dinner I worked on the readings and Skyped with my family for a while, which made remember that time is passing for people in the non-ILC world too. I should be in bed by midnight tonight, but I haven't seen my roommate for hours so I don't know whether she'll keep me up with her homework lights. In any event, my first day of class only reinforced the notions that I will learn a lot about freedom and justice, argumentation, and college student life in my three weeks here. I am excited to see what tomorrow will bring. 

1 comment:

  1. I think being a college professor means you wear Birkenstocks. Your uncle has worn them for years and so do many of the other professors at Willamette. In the heat of summer - no socks. Valerie