Demand for Creative Writing Courses Not Met by Department’s Size

During my first year at Oberlin, I was pretty sure that I wanted to double major in Creative Writing and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. I signed up for Introduction to Writing Poetry and Introduction to GSFS my first semester. The professor who taught Intro to Poetry in fall 2018 no longer works at Oberlin, but the way they taught the class was incredibly frustrating and disheartening for me. 

I heard over and over, “It’s so hard to be a Creative Writing major; it’s so competitive.” So in my second semester, I focused on other topics, trying out new subjects like Computer Science and Psychology, as well as delving into my love for feminist theory by taking two 200-level GSFS classes. Creative Writing ended up slipping to the back of my mind as I was certain that I wouldn’t get into a class even if I tried.

My second year, I decided to give Creative Writing another try and took a class called Strangeness and Surprise with Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Robin Beth Schaer. I loved this class. I got to experiment and try new, weird things with my writing. The prompts that Professor Schaer gave us introduced me to new ideas that I never would have thought of on my own. I spoke with Professor Schaer about how the class I took my first year had discouraged me from the subject and she told me to keep trying. She was a new faculty member that semester, but she was the most welcoming and encouraging member of the Creative Writing department I had met so far. 

I took the spring semester of my second year off, but I had already declared GSFS as my major. I was scared that if I didn’t also apply for the Creative Writing major that semester, I would never get into the program. So I applied, even though I was away from Oberlin and had only taken one of two required 200-level courses. If I had been at Oberlin that semester, I would have taken a Creative Writing class and been on track to declare the major. When I got the email that I’d been rejected, I was overwhelmingly confused. I thought that the application process was merely a formality to weed out people who weren’t serious about the major. I had worked very hard on my application. I took it very personally at the time: Did they think I was a bad writer? Was my application not convincing enough?

A friend recently told me that a Creative Writing professor told them that the major application was simply a formality, and that everyone who applied got in. However, I have an email from the department chair of the Creative Writing department sitting in my inbox telling me otherwise, but that I should apply again next semester. The ethics of disseminating a promise that all people will get into the major seem questionable, especially when I know for a fact this promise is false.

Eventually, I came to realize that the reason I was not let into the major was because I most likely would not have been able to finish it with the condensed schedule my semester off forced me to take on. It would have been too difficult for me to get into the courses I needed for the major. The classes in the Creative Writing department are some of the most sought-after classes at Oberlin — and for good reason. The ones I have taken have given me some of the most healing, wonderful, silly, and fun experiences I’ve had at Oberlin. Thankfully, not being a major did not stop me from continuing to take Creative Writing classes and building a strong relationship with Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Lynn Powell during my third and fourth years. 

However, I still wonder about the reasoning behind requiring students to apply for the major. Creative Writing is the only department on campus that has this requirement. I understand the desire to keep class sizes small, but I think there is something very important about allowing Oberlin students to experiment with the classes from different disciplines. It seems to me that if someone wants to declare a major, they should be able to. 

This is not to say that the Creative Writing department is purposefully making things difficult and excluding interested students. I love all the faculty members that I have taken classes with and still feel very connected to the department, despite not being a major. I have been able to take all the classes that I have wanted to as a minor in the department, and I definitely think that things have moved in a positive direction since my first year. I appreciate all the hard work that Creative Writing professors put into their classes and the attention they give to each of their students. 

My main plea to the Creative Writing department is to let more non majors take Creative Writing classes. I understand that the reason space is limited is because it is best to keep class sizes small. However, shouldn’t the solution to that problem be to hire more faculty? It seems to me that the Creative Writing department is one of the biggest pulls for many prospective students. Shouldn’t such a popular program be given more resources so more people can take part in it?