The Lawrence majors’ language barrier

I scratched my head over a dimly lit desk at my grandmother’s house over vacation one night, poring over the endless mess of charts and checklists I had made. I was kicking myself for failing to understand the seemingly elementary logic behind figuring out if I could potentially double-major in both government and philosophy. It seemed like everything had lined up initially.

In the next two trimesters alone, my desire to maximize fulfilling major requirements each term and as early as possible was blocked by scheduling conflicts. I had the raw number of slots, but because the schedule for later trimesters is unavailable, I couldn’t tell if double-majoring was feasible.

And then there were the language requirements.

Filling up a slot each trimester of my plan for next year was an ugly, obstructive foreign language requirement in block lettering. Staring my academic vision in the face were these three classes that were, with conflicts, threatening the eleven class requirement for the government major.

I ran conjugations through my head, I tried to say every object near me in French, tried to list the “Dr. and Mrs. P. Vandertramp” verbs, but five credit years of French throughout middle school and high school had simply been drained from my memory over the last two years of my life.

The language requirement is, for non-language majors, a serious obstacle. A foreign language class demands of us space in our working memories, time in our day and a few dozen pints of blood when all our other classes feel like they are a massive weight on our shoulders, especially financially. The breakdown in tuition for each class we take is around $4,600. For students who struggle with finances and aren’t studying language as a major or minor, that money is an unfair burden.

Learning another language is a great way to understand another culture. We as a school value cultural diversity in our studies. However, the global perspective and diversity requirements already promote this value. Although speaking the language adds a specific dimension of understanding of a culture that is otherwise unobtainable, I believe that a global perspectives or diversity requirement is more than enough. We spend a very small fraction of our time here at Lawrence in a classroom. The rest of our waking hours are spent immersed in Lawrence culture, which itself exposes us to the diversity that we value so much.

The foreign language requirements may promote interest in studying abroad or majoring that they otherwise would never discover. Immersion promotes fluency far better than an academic setting, but for those of us who do not wish to study abroad or promote our own fluency elsewhere, language requirements are an unfair burden. If the administration wants to promote interest in foreign language, at least lessen the course requirements so that those of us who decide early on not to pursue a foreign language are not burdened with a field of study that we hold little or no interest in.

Finally, the language requirements contradict the general goal of college. As a liberal arts school, we value an eclectic approach to our studies. However, we ultimately come here to emerge into the adult world as educated and resourceful humans. Nowadays, this means becoming experts in our fields of study and challenging ourselves with material that will be relevant to our post-graduation career goals. The resources we dedicate to studying a foreign language are resources we could otherwise spend delving into academic topics we’re truly passionate about, resources that the foreign language department shouldn’t have control over.