ExCo Program Turns 50

Oberlin will have its first ever ExCo Showcase on Thursday, Dec. 13 to commemorate the Experimental College program’s 50th anniversary.

The Experimental College was founded in 1968 to supplement Oberlin College’s traditional curriculum, offering atypical courses generally taught by non-professors not usually available at institutions of higher education.

“It was a time when Oberlin College was going through a lot of changes, and they were developing a more experimental approach to education,” said Marah Ajilat, College sophomore and ExCo committee member. “That’s also the year they started Winter Term.”

There are 61 ExCo courses offered this semester and the program has continued to grow since its founding.

“It started out pretty small.” Lars said Gallegos-Dreith, College junior and co-chair of the ExCo committee.  “There were like 12 courses that first semester.”

The program is entirely student-run. The ExCo committee is responsible for reviewing course applications from College students and community members as well as overseeing the grading process. It is one of the few organizations that has a faculty seat on the College Faculty Committee, which gives the committee a role in important administrative decisions.

The program has continued to search for innovative and progressive ways to teach students throughout its 50 years.

“For us in the mid-’80s, ExCo meant staying in touch with Oberlin’s free-thinking past, and keeping the flame alive of the students who had founded it,” wrote William Thomas, OC ’87, co-chair of the ExCo committee from 1984 to 1987, in an email to the Review. “We wanted to offer classes outside the normal curriculum, and to broaden the idea of who could be a valuable instructor. Our committee tried to make sure the classes we offered were worth the credit they received, and we [were] very happy to have a full and lively, diverse catalog each semester.”

The ExCo program connects students and teachers by providing a space where Obies can engage with students with similar interests and can learn directly from students.

“[ExCos are] a creative space where people can learn about things that don’t fit into a traditional classroom setting,” said College sophomore Alex Jensen, ExCo committee member and Steel Pan ExCo instructor.

College junior Rosemary Shin, Beginning Tap ExCo instructor, notes that ExCos can help students grow and become more confident. Those in Shin’s course spend two hours a week learning the fundamentals of tap and later learn to choreograph their own pieces.

“We’ve built this little family,” Shin says. “At first I see this nervousness in the dancers, but now, they are dancing their own dances that they’ll perform in front of so many people. They’ve become more confident in their bodies overall. It’s really exciting to see.”

Many ExCo teachers also experience personal growth through the process of designing and leading a course.

“Some people have found that ExCo[s have] helped with their careers. It’s giving them the experience to capitalize on when [they’re] applying for fellowships and grad school,” Ajilat said. “For some students, it has helped them specialize in subjects that are relevant to their major but not offered at the College.”

The ExCo program connects students with similar passions, but it also connects Oberlin students with Oberlin community members.

“It’s open to everyone,” Ajilat said. “I personally would like to see more interactions between students and community members, because my personal experience with community members has always been positive and I’ve always found that being around the people I met here in town has really grounded me. Being an international student, it’s very easy to not feel in the right place. For me, getting off campus is just heading downtown and having coffee with someone from town. That’s really nice, and we should really work to bridge [the College and the community] together.”

The ExCo showcase will feature a variety of student work at the Cat in the Cream from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Dec. 13. The Cryptozoology ExCo, one of the featured courses, will cover the walls of the Cat in the Cream with students’ drawings of their favorite cryptids.

“It proved to be something really cool about Oberlin,” College junior Adrienne Rozells, instructor of the Cryptozoology ExCo, said. “Which is that if you have an interest in something, you will find people who will want to support you … even it’s really niche and unusual.”

The K-Pop Koreography ExCo will perform to the song “Forever Young” by Blackpink at the showcase.

“We don’t have a K-Pop club on campus, so I see this as an opportunity to hang out with people who like K-Pop, and then, because I have experience in dancing, for those who have no experience in dancing, I can teach them the choreography they like and we can also share our interests,” said College junior and ExCo instructor Keyi Feng.

Although this is the first ExCo showcase, organizers hope to continue the event and open it to more performers in future years.

“I do hope one day that [the showcase] will be not only be limited to people who’ve taken an ExCo that semester but also [include those who have] in previous semesters,” said Ajilat. “That way, we can have community members who’ve taken an ExCo to support [the showcase] or staff members. And also, I’m hoping that in the spring semester, we’d have the ExCo showcase closer to the Commencement/reunion weekend. That way, alumni who are coming back to the campus for the reunion and who have taken ExCos could come and share with everyone. I definitely want it to be a community thing as well.”

Students can register for Spring ExCo’s during the upcoming add/drop period.