Oppression in Higher Educations

by Cori Bulgrin, http://neovox.cortland.edu, November 7, 2010

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I am a student in higher education and I have been oppressed by the school system. But my story is a little different from most college students. I am currently a senior at SUNY Cortland and studying communications. The field of communications includes advertising, public relations, and working with television and radio, just to name a few sub-specialties. "The communication studies major is focused on scholarly analysis and application of human communication in all its complexity. It prepares students for careers as communication specialists in the public or private sector and in mass media" (SUNY Cortland, Communications Studies).

I actually don't want anything to do with Communications as a career choice; I actually would like to become a Gemologist. Many people are surprised because they don't know what a Gemologist is. "The Graduate Gemologist diploma program gives you the grading and identification skills to become a buyer, appraiser, retailer, and senior professional across the entire gem and jewelry industry" ("Graduate Gemologist Program 2010").
I learned about this career field when my mother started working for a Gemology office in New York City. When I went to the office I was able to watch the Gemologists at work and look at all the different kinds of gemstones. The office itself was very modern and clean; it was simple but very beautiful. There was a large safe where they kept all the diamonds. My mother and the other gemologist would take out the gemstones to show me and it always took me by surprise because the diamonds were wrapped in plain tissue paper, even the bigger stones. Any other person would think they would be in individual locked boxes, but no; they were in plain wax paper.

This field is known by very few people unless you are in the jewelry industry but it is very exciting and interesting. When a person wants to become a Gemologist they enroll at the GIA, The Gemological Institute of America (School) and choose the diploma they would like. I am currently interested in the Graduate Gemologist program. It is similar to someone going to beauty school if they were interested in becoming a beautician and choosing a specialty.

So right now I am sure you're asking- why am I a communications major and not at the GIA school? The simplest answer is my mother. My mother never went to college and she wanted me to get a college degree and have the whole college experience. You can't blame her because it would be a good backup plan if the GIA did not work out, so I am basically here waiting to graduate and really start my life and do something interesting. I have begged my mother on many occasions to just let me get my Associates degree and come home, but she will not hear it. My mother is probably right about the whole ordeal and in the end I probably will be happy that I listened to her.

System of Domination or Institution

I was never a person who liked school, and I never understood all the mindless activities they made you do that in my opinion had nothing to do with what we were learning. I am also a very impatient person who would rather cut right to the chase and know exactly what was needed to do and nothing more. I don't like extra activities or extra work that needs to be done. I would rather someone tell me exactly what we are learning, what is required of me, and what is needed to do to achieve a good grade. "Vulgarity, ignorance, venality and philistinism seem to have flourished despite a presumably healthy dose of great books and history courses. Do we have any evidence that requiring this or that course or book will really help students turn into responsible and thoughtful citizens?" (Leon Botstein Aristotle, Tolstoy, Donald Duck, Beast Literature). I have had this argument my entire life and no one can seem to give me a straight answer as to why teachers and schools make students do extra work that is not relevant to my field of study. This argument became stronger in college.

Since I am a Communications major I should only have to focus on communications and not all the other general education classes that they make you take in order to graduate. That's what elementary school and high school are for: you should be learning about all different subjects during that time period so you can be a functioning member of society, and so you can pick a major that you like. One of my main questions about liberal arts is- why can't we learn all the liberal arts we would need to succeed in life in high school, prior to college? After all, college is extremely expensive and not a lot of people in our society can afford it, so a majority of the people who can't afford college are forced to have minimum wage jobs that never take them anywhere. If high school could teach everything a person needed to know about being a good citizen and a well-rounded person, then there would be no need to waste four years of college learning the same things you did in college.

"But consider the social benefits. Because public high schools are free, every citizen could obtain the advantages of a basic liberal arts education, without the need for wealthy parents, student loans, or scholarships" (Michael Lind, Why the liberal arts still matter). As a result there would be a lot more doctors and lawyers if more people could go right to a professional college, and not have to pay for ten years of school (Michael Lind, Why the liberal arts still matter).

