Kuntzman: CWRU should add an Intro to Cleveland course to its general education requirements

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Writer

Like most colleges and universities in the United States, Case Western Reserve University has general education requirements. All undergraduate students are required to complete two semesters of physical education and the SAGES program. In addition, the various colleges within the university have their individual requirements.

Colleges and universities have general education requirements for a variety of reasons. As Walden University notes, general education requirements provide students with a broader knowledge base than their major alone, helps them learn to think critically and can advance their careers. CWRU’s College of Arts and Sciences states that its general education program is designed to provide a “broad foundation” for students seeking an undergraduate degree. The Weatherhead School of Management and the Francis Payne Bolton School of Nursing provide similar statements. The Case School of Engineering does not use the phrase “broad foundation” to describe general education requirements but still requires that students take courses outside of math, science and engineering in addition to the requirements for all engineering undergraduates.

While the existing general education requirements ensure that students learn about topics unrelated to their major, the curriculum could be enhanced to help students adapt to living in Cleveland for four years. Discover Week provides a valuable opportunity for students to explore the city with their Orientation Leaders, but introducing new students to the city should continue past their first week. More than 80% of the first-year students who started at CWRU in 2020 are from out of state. Even among in-state students, not all are from the Cleveland area. Integrating a Cleveland curriculum into first-year students’ courses could help new students from outside the area better understand where they’re living and feel at home in Cleveland.

For students whose college experiences have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, such a course could also be valuable. With most classes at CWRU being held online for the 2020-2021 academic year, students missed out on opportunities to engage with the broader community, such as visiting local cultural centers or going on the field trips that classes might normally include. Especially for students who enrolled during Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 and chose to learn from home instead of on-campus, working to make up for their lost opportunities to learn about the Cleveland community could be beneficial.

An Intro to Cleveland course could also help students learn about topics that may be harder to study just from visiting the city. Cleveland has a long and complex history that is essential to helping students understand its present. Some portions of its history are negative and give context to the city’s current issues, such as the overlap between historically redlined neighborhoods and the portions of the city most impacted by poverty.  Other aspects of Cleveland’s history, such as its role in the nation’s industrialization, help explain how some of Cleveland’s cultural institutions came to be and University Circle’s current status as a top arts district in the country. Understanding Cleveland’s history would help students understand where they live and possibly look for more opportunities to engage with the broader Cleveland community.

An Intro to Cleveland course could also teach students about practical skills pertinent to living in Cleveland. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) line is a valuable transportation resource for students, especially given that all undergraduate students receive an RTA pass at the start of the semester. Students may feel more comfortable using the RTA system if they have the opportunity to take it with a class to visit sites in Cleveland before traveling alone or in a smaller group.  Such a class could also help introduce students to off-campus resources outside of University Circle, such as the Cleveland Metroparks.

Implementing such a requirement should consider individual students’ past experiences. For students who lived in Cleveland before starting at CWRU, waiving this requirement could be appropriate. Another option for local students could be to offer an alternative, which focuses on Cleveland’s history rather than exploring the city itself. Using University Housing’s criteria for determining which students can get a commuting exemption from living on campus for two years would be the most appropriate method to determine which students should be exempt from or offered a different version of an Intro to Cleveland course.  However, for students not from the area, an Intro to Cleveland could serve them well.