General Studies

About the Program

Whitman’s General Studies program challenges students to explore their interests from multiple perspectives, while helping them discover new areas of inquiry and make creative connections across seemingly unrelated ideas. The program balances freedom to pursue paths unique to each student with common requirements that express our beliefs about the value of a liberal arts education: that curiosity makes us not only better learners but better members of our communities; that diverse perspectives are essential for solving complex problems; and that education is a site for addressing issues of power and privilege. In General Studies, all students engage with materials and methods from the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts, as well as from disciplines that fall in between or outside traditional categories. With an emphasis on writing and deliberative dialogue, the General Studies program empowers students to develop their voice while listening generously to others, so that learning happens in community and has impact beyond the classroom.

Learning Goals

Over the course of the program, students will learn to:

  1. Develop grounding competencies in particular disciplines.
  2. Analyze and evaluate information presented in multiple forms.
  3. Articulate and explore the nature of complex relationships.
  4. Create original work in multiple forms and genres.
  5. Communicate effectively and intentionally, in multiple modalities.

Liberal education values intellectual curiosity and an approach to learning informed by multiple perspectives. The General Studies Program is the primary means of achieving such breadth and perspective. The program consists of the Whitman First-Year Seminars (The First-Year Experience) and the Distribution Requirements. The First-Year Seminars provide a foundation for learning at Whitman through interdisciplinary fall learning communities exploring complex questions and spring seminars focused on making powerful arguments. Through the Distribution Requirements, students gain insights into disparate areas of knowledge and ways of knowing emphasized in different disciplines, while also coming to understand the ways in which disciplines often overlap or merge with one another. Students are encouraged to explore connections and divergences between fields and approaches to knowledge through their distribution studies. Courses in each area will vary in the emphasis they give to the elements described and in the approach they take to their study.

Writing Proficiency Requirement

Nearly all courses at Whitman require proficiency in writing, so the college will evaluate the writing skills of all entering students before the start of the fall semester. All entering students will write in response to a prompt. Those writing samples, with names removed, will be evaluated by a panel of Whitman writing professors to identify those entering students who require additional attention to their writing skills This information will be added to student’s academic evaluation, and students should plan to take Rhetoric, Writing, and Public Discourse 170 in their first year (and preferably their first semester). The registrar will automatically enroll students into the sections of RWPD 170 that do not conflict with their chosen schedules.

First-Year Experience

All students, with the exceptions noted below for transfer students, are required to successfully complete the two-semester sequence of the Whitman First-Year Seminars (General Studies 175 and 176) during their first year of study at Whitman College. In addition, the Distribution Requirements must be completed.

The two-semester First-Year Seminars sequence combines a fall semester focused on interdisciplinary intellectual exploration and risk-taking with a spring semester focused on in-depth investigation of and argumentation about an important topic.

First-Year Seminars cultivate students’ intellectual curiosity, developing their abilities to inquire into complex issues, formulate and support coherent arguments, and engage in constructive, transformative dialogue with their professors and peers. All first-year seminars are developed with consideration of difference, cultural inclusiveness, and contending perspectives.

The two semesters are taught as separate courses, with separate instructors and student cohorts. The P-D-F grade option may not be elected for this course.

Programs of Study

Courses

Credits 4
Faculty
Staff

Students are introduced to the liberal arts through interdisciplinary, collaborative, discussion-based courses, housed in 4-6 learning communities, which each include faculty from at least three different disciplines. Each Exploring Complex Questions learning community engages a common topic, either a theme explored through a series of questions, or a large question explored through a variety of subtopics. Common elements within a learning community might include one or more of the following: a shared syllabus, syllabi that share some common texts, or syllabi with common activities (speakers/symposia/excursions, etc.). All Exploring Complex Questions seminars incorporate some aspect of information literacy to increase students’ abilities to independently explore complex topics. Distribution area: none.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • Read inquisitively and generously.
  • Read with attention to detail and nuance.
  • Engage with texts of varied genres and mediums.
  • Formulate productive questions that guide exploration of a complex text (broadly construed).
  • Use discussion as a means to discover and reconsider ideas.
  • Learn collaboratively with classmates and professor.
  • Use writing as a means to discover and reconsider ideas.
  • Adapt writing to different forms, genres, and/or audience.
Credits 4
Faculty
Staff

As students progress into the second half of their first year, they choose a seminar focused on in-depth investigation of an important topic and work on developing and supporting arguments. Making Powerful Arguments seminars are offered on a wide range of topics but all share common writing assignment parameters. All spring seminars incorporate library research skills and develop students’ proficiency with and understanding of citation practices.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • Read inquisitively and generously.
  • Read with attention to detail and nuance.
  • Practice respectful but rigorous debate.
  • Learn collaboratively with classmates and professor.
  • Use writing as a means to discover and reconsider ideas.
  • Develop arguable and defensible thesis statements.
  • Integrate appropriate evidence to support argumentative claims.