Teachers should cancel classes for symposia attendance

Illustration by Amelia Madarang

All of the symposia hosted throughout the year provide amazing opportunities for Lewis & Clark students to attend events that provide a range of fascinating perspectives and new information. These events usually take place over a few days and feature student panels and outside speakers, typically with a specific topic or theme. Symposia are an important way in which students can achieve the goals of a liberal arts education: to learn new information outside of their fields of focus and round out their education. 

The problem is that professors often do not cancel class during symposium events, meaning students either have to cut class or miss out. More professors should cancel classes during symposia events and encourage students to attend in order to make sure no LC student misses out on the opportunity to enrich their minds. 

As the Gender Studies Symposium draws to a close, attendance of symposia has been on the forefront of many students’ minds. As a Gender Studies minor, I always look forward to this symposium in particular. As I looked over the list of events, I found myself wanting to attend a majority of them, including student panels and speakers that pertain to my specific interests. However, as I began penciling events into my planner, I realized I was unfortunately unable to attend many of the events I wanted to go to. 

By far, the biggest barrier was that only half of my professors canceled classes for the symposium. I am forced into an uncomfortable choice: miss a panel I will probably never be able to see again, or skip class and risk falling behind on material and having to make it up in my already limited free time. 

This is not the first time I have felt compelled to pick between class and symposia events. My clearest memory from last year’s Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies was the embarrassment I felt slinking out of an event 15 minutes before it was set to end just so I could speed-walk across campus to a class that had not been canceled. Trying to do both at once is a logistical nightmare. With that in mind, why do more professors not cancel classes that overlap with the symposia? To go a step further, why does LC as an institution not cancel these conflicting classes?

I understand the concerns of stopping all classes for a few days just for a symposium. Professors are already under pressure to cram as much material as possible into instruction time, and likely are not in a big hurry to cancel classes, especially if the symposium does not relate to the content of their course. However, taking a look at the big picture, LC only has four major symposia every year. Canceling classes to make sure students can attend would take up three to four days a semester, just a drop in the bucket. These symposia are planned very far in advance, leaving professors plenty of time to leave a few days off in their syllabi. 

My two classes that are being canceled for the Gender Studies Symposium are unsurprisingly both gender studies classes, where attending symposium events is embedded in the class by design. It is wonderful to see that symposium attendance is being encouraged in these classes. However, what about students who are not in gender studies classes? They should have just as much incentive to attend. 

LC is supposed to be giving every student a liberal arts education, which means we should take in many viewpoints and learn about various topics. If anything, students not taking gender studies courses, for example, should be encouraged to attend the Gender Studies Symposium even more in order to expand the kinds of knowledge they are taking in. 

This is especially true for students who are STEM majors. As of right now only one symposium, ENVX, is geared towards STEM fields. Even ENVX is focused on environmental studies, which is already a bridge between STEM and humanities. The rest are based almost entirely in the humanities. As a biology major, I often feel like my peers and I could really benefit from attending symposia that are not directly related to what we are studying. Yet STEM classes are least likely to cancel for humanities symposia, simply because they are not perceived as relevant to the course material. 

No student should have to make the choice between the opportunity to attend an exciting educational event and attending their classes. All classes should be canceled during symposium events, giving students from all educational backgrounds the chance to learn something new and round out their education. 

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