But as soon as you choose your major in college you should not have to take any other courses besides the courses that relate to your major. I believe that a lot of other students feel the same way. I feel that because I have to take all of these general education classes such as two different science classes, history classes, anthropology classes, literature classes, arts classes, and prejudice and discrimination classes (just to name a few) that I can not focus on my major classes as much as I should be.
"Angel J. Venegoni, a junior in veterinary medicine from Canton, Ill., said: "Deciding what students must take should be made by the schools they're majoring in. If they are not going to need upper-level math in their majors, then they shouldn't have to take it" (Campus life, New York Times). An example of this is when I was required to take Biology 110 in the fall semester, which is an extremely difficult course. Biology 110 was about living organism and basically life science, but I can't really tell you that I learned a lot in this class either. I spent my entire semester only focusing on biology and worrying about the stages of meiosis when the rest of my communication classes that I was taking did not receive the attention that they should have gotten. I almost failed one of the communication courses because I was too busy studying for a course that had nothing to do with my major. It was very upsetting because biology was not my major, I would never be a biology major, and communications had nothing to do with biology. I did not understand why all these hard courses were required of me because they had nothing to do with my major.

Once we arrive at college it is a time to focus on our careers and become the best we can be in our chosen field, so when we graduate we can thrive in the real world and know that we are the best person for the job. College is supposed to teach you everything you need to know about a chosen major and give you all the tools to succeed in that field of work. But my question is; how can we truly focus on our major and all the important things we need to know about our chosen field if we have to spend so much other time focusing on other classes that are irrelevant to our majors?

Constructing Normalcy by the given System of Domination

Another example of oppression in higher education is the number of credits that you are required to take as a college student. My experience pertains to only SUNY Cortland, although many other colleges probably require the same things from their students. In Cortland a student is required to have 124 credits to graduate; those credits include the liberal arts credits (general education credits) and the credits from your major. A student needs to have 90 liberal arts credits, and the rest are supposed to be in your major. The math does not add up, because if you subtract 90 from 124 that leaves you with 34 credit hours from your major ("Curriculum Advising and Program Planning 2010 CAPP").
Are they kidding? In other words a student would have taken more classes that are not in their major then classes that are in their major. My question is how would these liberal arts classes help me in my major or give me anything to take with me to advance in my field of study? I believe that instead of the liberal arts credits we should be required to take more classes for our major, and then make these classes more detailed and in depth. To cover all aspects of that particular major.

Ways to Resist

The main problem here is that because of all the liberal arts credits that are needed, it is very easy for a student to fall behind in school. I have taken about fifteen credits every semester since arriving at SUNY Cortland because I get overwhelmed very easily and can not handle more then fifteen credits a semester; therefore I am behind. Because of the number of credits that are required I am oppressed and behind in school.

I finished all the courses required for just my major in two semesters. But I am forced to take summer and winter courses in only liberal arts classes, which are extremely expensive, in order to graduate on time. If I do not take classes during my break I will not graduate on time which in turn would mean that I need to stay at Cortland and pay more tuition and housing costs, which is money that I do not have. I truly believe that it is just a ploy to keep students in school longer and take more of our money.

I would like someone to explain to me why I need to take biology and arts classes when they have nothing to do with communications. I believe that if a student was only required to take classes that pertained to their major they would be that much better in that field of study and could know so much more about it and be a true professional in their field.

Instead of a student who is forced to take classes that are irrelevant to their major and only know the basics about the career they will have forever. If a person was better immersed in their major and knew everything about it, then they would be able to advance in that career and be a true professional.

I started doing my research for this paper a long time ago, but it was really long and time-consuming because I wasn't really sure what I was looking for. I wanted someone to tell me what liberal arts meant, and why we need to take these liberal arts classes. "For some, liberal education means a general education, as opposed to specialized training for a particular career. For others, it refers to a subject matter--"the humanities" or "the liberal arts." Still others think of liberal education in terms of "the classics" or "the great books" (Michael Lind, Why the liberal arts still matter). As I said earlier liberal arts education is to make people a lot more well rounded and have a little bit of knowledge in every available field.

