When co-instructor of the tutorial Mark Libowitz was dismissed in September by the Provost for procedural conflicts, students in the tutorial and administrators alike faced the unique problem of continuing without its original instructor. Despite this drawback, students have come together to take the class in a new direction which focuses on community values, healthy living, self care and spiritual wellness.
While some were upset to see the co-instructor go, others viewed it as a chance to go forward on a new path and lead their own class.
First-year student Jake “Qake” Cooley who enjoyed the friendly, communal atmosphere of the class, felt constricted by Libowitz’s teaching style.
“I came for the first class and was quite intrigued by the first hour, really enjoyed the second hour at sunset, and then the third hour was when it started to feel a little cultish and new wave-y and pseudoscientific,” Cooley said. “Some things were just not clicking with me.”
In Cooley’s case, he was encouraged to continue the class when he learned of Libowitz’s dismissal, realizing that “Living Well” would now focus more on fostering classmate relationships and sharing ideas than Libowitz’s strict lectures regarding transpersonal psychology.
“I have been enamored ever since,” Cooley said. “I was inspired by the students and the way the class would now turn out to be everything I could ever want it to be.”
Students organized in a non-hierarchal, democratic manner to plan the remainder of the semester so that everyone would be content with the new direction of “Living Well.” An anonymous survey revealed that the majority preferred to have a student-run course rather than petition for Libowitz’s return or find a replacement for him.
“We wanted it to be very clear that this is what everyone wanted,” third-year Ganga Braun said. “At the end of that class we held a visioning circle and wrote down four questions about the direction we wanted the class to go, the assignments we wanted, then we all sat in a circle, meditated on all the questions and had a discussion. It was really remarkable that everyone was on the same page about where we wanted the class to go.”
Participating in the tutorial after Libowitz left gave students the unique experience of leading their own class and outlining their own lesson plans. Where before it had focused greatly on Libowitz’s own studies and teachings, the class now had a chance to focus on what students were passionate about learning through seminar-style group discussions and guest instructors.
“I started talking to people more and hanging out with people I may not have had the chance to when [Libowitz] was teaching the class,” first-year Kierra Boyd said.
Guest speakers ranged from a specialist in foraging and edible plant life who took students on a tour of campus to analyze the edible plants available, to Stephanie Braun, practicing Buddhist, family counselor and mother of Ganga Braun, who presented deep breathing techniques and ways to focus on positivity and growth. The Brauns shared their experiences living on a Hindu ashram and exploring holistic methods of wellness.
Students spend the three hour class sharing techniques for positive living. During one class they held a circle where students sat in groups, similar to a support group meeting, and spoke about concerns or worries using a talking stick to hold the floor. One person in the group was in charge of keeping the conversation going and mediating between speakers.
After the first hour of class, students take a break to go out to the bay to watch the sunset. They generally sit on the dock playing music, talking, writing poetry or just watching. The sunset is a time to socialize and reflect on the first half of the class’s teachings while preparing for the rest.
“It’s a beautiful, unique experience that you can only get at New College,” first-year Shoshana Lovett-Graff said.
Students expressed that New College, with its emphasis on fostering different perspectives and allowing students to create their own classes, is one of the only places where a class like “Living Well” could exist. While the class does not have a clear academic focus beyond techniques of holistic and spiritual health, it allows an open, comfortable learning environment.
“[The class] definitely has the feeling of why I chose to come to New College,” Braun said. “It’s really student-initiated and community-driven.”
“It’s New College embodied in a class,” Cooley said. “It’s not for everybody.”
While students are having the essential opportunity to cultivate friendships, it is uncertain whether the tutorial will be offered again in the future. Despite being happy to receive academic credit for the course, some students said they would like to continue meeting their classmates and sharing ideas in the future even if “Living Well” was not offered again.
“Those who express hippy dippy mindsets flock together,” Cooley said. “The people in this class are so fascinating and I am so happy to have gotten close to the people I have in this class.”
With only two remaining meetings in the future of “Living Well and Living Together” students hope to continue making lasting connections with classmates through small group discussions. The appeal that initially brought people to the first meeting of the course has been rekindled through group leadership and shared responsibility for the rest of the semester.