My SLE Story

SLE students in class by Greg Watkins via SALLIE

SLE first appealed to me because of a gap in my understanding of Western history. I had studied Classics in high school and felt fairly familiar with Ancient Greek and Roman civilization. I had also made enough haphazard attempts to read the news so that I sort of understood what was going on in the world. The eighteen hundred years ranging from the Roman Empire to the Great Depression were a dark hole with fuzzy borders. I figured that if I did not fill the hole freshman year, I would never properly do so. I signed up for SLE.

Fall quarter began the yearlong study of origin and identity. I learned to engage my religious beliefs in new ways as my section discussed texts like Genesis and the Gospel of Mark. I also began to deepen my understanding of the Classical works I had become so familiar with. By the time we ended fall quarter with our Augustine reading, the void in my history understanding was still pretty intact. Nevertheless, I had strengthened my foundation, and had acquired the tools I needed to begin filling in the gap.

In the winter I started to learn more history, but more importantly learned how to read philosophy. I discovered how to view both it and art as explorations and critiques of our humanity. I was swept away by the ideas of foundational philosophers and the context that bred them. It wasn’t until the spring, however, that I had an awakening of sorts.

Spring quarter was about people. Many of the literature, philosophy, and art works we studied fascinated me with their attempts at capturing what it meant to live in the modern world. Filling in historical facts became a trivial goal as I saw the writings of Beauvoir and Gandhi as reflections of the world still around me. Suddenly Marx’s critiques made everything make sense- from capitalism and economic disparity to my desire to make things for myself. Nietzsche’s theories colored my understanding of my drive to practice art. Fanon and Arendt seemed to have engaged the same problems I (and our entire campus) were thinking about- from the roots of human evil to the meaning of freedom. DuBois’ On the Souls of Black Folk transformed all race relation debates. SLE started bleeding more strongly into the other parts of my life.

In the fall and winter I had enjoyed the readings a lot- the haze that was the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment sharpened. However, it wasn’t until the spring that I truly appreciated the fullness that SLE offered: memories of agonizing (often excessively) with peers about long readings; whining to sympathetic SLErts (SLE Residential Tutors) about essay prompts; critiquing lecturers and the titles of their eccentric books at dinner; having conversations in which I seriously debated the points proposed in section in one moment and then quickly jumped to something a lot more silly, like the surge of bucket hats amongst us; being surrounded by the passion of peers, and later finding some of my own. That was SLE for me.

Arnelle Ansong

Undeclared
Class of 2018