Language students get credit for culture

Certain academic departments are considering making the talks that they offer mandatory for credit in order to increase attendance.
Certain academic departments are considering making the talks that they offer mandatory for credit in order to increase attendance. Photo by Emily Suran.

Popular Israeli singer Ivri Lider performed to a sold-out crowd Monday night in the Whitney Humanities Center — but some Hebrew students in the audience may have gotten more out of the show than just entertainment.

Hebrew students are required to attend three cultural events, such as film screenings, plays, panels and talks, per semester for credit, said Ayala Dvoretzky, senior lector for Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; students learn about the visitors prior to the event. The Hebrew program is one of several language programs at Yale to require attendance at cultural events and supplemental lectures or to offer extra credit for attendance.

The Hebrew program organizes two or three activities per semester, Dvoretsky added, but students can receive credit for attending additional events sponsored by other groups, like the Lider concert was, as well.

“At first I thought it was annoying but I’d do it,” said Rachel Kurchin ’13, an L1 Hebrew student who attended the Lider concert. “So far I’ve been really enjoying them.”

Josef Goodman ’14 said he thought the cultural events are a good way to “balance what you get in the classroom” and gain exposure to Israeli culture.

Even professors who said they do not officially incorporate attendance at such events in final semester grades said students’ participation in such events can earn students extra credit.

Both linguistics professor Darya Kavitskaya and L3 Italian instructor Siobhan Quinlan GRD ’13 said they encourage but do not require their students to attend cultural events. But Kavitskaya said her students could earn extra credit by attending colloquia related to her lectures and writing summaries of the events along with comments and questions.

Kevin Poole, director of undergraduate studies of Spanish and Portuguese, said he does not grant his students extra credit for going to talks, but he does keep their attendance in mind when determining participation grades. He said some Spanish and Portuguese professors do give extra credit for frequenting such events, though there is no departmental policy.

Ivri Lider, an openly gay Israeli pop star, preformed at Yale this Monday.
Ivri Lider, an openly gay Israeli pop star, preformed at Yale this Monday.

In introductory Chinese, supplemental cultural events are used to provide context for students’ language study, said William Zhou, a senior lector in the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department. Attendance at China-related event can count for 3 percent of a student’s final grade in the course, he said.

Zhou, who is currently in the process of writing the textbook used in Chinese 110, said that many of his students want to learn about China in addition to mastering the language. He said he can embed only a limited amount of Chinese culture, history and geography into the material because so much class time is spent mastering the basics of the language.

“We hope that subjects covered in these guest lectures and campus activities may inspire our students to relate their language study to other areas of study,” Zhou said. “We hope to bring a beneficial impact to both our [Chinese] language courses and content courses.”

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she has never considered requiring all undergraduates to attend a certain number of events, but she said that Yale has a rich cultural life regardless and gave master’s teas as an example.

Hebrew student Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13 said he thinks his program’s culture requirement may be unreasonable given students’ workload.

“I think L1 languages should be wary of adding more work to already strapped students who are in these classes everyday with more than 1.5 credits of work every night,” Zelinsky said. “That said, I have not yet gone to one of the events.”

Budget cuts have taken their toll on talks this year, as administrators at the MacMillan Center said the organization’s smaller budget limited the number of speakers they were able to invite to Yale.

Alan Baubonis, Chinese program associate for the Council on East Asian studies, which sponsored a China Town Hall in Luce Hall Monday with a panel discussion on United States-China relations and a live telecast by Jon Huntsman, Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China, said the amount of talks his council offers has shrunk from four or five per semester to three or four.

This fall the MacMillan Center received $9 million over four years in federal Title VI funding, which allocates money to colleges in accordance with the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Marilyn Wilkes, director of public relations at the Macmillan Center, said the Title VI funding, which the university has received since 1958, will strengthen languages at the University but will not completely balance the recent budget cuts.

“It allows us to maintain previous levels without having serious cuts to academic programming,” she said in an e-mail Friday. “As mandated by the Provost, we did cut staff, which allowed us to shift money into academic programming.”

At Furman University in Greenville, S.C., students must attend 32 cultural events, such as lectures, performances, films and panel discussions, as a graduation requirement, said Director of Student Activities and the University Center Scott Derrick. Event organizers must apply to certify their events to satisfy the graduation requirement because turnout increases if students can earn a Cultural Life Program, or CLP, credit by attending, Derrick said. He added that the Cultural Life Program — which he said he believes is unique to Furman — exposes students to an array of topics and supports Furman’s liberal arts philosophy.

“A lot of these students would not go to these events if they weren’t forced to through this requirement,” he said.

Despite the cuts, Baubonis said talks are important in helping students stay open to “different ways of thinking.”

“When you spend time with one faculty member,” Baubonis said, “you start to think like them.”

Lider’s concert at Yale was sponsored by the Joseph Slifka Center, Yale GALA and the Whitney Humanities Center.

Katerina Karatzia contributed reporting.

Correction: October 19, 2010

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to William Zhou as a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures. He is, in fact, a senior lector in the department.

Comments

  • FailBoat

    What is this, high school?

  • prion

    Yes, attend talks! Because being seen is what an A is all about.