Theme III: Classes that Changed Our Lives, Social Foundations I

IMG_5748By Erin Siu, Liberal Studies ’18

It’s not difficult to think of classes that changed my life, as I’ve only taken nine classes so far in my college career. Though every one of them has somehow impacted my life, the class that truly changed my life is Social Foundations I, a required core class for the Liberal Studies Program.

As a freshman, I had no idea what to expect walking in on the first day. A few days before school started, Professor Phillip Washburn sent us an email—the first of many emails I would receive from him—with a four-paged description and syllabus for the class. It discussed how we would study the works of the great thinkers of the ancient world and form our own opinions on human nature, the gods, rituals, knowledge, and our own worldviews. While studying the great philosophers, from Aristotle to Epicurus to Confucius, we would learn to think critically—to question, hypothesize and support our claims. Lastly, the syllabus stressed the importance of class participation—something that has always intimidated me. My first-semester freshman self thought: “Oh god, what have I signed up for?”

Little did I know that everything I have ever believed about happiness, religion, spirituality and life itself would be questioned, pulled apart, and reevaluated. Twice a week, I sat on the edge of my seat, regularly raising my hand for every other question. For the entire course of the semester, I constantly contemplated everything from the meaning of sex to the four types of yoga—which is by the way, not the same “yoga” that typical teenage girls pride themselves on being able to do. Professor Washburn transformed texts on religion, philosophy, and human nature in every class, leading us into invigorating discussions on what humans desire most, what ideal societies consist of, and the varying layers of reality. I cannot even begin to describe the ways in which Social Foundations has affected me. Only through taking Professor Washburn’s class was I able to truly question everything I believed about the world we live in.

As a second-semester freshman taking Professor Washburn’s Social Foundations II class, even now, I often walk out of class wondering if humans are moral or if everyone is dishonest at heart. I’ll wonder if humans are driven mainly by emotions or if their emotions are tamed with reason. These sorts of questions are the questions that make life worth exploring and worth bettering. I like to think that every day, I walk out of Social Foundations completely transformed.



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