Another question I had is- who can actually agree on what a liberal arts education is? Every college all over the country has a different idea about what should be included in a liberal arts curriculum. Every few years they choose a group of professors to re-work the curriculum. If an English professor is on the board and so is a math professor then they will obviously disagree over what should be included in the core curriculum. My point is, if every college across the country has a different core curriculum (liberal arts curriculum) how can all students be able to learn the same things and be on the same level; if one college agrees that more English and writing needs to be in their core curriculum, then the students at that college won't be at the same learning ability as students at another college where math is favored. All students will be learning a different core curriculum and will not know the same things. (Charles McGrath, What every student should know).
While I was doing my research for this paper; I came across a lot of articles that talked about the different curricula in colleges. Many colleges disagree on what should be in their curriculum. Some colleges believe in a very strong core curriculum (liberal arts) while other colleges are letting the students pick what they would like to learn. At Columbia they are enforcing a core curriculum that they believe will better the students. "Requirements Students take yearlong seminars in philosophy and literature, in addition to semester-long seminars in science, writing, music and art. Undergraduates can make their own choices in fulfilling other requirements, in language, non-Western cultures and more science" (Peter, Dizikes, The Core Choice). While at Brown they completely let go of the whole idea of a core curriculum and are letting the students pick. "Requirements Guidelines encourage students to 'assume responsibility for their own educational plans', students must, however, take 8 to 10 classes in their majors" ((Peter, Dizikes, The Core Choice). If a college can't even decide what a student should learn, how are we supposed to take everything we learned seriously? Each student will have a different basis of knowledge, and would have learned different things. Also colleges all over the country are changing their curricula so it is no longer the same as it was ten years ago. This changes the standards for students who need to learn and develop the skills that these colleges want them to know (Edward B. Fiske, Wave of Curriculum Change Sweeping American Colleges). Even SUNY and CUNY schools are completely changing around their curricula (Helping Students, And Teachers, Too).


Liberal arts education has been around for centuries and has undergone a lot of changes. I agree that liberal arts education is very important. I think it teaches good lessons and it helps people to be well rounded and better citizens of the world. A person with no liberal arts education will not be a functioning member of society, but I believe that when a person is in high school, that is the time when they should be learning all of the liberal arts, so that when they get to college they will be able to spend less time and money on courses they don't need, and actually focusing on their chosen major.

At SUNY Cortland students are required to take more liberal arts credits then credits that are in their majors. This does not make any sense. A person should be able to choose whether or not they want to take liberal arts credits and classes for their major or just classes for their major.


1- "Graduate Gemologist Program." GIA, Gemological Institute of America. Web. 15 Apr 2010. .
2- "Curriculum Advising and Program Planning (CAPP)." SUNY Cortland, My Red Dragon. Web. 15 Apr 2010. .
3- Lind, Michael. "Why the Liberal Arts Still Matter." Wilson Quarterly 30.4 (2006): 52-58. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
4- Charles, McGrath. "What Every Student Should Know." New York Times 08 Jan. 2006: 33. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
5- Communication Studies Department." N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr 2010. .
6- "Campus Life: Missouri-Columbia; New Curriculum Is Emphasizing Required Courses." New York Times 19 May 1991: 36. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
7- Leon, Botstein, and in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Leon Botstein is president of Bard College. "Aristotle, Tolstoy, Donald Duck, Beast Literature." New York Times 31 Jan. 1989: 23. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
8- Peter, Dizikes. "THE CORE CHOICE." New York Times 08 Jan. 2006: 33. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
9- EDWARD B., FISKE. "WAVE OF CURRICULUM CHANGE SWEEPING AMERICAN COLLEGES." New York Times 10 Mar. 1985: 1. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
10- Helping Students, And Teachers, Too." New York Times 15 June 1999: 26. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.

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