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Look toward potential of CLASS Initiative

What is CLASS? If you were to ask that question to a random sample of students walking across the footbridge or eating dinner in Sage Dining Hall, you’d likely get one of two responses: the more veteran students will likely declare the unfairness of being kicked off campus, the Greek Commons agreement, or losing housing scholarships, while newer students would likely proudly recite its full name (Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students) or helpfully comment that their next class is Chemistry I.

I’m going to come out with an opinion that is often not heard loudly at Rensselaer—I support the CLASS Initiative. This isn’t to say that I believe every action executed in the name of CLASS has been in the best interest of the students or the university, but, at its core, I believe that the vision behind CLASS will pull us up and greatly improve what we call the “Rensselaer Experience.” Additionally, I believe that if students truly understood what the CLASS Initiative is—if the Student Senate and the Student Life Division improved their transparency and communication in regards to this initiative—the vast majority would support it as strongly as they support the Rensselaer Union. Clearly this is not what we’ve seen of this incarnation of CLASS, which brings us back to the question I posed in the first sentence—What is CLASS?

The easiest way I’ve found to think about CLASS (and the easiest way to explain it) is this: CLASS is the Rensselaer Union.

Of course, there are the official definitions of CLASS. “The [Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students] Initiative creates a residential college model for undergraduates within a great technologically rooted research university. It elevates the breadth and quality of support, providing students with a greater sense of community and belonging, and it ensures that every student receives the best counseling, mentoring, leadership development, and growth opportunities available … The CLASS model integrates academic and student life initiatives in support of students in the five areas—personal development, professional development, leadership development, cultural development/electronic media and the arts, communiversity—critical to their success,” according to RPI’s website on the initiative. This is a great vision, but it might be hard to visualize what such a system would look like in action.

The idea behind CLASS is an old one—that “living-learning communities” and co-curricular education enhances the student educational experience. When a university provides opportunities outside of the classroom to learn, to explore, and to develop (as opposed to the alternatives: presumably getting drunk or holing up with World of Warcraft for unhealthy hours), they emerge as well-rounded leaders and thinkers, better equipped to tackle the challenges they will face in the world. Ideally, students won’t see DCC 308 as the classroom at RPI—it’s only a part of it. While they’re here at Rensselaer, the world is their classroom; every experience they have, from closing night at The Poly to performing in an a cappella performance to leading a committee in the Student Senate, is an opportunity to learn and grow. The CLASS Initiative is about facilitating these experiences through making residential life more community based, increasing the interaction of students with the staff and faculty outside of the classroom (both casually and professionally), and giving greater opportunities for student leadership. It’s about learning, not just in class, but everywhere.

The Union is a fantastic example of where this model has worked—we have over 100 clubs, from performing arts to philosophy, a plethora of leadership opportunities, and self-management of our body, our facilities, and our budget (which is in excess of $8 million). When I think back on my experiences with the Union (and with the Senate), I see mentorship; I see personal and leadership development; I see growth; I see cultural development; and I see community. In short, I see the vision of CLASS.

So, the next time you hear the question, What is CLASS?, don’t focus on the past. Focus on the future, the potential, and what CLASS really is and could be.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact me at If you’re interested in CLASS and its implementation, feel free to drop by the Senate Student Life Committee (5 pm on Thursdays in the Student Government Suite) or e-mail me for more information.

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