As the largest incoming class of students in Yale College history settles into campus life, the Directed Studies program at Yale is again at full capacity, as it has been for the past few years.
The Directed Studies program was designed for students interested in the study of the western canon, and offers three courses per semester on literature, philosophy, and historical and political thought. According to Course Demand Statistics, 106 students enrolled this fall, compared to 102 students last year.
“Right now, we are full, just slightly,” said Kathryn Slanski, the director of undergraduate studies of the Directed Studies program. “We are aiming for 15-person seminars, and that’s about what we have. There are a couple sections that are a little over. I am curious as to how this will unfold over the course of this semester, and everything is on the table. If there continues to be a greater number of applications for D.S. than we have places, then maybe we’ll go back and increase those section sizes again, or at one point we might consider adding additional sections.”
Slanksi added that she is confident that the program already has more than enough resources to accommodate the need of every student. Because students in the Directed Studies program receive close attention from faculty members, Slanski said, the program is a great way for anyone to get acclimated to the college classroom environment, regardless of academic background.
Ayumi Sudo ’22, a student enrolled in the Directed Studies program, echoed this sentiment, recalling the amount of institutional support there is for students.
“The professors are very understanding, and there are even writing tutors just for D.S. students,” she said.
Despite Directed Studies’ popularity this year, longstanding critiques regarding the program’s narrow selection of books have continued. Sudo noted that she had heard of last year’s D.S. alumni organizing separate study groups to discuss East Asian texts that weren’t covered under the program.
Jared Brunner, also a first year in the Directed Studies program, added that he could see how the program’s coverage of the western canon “precludes nonwestern perspectives” and “does not encourage a pluralism of perspectives.”
“Some could say it elevates the Western perspective over others in a way that might not be accurate,” he said.
Although Directed Studies does not have plans to reform its curriculum, the program is instructed in such a way that it “makes room for a spectrum of voices, perspectives and opinions in the classroom,” Slanski said. In a Directed Studies English lecture, for example, Slanski recalled Professor Ruth Yeazell introducing students to the argument that the Odyssey may have been written by a female author, given the fact that it is imbued with more domestic themes than the Iliad.
“She used this to open the lecture to an opportunity to talk about the lack of female voices in our syllabi, because regrettably, that’s the history that comes down to us,” Slanski added, referring to Yeazell.
Students interviewed by the News said that they appreciate their course materials and understand the rationale behind the selection of readings.
Sudo said that given the time constraints of the program, the prioritization of certain books over others is “inevitable.”
Brunner also noted the growing diversity of voices in the Directed Studies curriculum with respect to authors and their works.
“I know that we are reading Sappho, who is the first female poet that at least I know of and one of the first LGBTQ figures in history,” Brunner said. “What is very interesting to me is the last work that we read in the entire curriculum in literature is from a Caribbean writer, who attempts to kind of do his form of the Epic.”
Slanski holds that the curriculum achieves a significant educational objective by exposing students to various ancient texts that “espouse very different value systems” compared to those of modernity.
“Our students learn to appreciate very different, even alien value systems of antiquity, which is a significant step toward learning to unpack, appreciate, respect and thrive in the context of all kinds of diversity,” she said.
Directed Studies was first offered in 1947.
Jake Tae | firstname.lastname@example.org