This week’s biannual ExCo Fair marked the beginning of a fresh
semester of offbeat, creative, student-and-community-run classes. For this
week’s Off the Cuff, the Review sat down with the two people
responsible for organizing this semester’s Experimental College: Adina
Langer and Ben Seibel. As co-chairs, the seniors have led the ExCo committee for
two years (sometimes as its only members) organizing registration, collecting
applications and putting together the course catalog.
What first compelled you guys to get involved with the ExCo committee?
Adina: I knew the chair of the committee at the time, and I found out
through her that there was an organization. I didn’t know anything about
the Experimental College at the time, but I got sucked in pretty quickly.
As a freshman, I knew a senior who was chair of the ExCo committee. The
Experimental College was one of the great selling points of the school for me,
so I got involved right away.
What are some classes that have been offered pretty consistently?
Well, Aikido has been offered since the 1970s. [Oberlin’s Experimental
College started in 1968.] Swing dance and steel drum are also really old. There
are some classes that literally never die.
Adina: And, more recently, the SexCo
and Women’s Health have repeatedly showed up.
Have you ever had to reject an application due to its content?
Absolutely. There are one or two every semester that are just ridiculous. When
we’re choosing classes, we have to remember that people are getting credit
for this and it’s going on their transcripts. We can accept a lot of
pretty crazy things, but there are some that we’re just not going to
Is it a lot of work to organize the Experimental College?
hard part is that ExCos crunch times are the same as academic crunch times.
During add/drop, we’re organizing the ExCo fair and registration, during
midterms we’re collecting applications and at finals we’re putting
together course lists and grading the teachers. Registration is always pretty
crazy. We’re basically the middlemen in a three-way chain of sharing and
transferring information between students and the registrar. We wouldn’t
be able to do this without the registrar, though. Seriously, Sheila Harley [an
administrative assistant at the Registrar’s office] is a goddess.
Have any ExCos ever ended in disaster?
Adina: There was a cooking
ExCo. It was taught by someone who called himself a “traveling
chef,” and I guess he really was because he disappeared off the face of
the earth halfway through the semester.
Ben: After having a heart attack.
And he had already collected fees from thirty students, and most of them needed
the credit to graduate, so they all came panicked to us.
Ben: It was a big
What are the worst and most rewarding aspects of organizing the ExCo fair?
Adina: The worst part is probably the intensity of the time commitment at
the same time that there are so many other things to do. The best aspect is
being so closely tied to what’s going on at Oberlin. ExCo is one of the
most unique things we do here, and it’s certainly made my experience here
Ben: The most difficult part is that it’s very stressful,
especially for me as the Presto Person [Ben organizes registration for all ExCo
classes]. Add/drop is a week, and I can’t put it off and go to quarter
beers like I could with reading or something like that, you know? There’s
no wiggle room, because you’ve got people’s credit issues in your
hands. The good part is that you get to meet a great swath of people on campus
— people from every year and every background. Working with the
administration, you also get a sense of how much work it is to make these kinds
of things happen. I think ExCo continues to be one of the selling points of the
school. The classes often fill a void. This semester we have creative writing
and art ExCos, two of the hardest classes to get into at Oberlin. Also, the
classes are very relaxed, chilled out, very open. When we read course
evaluations, we often get comments like “this has been one of the best
classes I’ve ever taken at Oberlin.”