How Gen-Eds Trivialize Cultural Studies

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are that of the author’s solely and do not represent the larger AAPI community as a whole.

General education requirements, or gen-eds as they are ever so endearingly called, are the hallmark of a liberal arts education. UNC-Chapel Hill is no exception, with its “Making Connections” general education curriculum. This course of study seeks to “cultivate the range of skills, knowledge, [and] values that…allow graduates to lead…socially responsible lives as effective citizens of…richly diverse, and increasingly interconnected…communities.” Whether or not gen-eds are an imperative part of a worldly education or simply a waste of money, time and resources, is a well-contested debate and one that I will not contribute to in this article.

For many college students, as semesters come to an end, registration promises new beginnings. Maybe this next semester will be the semester that redeems us from the mistakes of the previous one. Or maybe next semester will be the semester that we finally decide upon a major. Or maybe we just need this next semester as a well deserved break. Thus, scattered throughout Facebook groups, buried in Reddit threads and traveled among word of mouth through friends, is a rare and beautiful treasure that students fervently seek: a guaranteed easy A that knocks out multiple elusive gen-eds. A three credit hour course that we can breeze through, forget about and appreciate the padding it provides on our identity defining GPA’s.

It is the likes of MUSC 145, “Intro to Jazz” that takes care of the NA, US and VP requirements. Or how about RELI 288, “Chinese Religions,” that fulfills a BN and WB? CHIN 252, “Chinese Culture through Narrative,” is another one that knocks out BN, LA and WB. Abundant are the questions of “how easy is this class?” thinly veiling the deeper, truer inquiry of “just how much can I ignore this class?” I know the people asking these questions have no ill intent, but whenever I come across them I cannot help but feel a twinge, actually maybe more than a twinge, of hurt. “How dare they ask these questions so flippantly?” I ask myself. Then, I take a second to consider, “Am I crazy for being upset over this?” Maybe I am, but also maybe I am not please graciously consider my point of view for a second. 

 To others, the course materials in these classes are simply readings they will have to ignore, lectures they will inevitably tune out, or maybe even debates they haphazardly participate in. But for me, the material presented in these classes is not just a means to an end, it is fundamentally who I am. While others may have the choice to engage with this material, for better or for worse I do not. I am defined by the hyphen of being Chinese-American, and a large part of that identity is directly informed by the materials introduced in some of these classes. It is something that I have had to clumsily and awkwardly reconcile with myself, an identity that I still struggle to confront in the mirror of racism and xenophobia. It is something that people use to make a sometimes prejudiced and hateful judgment of me. Yet this part of me that is so intertwined with fundamentally who I am, so much so that I cannot even recognize the beginning and endings of, is merely another easy A for another student. Even more, maybe it is not as innocent as simply an easy A, maybe some students could even use the class to reaffirm their own biases. Biases that I am so afraid of, biases that inform the hate that sometimes make me so uncomfortable in my own skin.

I guess maybe that is why I felt a strange sense of faint anger as I read these questions. Logically I know students are not to blame here, and that many of these people are genuinely interested in the course. Even if they are not initially, maybe at least some portion of the class was interesting to them, and maybe they left the class a more well-rounded and tolerant student. I just ask you to look at these classes that may simply exist for some as an easy way to fulfill the requirements needed for graduation more seriously. Because to me, it means so much more, as silly as that may sound. Until I learn how to cope with my discomfort I guess I will always feel a slight pinch when people ask the dreaded, “What are some of the easiest gen-eds?”


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